It's been a brilliant few weeks here on the reserve for folk wanting to get their year list of birds off to a great start, as we've played host to a huge variety of different birds on our tiny patch of great habitat. Just the last fortnight has seen daily (although sometimes it has required a lot of patience to see it!) sightings of our long-staying firecrest, two whooper swans on 13 Jan and ten on 15 Jan, a merlin on 13 Jan, 47 dunlin on 15 Jan, two brambling on 19 Jan, a greenshank on 20 Jan, two stonechat from 23 Jan, up to eight each of goldeneye and pochard, a little grebe, lesser redpolls on the feeders, several small flocks of bullfinch, and today a very sharp-eyed visitor spotted a short-eared owl roosting on the edge of the reeds on the Deep Lagoon. Not a bad start to the year!
Unfortunately our bitterns moved off in advance of the cold snap, but in common with the rest of the country we saw a big influx of fieldfares and redwings when the freezing weather started to bite, moving away from the snowy areas of Britain in order to find food. Large numbers of lapwings also moved in, with numbers reaching 178 today. On the evening of 19 Jan, we watched over 70 fieldfares coming in to roost in the trees near Carneddau Hide, whilst huge flocks of starlings swirled and streamed overhead. A real joy to stand and stare. The huge numbers of starlings have left our reedbeds looking pretty tatty, as they've collapsed under the combined weight of 30,000 birds, but they'll recover again quickly in the spring when the new reeds start showing through. The water rails don't seem to mind either - we found a total of 18 on our last complete reserve survey, two more than in December.
Winter is the time when we can get out on the reserve and do the vital conservation work that we need to do to keep all the habitats in prime condition, suitable for providing food and shelter for this multitude of species. We may be a small reserve, but a lot goes on behind the scenes to keep it a great place for nature. An ongoing battle for us is to stop the scrub (mainly bramble and trees) spreading into the grassy areas which are used by feeding and breeding waders, and onto the trails. You may hear us just now (sorry for the noise!) busy brushcutting the bramble to keep it down, and clearing away rank patches of grass which need a bit of a trim to keep them suitable for use by a range of invertebrates, so that hopefully we go into spring in tip-top condition and all our hard work will be worthwhile.
At the last Wildlife Explorers meeting we decided to have a walk around the reserve to do some bird watching . We all got a pair of binoculars and were shown how to use them properly. It's trickier than you think !
We set off along the estuary track and the first thing we spotted was the heronry in Benarth Woods. With the binoculars we saw around 8-10 herons in the trees, we hadn't even realised that they were there. As we walked along the track we were able to spot redshank, curlew and shelducks poking about in the mud for food because the tide was out.
When we got to the top of the estuary track we came across a bit of a mystery. At the side of the path were bundles of feathers scattered around and further along we also found a rather large leg bone. We decided to collect a few feathers to try and identify what bird it had come from when we returned to the Education room.
Just as we were wandering around the 'crime scene', someone found a vital piece of evidence across the path. There was a pile of fox poo, which even had some feathers in it. We came to a conclusion that the fox must have had a tasty treat.
Making our way back, we saw a variety of birds, we managed to spot 16 different species in total ! When we got back we questioned Julian (the Manager) on the mystery of the feathers and were guessing it was a curlew. He thinks the bird may have been injured and that’s why the fox got it.
At the end of the day everyone had fun and also a few of us managed to bag some feathers as well !
Anna Carpena age 13
The Bittern has continued to be the talk of the reserve this week, the much wanted bird for visitors. Many have been lucky, managing to see one in flight, swimming, or even running across the grass in front of the Coffee Shop! On Sunday, multiple sightings made us suspect that two Bitterns were present, and by Wednesday, we'd pretty much confirmed this, though we don't yet know of anyone who has seen both together.
