Spring at RSPB Ynys-hir

View towards the estuary at Ynys-hirMy boyfriend and I recently made our first ever visit to RSPB Ynys-hir, a fantastic reserve on the south side of the Dyfi estuary in Wales, and the venue for the BBC’s Springwatch series.

After getting some great views of ospreys in flight up the road at the Dyfi Osprey Project, we arrived at Ynys-hir in glorious sunshine and to a chorus of late morning birdsong. We had been really hoping to hear a wood warbler at the reserve, and weren’t disappointed – the unmistakable trilling song, somewhat like the sound of a coin spinning on a table, floated in through our car window before we had even reached the car park.

Another key species we’d hoped to spot was the pied flycatcher – a small, boldly marked bird with smart black and white plumage in the male – and again we had barely even entered the reserve before we heard our first singing male of the year.

Bluebell at Ynys-hir Unfurling ferns, Ynys-hir

Summer migrants

Ynys-hir is a large and impressive reserve, and more varied than I had expected. I knew it had oak woods and an estuary, but hadn’t realised that there were also pools, grassland and marshes, with a long boardwalk passing through the marsh.

There are some wildlife-watching trips where you seem to see everything, and every time you say “We must look out for a …., I’ve not seen one yet this year”, one pops up just seconds later, right on cue. This was one such trip. We saw loads of species, including some great summer migrants such as sedge warblers, redstarts, a stonechat and sand martins, and we even managed to get close up views of a singing grasshopper warbler, which true to its name sounds just like a reeling grasshopper.

Singing grasshopper warbler (Locustella naevia)
Singing grasshopper warbler © Ed Drewitt

A walk through the woods disturbed two basking grass snakes, although they were too quick for a good view! It was also great to at last see some signs of a belated spring, with bluebells coming out and several bees and damselflies out enjoying the much longed-for warm sunshine.

Perhaps it was the first proper warm sunshine of the year, the tranquility of the sun-dappled woods, or perhaps the serenading birdsong – loud even at midday – but it definitely felt like there could be no better place to be.

Sedge warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
Sedge warbler
Reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Reed bunting © Ed Drewitt

Ospreys and otters

One of the best moments of the day came when, just moments after I’d said to Ed “We’ll have to keep an eye out for any ospreys”, a few dots appeared in the sky above us. Not only did these include a fabulous soaring osprey, but also a red kite, which was tussling with the osprey while two buzzards soared in the thermal beside them, a cronking raven flew below, and a dozen sand martins started zipping about above our heads. We didn’t know where to look first!

Soaring osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Ynys-hir Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Ynys-hir

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Ynys-hir

Although we didn’t manage to spot any mammals during our visit, we did find some tell-tale, fishy-smelling otter spraint on the boardwalk passing through the marshy area. A good find, although the people passing us in the other direction must have wondered why we were on our hands and knees sniffing something we’d just picked up off the ground!

Otter spraint on boardwalk, Ynys-hirOur only disappointment of the day – if anything about such a wonderful visit can be disappointing – is that we failed to hear any cuckoos. These iconic birds are declining in the UK and are becoming a less and less common sight and sound across the country. Even this reserve, which should be perfect habitat for them, was sadly empty on our visit, although they have been spotted there this year by others.

Well worth a visit

Our drive away from Ynys-hir was also full of birds – nearly every other bird we saw seemed to be a red kite, and there were over a dozen of these magnificent birds of prey soaring in a thermal above one ridge alone.

Overall, it was a wonderful, wildlife-filled day out and somewhere we can thoroughly recommend visiting!

View out towards the Dyfi estuary, Ynys-hir
View out towards the Dyfi estuary, Ynys-hir

The BBC’s Springwatch series will be coming live from Ynys-hir from Monday 27th May – find out more at the Springwatch website.

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