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In the last month we have enjoyed some nice warm sunny weather which has given the many invertebrates, from moths to hoverflies, a chance to emerge and not forgetting the midges! This has been great for the breeding birds as they relentlessly forage for food for their hungry chicks including the newly fledged pied wagtail chicks outside the volunteer accommodation.
Pied wagtail chicks waiting to be fed outside volunteer accommodation – by Gavin Chambers
Given invertebrates are the prey item for so many predators, such as birds and other invertebrates, some have come up with ways of reducing their chance becoming breakfast. The hoverfly volucella bombylans (photo below) is one of the better mimics which looks a lot like bumblebee species, and amazingly has more than one colour form as shown in photo below. Incredibly this species lays its eggs in the nest of bumblebees which makes you wonder if the bumblebees themselves are fooled by the mimicry? However, it is generally thought that mimics look like bumblebees and/or wasps to make them look noxious (i.e. distasteful and likely to have a sting) to put predators off eating them.
Volucella bombylans (hoverfly) at Lake Vyrnwy – by Gavin Chambers
Moths are also good at mimicry to try and avoid predation. In general they use camouflage to blend into their typical habitat such as the buff-tip which looks a lot like a birch twig. Others will use bold flashes of colour to warn off predators with a few species having the larges ‘eyes’ as seen on the peacock butterfly.
Buff-tip – by Gavin Chambers
Despite their size invertebrates can travel very long distances, using weather systems to blow them to a new location. Species such as the painted lady butterfly and humming-bird hawk-moth are well known for their movements from Africa and the Mediterranean. However, this year has seen a mass movement of a tiny moth, plutella xylostella (diamond-back moth), with a wingspan of only 15mm. It is thought that millions have arrived from Continental Europe though we have only had a maximum of 7 in the moth trap.
Plutella xylostella (Diamond-back moth) – Archive photo by Gavin Chambers
Previous blog: Bank Holiday Stroll
Posted by Gavin C
The prospect of a sunny Bank Holiday had me off to the top of the lake and a wander along the Green Trail to see what was around. Drop in to our shop and visitor centre to collect a trail guide to all our trails and find out the latest information before going out to explore the reserve.
My first sighting was of Tom, an ex-intern from a couple of years ago who had popped over for the day, which may have been the biggest surprise of the day! After a quick chat it was back to the real wildlife with singing redstart around the car park and a distant view of a spotted flycatcher. Along the stream both a grey and pied wagtail were bouncing along the rocks only as a wagtail can, tail going like a metronome.
Pied wagtail below waterfall by Gavin Chambers
Looking skyward the local pair of peregrine were hanging in the strong wind and a couple of raven soared over with their distinctive deep croaking call. Another redstart decided to really show off and sit proud at the top of a tree and burst out its song while clinging on as it swayed in the wind.
Male redstart singing along Green Trail by Gavin Chambers
The woodland section of the trail started with a distant cuckoo calling and a male pied flycatcher keeping guard around its nest box. Unlike the pied flycatcher a singing blackcap made itself extremely difficult to find despite sounding very close and a spotted flycatcher sang directly above in a dead tree.
Common sandpiper below dam by Gavin Chambers
A walk to the Centenary Hide produced an energetically singing garden warbler which showed very briefly and a newly fledged grey wagtail chick. Walking back to the car park a dipper gave a burst of song and a common sandpiper floated downstream, they have also recently been seen feeding along the dam wall.
Previous Blog: All about Ffridd
The past week has been dominated by ffridd surveys. But what is ffridd? Well, ffridd is the Welsh name used to describe the habitat margin between the lowlands of good grazing and the moorland. It is generally slopes dominated with bracken with scattered trees and potentially scattered gorse and heather. Due to its nature of being the margin between two habitats it can be very variable and consist of different vegetation types and density depending on location and any management taking place, typically grazing.
