The grass is brown and desiccated, the leaves on some of the trees curl and fall to the floor, and the media is drawing parallels with the summer of 1976. This is the heatwave of 2018. My memory of 1976 (I was five years old) was the huge number of ladybirds* - I remember having to pick my way carefully along the path to the school gate to avoid treading on them - but I'm not sure a generation younger than me would believe that. I have probably seen no more than half a dozen ladybirds all summer.
This summer's heatwave is evident around the reserve, which has seen just 1.3cm of rain since 1 June. Some of our temporary ponds have dried out completely, but that's fine, and happens every year. The Bridge Pond is lower than I can recall having seen it in July, and the water levels in the lagoons are falling fast. That drawdown is an annual event, designed to create muddy edges during late summer that migrating waders can use, although the Shallow Lagoon is at its lowest at this point since summer 2011.
The ponds that contain water provide a home for all sorts of invertebrates, including dragonflies such as emperor, common hawker, common darter, black-tailed skimmer and broad-bodied chaser (this one photographed by Steve Jordan during our Meet the Dragons event on Saturday). We also saw six-spot burnet moths, red-and-black insects flying over the grasslands in their hundreds. Stoats have been seen frequently this week, although with no regular location it's hard to advise where it's best to see them.
It's been an excellent year for breeding waterbirds, with dozens of broods of mallard and gadwall ducklings, little grebes, moorhens and coots on the lagoons: our first tufted duck brood of the year is on the deep lagoon, a brood of two lesser black-backed gulls are growing up on the raft in front of Tal-y-fan Hide, and an oystercatcher chick is on one of the islands close to the Carneddau Hide. A water rail was seen near the boardwalk yesterday, prompting speculation that they may have bred this year, although it could be an early returning bird from elsewhere.
A few dunlins, whimbrels and black-tailed godwits have been seen this week, the start of the autumn wader passage. Three crossbills last Sunday (8th) were unusual here, and a great white egret over the weekend (5th/6th) may still be in the estuary. A few stock doves have been seen in recent weeks, a species that isn't common locally, while we've had several reports of dipper on the Afon Ganol - if you've seen them here, we'd love to know more, as it would only be the second record for the nature reserve.
For a fascinating description of the 1976 ladybird invasion, and other features of the drought that year, read Matthew Oates' account here.
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