Recent Sightings

The year has gotten off to a marvellous start, with some tremendous sightings and our first few events of the year have gone down a treat. We are still welcoming back some of our regular visitors that haven’t visited since 2019 and we are equally delighted to still see brand new faces each week.  

Most mornings the main scrape can be a great place to start your visit with all manner of wader and duck life, busily feeding away trying to stay healthy during these cold winter months. We see a flock of curlew most mornings feeding on the right hand side of the scrape area. The other regular waders that are seen are lapwingredshank, black-tailed godwits, snipedunlin, ruff, spotted redshank and just recently a brief sighting of green sandpiper. The ducks can be seen happily mingling in between the waders and the main suspects you’ll find are teal, wigeon, small numbers of gadwall, shoveler, shelducktufted duck and if you’re lucky pintail. On Wednesday morning I had five pairs of the latter on the scrape, very elegantly feeding in the water. Another usual suspect is a great egret that seems to love feeding in Reception Pool and is there most mornings.

Great action from the raptors this month! In the first few weeks, over the scrape and around the visitor centre we had almost daily sightings of either a pair of peregrine hunting the birds on the water or the sparrowhawk hunting the songbirds off the feeders. Equally exciting, marsh harrier have been spotted most days quartering the wet grassland area and occasionally we have been lucky enough to see a ringtail (female or immature) hen harrier in the same area. Let’s not forget the more common species like buzzard, soaring high up over the reserve and kestrel, hovering in mid-air like a magic trick. The smallest raptor in the UK the merlin was spotted this week on the marsh and then briefly here at Burton Mere Wetlands by some keen-eyed regulars. Speaking of the marsh, it is the best place to spot hen harrier, in particular the males along with the beautifully haunting day flying, short-eared owl.

Sparrowhawk: Paul Jubb

During the festive period, a female bearded tit was seen from the Reedbed screen and a couple of weeks back a bird was heard “pinging” down the left-hand side of the reedbed. Cetti's warbler, water rail, little grebe and perched marsh harrier are all great birds to look out for from this area.

Redwing and fieldfare have been spotted across the reserve from the classic spots like on the open farmland up on Burton Point, the fields near the house but also regularly seen flying over the decking by the visitor centre first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. 

As we head towards the most exciting weekend of January, the Big Garden Birdwatch, we could all do with pausing for a moment to appreciate the more common species we get on the reserve and out and about on your usual walks. The reserve feeders are an easy and great place to see these species, as there is almost always a cacophony of activity on them. From the canny woodpigeon that lingers around the bottom of the feeders patiently waiting for any fallen seeds. To the outright pushy goldfinch that bullies their way onto the feeders. It’s fascinating to watch them all take their turn, biding their time till they can flit in for a feed. If you observe the feeders from our decking area near the visitor centre, you are likely to see one of my favourite birds, the nuthatch. If you venture just a short walk towards the feeders near our barn you will often see greenfinch. Other species like great-spotted woodpeckercoal titblue titgreat tit, robin, blackbird, chaffinch and long-tailed tit are seen out on all the feeders and they are all species you may well see during your big count.

Long-tailed tit: Paul Jubb

Some slightly less common and more seasonal birds to be seen, sometimes in mixed flocks are the bullfinchgoldcrestsiskin, lesser redpoll and brambling. They are regularly seen in the more scrubby and wooded edges like around The Mere trail. Stonechat are a great little bird that are habitually seen out in the open, stood proudly on top of vegetation. 

Left: Bullfinch: Ron Thomas

Right: Goldcrest: Paul Jubb

Another couple of very elusive birds that are known to be across the reserve in their respective habitats are woodcock, which has been reported by a record number of visitors this winter hiding in the wet woods between the new boardwalk and the stairs leading to the railway bridge. The other is the water pipit, another bird not frequently seen by many visitors, spotted by site manager Graham on the wet grassland next to our barn. These birds are out there but do require a bit more skill, extra patience and a bit of luck to be in the right place at the right time.

Double Star Sighting

The first star sighting has got to be a family of Bewick’s swans, 3 birds were seen on site on Monday 17 along with 1 whooper swan. This is our first sighting all winter, which is sadly a trend we are seeing each year.  Their numbers continue to decline across the UK, and they are a globally threatened species as is the whooper swan.

Bewick's swan: John Hewitt

Another fairly elusive bird to our reserve is the lesser redpoll. This month we have had some pretty good sightings from an unusually “tame” bird that spent a few days feeding quite happily on the ground as visitors walked around The Mere trail as well as a few birds spotted in amongst the finch flocks in the same area and yesterday one turned up on the feeders near the visitor centre.  

Lesser redpoll: John Hewitt

Wardens' Wanderings

The warden team have been up to all sorts of exciting jobs this year already! The main and one of the most time-sensitive jobs is finishing some repair work to the predator exclusion fence. A local contractor has done the main body of work but now it’s down to the team to ensure the fence is fully checked for any weaknesses that could let predators in and jeopardise the breeding birds’ successes this spring. 

Fi and Lou doing the fence repair work.

Some of the regular visitors may have noticed that the warden team were busy at the begging of January removing all the reedbed willow screening which used to run along the Wetland trail between Marsh Covert hide and Bridge screen. The reeds here are now tall and dense enough to provide natural cover, but you can hopefully have more of a chance to spot those elusive bearded tits, along with all the other reedbed wildlife like an otter that was spotted this month from Reedbed screen. Fingers crossed the bittern pair will return again this year and you might get to spot them.  

Liz with her brilliant warden volunteers removing the reedbed screening.

We now have two brilliant residential volunteers working with us. Fi who started with us in November has settled in really well and has now been joined by Lou who just started this month. They are both making a great contribution to the team while learning all about what it takes to run an RSPB reserve.

Get Involved

The Big Garden Birdwatch which is open to everyone each year is being held on the weekend of 28-30 January 2022, so get registered online and join in! Onsite we have already held two supporting events for beginner birdwatchers gearing up for their BGBW. On Sunday 30 January we have a fantastic exclusive event, the Big Farmland Bird Walk which will take you behind the scenes around the reserve. Visit our website for details and to view all other up and coming events as the year goes on click here: http://events.rspb.org.uk/deeestuary. We also have our ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’ family quiz trail running through January for all the family to get inspired and prepped for your big weekend! Available every day for £2 including a souvenir pencil, just ask the welcome team on arrival.

Our mail-order shop is a great way to support the Dee Estuary reserve directly. We currently have a small number of Christmas cards, decorations and calendars in the sale, along with a selection of ex-display bird feeders and tables reduced to clear and available to take away on the day, so have a browse if you like a bargain. We have a great Big Garden Birdwatch offer at the moment, with £10 off when you buy any two 12.75kg sacks of seed or peanuts - but hurry, the offer ends on Wednesday 26 January! Remember when you order with us on site you will get free home delivery for any order over £15, and profits from every sale directly support our conservation work with at the Dee Estuary reserve.

All hides are open, and we are still asking that all visitors continue to wear a face-covering in our indoor spaces unless exempt, as all RSPB staff and volunteers are still doing for everyone’s safety.

The staff continue to take orders and payment for all refreshments as takeaway from the outdoor welcome point and visitors are permitted to take them inside to consume. This helps us keep things flowing smoothly especially at busy times. We appreciate your patience and understanding.

Thanks for reading, and we hope to welcome you at the reserve soon.

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