It has been a strange spring so far, dry with cold easterly winds early in April, strong westerly winds last week and heavy rain over the last few days. With such changeable weather It suprises me how our breeding lapwing manage to cope. Driving along the reserve's tracks at the edge of the lowland wet grassland this morning I carefully scanned the fields where the lapwings are nesting (53 pairs this year). To my joy there were good numbers of little lapwing chicks feeding amongst the short grass. We built an electric fence around the main breeding wader fields some years ago, which stops any predation by mammals, and there were lots of lapwing chicks within the electric fence. On the fields near the Breakwater hide which have no electric fence I was also pleasantly suprised to see lots of chicks too. Fingers crossed that enough survive to fledging and return to us again to breed in future years.
Despite the occasional sunny day spring has been rather slow to arrive here. The majority of our summer migrants are now in with lots of pied flycatchers, wood warblers and redstarts busy making a home for themselves in the woodlands. An occasional cuckoo call in the low temperatures reminds us that it is really spring although, at times, it feels more like autumn. Our lapwing and redshank are also a bit late this year. Last year the lapwings were incubating full clutches of eggs on March 20th but things did not start this year until mid-April; 53 lapwing pairs are nesting on the reserve this year and recent rain, after a lack of rain for some months, has improved feeding conditions on the lowland wet grassland. No spotted flycatchers have been seen yet but they should hopefully arrive soon. As with everything this spring, better late than never!
The monthly co-ordinated wildfowl and wader count on the Dyfi was carried out at high-tide this morning. I covered the Ynys-hir RSPB reserve section whilst others counted the other three sections further down the estuary. The barnacle geese, all 321 of them, were feeding on the remaining grass not covered by the high-tide. Most of the waders were roosting on the flooded fields near the Breakwater hide with over 200 curlew, 60 redshank and a few bar-tailed godwits hunkered down in the increasingly strong winds. The highlight amongst the waders was a spotted redshank, the paler body, longer bill and pronounced eye-stripe distinctive even at long range. From tomorrow we will be closing the path along the railway until April 1st to reduce disturbance to the wintering ducks and waders on the Breakwater fields. 16 Greenland white-fronted geese were feeding on the lowland wet grassland only 150m from the Breakwater hide; all were adults and the low productivity of this race on the breeding grounds is an increasing cause of concern. The rarest county bird of the day though was a male pochard. A common and familiar bird on most areas of water in England and parts of Wales it is a very scarce bird in Ceredigion and is only the second record of a pochard in the county this year. Strange to say but it is rarer in the county than both eider and long-tailed duck!
Colder weather over the last few days has seen an increase in winter visitors to the reserve. Yesterday there was a strong passage of redwings through the reserve and the first goldeneye of the winter was on the Dyfi. 278 barnacle geese are feeding on the salt marsh and ten Greenland white-fronted geese were feeding on the lowland wet grassland with large numbers of Canada geese. Wader numbers on the lowland wet grassland are slowly increasing too with 750 golden plover, 2000 lapwing and 100 curlew. Birds of prey are now a regular feature with a ring-tailed hen harrier, a juvenile marsh harrier, merlin and peregrine seen yesterday along with the more usual red kites, buzzards and sparrowhawk.
Despite the sunny and warm weather a few winter visitors are already here. 63 barnacle geese have arrived on the salt marsh, some 3 weeks earlier than normal. Wigeon numbers have incresed to 400 and teal numbers are building up too with 600 counted yesterday. Some summer migrants like spotted flycatcher and blackcap are still here but most are moving on. A juvenile marsh harrier was hunting over the salt marsh today and a few passage waders are on the freshwater pools with 3 green sandpiper, 7 black-tailed godwit and a juvenile little ringed plover yesterday. At low-tide good numbers of other waders have been seen on the exposed mud and sand with 250 ringed plover, 800 dunlin and a few knot, sanderling and turnstone present.