Lake Vyrnwy ffridd in March by Gavin Chambers
Ffridd can support a good range of species including whinchat, ring ouzel, tree pipit, fritillary butterflies and ivy-leaved bellflower, all of which we get on the reserve. Given the three bird species mentioned are all Red Listed it highlights the importance of this habitat. So bird surveys taking place this year are aimed at understanding what our current population levels are on ffridd and can be used in the future to see how management that will take place in these areas has affected bird numbers.
Male whinchat on ffridd by Gavin Chambers
Good places to see ffridd and its associated species are along the Dinas Mawddwy road and Bala road by bridge over river.
With the arrival of some warmer weather the final summer migrants have arrived back. This includes whitethroat, garden warbler, spotted flycatcher and swift screaming over the village. Insects have been more noticeable with the first green hairstreak seen on the moors, green tiger beetle and some interesting looking nomad bees which look a lot like wasps!
Nomad bee by Gavin Chambers
Other highlights have been an adult hobby low over the village on 12 May and an osprey circling high over the Dinas Mawddwy road on 13 May.
Adult hobby over Llanwddyn by Gavin Chambers
Previous Blog: Expect the unexpected!
Remember the question I asked in my blog three weeks ago – Has Spring arrived? Well, if it had, we seem to have had summer and autumn in the last couple of weeks and already arrived back in winter! A couple more early mornings this week to look for grouse were cold and crisp with the weather turning dramatically on Wednesday morning while sitting on the moors at Tanrallt on the Mignient.
Telescope wasn’t needed after all – Photo by Gavin Chambers
With some migrants having already arrived and others still on their way it makes you wonder how they might cope with this cold snap. Our first whinchat was seen along the Bala road on the 27 April and the first wood warbler found in the woods along the Blue Trail the following day. This weather will no doubt affect certain species more than others such as small birds like wren, goldcrest and long-tailed tit, but will have the biggest impact on any early nesting birds with chicks. Food such as caterpillars and insects will be greatly reduced making it harder for adults to find food for their chicks.
Treecreeper nest building by Gavin Chambers
So far blackbirds have been our earliest known breeders with one nest of 3 chicks fledging last week near the shop and several other species seen carrying nesting material, including the treecreeper in the photo above.
Despite the cold weather the woodlands are alive with song and on the 15 May you can join us for a guided walk to listen to the dawn chorus as birds wake up and males stake out their territory. Booking is essential and further details can be found on our website.
Singing male redstart by Gavin Chambers
This bank holiday weekend is the last opportunity to join us on the farm for lambing so why not join us on Saturday or Monday at 1 pm, but don’t forget to book a place! (Note the event on Sunday has been cancelled).
Previous Blog: Whooshing and bubbling
This past week has been dominated by black and red grouse surveys which has meant very early starts as they are easiest to find around dawn. The earliest start has been 2:15am but generally averaging around 3am to be on the moors ready to survey around 4am. Overall the weather has been kind, with no rain and just a couple of days where the wind was a little strong.
Sunrise by Gethin Elias
The method is to walk transects along moorland edges and ridges and listen for their eerie bubbling and whooshing calls as they ‘lek’ to impressive the females. A lek is the name given to a group of displaying male black grouse, a small number of other species also lek, and who are said to be lekking. They can be feisty encounters especially when there are several males trying to attract a single female, but here at Lake Vyrnwy birds are often lekking on their own and are hard to see. So far several males have been heard bubbling around the reserve with a few more surveys left.
Lekking black grouse by Gavin Chambers (Archive photo taken elsewhere)
With grouse surveys finishing by 7am there has been time to continue with other surveys such as woodland common bird censuses (CBC’s), ring ouzel transects and moorland raptor monitoring. The CBC third visits were started this week with the woodlands now in song with pied flycatcher, redstart, and tree pipit which should soon be joined by wood warbler.
