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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!
Posted by Gavin C
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.....
The majority of land managed by the RSPB at Lake Vyrnwy is run as an Organic Farm by the RSPB Farm team. This week saw the 76th Annual Sheep Sale take place at the farm on Friday. In the past 3 weeks the farmers have had a hectic time rounding up the sheep from the moors and selecting those for the sale, along with setting up the shed with a little help from a few willing volunteers. The auctioneers, Morris Marshall & Pool of Welshpool, come to the farm to sell the many Ewes and Lambs (1400 in total this year) and it is believed to be the only place in the UK where this type of auction takes place (auction on farm rather than at a market).
Build up to the sale
My rivalry with Adam took a nice turn for the better (for me anyway!) when I took a drive around the lake on Saturday (20th). Between the dam and tower I found a small group of ducks which to my amazement consisted of a Common Scoter (99th of the summer), a Pintail, 6 Wigeon and a few Mallard. That might not sound that amazing but they were my first Pintail and Wigeon of the summer and only the 3rd record of Pintail for the reserve! These birds were later seen from the Lakeside Hide along with 26 Teal and 5 Little Grebe. So Pintail and Wigeon take me to 107 species since the start of April and surpasses Adams list. However, if it wasn’t for Adam keeping a list I may not have tried as hard to find new species along with many other species such as dragonflies and butterflies, so thanks goes to Adam.
Pintail from Lakeside Hide
Other wildlife highlights have been; the first Common Darter of the summer (16th), a Hobby below the Hotel (19th), and the Otter was seen fishing below the dam for at least 20 minutes at 8am on the 16th. A male Redstart along the Green Trail (feeding around Jupiter) and a Wheatear along the rocky southern shoreline were lingering summer migrants (21st).
Male Redstart along Green Trail
Wheatear along southern shoreline
Marcolepidoptera of the Week
In the past week the weather has been idea for moths, humid mild nights, which has meant several new moths for the year being caught including: Oak Hook-tip, Flounced Chestnut, Dusky Thorn and September Thorn. You don’t just get moths in a moth trap with a Wasp, Orange Ladybird and a couple of Hawthorn Shieldbugs caught this week along with many craneflies and midges!!
So moth of the week this time goes to a very intricately patterned ‘French’ moth – Merveille du Jour, which apparently translates as ‘wonder of the day’. Despite the name it is fairly common and widespread in the UK and I imagine is on many moth-ers wish list. The larval foodplant is the immature flowers and leaves of Pedunculate Oak and probably Sessile Oak. The moth itself is well designed to camouflage itself against lichen covered trees.
Merveille du Jour (all photos taken by myself during the past week)
Adam has now migrated to RSPB Ynys-hir, along with fellow intern Tom, to start their second half of the internship. A huge thanks goes to both of them for their hard work throughout the last 6 months. With regards this blog, thanks has to go to Adam for his fantastically informative weekly posts which is going to be hard to continue to such a standard! Both interns got stuck right in to reserve work from monitoring on the moors to leading walks. They also came up with their own projects, Adam set up bat surveys and a fruitful butterfly transect but he wasn’t up for giving one of the horses a lift off the hill!
Adam and friend
Tom created a scale model Solar System trail. The Solar System trail was completed at the end of August and can be viewed along the Green Trail as you walk along the path to the waterfall at the top end of the lake. With each planet there is a brief description along with a few interesting facts, including how far away the nearest star would be at the scale used.
Solar System trail
As Adam mentioned in his final post, he managed to see 105 species of bird on the reserve during his 6 months here. There has been a friendly rivalry between Adam and myself, and having arrived a month later I have been struggling to catch up with Adam. However, today (14th) I found my 105th species…… a MOORHEN (a rare bird at Lake Vyrnwy!). With 2 weeks of my stay remaining will I manage to beat Adam???
Another local rarity was found off the dam on the 4th, an immature Shelduck which only stayed the one day (I was on holiday so missed it!). In the past week the lake has had: 5 Little Grebe, 5 Tufted Duck, 10 Teal, a Great Crested Grebe and 240 Lesser Black-backed Gulls came in to roost on the 7th between 7-8pm. Kingfishers continue to be seen around the lake including below the dam, along Green Trail and bottom of Dinas Mawydd road. 2 Dippers were seen below the dam on the 12th and Chiffchaffs have started to sing again, heard at several locations around the reserve. The butterfly transect was done this week but, despite the glorious weather, only 5 butterflies were recorded. A few dragonflies were still about with Black Darters and a couple of Brown Hawkers being the more obvious ones.
Brown Hawker ovipositing in small pond
While working around the reserve there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of Fungi about. Autumn is a great time of year to get out and about to see the amazing colours and shapes of Fungi, though remember some are poisoness and can be deadly!! One interesting looking Fungi is this Coral Fungi which was found along the butterfly transect and is only a couple of centimetres high. If anyone happens to know what species of Fungi this is it would be great to hear from you (comment here, facebook, twitter or email).
