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)
Previous Blog: Title: Ewe decide
The last week has been a very busy one for the farm staff on the RSPB farm culminating in the sale of 1600 Ewes and Lambs on Friday. All livestock are farmed organically and consists of mainly Welsh Mountain and a small number of Speckled Face Sheep, which are used to graze the uplands around the reserve.
Sale in full swing (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
The auctioneers, Morris Marshall & Pool of Welshpool, come to the farm to sell the sheep. It is believed that Lake Vyrnwy is the only place in the UK where the auction takes place on the farm rather than at a local market.
As mentioned in previous blogs, autumn can be a great time to find something a little different and this weekend (19th) proved this point. A walk along the green trail to Rhiwargor Waterfall at the top end of the lake was seemingly very quiet with little bird activity until a flash of red flew in front of me while standing on the wooden bridge. It was clearly a Redstart species but the dark grey coloured body had alarm bells ringing…. It was a Black Redstart! There was a possible seen a few weeks ago but not relocated after a few searches so it may have been around a while.
Black Redstart at Rhiwargor Waterfall (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
Continuing along the green trail into the oak woodland there was a Chiffchaff singing, a few have been singing recently in the warmer weather, and a late tatty Purple Hairstreak was sunning itself near the tree tops. There was a lot of noisy birds around with Nuthatch being the loudest among mixed Tit flocks roaming the bushes.
Purple Hairstreak along Green Trail (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
With the warm conditions on Saturday I decided to walk along the Butterfly transect, not quite suitable for carrying out a survey but still good for hoverflies and dragonflies to be out and about. The first species found was one I had not seen on the reserve before, a female Southern Hawker, patrolling a stretch of woodland edge stopping briefly for a photograph! A Common Darter was also nice to see.
Southern Hawker (female) at Lake Vyrnwy (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
Invasive Plant of the Week
Himalayan Knotweed (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
With the removal of Himalayan Balsam nearly finished we felt we needed a new species to attack and the victim this week has been Himalayan Knotweed.
This plant is not only an invasive species, it is also a frustratingly difficult name to remember! We are used to talking about Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed but when you mix the two names together it boggles the brain. It has similar flowers to Japanese Knotweed and similar leaves and stem to Himalayan Balsam and hopefully not quite as invasive as these species.
Previous Blog: A bit of Colour