One sunny afternoon temperatures rose high enough to complete the first butterfly transect of the season which produced 4 species (peacock, small tortoiseshell, orange-tip and comma) and an interesting moth species, an orange underwing. There have only been 3 records of this species in the county with the last for Lake Vyrnwy being in 1998. It is a day flying species which likes to fly around the tops of birch trees as the buds are coming out in March and April which may explain the lack of records as they can be easily missed.
Orange underwing by Gavin Chambers
Other sightings this week have included the arrival of cuckoos which could be heard anywhere around the lake and also the first sightings of common sandpiper below the dam and from the centenary hide. A ring ouzel and fieldfare have been lingering along the Dinas Mawddwy road with the occasional hen harrier and merlin being seen.
Only a couple more weekends of Lambing on the farm events left so why not check out our website for details and book a spot. Please note that the event on the 1 May has been cancelled and moved to the 2 May.
Previous Blog: A good fall!
Wednesday (13 April) turned out to be a glorious day and lucky for some people. This year we are carrying out Common Bird Censuses (CBC’s) of all the broad-leaved woodland under our management, which totals around 170ha. The method requires 6 visits to each wood throughout the breeding season from mid-March to the end of June.
The view at the end of the woodland survey!
At this time of year the summer woodland migrants are just starting to arrive and despite none being seen on Tuesday the woods were alive with pied flycatcher and redstart the following day. This sudden increase in migrants is often referred to as a good fall of migrants, which relates to birds falling out of the sky, though this is generally only seen along the coast with the right weather conditions and at the right time of year.
Pied flycatcher by Gavin Chambers (taken last year)
The best place to see these migrants is along the Blue or Yellow Trails where tree pipit can also be seen and heard doing their parachute display flight and song. Another migrant that has arrived is a male ring ouzel at Gadfa along the Dinas Mawddwy road, a couple first seen on the 12 April with one still present on 14 April along with a late fieldfare who should be heading back to Scandinavia very soon.
Male ring ouzel by Gavin Chambers at Gadfa
Perhaps the most interesting record for the reserve on Wednesday were 2 little egrets that were first seen flying east high over the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel at 8am and assumed to have just been passing. But at 7pm two were seen roosting in trees along the edge of the lake near Eunant. The last record of little egret at Lake Vyrnwy was in 2007 (and is a nice addition to my list!).
Melangyna lasiophthalma by Gavin Chambers
Given the glorious weather on Wednesday it was no surprise to see a few more insects on the wing. A peacock butterfly was seen behind the shop and I managed to see my first hoverfly of the year, a melangyna lasiophthalma which is a first for me and one of the earlier species to emerge.
Don’t forget to check out our Lambing on the Farm events each weekend throughout April and finishing on 1 May. Please book early to avoid disappointment, as spaces are limited!
Previous Blog: Has Spring arrived?
It may be early April but there is still a touch of winter lingering on. April showers consist of hail and snow which isn’t much of a surprise given the temperatures, with the dam in full flow after a night of heavy rain.
Despite the cold, signs of Spring have certainly arrived with frogs spawn, daffodils and the first summer migrants starting to arrive. Swallow was surprisingly the first migrant back seen over the moors which were partly covered in snow on 30 March and was followed by a sand martin and singing chiffchaffs on 31 March. Migrants continued to arrive in the form of at least 6 wheatear along the Dinas Mawddwy road on 2 April and an osprey drifting over the reserve the following day. A singing willow warbler this morning (8 April) around the lake is the latest migrant to arrive with a redstart seen in the Dyfnant Forest just off the reserve yesterday.
Wheatear along Dinas Mawddwy road by Gavin Chambers
Perhaps the most obvious sign of Spring at Lake Vyrnwy at this time of year is the new born lambs bounding across the lakeside fields without a care in the world or sunbathing during a short spell of sunshine. The RSPB run the Ty Llwyd farm, which comprises around 11000 hectares of predominantly moorland habitat, and own around 3000 Welsh Mountain ewes which graze the moorland during the summer. From mid-March the lambing season begins and the farm becomes a hive of activity, new born lambs and their mums being moved out onto the fields and then more ewes being brought in for lambing.