Coral Fungi - But which one?
Macrolepidoptera of the Week
The recent cold nights have put us off trying to use the moth trap. However it was put out on the 13th due to a slightly milder forecast and produced a few interesting moths including Pink-barred Sallow and Green-brindled Crescent. But, for me anyway, Macro-Lepidoptera of the Week goes to the Black Rustic. Yes I know its black, but I am always amazed by just how black it is. With its charcoal sheen and flecks of gold poking through I think this is an incredible looking moth and proves they don’t need vibrant colours to stand out.
In what is to be my final instalment of the sightings blog before migrating down to RSPB Ynys-Hir to continue my internship, I would like to take the opportunity to say a big thankyou to the staff and volunteers who have been a fantastic group to work with during the past six months. Lake Vyrnwy really is a great place for wildlife with mine and fellow intern Tom’s reserve bird list finishing on 107 species and over 300 moth species recorded since April being just a couple of notable stats for this upland reserve.
Anyhow let’s get back to the business of recent sightings of which a Common Tern, the first record for the reserve since 2008, was the main highlight and also a big reward for anyone who ventured out on what turned into a rather soggy bank holiday Monday.
This Common Tern was the first record for Lake Vyrnwy since 2008 (Many thanks to Gavin Chambers for the photo).
The lake played host to 64x Mallard, 6x Teal, 7x Goosander, 3x Little Grebe, 1x Great Crested Grebe, 2x Cormorant, 1x Common Sandpiper (dam, 27th), 1x Redshank (Lakeside Hide, 25th), 63x gulls roosted (Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gull, 26th) and Kingfisher (Hafod, Lakeside Hide, Hotel Boathouse and bottom of dam, daily).
Other interesting avian sightings included, 4x Kestrel (family party, Gadfa Road, 28th), Wheatear (Gadfa Road, 27th), Dipper (Afon Vyrnwy, daily), Willow Tit and Marsh Tit (Sculpture Park, occasional) and Crossbill (Visitor Centre, regular).
Willow Tit has been sighted occasionally around the Sculpture Park and can be best separated from the similar Marsh Tit via its call (Many Thanks to Gavin Chambers for the photo).
High levels of bat activity were recorded along the Afon Vyrnwy with Lesser Horseshoe, Daubenton’s, Common Pipistrelle and Soprano Pipistrelle observed. A small number of day flying bats were also sighted during the week around the dam, suggesting that the cold and wet weather of late could have had an impact on foraging success.
The bright red berries of Mountain Ash will provide an important source of food for thrushes during the winter months.
When the sun did shine the invertebrates took full advantage with Painted Lady, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Large White, Green-Veined White butterflies and Common Hawker dragonflies on the wing.
Macrolepidoptera Of The Week
Canary-shouldered Thorn is top moth this week. This colourful species is common in the UK where it frequents woodlands and gardens.
Canary-shouldered Thorn is top moth this week (Many Thanks to Gavin Chambers for the photo).
Posted by Adam J
A day foraging Otter below the dam was one of headline sightings from this period. The other was of three Redshank at the top end of the lake (Lakeside Hide, 23rd), the birds adding a bit of spice to Lake Vyrnwy’s autumn wader passage which up to then had consisted of two Oystercatchers.
An Otter showed superbly well below the dam (Many Thanks to Gavin Chambers for the photos).
The lake played host to 38x Mallard, 1x Teal, 16x Goosander (10th), 2x Little Grebe, 2x Great Crested Grebe, 4x Cormorant, 2x Grey Heron, 2x Common Sandpiper (10th), 10x Lesser Black-Backed Gull (22nd) and Kingfisher (occasional, Hafod and Hotel Boathouse).
Other interesting avian sightings included, Hobby (flew over Llanwddyn, 23rd), Peregrine Falcon (occasional, Lakeside Hide), 2x Swift (over dam, 19th, last sighting this year?), Kingfisher (regular, below dam), Dipper (3x daily, Afon Vyrnwy) and Pied Flycatcher (Llanwddyn, 10th).
The heather, now in full bloom, is looking fantastic on the hillsides. I took this photograph whilst checking drains in the Hafod valley.
Painted Lady was a new species for the weekly butterfly transect with small numbers of Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Copper, Comma, Green-veined White and Large White also on the wing.
The distinctive Comma butterfly was recorded during one of our weekly transects (Many Thanks to Gavin Chambers for the photo).
Odonata sightings included, Brown Hawker, Common Hawker, Black Darter, Emerald and Common Blue Damselfly.
Hummingbird Hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum is top moth this week. One was observed feeding on common knapweed flowers whilst undertaking a butterfly transect on the 15thAugust. It looks to have been a good summer for this species in the UK with lots of sightings registered on the butterfly conservation website.
Often misidentified as a Hummingbird the Hummingbird Hawkmoth is a regular immigrant into the UK from the Mediterranean (Many Thanks to Gavin Chambers for the photograph taken off site).
Grid reference: SJ0119 (+2km)
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