November has seen some nice observations. Teal were seen on the lake with 5 pintail, 1 goldeneye, 2 wigeon, 12 common scoter, 2 little grebe and 1 red-breasted merganser. The dipper and the kingfisher were also seen several times in the lagoons. A chiffchaff was heard singing as late as the 1st November. A few woodcock were also seen in several places, with 2 snipe also seen on the 5th November. The largest flock of fieldfares reached 80 individuals. A willow tit has been repeatedly heard around the centenary hide. As many as 26 crossbill have been counted along with flocks of bramblings and 5 bullfinch. One black grouse was spotted on the moors and birds of prey have included 2 red kite, 1 goshawk and an immature sparrowhawk.
December was full of numerous woodcock sightings. The willow tit was still heard around the centenary hide and 1 female sparrowhawk was sighted on the 15th December.
The past two months have been really wet and windy with regular strong gales. The rain gauges have displayed some unusually high levels with 639mm at Gadfa, along the Dinas Mawddwy road, in November and 734mm in December! The extreme weather has forced us to carry out trail audits and clearings sometimes several times a week. A few days were also spent repairing leaks in the hides. Many trees were blown down and the heavy rain made us spend a lot of time clearing ditches and gullies as the road around the lake was flooded in some places.
Photo shows the amount of water overflowing the dam (photo by Gavin Chambers)
Yet, we took the time to carry out other needed tasks such as hedge planting in some fields for the farm. The screen leading to the centenary hide has been patched up and several days were spent willow weaving to make sure the birds are not flushed when a visitor walks to the hide. Finally the interns with the help of volunteers have started the annual nest box maintenance program. A new numbering system was created involving aluminium tags with over 500 tags needed to be made this winter. Each nest box also gets emptied, repaired and renumbered.
The farm has been really busy in November turning the rams. In December, the ponies (around 40) got gathered from all over the moors to get health checked. These wild animals can cause quite an event when gathering them in and are therefore only gathered when absolutely necessary.
Photo of one of the friendlier ponies (photo by Gavin Chambers)
All of the replacement ewe lambs have gone away for the winter at the beginning of November and will return in April. They were taken to wintering pastures in milder climates where the food is more abundant. Before Christmas the ewes were sorted to their different lots for tupping (mating) with the first lot of lambs due in March. The Welsh Black cows have been housed and finished calving in December. A selection of ponies and wethers (castrated male sheep) has had their satellite collars fitted for us to monitor their grazing patterns on the moorland. We are now condition scoring, drenching (deworming) and starting to supplement feed in preparation for the lambing season and the ewes will be scanned now in the next couple of weeks so we will have an idea of how many barrens, singles, doubles and triples to expect.
An October summary by one of our Interns Christelle.
October has been marked by the end of the control of invasive plants such as Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed and Himalayan knotweed. Overall, the conservation team spent almost two full months pulling these non-native weeds. This battle was won but the war is not over yet as it will take several years of pulling to get rid of them for good.
We also have been tackling conifer regeneration in the moors, including mainly sitka spruce, European larch, douglas fir and norway spruce.
As the reserve is working on the renewal of the management plan, we also have been monitoring several areas of Ffridd in order to assess the state of conservation of this habitat and what kind of management is recommended. Ffridd is a Welsh habitat lying between the managed lowland and the upland. This threatened habitat is very diverse. It is characteristically found on slopes and is composed of a mosaic of bracken, gorse, grass, scattered trees such as rowans or hawthorns and wet mires. Ffridd is particularly important to support populations of ring ouzels, whinchats, small pearl-bordered fritillary, green hairstreak and ivy-leaved bellflowers.
Green Hairstreak at Lake Vyrnwy (Photo by Gethin Elias)
Mike Haigh our volunteer ringer, along with a small team, have recently been catching and colour marking willow tits as part of a project to better understand their UK population decline. The willow tit is one of the most rapidly declining species of breeding bird in the United-Kingdom and is thus red-listed. Very little is known about the cause(s) of its sudden decline but studies so far strongly suggest that the poor management and drying out of wetlands have had a negative impact on willow tit populations. If you see a willow tit, with colour rings or not, please report your sightings to the RSPB Shop to help give us an indication where these birds are spending the winter.
Firecrest at Lake Vyrnwy (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
On another note, bird sightings for October include the exciting Siberian chiffchaff and the first firecrest for the year for Montgomeryshire. Less rare observations yet quite thrilling ones are a woodcock, a jack snipe and a couple of pintail, with the latter being among around 70 mallard and 30 teal at the top end of the lake. Finally, lesser redpolls, crossbills, flocks of bramblings and a common scoter have also been sighted on the reserve among more common birds such as the kingfisher, dipper and a chiffchaff still present on 1st November!
Previous Blog: 107 is the magic number
The end of September saw the end of my third 6-month summer spell at Lake Vyrnwy. Each summer I have kept a list of birds I have seen on the reserve. For the last couple of years I have managed a total of 107 bird species each summer, with highlights being Surf Scoter, Great White Egret and Firecrest.
Drake Surf Scoter on Lake Vyrnwy in July 2013 (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
So this summer I have been hoping to beat this total. It was quite a slow summer with few unexpected birds turning up, but enough local rarities like Great Grey Shrike, Lapwing, Starling and a few wader species kept my tally increasing. A badly timed holiday meant I missed out on the Great White Egret but did return to find a nice Black Redstart (see previous blog) which was my 106th species. Having not seen any new species by the 28th September I thought I better take an early morning drive around the lake in the hope of any winter duck species which are currently arriving in the UK for the winter.
Great Grey Shrike at Lake Vyrnwy in April 2015 (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
On the morning of the 29th I took a drive around the lake, stopping at various locations, and to my delight found a small flock of 3 Wigeon just off the dam and later a flock of 20 half way up the lake to get me to the record equalling 107. A mixed flock of 20 Pied and Grey Wagtails on the dam suggested a bit of migration and a Kingfisher at the top of the lake brighten up a misty morning. Sadly I failed to find any further new species by midnight on the 30th September meaning I’ve now seen 107 species each summer for the past 3 years, giving me a grand total of 123 species. Wonder what 2016 will bring....
90 Common Scoters on Lake Vyrnwy in June 2014 (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
I now have the challenge of seeing how many species I can find over 6 winter months, though I have no target to aim for so will aim for as many as possible. Currently, as of 12th October, I am on 53 species so perhaps a target of 80 will keep me keen to get out and look. Highlights so far have been a male Common Scoter on the lake and a 1st-year Lapwing on the shoreline at Hafod, both seen on 11th October and are scarce visitors to the reserve. My target species for the winter is Great Northern Diver, which doesn’t appear to have been recorded here since 1986 but does regularly winter on Bala Lake.
What dreams are made of... A Great Northern Diver (Photo taken in Dumfries and Galloway by Gavin Chambers)
Recent sightings have included a couple of Red Kite over the Tower, Dipper below the dam, Crossbill along the Blue Trail and a Kingfisher, carrying a small fish, being chased by a second over the lake just off the dam. The first winter visitors are starting to arrive with small flocks of Redwing seen in the last few days along with 3 Teal at the top of the lake and the already mentioned Wigeon. However, summer migrants are still hanging on with a family of House Martins only just fledging in the last week and up to 13 being seen lately. A singing Chiffchaff was also heard on 10th October, though they have a tendency to stay later in the year with some also over-wintering, especially in the southern part of the country.
Dipper on River Vyrnwy in May 2013 (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
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