Monday 31st May, 8:00 am to 10:00 am, Migrant Discovery Walk - nothing to do with patrolling the nation's borders, just a Bank Holiday Monday saunter through the wood and up the hill to renew acquaintance with tiny travellers back from incredible journeyings. A little party of early breakfasters, all agog for the benefit of Assistant Warden Stuart's expertise.With the village swifts darting between the rooftops, and some swallows in the sky, and the usual mob of siskins on the shop feeders, we set off down the hill past the tearooms. A spotted flycatcher stopped us in our tracks almost immediately - he was living up to his name (catching only spotted flies, no doubt) on one side of the road, and she was eyeing us from the most cryptic of nests in the ivy of a tree opposite, while a blackcap's fluty tones came from the undergrowth beneath. A spotty young robin fell out of a hedge with a surprised look as we passed on. Down the hill a bit further, we paused till the wood warbler we could hear came into view among the oak leaves, so we could all clearly see how it both resembles and differs from the chiffchaff that was singing a little further back. Lots of willow warblers everywhere, too. Our song thrushes seemed to be in reasonably good shape, and the blackbirds and robins were fairly abundant, but you could tell in the woods how badly the wrens and goldcrests have fared in this hard winter. The absence of the tiny wren's enormous song was very noticeable. Chaffinches were everywhere.Under the river footbridge, we dipped out on both dippers and grey wagtails, sadly, having to make do with a mallard, but then we moved into the old wood, where the pied flycatchers put on an excellent show at a handy nestbox. A grey wagtail did show up later at the dam, where they are nesting. A great spotted woodpecker appeared for a second or two. Nuthatch didn't make it on to my list, but I have a feeling we did see one, didn't we?Moving up on to the hill overlooking the dam, we came to an area cleared some years ago, now growing up strongly again and very popular with warblers. A garden warbler sang from dense cover, giving us the chance to compare it with the blackcap we heard earlier. It then even graciously showed itself, only briefly - but long enough for some smugness among those who had correctly identified the song! Whitethroats were singing in the tops of the little birch trees, and a couple of redpolls flew over.It says a lot, in these days of crashing populations, that a singing greenfinch a little further on stood out as worth listening to as we moved along the hillside, from the broadleaf into the conifer woodland. More siskins, some buzzards in the sky, tree pipit and redstart close together in another cleared area, and the morning's first cuckoo briefly singing. Wood pigeon to add to the list, and the cry of a goshawk from somewhere deep in the trees. As we walked back along the road to the RSPB shop, a couple hailed us from the Nestbox Trail. They had spotted a tawny owl leaving a box. Not one for our morning's list, but it's nice to know the Nestbox Trail isn't just a visual aid for school parties!
The good news, or the bad news? Some choice items in both categories today (Sunday 20th June).
Bad first. The brilliant little camera that has been giving us a view directly into the nest for the last week started to swing round on its mounting a couple of days ago, and today, in quite a stiff breeze, it swung right around to point into the vegetation, so now all we can see is leaves. It's a big disappointment, and it doesn't seem likely we can get up there to fix it, because the chicks are three weeks old now and well along in the process of developing their flight feathers. Any disturbance at this stage is likely to frighten them into flying prematurely, with disastrous results.
So, we're making the best of things in the hide with a DVD recorded yesterday that shows them being fed. It's better than nothing for people who find telescopes difficult.
But never mind all that - what about the good news?
Marvellous views of two ospreys at the top of the lake in warm sunshine this morning. This is a big step forward - all our sightings so far have been of single birds, but these two seemed very much a pair. First, a single bird, probably a female, showed up just after 6:00 am, circling over the water in front of the peregrine cliff, apparently looking for fish. Then, as the peregrine chicks were being fed just after 10:00, two ospreys appeared. Fabulous birdwatching - an adult peregrine in full view on the ledge, tearing up a carcase to feed the three downy white chicks, all standing up eagerly to take their share, and at the same time, the sun glinting on the coppery backs of two ospreys swinging around in the air together against a background of blue skies and June forests. One of them briefly went into the water at the extreme end of the lake, just out of view from the hide, but didn't seem to catch anything. At one point they got too close to the cliff and one of the peregrines came charging out to see them off the premises. After all this, four visitors who were in the hide at the time went on their way delighted, saying they wouldn't be back later because nothing could match what they had just seen! But an hour later, it happened again - two ospreys and a fiercely parental peregrine dogfighting right in front of us.
So - for next year's Date With Nature, what do you think? The Ospreys of Lake Vyrnwy? Watch this space!
When we started this Peregrine Watch Date With Nature thing back in late
March, it was always our intention to get tv pictures in front of the
public. We fitted out the hide with a big flat screen, we set up a box
outside for a propane-powered generator, and we put a radio aerial
outside to pick up a signal from the camera we planned to put on the
cliff across the lake.
Unfortunately, as we all know, nature isn't always predictable. Unlike,
say, ospreys, peregrine falcons don't make a substantial, solid nest
that they return to each spring. Instead, a pair of peregrines will get
together, decide on a ledge, make a bit of a scrape, and then lay their
eggs more or less on the bare rock - not necessarily in the same exact
spot they used last year.
So, even though the peregrine cliff at the top of Lake Vyrnwy has been
in use for over 30 years, to our knowledge, we couldn't predict exactly
where we should put the camera. By the time they had laid the eggs, it
was too late - we couldn't get up there without risking disturbance and
abandonment. We would have to wait until chicks had hatched and grown a
bit, by which time the parents would be unlikely to desert them. And
then, of course, there was the weather to consider, and the availability
of competent climbers, and support staff to position cables, battery
boxes and all the other stuff.
Finally, it all came together on Saturday, thanks to everybody who piled
in. Now you absolutely must come to the Lakeside Hide - especially if
you came earlier and went away a bit disappointed at the effort needed
to see rather little. Three strong-looking chicks are starring on the
(big) small screen in the hide, and feeding time is really exciting!
Today (Monday) the female brought in two sizeable carcases during the
morning - the first a dark-coloured body with dangly yellow legs
(moorhen, perhaps?), and the second distinctly black and white, but too
small to be a magpie (great spotted woodpecker, maybe?). She tends to
mantle over the prey while tearing bits off it for the chicks, so it
isn't always easy to identify it.
But it is such a great feeling to be able to look down into the nest and
confirm with absolute certainty our guesses about how many chicks and
how old they are. We are such proud parents! Come and join us, do, but
make it quick - they will most likely be flying before the end of the
month, or very shortly afterwards.