New born lamb by Derek Vaughan, RSPB Volunteer
Here at Lake Vyrnwy we offer the opportunity for the public to experience lambing first hand with events taking place every weekend (Saturday and Sunday) until the 1 May. So if you, whether an adult, kid or family, would like to see live lambing give us a ring or drop us an email and book on to one of these events. For more information check out our website here (Booking is essential!).
Other sightings have included numerous goshawk all around the reserve and a large flock of finches feeding near Rhiwargor House along the Bala road which has comprised around 150+ chaffinch, 36+ brambling and a few goldfinch and lesser redpoll. Feeders around the shop and hide are currently very busy with siskin, chaffinch, goldfinch, blue tit, great tit, and coal tit making for a very colourful array. You may also be lucky to spot our new resident peacock which has been hanging around for a while now or a pair of mandarin moving around the lake.
Mixed brambling and chaffinch flock by Gavin Chambers
Though we a situated in the heartland of the Red Dragon, it has been the Blue Dragons that have been most prominent these last couple of weeks. The soaring temperature, reaching around 25°C, gave dragonflies and butterflies the chance to warm up and emerge from their nymphs and chrysalises.
So one sunny afternoon I decided to get the weekly Butterfly Transect done which, with the temperature at 23°C, promised great things. The first few sectors were very quiet with only a Large Skipper and Meadow Brown being recorded and moths in the form of Beautiful Carpet, Wood Tiger and Clouded Buff being nice additions.
Wood Tiger along Butterfly Transect (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
The end of the transect picked up with a good variety of Butterfly seen but not really in the numbers you might expect in the conditions. A nice patch of Forget-me-knot had attracted a Green Hairstreak and a rather worn Common Blue which isn’t as common at Lake Vyrnwy as its name suggests. Other species seen were: Ringlet, Small Copper, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Green-veined White, Small Tortoiseshell and Small Heath. So 11 species recorded but only 14 individuals in total perhaps suggesting the cold spring in to summer has affected them or there are still many more to emerge.
Male Broad-bodied Chaser at Lake Vyrnwy (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
So the Blue Dragons.... at the end of the transect there is a small dammed pool with small stream running in and out of it. It is great for Dragonflies and Damselflies and this was certainly true in the blazing sunshine. The usual suspects were around: Common Blue, Azure, Blue-tailed and Large Red Damselflies and Four-spotted Chasers. There was then a few flashes of chalk blue zipping around the edge of the pool, the largest one was fairly easy to get an ID of – a stunning male Broad-bodied Chaser.
Male Black-tailed Skimmer, a first for Lake Vyrnwy (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
The other blue flash was smaller and thinner bodied, so would have to be a male Keeled Skimmer or Black-tailed Skimmer. However Black-tailed Skimmers like pools whereas Keeled Skimmers prefer small running ditches and damp areas. It was soon joined by a female which, after the male had sat for a photograph, also helped confirm ID as a pair of Black-tailed Skimmers. It later transpired that this was the first record of this species at RSPB Lake Vyrnwy!
Beautiful Demoiselle at Lake Vyrnwy (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
The final species was a real beauty, a stunning iridescent Beautiful Demoiselle which unlike its close relative, the Banded Demoiselle, prefers running streams to slow moving water.
On the bird front, the summer migrants are starting to disappear from the woodlands. However a summer migrant was heard for the first time this year - a Quail. This tiny gamebird which is recorded here most years has a very distinctive call/song which is said to sound like 'wet-my-lips' which you can listen to here. A Kingfisher has also been seen off the dam, as were a group of 9 Common Sandpipers roosting on the shoreline and are probably a group on migration south.
Plant of the Week
Greater Butterfly Orchid / Tegeirian llydanwyrdd (Platanthera chlorantha) (Photo by Gethin Elias)
Last week Gethin Elias re-discovered this plant growing on the reserve it hasn’t been recorded since 1986.
