When we had those months of rain and wind last winter, the lagoons filled with more water than we had seen for years (see, for example, this post from 9 February). Actually, this was pretty good news, as it meant that the islands were surrounded in Spring, making it hard for mammals to get to the places the birds nest. We're still totting up our waterbird breeding counts (there are still young moorhens on the reserve), but we think it's been a fairly good year.
Now that Autumn migration is in full swing, we drop the water levels and keep on gradually dropping them, as the ideal is to expose fresh areas of wet mud suitable for feeding migrant waders each week. Not easy for us when we have no real water level control mechanisms, but the levels are looking great at the moment, and continuing to drop gradually. If you stand in the Coffee Shop, you might think that there's not a lot of water in the Shallow Lagoon, but walk a couple of hundred metres to the boardwalk and you'll find the right amount of water, lots of mud, and lots of waders!
Redshanks are most numerous, but look among them for greenshanks and knot that have been here this week. Small numbers of dunlins feed among them, and while we've been out on the mud this week, we can spot their feeding holes, like someone has been jabbing thousands of knitting needles into the lagoon. A green sandpiper was here on Tuesday (19th), a curlew sandpiper was reported on a couple of dates, and a few common sandpipers are still passing through (photo by Alun Williams on our Flickr page).
The great crested grebe chicks are now independent of their parents, and we think that one has now left the reserve, and we've been regularly seeing three little grebes on the Deep Lagoon. A female-type scaup was on the Deep Lagoon on Tuesday (12th), but was gone the following day.
The heavy rain showers brought lots of chiffchaffs, blackcaps and whitethroats into the bushes around the hides this morning (Friday 22nd), and we're still seeing reed and sedge warblers around the reserve. A swift yesterday (Thursday 21st) might be our last, however. A kingfisher has been spotted several times this week, including in front of the Coffee Shop. Let's hope it becomes a regular visitor through the winter.
We were out on the mud on Monday collecting core samples of mud from different parts of the lagoon. We do this each summer to check on how much food is available for our migrating waders. In particular, we count and measure chironomids, non-biting midge larvae, to calculate the density of tasty wader food. Densities are slightly lower than last year in the Shallow Lagoon and have increased in the Deep Lagoon, but our wetland ecology experts are happy that we've got reasonable levels in both.
Warden Sarah and volunteers Rosie and John were interviewed about this work for BBC Radio Wales Science Café, while Julian was interviewed about the monthly Wetland Bird Survey counts that help us monitor sites that are valuable to wetland birds across Britain. Listen out for it on Tuesday 26th August and Sunday 1st September, when the whole programme comes from the reserve.
The Conwy estuary, as are all good wetlands, is like an airport restaurant, open to visitors from all over the world. But its opening times are determined by the tide. When the tide is rising or falling, the runways are busy, bringing more wading birds to feed; but when the tide is high, the doors close while the muddy shelves are re-stocked, and the birds move on to the lagoons, either to carry on feeding, or to have a rest.
August is one of the busiest months at Conwy International. For example, it tends to be the month with the highest count of curlews, as adults and this year’s juveniles from northern Britain and Iceland stop for a few days – or longer – to feed up. There are several hundred redshanks too; the Vardre Viewpoint, which we built last year, is the best place to see them.Among this week’s visitors to the reserve have been black-tailed godwits, a few dunlins, multiple common sandpipers and green sandpipers, whimbrels, greenshank and a small number of snipe. Our great crested grebe chicks are now quite large, and we’re hopeful that they’ll fledge to adulthood. Little egrets have not quite reached the three-figures of the previous week, but 66 on Monday (4th) was a good count nonetheless.Wednesday (6th) saw a small ‘fall’ of migrating warblers. That’s always a bit exciting, as you never quite know what’s going to pop up next in any bush. There were several garden warblers, lots of blackcaps, and a reed warbler next to the estuary, not a place we expect to see them! A few sand martins have been among the many house martins, and a swift on Sunday (10th) is worth noting, as it could be the last one until April.We’ve had good views of stoats this week, mostly along the estuary, but also on the Ganol Trail, and there have been lots of butterflies, including common blues, and lots of gatekeepers. A few common darter dragonflies are flying, around the dipping pond seems a favourite habitat. There are still plenty of six-spot burnet moths too – look on the thistle flowers or the ragwort; thanks to Adrian Foster for the photo.
Over recent years, little egrets have become a common sight around the estuary, and feeding on the lagoons. Yet, it was only at the turn of the Millennium that these Mediterranean herons first nested in North Wales, and only a few years previously that they first nested in Britain. There are two egret colonies in the valley, including one among the grey herons in Coed Benarth SSSI, on the east bank opposite the reserve entrance. Judging by the numbers we've seen this week, they have had a good breeding season, and on Friday, 103 little egrets were counted on and from the reserve. That's almost inconceivable just a decade ago.
As the water levels drop, we've seen more snipe arrive this week, with up to nine probing the mud in front of the Coffee Shop and the Tal-y-fan Hide. Up to a dozen black-tailed godwits and a handful of whimbrels and dunlins are also feeding or roosting in the Shallow Lagoon, and several green sandpipers and common sandpipers are here.
Our first kingfisher for many months has been seen a couple of times, from the Coffee Shop, so we hope it's going to be a regular visitor through the autumn. The great-crested grebe chicks are growing fast, and now about two-thirds the size of Mum. More good news as several visitors have seen two broods of young gadwalls on the lagoons; it's several years since gadwalls bred here.
There are loads of six-spot burnet moths around this week - check out the thistle heads, particularly in front of the Coffee Shop. There were lots of moths in the trap overnight on Wednesday, including 19 southern wainscots, orange swift, dotted clay and a first for the reserve, green carpet. Daytime visitors can see lots of colourful flying insects too, with plenty of gatekeeper and meadow brown butterflies, and a ruddy darter dragonfly reported on Saturday (2nd); this would be the first on the reserve (click here for a list of dragonflies seen here to date), so we're keen to know more - if you know anything, please get in touch! And 'firsts' are not just restricted to flying things, as warden Sarah recorded a new plant for the reserve: pink water speedwell. I wonder if any of these new species will become as regular and widespread as the little egrets?