This is a great time of year, with the reserve just bursting at the seams with wildlife. The team have been spotting the new spring arrivals, trying to catch the last glimpse of our winter birds and watching out for those birds migrating through. Not to mention weasels playing on the boardwalk, water voles balancing on piles of cut reeds, toads strutting across the paths and some interesting signs of otter around the old fishponds.
Weasel: John Hewitt Common toad: Julie Rogers
We're seeing increased activity from the great egrets near the visitor centre, fishing with little egret and occasionally the herons. The grey herons have continued to build in numbers, with over 30 in Marsh Covert now. Cattle egrets have been spotted frequently coming into roost in this area too, so fingers crossed for a successful breeding pair this year. Another bird we hope will return any day now are the spoonbills. Back in 2019, we had some really encouraging behaviour from a pair building a nest in the treetop heronry. Unfortunately, it didn't last long as a third bird appeared and disrupted the pair. It did make for some fascinating viewing from Marsh Covert hide, as they played a very serious game of tug of war with the nesting sticks.
Mediterranean gulls have been seen occasionally on the main scrape but more often out over the wet grassland areas, seen by the wardens. Hopefully, they will return to their usual spot and breed again this year on what the team call “Med gull island”.
The top bird of prey sighting over the last couple of weeks has got to be the marsh harrier pair. Seen regularly courting for weeks now and this week has been seen carrying nesting material into the reedbed. Fingers crossed they have another successful breeding season like last year. We have also had increased sightings of hunting peregrine, sparrowhawk and kestrel across the reserve. With now much fewer sightings of merlin, as they head back to their upland breeding sites. During the last few weeks, visitors had been lucky enough to spot a barn owl hunting during the day as early as 3.30pm around the bird cover crop fields and being harassed by a feisty kestrel.
Barn owl: Ron Thomas
The main scrape has been a buzz of activity with a good mix of winter and spring ducks including pintail, wigeon, gadwall, tufted duck, teal, shoveler, and shelduck. Plenty of fantastic waders around too, like large flocks of lapwing over the wet grassland area fighting for the best breeding territories at the moment. Equally good numbers of black-tailed godwits on the scrape with the odd bird in its stunning orange summer plumage, which stands out fantastically amongst the grey winter plumage of the rest of the birds.
Recently around 300 redshanks were counted on-site but for the most part, these birds at this point are passing through Burton Mere Wetlands to other breeding sites. We hope to get around 30 to 40 breeding pairs typically each year at Burton Mere Wetlands and significantly higher numbers out on the saltmarsh. Spotted redshank have also been seen occasionally from the Bridge screen along with the odd sighting of green sandpiper and greenshank, all migrating through just stopping in for a quick rest and feed.
Great excitement as the recent count for avocets was 72 birds! You can see them on the islands of the scrape getting cosy with each other and making little scrapes to lay their eggs in. Fingers crossed for a brilliant breeding season this year.
Black-tailed godwit & spotted redshank: Paul Jubb
Another exciting sighting recently was a pair of kingfisher actually mating on the reserve, which is highly uncommon and we have never had them nest here. Bearded tits, water rail and Cetti’s warbler all seen fairly well around the Reedbed screen. This fantastic habitat is really coming into its own this year and supports some great wildlife. All thanks to the hard work of the warden team, managing it so carefully each year.
Another very exciting first for the reserve is a spring booming bittern in the Burton Mere Wetlands reedbed! Now some of you may know we normally get a couple of birds in our Neston Reedbed during the winter months and occasionally get a bird dropping in here on its way back to breeding sites. So, it is very rare to have a male booming, (the call he makes to attract a female) for going on five days now! Fingers crossed there is a female around and she finds him.
The male bittern that has been booming in our reedbed: David King
The wardens have been in high spirits recently with the newest member of the team, the brand-new Kubota tractor! This new bit of kit is a much-welcomed addition and will be crucial in the way the wardens get their management work done on the reserve. Especially with the winter management ready for breeding seasons in the future. The team have also been quite busy spring cleaning and getting on with repair jobs from the recent wind damage.
Warden Becky with the newest member of the team.
Mid-week we had our reserves ecologist come down with a drone to do some important assessment work on our wet grassland areas and to identify how much of the reedbed is encroaching into it. The team take pictures and use the images to map and measure the different types of vegetation out there to help understand how best to continue the management work.
Wet grassland at the back of the main scrape
This weekend will mark the final touches on our newest section of predicator fencing, with a new energizer being installed to cope with the new fence that has recently been erected. Another bit of temporary electric fencing that went in this week was around Chapel Fields. This is to exclude the grazing sheep at this time of year to promote the rich diversity of wildflowers that occur in the area such as pignut.
As the Government’s roadmap for exiting lockdown continues down the right path, we too will continue reopening facilities as and when it is safe to do so. As of Monday 15 March, we were able to reinstate our takeaway catering from the front of the visitor centre. So, if everything keeps going positively more supporters will be able to visit from Monday 29 March. Please keep checking our social media platforms for the most up to date information on Facebook and Twitter, to make sure you are staying safe and protecting others.
We appreciate people may be keen to get out first thing in the morning, especially when the weather is lovely. Nevertheless, please avoid arriving at Burton Mere Wetlands before 9am, to prevent blocking essential access to our staff and our neighbouring farmer with who we share this track from Puddington Lane. Nearby Burton Marsh is a fantastic spot at that time of the day if you are out and about before 9am. Thank you.
Finally, please note if planning to visit in the week ahead that work starts on Monday 22 March to repair the surface of the trail alongside the reedbed, along with improvements to Bridge screen. As always, disruption to visitors will be kept as minimal as possible, but please follow any instructions from the welcome team on arrival.
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