In the last couple of weeks our local ringer and volunteer has been out checking the ‘large’ nest boxes around the reserve. These large boxes are basically designed for the larger bird species like ducks and owls. At Lake Vyrnwy the usual species found in these boxes are Goosander, Stock Dove and Tawny Owl.
Typical ‘large’ nest box with Stock Dove in entrance (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
The location of these boxes is important when trying to encourage a certain species to use them. For Goosander they are ideally located over or near water (river or lake) with a clear flight path to the box entrance. Tawny Owl and Stock Dove are less fussy, they just want a convenient dry nest site to lay their eggs, though if the box is located deeper into woodland the Tawny Owl is more likely to be found in it.
Female Goosander on nest (Photo by Mike Haigh)
To find out the contents of the boxes a normal handheld digital camera is attached to a long pole, a timer set and then some quick manoeuvring to get camera through box entrance and positioned correctly before the timer goes off. A tricky task which Mike seems to have mastered (in general!) and a good way of saving time if the boxes are empty, plus it will often reduce disturbance to the birds.
Adult Tawny Owl (top left) and 2 chicks with food cache (bottom left) (Photo by Mike Haigh)
So the early results suggest a good breeding season so far, especially for owls. Of the boxes checked Tawny Owl have been in at least 10, Stock Dove in at least 6 and Barn Owl and Goosander nests have also been found. The Tawny Owl families have ranged from 1 to 4 chicks, with 4 being an unusually large brood for Tawny Owls. Being able to monitor Owl nests can give us valuable information as they are at the top of the food chain and can therefore can be a good indicator of environmental health, looks to be good with the number of owls being found!
Our Intern, Ros, with a brood of Tawny Owls (Photo by Mike Haigh)
One of the perks of the job, getting to see and hold cute balls of fluff!! They may look cute but their talons are not to be messed with, especially the adults. Unfortunately blood (of the human kind) is a common sight when dealing with owls which I saw first-hand last week, it looked sore!
Plant of the Week – by Gethin
Mountain Pansy / Fioled y Mynydd (Viola lutea) (Photo by Gethin Elias) Slender flowering stems, bearing usually one but sometimes as many as four blooms, are unbranched. Leaves are oval, lowdown on stems. Although the flowers of the Mountain pansy show the same kind of colour variations as the wild pansy, the two are not likely to be confused. The Mountain pansy, as name implies, shows a marked preference for upland homes, usually on lime-rich soils. At one time, garden pansies were forms of wild pansy bred and selected for size of flower and variety of colour. Today's garden pansies, however, were derived from a cross between the Wild and Mountain pansies and probably a third, foreign pansy. The Mountain pansy is the pure form and has always been a failure when planted in gardens. As long ago as the 16th century the herbalist John Gerard complained of the difficulties encountered in cultivating the mountain plant. The Mountain pansy grows well on the Dinas Mawddwy road.
Previous Blog: Lets have a Chat
It has been quite a quiet week mainly due to the weather which has now become very wet as well as cold. The lake has certainly been topped up and is again overtopping the dam. However bank holiday Monday was a nice day and there was plenty to see around the reserve on my day off. A walk along the first section of the Red Trail (a lot of forestry work at the moment) produced singing Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Tree Pipit and the briefest of reeling Grasshopper Warblers. There was also a flock of about 40 Crossbill flying around looking for food which they tended to head for Beech trees. As early breeders it was no surprise to see several juveniles amongst the flock.
Female Crossbill along Red Trail (4th May – Gavin Chambers)
Then to the Yellow and Blue Trails where pairs of Pied Flycatchers were guarding their nest box as they build their nests. Plenty of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff around with a few singing Blackcap hiding in the shrubbery. Best of all was the sound of a Wood Warbler singing its wonderful trilling song, sadly a sound that is disappearing from some parts of the UK. At the top of the Blue Trail a flash of red indicates the Redstarts were about and a couple of Pied Wagtails looked like they wanted to find a nest site. No Goshawk this time but still a good route to take if hoping for one and looking for a good variety of bird species.
