With the reserve having recently reopened to the public after several months, we’re long overdue an update of wildlife sightings stretching all the way back to almost mid-December. Once again much has happened with the changing seasons and lengthening daylight hours as the reserve gradually reawakens and comes to life as we move further into the spring. Winter visitors have mostly departed, spring migration is well underway with many migrant birds having already arrived, insects have gradually become more active and the reserve is full of colour with cowslips, daffodils, primroses and new leaves on the trees.

Some of the main highlights during this period have included a short-eared owl which was seen along the estuary track on 12/1, a firecrest which was near the bridge pond on 1/2, spotted redshanks with an individual being seen intermittently from 6/3 and two present from 13/4 including a summer plumaged bird, little ringed plover on 13/4, single ospreys over the reserve on 2/4 and 14/4, and great white egret on several days in late December and again around the beginning of April. An unusual looking pipit first seen on 1/1 was identified as a Scandinavian rock pipit (litoralis), a different race from the one that regularly occurs in the UK which breeds in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. It reappeared on 3/1 and again on 21/1, feeding on the islands on the shallow lagoon. Several pintail were also good records for the reserve including a single drake on 26/12, three drakes on 10/1 and a pair on 5/3 (library photo by Ben Hall, RSPB Images). With a considerable lack of observers around, it is of course highly probable that some potential sightings will have been missed, while other species may have been recorded less frequently than usual.

Some wildfowl species were present in good numbers through the winter, particularly shoveler with 41 individuals counted on 24/1 which may well be the highest number we’ve ever recorded on the reserve, while a peak of 21 merganser was noted on 10/3. Up to three female goldeneye were present for much of the winter, while pochard peaked at seven individuals on 1/2. Individual goosanders made occasional appearances, and wigeon, teal, gadwall and tufted duck have all been present in their usual winter numbers. Some less regular wildfowl visitors have included a drake mandarin which was seen on the river Ganol on 30/3, and a drake common scoter present on the estuary on 14/4. A pair of Great crested grebes have appeared intermittently on the deep lagoon since 19/3 but have shown no signs of breeding activity so far, having last bred successfully on the reserve in 2016. Mallards on the other hand have been seen with ducklings in recent days, with the first ones recorded on 10/4.

Lapwing were also present in good numbers over the winter with a good count for the reserve of 197 individuals on 1/2 (library photo by Andy Hay, RSPB Images). 70 dunlin on 13/2 was also a notable count, while redshank, curlew and oystercatcher were all present in typical winter numbers. Snipe were regularly seen around the lagoons, while individual woodcock were recorded flying over the reserve at dusk on 22/1 and 4/2. Other passage waders have so far included a bar-tailed godwit on 2/4, whimbrel with the first two seen on 5/4, black-tailed godwit present intermittently since 24/3 with a peak so far of 10 birds on 14/4, a greenshank on 9/4, and two grey plover on 14/4. Two common sandpipers returned on 10/4 and have so far remained around the deep lagoon.

Siskin were another species seen far more than usual on the reserve this winter with flocks of around 20 birds regularly feeding in the alder trees. Lesser redpoll were occasionally present with them in small numbers, also putting in more appearances than in previous years with a maximum of four birds on 22/3 (library photo by Ben Andrew, RSPB Images). Treecreeper were also seen on 3/2 and 21/2, another species which are scarcely recorded here. Redwings were frequently present throughout the winter with a maximum of 25 birds feeding on the reserve on 23/1 when a flock of 18 skylark were also seen flying over, most likely on the move due to the cold weather. Small numbers of goldcrest and stonechat were regularly noted, as well as choughs which often pass over the reserve during the winter. Individual red kites on 3/1 and 10/3 were good records, while other regular raptors included peregrine and sparrowhawk, often in pursuit of the starling flocks as they came in to roost in the reedbeds at dusk. The starlings themselves peaked in number around the beginning of February with similar numbers to last year, an estimated 60,000 birds producing some spectacular murmuration displays.

The summer migrants began to arrive from early March with the first singing chiffchaff noted on 8/3, followed by sand martins which first appeared on 19/3. Blackcap was next with the first singing male recorded on 29/3, while the first swallow and willow warbler both appeared on 30/3. White wagtails started to be seen along the estuary from 10/4 on their migration northwards, while our first recorded wheatear on 13/4 was a little later than in previous years. A house martin on 13/4 was the first record of the year, and at least 11 sandwich terns were feeding in the estuary on 14/4. More warblers followed with a reed warbler singing near the bridge pond on 16/4 (library photo by Ben Andrew, RSPB Images), while two sedge warblers and a whitethroat on 17/4 were the first of the year.

Cetti’s warbler have been far more consistently present around the reserve this winter than in previous years, with at least three highly vocal birds remaining to date which is a promising sign that they may possibly stay and breed for the first time this year.

Meanwhile our trail camera has recorded a good number of mammals in recent months with otter visiting the reserve on nine different nights, badger on six different nights including two individuals on one of the nights, and foxes on numerous occasions which have also been seen occasionally in the day time.

The first butterfly, a peacock was seen on 17/3 with comma and small white recorded from 30/3, small tortoiseshell (library photo by Grahame Madge, RSPB Images) and speckled wood from 31/3, and red admiral and orange tip from 14/4. A brimstone was also seen on 16/4. White-tailed and buff-tailed bumblebees were recorded early with individual queens of both species seen on 5/3. Early bumblebees, Clarke’s mining bees and dark-edged bee-flies were recorded from 31/3, red-tailed and early bumblebees from 2/4, and tree bumblebees from 12/4.