An orchid of hay meadows and grassland it can be found along rides, clearings and edges of woodland. Due to the massive decline in meadows in the country this orchid is struggling to survive and has unsurprisingly greatly dropped in numbers.
A single spiked plant up to 60cm in height, it has several whitish to green flowers each with spread sepals and petals. The flowers lowest petal is yellowish green and long and narrow with its leaves being spotless, broad, shiny and elliptical. Care should be taken to separate the Greater Butterfly Orchid with its close relation the Lesser Butterfly Orchid, you need to examine the pollinia (mass of pollen)!
Previous Blog: Future Secured!
Despite the poor season for nest box breeding birds the woods are still alive with the sound of newly fledged birds. Tit families, high pitch squeaking Goldcrest chicks and Warblers have been quite noticeable. A few warbler nests that have been monitored appear to suggest that food has not been as much of a problem for them, however given they are ground nesters they are very vulnerable to being predated which unsurprisingly a small proportion have been.
We have our fingers crossed for a pair of Great Crested Grebes nesting on the lake. In recent years they have failed to successfully raise a family mainly due to the fluctuating water level, which given the recent very high level will hopefully stay high enough for long enough. Around the lake the loud piping call of Common Sandpipers has given away the likely presence of youngsters hiding away in the lakeside woodlands with one found in the last week.
Young Common Sandpiper around Lake Vyrnwy (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
Warmer weather has given the Butterfly transect a bit more life, with 8 species recorded on the 16th June. This included the first Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and Large Skippers of the year. A few Painted Lady butterflies have been seen this week, which if reports are to be believed will be arriving in the UK from Africa/Southern Europe in their millions this summer (A Painted Lady Summer)
Painted Lady (Archive Photo by Gavin Chambers)
Butterflies seen so far this year: Painted Lady, Meadow Brown, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Large Skipper, Small Copper, Small Heath, Green Hairstreak, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Orange-tip and Green-veined White.
Dragonflies and Damselflies
They are slowly starting to emerge from ditches, pools and boggy areas. Species list so far this summer: Large Red Damselfly, Azure Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly, Four-spotted Chaser and Golden-ringed Dragonfly.
Four-spotted Chaser (Archive Photo by Gavin Chambers)
While monitoring birds on the uplands the emergence of beetles has been noticed, especially Garden Chafers and the Coppery Click Beetle (Ctenicera cuprea) which tries to avoid danger by jumping with a clicking mechanism in its neck. It is one of the largest click beetles in the UK and can leap at speeds of more than 2m/s. Moths have been more prominent with the recent warmer nights, 42 species caught on the 20th June. Eyed Hawk-moth was nice to catch, their large ‘eyes’ used to scare off any unwanted attention. The biggest surprise was finding a new micro species for the reserve and county (Montgomeryshire) in the form of a Six-spot Groundling (Prolita sexpunctella), a moorland species that has probably been overlooked given its preferred habitat is generally remote.
Eyed Hawk-moth caught at Lake Vyrnwy (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
Heath milkwort / Amlaethai (Polygala serpyllifolia) (Photo by Gethin Elias) Walking through rushes and Deergrass, you may come upon its scatterings of dark purple, blue, light blue and white on the south facing slopes of higher, better-drained ground, with splashes of more intense colour from other plants such as Common Tormentil and Wild Thyme. Milkwort replaces, Common Milkwort on acid soils, and you can pretty much assume that any Milkwort growing in heathland or acid grassland is this species. To be sure, however, look at the leaves. The lower leaves of Heath Milkwort are arranged opposite one another towards the base of each stem, whereas those of Common Milkwort are alternative. The flowers on Heath species are usually slightly smaller, too, and of deeper but less bright colour than those of Common form.
Previous Blog: Ups & Downs
Grid reference: SJ0119 (+2km)
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