An incredible five different species of heron, some more commonly seen in the Mediterranean, have arrived at Burton Mere Wetlands this spring and are showing positive signs of breeding, which is very exciting! Here, our Site Manager, Graham Jones comments on this wonderful spectacle:
Burton Mere Wetlands is well-known for its grey heron and little egret breeding colonies, but this year, those two more regular types of heron have also been joined by a pair of cattle egrets, a pair of spoonbills and a pair of great white egrets too. These rare birds are all showing positive signs of breeding, having been seen carrying nesting material into the heron colony lately. If they are successful, it will only be the second time that cattle egrets have bred at the site and a first for both spoonbills and great white egrets.
Little egret carrying nesting material by Stephen Bennion
It is absolutely staggering to see five different heron species making their home here. The grey herons nest here each year, but little egrets only colonised the UK in the late 1980s and have only been breeding here since 2005. For them to now be joined by the much rarer cattle egrets, great white egrets and spoonbills is even more astonishing. They’re usually more at home breeding in the Mediterranean, so we’ve been dubbed the ‘Costa del Dee’ by some of our visitors. If the birds all breed it will be extraordinary and cause for additional celebration in our anniversary year.
Cattle egret by Paul Brady
We're celebrating our 40th anniversary of the RSPB Dee Estuary this year, having secured our first reserve at Parkgate (Gayton Sands) back in 1979, creating a protected area for tens of thousands of birds. Since then, our land holdings have expanded significantly, to both sides of the English/Welsh border, with Burton Mere Wetlands being the most recent addition in 2011.
Spoonbill carrying nesting material by Peter Sutton
The whole area is over 6000 football pitches in size making the Dee Estuary nature reserve the 5th largest RSPB site in the country.
I grew up on the Wirral and started coming to Parkgate in the 1980s as a teenager to watch the birds thrive on the marsh. Back then it was inconceivable that little egrets would live here, let alone that we would be seeing even more unusual birds like cattle egrets, spoonbills and great white egrets. We’ve also got at least 10 pairs of Mediterranean gulls nesting too, so it truly is like being on holiday, and testament to the hard work and dedication carried out here for the last four decades.
Over the past 40 years, our work on the Dee Estuary has created valuable spaces for birds and other wildlife, and we’ve undertaken extensive land management to support a variety of species to nest. Important conservation work further down the west coast at places like our Ham Wall reserve in Somerset, where creating the right conditions has seen cattle and great white egrets breeding in the past few years has also paved the way for these species to move northward and make their home on the Dee.
Great white egret by John Hewitt
We’ve reinstated the viewing area from 2017 that offers a good vantage point to watch the heronry; please keep within the roped area. Thank you to all who have sent through images of these wonderful birds to our Facebook group, our Twitter and via email. Hope to see you soon.
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