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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
Posted by Gavin C
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
This week there has been a few odd goings on. They have not been particularly rare occurrences but unusually for one reason or another. Probably the strangest find was an unusual singing Willow Warbler along the Yellow Trail. Generally it was singing like a typical Willow Warbler, but occasionally it would suddenly throw in a bit of ‘chiff-chaff’ song though quicker than a typical Chiffchaff. So why is it doing this? One option is that it could be a hybrid, however after a bit of googling it became apparent that it’s not uncommon for Willow Warblers to song mix or switch. A reason for this could be to deter any Chiffchaffs in the area from entering its territory, a few were heard in the vicinity.
(Please visit the site to view this audio)
Unusual song of Willow Warbler (Recording by Gavin Chambers)
Visually the bird looks like a Willow Warbler with long primary projection, pale legs and a strong supercilium (stripe above eye). It is perhaps a little paler, greyer than a typical Willow Warbler but as with all birds there is always going to be variation.
Willow Warbler along Yellow Trail (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
At the same time as watching the Willow Warbler a bat was spotted flying around over the river. It was around 5.30pm and the sun was out so it’s not really the time you expect to see a bat. Small swarms of insects above the river caught the bats attention and allowed for some photo attempts. Identifying bats inflight by sight alone is tricky and it had disappeared before the bat detector was retrieved. From its flight pattern/style, quick and erratic, and habitat it is likely to be a Common or Soprano Pipistrelle.
Common or Soprano Pipistrelle over river (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
A species that can be quite hard to see due to its skulking nature and camouflage plumage is the Common Snipe. Through the breeding season it is more often heard with its ‘chipping’ call, that sounds a bit like squeaky windscreen wipers, and also its fascinating ‘drumming’ display (see previous blog). Drumming is usually heard after dusk or around dawn, so when one was heard mid-morning it gave a great opportunity to see this dramatic display. You could see it spread its outer tail feathers and then swoop fast through the air to create the drumming sound.
Robin nest in bottom right box (Photos by Gavin Chambers)
The final bird oddity of the week relates to a very common and familiar bird, the Robin. While looking for gloves in our tool shed we came across a nest in one of the boxes, no eggs or adult present so we were initially unsure what had created it. However it soon became apparent that a Robin had taken up residence and was now sitting on 6 eggs. Nests are usually static creations but this one is very portable.
Plant of the Week (by Gethin)
Marsh Marigold / Cwpanau'r Brenin (Caltha palustris) (Photo by Gethin Elias) Hairless, perennial herb. Leaves are dark green and shiny, the lower ones long-stalked, cordate/kidney-shaped, up to 10 cm across. Upper leaves at stockless unclasped the whole stems. Large yellow flowers, 15-50mm across, have five petal-like sepals (no true petals) surrounding a mound of abundant anthers. Occurs in a range of wet habitats, usually in partial shade, such as the edges of rivers, streams, canals, lakes, ponds and ditches and then winter wet meadows and pastures. So it was rather a surprise to see it in a bog on open moorland at nearly 1600ft near Hafod. There were numerous plants in flower and they were all looking well.
Previous Blog: What a Hoot!
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?
From late March the summer migrants start to arrive back at Lake Vyrnwy, often a little later than the surrounding area given its altitude. The first migrant to arrive was the Chiffchaff during the last week in March and can now be heard all around the lake and a Redstart was reported just off the reserve in early April. A Tree Pipit was heard calling at the top of the Blue trail on the 5th April and the first Swallow and Willow Warbler were found on the 8th April. The first known Sand Martin to be seen was a day after the first Swallow, which is slightly unusual as they are consider one of the earliest migrants. However there are no nearby Sand Martin colonies so there is no need for them to hang around the reserve. A male Wheatear seen off the Dinas Mawddwy road on the 11th April is the most recent migrant to arrive.
One of the highlights of the past week was the appearance of an Osprey off the dam on the 9th April, initially seen by our very own Gary Slaytor and later seen catching a fish just off the dam. Another highlight has been a wintering Great Grey Shrike which has probably been around most of the winter and is thinking of heading back to its breeding grounds.
Great Grey Shrike - Photo by Gavin Chambers
The reserves field workers have begun their season of moorland monitoring and with the arrival of the sun, raptors have come out to play. Hen Harriers are back with the males starting to try and impress the females with their skydancing display, Merlins have given their all too brief glimpses and Goshawk have been seen displaying over moorland edge forestry (potentially viewable from any of our trails). The pair of Peregrines are back on their cliff opposite the Lakeside Hide and 4 Great Crested Grebes are currently arguing over who should be nesting at the top of the lake. Meadow Pipit and Skylark have been seen in good numbers and Stonechat have been seen nest building.
Female Stonechat with nesting material - Photo by Gavin Chambers
Other sightings have included 95 Black-headed Gulls (2nd April), 5 Oystercatchers on the dam (4th April) and a Redshank heard off the dam (9th April), all of which are uncommon birds on the reserve.
The warm sunny weather has given us the perfect opportunity to start our butterfly transect. The first survey on the 5th April recorded 12 Peacock, 1 Small Tortoiseshell and 1 Comma, with the second on the 9th April recording 20 Peacock and 2 Small Tortoiseshell. The moth trap has been out a couple of times and caught a good variety including Frosted Green, Yellow Horned, White-marked and Satellite.
2 Peacock Butterflies and a Small Tortoiseshell (top right) - Photo by Gavin Chambers
The next week should see the arrival of Pied Flycatcher and an increase in Willow Warbler, Redstart and the other early migrants. This time of year can also spring a few surprises.....
Grid reference: SJ0119 (+2km)
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