Posted on behalf of Katie Ellis
We’ve seen February off with some bright skies and the feeling that spring has sprung! The reserve is transforming with spring scenes and sounds all around; songs from our well-known songbirds are gradually strengthening, declaring their territories and courtship beginning. Buzzards are back circling their breeding sites over the woodlands, whilst lapwings and redshanks are appreciating the wardens' hard work creating their mosaic of habitats on the wet grassland, now establishing their territories. Following on from the cold snap mid-month, the recent highlight has to be the return of our avocets!
Buzzard (Paul Jubb)
The scrape has become busier as the month has progressed as management work wound down and the water level slowly dropped, with winter ducks such as wigeons, teals, gadwalls, tufted ducks, shelducks and shovelers still present but in reducing numbers as they begin to depart for breeding season, with a group of 30 pintail arrived on Bridge Pool on Monday 1 March likely on migration.
Black-headed gulls are back on the islands with their calls easily heard from the moment you arrive on the reserve and on 22 February a Mediterranean gull returned, as did a green sandpiper one of our passage waders. Black-tailed godwits are still in good numbers on the scrape, with the occasional one standing out with its red breeding plumage, travelling through to more northerly breeding grounds.
Two pairs of oystercatchers are also back, one pair on the scrape and one pair on Bridge Pool, typically a more coastal bird we only get one or two pairs breeding here each year. It’s also been great to see eight spotted redshanks back on the scrape towards the end of the month, another of our passage waders. During the cold snap from “Beast from the East 2”, ten great white egrets gathered on the scrape, and two whooper swans dropped in on the unfrozen water on Sunday 14 February.
Oystercatcher with black-headed gull (Paul Jubb)
Up at Burton Point, wintering fieldfares and redwings have been seen mostly around the Iron Age hillfort, green woodpeckers also a regular sighting on the adjoining field and their distinctive “yaffle” call has been heard around the reserve. Fencing around the bluebells is protecting the small shoots now well emerging and views out over the estuary show the incredible number of pink-footed geese still out on the saltmarsh, with a record number well over twenty thousand, and we’re savouring the last few weeks of their delightful chatter as they get ready to leave.
It’s been a good chance to catch a last glimpse of kingfishers on the reserve before the move off to breed, with sightings of two around the Mere and the reedbed. Raptors have been getting ready for spring too with a pair of marsh harriers having continued interest in last year's reedbed nesting site, seen a little less perhaps due to good feeding opportunities on the marsh.
Wintering merlins have been occasionally glimpsed, with similar sightings of peregrines, kestrels and sparrowhawks. Hen harriers are still out on the estuary, close to returning to their upland breeding grounds with males and ringtails reported. A highlight to end the month was some brilliant views of a barn owl over the Burton Point bird cover crop field towards the end of the day.
Kingfisher pair (Lynne Greenstreet)
Marsh Covert woodland is becoming a hive of activity with ravens' "cronk-cronk" call heard and grey herons are high up in the tree tops preparing their nests, with over thirty of them seen heading in and out of the heronry at once. We’re hoping it’ll be another exciting season in the heronry, with great white egrets and little egrets already on the reserve and cattle egrets are being reported on farmland nearby. Fingers crossed spoonbills also arrive back soon and try breeding once again!
Cettis warblers are easily recognisable with their loud calls echoing around the reedbed and reed buntings occasionally pop out from the reeds. A little grebe has been also entertaining us from the open waters in the reedbed, diving out of sight briefly.
Great white egret on scrape (Paul Jubb)
Better late than never, our iconic avocets returned on Tuesday 23 February and surprised us with 13 returning at once! Typically, we only see one or two arrive at first, but they were likely delayed due to the colder weather. A true sign of spring to us at Burton Mere, we’re excited to see if it’ll be a record breeding season for them after losing the chance to do thorough counts last year. Their numbers had risen rapidly to around 50 by the end of the month.
Avocets settling in (Paul Jubb)
With a sigh of relief, just in time for breeding season the monumental task of installing our second predator exclusion fence is finally complete! A task that has involved months of mud and machinery, our contractors have just completed the job and our avocets are already within its perimeter!
Our warden team have also been out carrying out annual checks and repairs on the original predator fence around the scrape and wet grassland, along with ensuring any small gaps are blocked up and it’s working at it’s best keeping the wading birds safe from ground predators like foxes and badgers.
Making the most of pre-nesting season, we brought in tree surgeons to work on any hazardous trees our assistant warden Liz had assessed as needing attention. This is to care for the woodland and ensure visitor safety. With a lot of work going on close to the entrance driveway, it was a big job that involved us closing the reserve for the day.
Our warden volunteer team have been out helping with the late winter essential housekeeping jobs such as clearing up car park leaves, cutting hedges and tidying up paths. As part of National Nestbox Week, they also put up some of the nestboxes that were made during last year’s nestbox building family event, and cleared out existing boxes ready for their new residents.
Cutting the garden hedge (Katie Ellis)
Clearing leaves from the car park (Katie Ellis)
Last week, the Government set out it's roadmap for exiting lockdown, and the RSPB have since been busy making plans for how to gradually restart reserves' visitor operations gradually and safely through the spring months. The first big change in lockdown guidance is, all being well with Covid data, the relaxation of the stay at home order on Monday 29 March, meaning many more of our supporters will be able to travel to visit the reserve once more. Please keep an eye on here, and our Facebook and Twitter for more information as it becomes available.
For those who do live local enough to visit Burton Mere Wetlands for exercise at present, the closing time changed this week to 6pm in line with the rapidly-advancing sunset, allowing for a post-work walk or just chance to take advantage of visiting at a typically quieter time of day.
Stay safe and we hope to welcome you back to the reserve soon.
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