It’s been a busy few weeks with numerous interesting sightings for the reserve, but undoubtedly the highlight has to be a nightjar which was present on 22/5, the first record of this species here. Being nocturnal, the bird spent most of the day roosting on the back of a life size model of a heron which had been positioned in front of a viewing screen as part of our children’s discovery trail. This provided many visitors with the rare opportunity to see this species sitting in close view during the daytime. Like many summer migrants, they arrive from Africa and are normally only seen easily in their breeding habitat which includes heathland, moorland and young coniferous plantations where they fly around feeding on insects and displaying at dusk and are easily located by their distinctive ‘churring’ call. The bird seemed completely unbothered by the presence of many observers throughout the day, and only occasionally shuffled around revealing the white markings on the wings and tail which identified it as a male. It stayed put late into the evening, leaving at dusk to feed and as expected by the morning it had moved on.
Another great sighting for the reserve was a pied flycatcher, a female which was present around the bridge pond on 26/4. Although a relatively common breeding bird locally in woodlands around the Conwy valley, this was surprisingly only the second record here. Yellow wagtails were another highlight with an individual present on 25/4 and two birds on 8/5 including a ‘channel’ wagtail which is a hybrid between the British race (Motacilla flava flavissima) and the continental race known as the blue-headed wagtail (Motacilla flava). A spotted flycatcher on 14/5 was also a good record with less than annual sightings here, while individual male whinchats were seen along the estuary track on 22/4 and on several days between 9/5 and 13/5, with three birds present on 11/5.
Ospreys have put in more appearances here than in previous years with three more sightings of birds flying over on 22/4, 26/4 and 22/5, and similarly sandwich terns seem to have been present on the estuary in greater numbers than usual with birds present on most days over the past few weeks with a peak count of 52 on 8/5.
More summer migrants continued to arrive to breed including the first lesser whitethroat on 24/4 and garden warbler from 2/5. Swifts appeared from 24/4, while other passage migrants included a tree pipit flying over on 23/4, grasshopper warblers heard on 24/4 and 30/4, numerous wheatears including many birds of the Greenland race (Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa), and white wagtails (Motacilla alba), the continental race of the pied wagtail which head north to breed in Iceland. Unusually, a cuckoo could be heard calling from the reserve on 26/5 from across the Conwy estuary above Benarth wood.
Wader highlights have included several little ringed plover which were seen regularly around the end of April and beginning of May, with a maximum of three on 25/4, and a pair seen displaying raising some brief hopes that the species might breed again here as they have done in the past. A spotted redshank was seen again on 19/4, having been recorded several times over the previous couple of months, and several sanderlings were particularly notable with three seen on 8/5, one on 9/5 and two on 17/5. A steady passage of whimbrel continued with small numbers of birds recorded on most days as they move northwards, along with a trickle of black-tailed godwits including a peak of 10 birds on 14/5. Up to five common sandpipers have been present around the lagoons with two birds paired up and looking as if they may make a breeding attempt, while other notable passage waders included a bar-tailed godwit on 23/4, a good count of 63 dunlin on 8/5, and two ringed plover on 9/5.
Other water birds of note have included three summering wigeon which are still present, regular red-breasted merganser with a maximum of four birds on 10/5, a female goosander which has put in occasional appearances, and a pair of great crested grebes which were seen displaying on 19/4 and have been present intermittently though seem to have been largely absent over the past couple of weeks. Meanwhile mallards, coots, moorhens, little grebes and Canada geese have all been recorded with young, and small numbers of gadwall and tufted duck remain which are also likely to make breeding attempts.
Other birds of interest have included individual red kites on four separate days during late April, a kestrel hunting over the reserve on 22/4 and 28/4, and single stock doves on 27/4 and 22/5.
There’s certainly been a lot more rain over the past few weeks than in previous years at this time, but the drier and sunnier days have resulted in sightings of various insects including speckled wood, small tortoiseshell, orange tip, peacock, and more recently common blue butterflies.
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