The Firecrests continue to be stars, with up to three together today, though the surprise of the week came last Tuesday (8th) when Anthony Pope returned from a walk along the estuary track with this picture on his camera, snapped near the Benarth Hide: a wonderful Short-eared owl. A visitor has just walked into the Centre with two pellets, which we're pretty certain are the remains of its last two meals, suggesting that it's sticking around. Pop into the Visitor Centre over the weekend to see what it coughed up!
The Starlings also continue to impress; although the flock is smaller than a week ago, the display is better, spiced up by hunting Sparrowhawks occasionally. A Treecreeper near the feeders on Monday (7th) was unusual, perhaps it has followed the tits from local woodland now that natural food is becoming scarce. We've seen Lesser Redpoll and Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeders too. Bullfinches seem numerous too, with up to seven at a time; always a special sight.
The pictures posted to our Flickr page during the year have been fantastic; a huge thanks to everyone who has shared theirs. It makes a great scrapbook of the wildlife at the reserve during the year. We selected the best picture each month as 2012 unrolled and these are now on display in the Coffee Shop, where customers can vote for their favourite photo of the year. Get here before 17 February to help choose the winner.
Finally, a visitor today asked for an up-to-date checklist of the birds of the reserve. Did you know that you can generate one for Conwy, or any other site in Britain or Ireland, using BirdTrack? Over 500 complete lists of sightings have been entered for Conwy so far, and it helps ensure that your records are useful to the RSPB, BTO and the Welsh Ornithological Society. And in the summer, you can add the dragonflies that you've seen, making it even more useful. If we're to save the wildlife that we all love, having good information about its fortunes is essential. This is one way we can all do our bit.
The attached checklist includes all the birds recorded on BirdTrack at Conwy since 2009 - how many will you see in 2013?
It's now been two weeks since our wintering Bittern was first seen at the reserve. Most sightings have been in flight, usually around the Shallow Lagoon, but yesterday, a few lucky people saw something quite special - the bittern swimming across the water in front of the Benarth Hide. Fortunately, among that lucky few was photographer Bob Garrett (whose excellent images are regularly shared on the RSPB Conwy Flickr pool). He had just a few seconds, and captured it in the tranquil waters on a day when the weather was April-like and we were walking round the reserve wearing t-shirts. Magic! The bittern isn't seen every day, and it doesn't have a routine, so it's a matter of luck whether you see it, but the reeds opposite the Coffee Shop, running to the Benarth Hide, do seem a favourite.
Those reedbeds are also popular with the roosting Starlings. We reckon there are about 30,000 here at the moment, and visitors have been enjoying watching them come into roost over the Christmas holiday. One couple asked me last week how much the whole flock weighs, so we worked it out. It's 2.5 tonnes, so it's not surprising that most of our reeds have now been squashed flat!
The two firecrests are still here, around the Bridge Pond, and small numbers of lesser redpolls and siskins are seen in the alders and willows between here and the Visitor Centre. On the lagoons, a few pochards and goldeneyes have settled in, but in low numbers given the mild weather. A sparrowhawk has been seen regularly, and a merlin was seen on 29th and 30th, so may still be around. A woodcock and jack snipe were seen on Thursday 27th, both good birds for anyone year-listing. The reserve total ended on 142 bird species (and a lot more for flowers and insects!), but it's back to zero for the start of 2013. Who knows what the year will bring...
Finally, we'd like to wish all our readers a slightly belated Happy New Year, and we look forward to hearing how you Step up for Nature and enjoy visiting Conwy during 2013.
Christmas treasure hunt
Last month the RSPB Wildlife Explorers had a treasure hunt. We had six teams. Each team had a map and we had fourteen clues to find. The clues were hidden around around the RSPB reserve. Each clue was a letter. At the end we had to make a word from the letters we found.
It was very hard but it was a very fun game because we kept getting stuck and couldn't find the clues.
After the treasure hunt we had a big feast. We had popcorn, cheese balls, fruit and chocolates. We had Christmas crackers as well.
At the end of the afternoon we played more games.
It was an amazing afternoon.
Natey Waller (8)December 2012