Singing Wood Warbler around lake (4th May – Gavin Chambers)
The uplands are a great place to see Chats. If you stop along the Dinas Mawddwy or Bala roads you are quite likely to see a Stonechat, Whinchat or Wheatear. Chats are showy birds, liking to sit on prominent perches like a fencepost or small sapling and all have a very similar ‘chat, chat’ alarm call which can be the first indication of their presence. A few Stonechat fledglings have been seen this week and given their recent dramatic decline after a couple of hard winters, 4/5 years ago, it is a good sign of a recovery, they may also have a second brood.
Whinchat along Dinas Mawddwy road (9th May – Gavin Chambers).
Other sightings have included a couple of adult Hobby over the moors on the 7th May, a pair of Mandarin have been seen a couple of times on the River Vyrnwy and just off the dam and there has been a trickle of hirundines (Swallows and Martins) and Swifts moving through the reserve with many feeding over the lake before moving on. The Otter has again been seen a couple of times at the top of the lake. I managed to miss it by a few minutes from the Centenary Hide today (9th) where a couple had just filmed it walk right in front of the hide!
Plant of the Week
Crowberry / Creiglys y Mynydd (Empetrum nigrum) (Photo by Gethin Elias). Grouse and other moorland birds feast on the black glossy fruits of the Crowberry when it ripens in late summer. The plant is also the main source of food for the caterpillars of several months. Crowberry flourishes in the uplands often alongside Heather, Cranberry and Bilberry. The edges of the shiny leaves curl down and inwards to form a narrow tube, a device that reduces the loss of water by evaporation through the pores on the leaf surface. I often hear people mixing Crowberry and Cowberry up. I remember them by the shape of the leaf, Crowberry is like a crows beak and Cowberry has a wide leaf like a cows tongue.
Previous Blog: Gone a bit Cold!
This week has seen a significant drop in temperature with snow, hail and freezing overnight temperatures experienced. Having had a mostly warm April a lot of wildlife will have been prompted to start breeding, so this sudden cold snap could cause them problems. Eggs could get chilled, adults may struggle to find insects for newly hatched chicks and fledged birds may struggle to keep warm through the night. The cold weather could also delay the breeding season for the newly arrived migrants and slow the arrival of the late comers. Willow Warbler, Redstart, Pied Wagtail and Chaffinch have been seen nest building this week and Robin, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush and Dunnock have showed signs of having chicks. The first newly fledged Siskin was seen on the 26th and the Stonechat nest found on the 20th will hopefully be empty with 5 well grown fledglings in the vicinity.
Stonechat nest with 5 chicks (20th April – Gavin Chambers)
Despite the cold weather a few more migrant species have arrived with a Hobby seen over the moorland on 27th and again on the 1st May. The first Swift (over moors), Spotted Flycatcher (Yellow Trail) and Garden Warbler were all found on the 1st May as the sun tried to increase the temperature. A female Ring Ouzel was seen along the Bala road on the 29th and an Otter has been seen a couple of times during the day around the Centenary Hide on the 29th April and 1st May. Goshawk have continued to show around the reserve and for once the camera was ready while along the Blue Trail!
Immature Goshawk from Blue Trail (26th April – Gavin Chambers)
Friday’s sunny and slightly warmer weather encouraged birds to do a bit of displaying and singing. Singing Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher were very noticeable along the Yellow Trail as were many Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff. At the top of the Blue Trail a stunning male Redstart was holding its territory and a male Siskin was performing its display flight overhead.
Redstart along Blue Trail (1st May – Gavin Chambers)
Siskin displaying over Blue Trail (1st May – Gavin Chambers)
Unsurprisingly there has been little butterfly activity this week and due to the temperatures no survey has been conducted, let’s hope next week brings a rise in temperature!
Hare's-tail Cottongrass / Plu'r Gweunydd Unben (Eriophorum Vaginatum) (Photo by Gethin Elias - Migneint Arenig Fawr in the background) This is easy to distinguish from the other three British plants in its genus by its solitary flowers or spikelets followed by solitary 'cotton-wool' balls. These single balls of fluff look like the tail of a hare, giving this plant its common name. All the other species have multiple flowers and then multiple plumes on each stem. Like the other cottongrasses, it is always a sign of waterlogged ground.
Previous Blog: Common or Rare?