Cowslips beside the shallow lagoon in early spring (Jonni Price)

It’s been a while since the last sightings blog post for the reserve was published, and a lot has certainly happened over the last three months with seasons changing, migrant birds coming and going, and the reserve coming to life in its full glory as we approach mid-summer. With the lack of visitors and only a small number of staff working there may be fewer wildlife records throughout this period than in previous years, but nevertheless with daily visits to the site to check on livestock, there’s still been the opportunity to observe and record all sightings of interest.

Bird highlights during this period have included a great white egret on 3/4 and several notable waders including spotted redshanks with individuals present from 8/4 to 10/4 and again on 30/4, a little ringed plover on 16/5, and a green sandpiper on 21/5. Hobby was recorded again for the first time since 2018 with individuals on 10/5 and 28/5, while an osprey was seen heading north over the reserve on 8/6. Two red kite sightings were also of interest with one over the reserve on 22/4 and three over on 28/5.

By late March the only migrant birds to have returned were sand martin and chiffchaff, with all other species arriving over the following month. 5/4 saw the first willow warblers arrive with three singing males present, while three swallows were the first of the year and the first singing blackcap was also recorded, although some blackcaps also overwinter locally. The next arrival was reed warbler on 7/4, then the first sedge warbler was singing in the reeds close to the lookout on 9/4. The first common sandpiper was seen on 10/4, with at least one pair present since with signs of possible breeding behaviour, and a peak of four birds from 18/4 to 19/4. Three house martins were the first ones of the year on 12/4, joining the other hirundines feeding over the lagoons. More warblers followed with the first whitethroat on 18/4, garden warbler on 19/4 and lesser whitethroat on 22/4, while swifts as usual were the last of the regular migrants to arrive with two seen on 26/4. 

 Black-tailed godwits including a colour ringed bird (Ruth Close)

 Male whinchat (Jonni Price)

Other migrant birds of interest included good numbers of white wagtails with the first individual seen on 28/3, and records of up to at least 20 birds on several days in early April. Four wheatears on 5/4 were the first ones recorded with regular sightings throughout April and into early May, many birds being of the Greenland race (leucorhoa), stopping off to feed along the edge of the saltmarsh as they head northwards. Other migrants heading for more northerly breeding grounds were whimbrels, with the first record of two birds on 9/4, and black-tailed godwits with small numbers passing through daily on most days in April with a peak of eight on 12/4. Both these species are likely to be on their way to Iceland to breed, although one black-tailed godwit has remained present around the lagoons to date. Two of the godwits seen were colour ringed from separate ringing projects, one ringed as an adult on the Tagus estuary in Portugal on 7/1/19, and one ringed as a chick in south east Iceland on 4/7/12. A male whinchat on 22/4 was a good record, while small numbers of sandwich terns were seen feeding in the Conwy estuary on several days around late April and early May, with a maximum of eight birds on 4/5.

The winter season sees a greater variety of wildfowl species here at Conwy when most species are also present in larger numbers, which noticeably diminish as we head further into the spring. A pair of goldeneye which remained through much of the winter were last seen on 1/4, by which time most of the teal, shoveler, pochard and merganser had left along with all the wigeon except for one individual which has remained on the lagoons, apparently due to a damaged wing. Over the last couple of weeks small numbers of several of these species have reappeared, perhaps birds which have failed to breed elsewhere and moved on, including a pair of pochard on 7/6 with a male still present the following day, a shoveler on 18/6 and again on 22/6, and several teal with a maximum of six on 19/6.

There were brief promising signs that great crested grebes might breed on the reserve again this year with a pair seen displaying and carrying nesting material on 3/4, although they didn’t stay around for very long. However, a pair made a recent reappearance on 16/6 with a third bird joining them on 19/6. The first mallard ducklings were seen on 16/4, and there appear to have been good numbers breeding this year along with smaller numbers of coots, moorhens and little grebes all seen with young in recent weeks. Good numbers of gadwall and tufted duck remain on the reserve, so it looks promising that we’ll see a few broods of these species within the next few weeks, as has happened in recent years. A water rail seen on 4/4 was a relatively late record and gave some hope that there may be birds staying on to breed, although there has been no further evidence of this.

 An unusual feral visitor - a bar-headed goose (Ruth Close)

Mid-June always sees the build-up of large numbers of geese which come to the reserve to moult after having bred elsewhere, and to date we have counted over 330 Canada geese and 53 greylag geese here. More unusually some other species of feral geese dropped in earlier in the spring including four barnacle geese and a single bar-headed goose which were seen on 5/4. Another feral bird of interest was a male mandarin seen on 24/4.

Other notable wading birds included a rather late bar-tailed godwit on 27/4, occasional greenshank with individuals seen on several dates earlier in the spring, single ringed plover on 13/4 and again on 5/6 to 7/6, and a small passage of dunlin with a maximum of 65 recorded on 6/5. As usual, small numbers of oystercatcher have made breeding attempts with one nest currently active with three chicks recently hatched. Up to seven lapwing have also remained present but as in recent years there have been no promising signs of breeding. Recent small increases of wading bird species suggest the very beginnings of autumn migration with seven redshank present on 17/6, 39 curlew on 18/6 and the early return of seven black-tailed godwit on 19/6.

Mammal sightings have included many appearances over the last couple of months of a fox with two young cubs. She has often left the cubs to play near a disused badger set on the edge of the reserve, so they have a safe place to hide while she goes off to hunt. Meanwhile stoats were recorded on the trail camera on 26/3 and 31/5 along with an otter on 19/4, a possible polecat on 14/5 and a badger on 15/5.  

With plenty of warm sunny days over the last few months there have been many insect sightings. Comma, small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies were recorded from 26/3, and other butterfly highlights included orange tip from 8/4, speckled wood from 10/4, holly blue from 3/5, common blue from 7/5, a small skipper which is a relatively scarce species on the reserve seen on 14/5, and meadow browns which have begun to emerge over the last couple of weeks with the first one recorded on 7/6.

 Southern hawker (Jonni Price)

  Four-spotted chaser (Jonni Price)

Dragonflies and damselflies have also been numerous with blue-tailed, large red and common blue damselflies and broad-bodied chaser seen from 13/5, four-spotted chaser from 21/5, azure damselfly from 25/5, emperor dragonfly from 28/5 and southern hawker from 15/6.

 Female flower crab spider on an oxeye daisy (Jonni Price)

 Drinker moth caterpillar on the boardwalk (Jonni Price)

 Poplar hawk moth (Jonni Price)

Other invertebrates of interest included flower crab spiders, with the reserve being one of the most northerly sites in the UK where they are found. Feathered thorn moth caterpillars were the first recorded evidence of this species breeding on the reserve, while a yellow-tailed moth caterpillar and several drinker moth caterpillars were also nice to find. Clark’s and ashy mining bees, dark-edged bee-flies and a poplar hawk-moth were also notable.

 Bee orchid (Jonni Price)

 Pyramidal orchid (Jonni Price)

With spring turning into summer, many flowers around the reserve are now in full bloom with bee orchids seen flowering since 28/5, southern marsh orchids from 21/5 with the smaller early marsh orchids amongst them, and pyramidal orchids from 7/6.