Recent sightings

Autumn is well and truly upon us. The gorgeous hues of yellow, orange and red have swept across the landscape now and the seasonal change in wildlife is very noticeable.

The last few weeks we have continued to see small flocks of whooper swan every other day, normally seen from the visitor centre heading across the main scrape towards the Border hide. Occasionally and not often enough these days, we can hear the beautifully haunting call of the curlew, often feeding on the outskirts of the main scrape area. Other seasonal waders seen feeding in the muddy shallows from the visitor centre and the Border hide have been spotted redshank, ruff, redshank and the occasional greenshank. Our wonderful usual waders that you might expect here like black-tailed godwitslapwing, dunlin and snipe are also about with the snipe being a little more of a challenge to find sometimes.

Snipe: Paul Jubb

Ducks galore! Gadwalltealshoveler, shelduck, ruddy shelduck, wigeon and pintail have all been seen across the reserve on almost all bodies of water. Pink-footed geese numbers have shot up with the most recent count being around 17,000 now. Such a spectacular sight to see high in the sky, heading out over the estuary at this time of year.

Some of the smaller autumnal birds that have been more notable for the visitors recently have been redwing, stonechat, bullfinch and the most wonderful display of siskin. I had a flock of around 30 dancing across the sky from one alder tree to the other in a sort of murmuration.

Male stonechat: Ron Thomas 

Cattle egrets have been a bit hit or miss recently. They are being spotted down at Parkgate and then occasionally turning up briefly on the main scrape, either first thing in the morning or late afternoon. Great egrets continue to impress with a top count of 39! Little egret and grey heron both showing well across the reserve and all choosing to roost around The Mere for the winter now, unlike in spring when they nest high up in the heart of Marsh Covert woodland.

Raptors have been great recently with up to three sparrowhawks seen together hunting over the reserve. Equally, peregrine often frequent the main scrape area looking for any birds that stray from the flock. Marsh harriers are often seen quartering the vegetation and the edges of the scrape in search of a meal. Hen harrier and short-eared owl reports are almost daily, predominantly hunting over the estuary. Both these birds will occasionally venture over to Burton Mere Wetlands, so always keep your eyes peeled and come check in with the team to see if any have been spotted recently. The best view I ever had of a short-eared owl was at the end of the day, a barn owl was heading out to hunt for the evening and a short-eared owl had decided to do one last sweep over the reserve. It was a monumental clash of the owls with both not wanting to give in and dive-bombing each other at every turn. The short-eared owl eventually gave up and headed back out to the marsh to roost for the night, leaving the barn owl to it.  

Short-eared owl: Ron Thomas


Star sightings

Saturday saw one of our annual sea duck visitors, a long-tailed duck. We get one turning up most years and almost always in the same area, Border Pool. This year was no exception. With it only staying for one day those lucky enough to have seen it had to work hard as it was constantly in and out of the water feeding. This beautiful and aptly named duck breeds in areas like Greenland then overwinters along the British coastline. The male has striking back and white plumage with very long tail feathers. This individual was most likely a first winter female.

Male long-tailed duck: Alan Schmierer - Wikiimages

Wardens wondering

A little breakdown of the management work the warden team will be carrying out this season and the importance of this work:

Reed and rush cutting on the wet grassland area using either the tractor with topping equipment or brushcutters. This is to prevent dominance of reed and rush species as these can be unpalatable to cattle and we ideally want them to help us keep vegetation down by grazing what they can and be able to trample and create small divots. This is to maintain an open diverse structure of vegetation for breeding waders in the spring and overwintering wildfowl like pink-footed geese to graze on.

Island cutting: RSPB Dee Estuary

Reed cutting in the reedbed again to maintain an open vegetation structure, to create different age structures which then supports more species. It will in turn create better viewing opportunities for the visitors.

Reed clearance: RSPB Dee Estuary

Ditch work – rotational ditch clearance maintains the ability to move water around the site, it slows the succession of vegetation and they do this on a rotational system to provide a more diverse plant structure ie: some open water, some emergent vegetation, and some tall vegetation.

Crassula removal – It is an invasive plant species that is unlikely to be eradicated from the site but they manage it so there is always some open water and mud to prevent it from spreading further and to expose areas for the wildlife to feed on.

Crassula: RSPB Dee Estuary 

Dragonfly ponds along the boardwalk – remove some vegetation to create areas of open water for them to lay eggs in and some emergent vegetation is left for cover but also for the emerging insect life in summer.

Willow removal – This is to prevent dominance on wet grassland by topping with the tractor and hand pulling, removing it from ditches on or around wet grassland to maintain open areas for waders, prevent the succession of habitat but some is always left, as is good for many other species.

Rotational cutting on Bunker hide hill – This is to provide more structure in the grassland, it is good for wildflowers like the orchids and many invertebrates.

Water level management – At this time of year, the wardens start to bring water levels across the site up depending on the pools, to provide for wintering waterfowl which are part of the SSSI designation.

Surveys on the Dee and Mersey Estuary – This is highly important for monitoring populations of winter waterfowl which then goes to supporting designated areas.


Get Involved

Our mail-order shop is here for all your Christmas goodies. Order locally with us and get free home delivery for any order over £15 with the profits then coming back to the Dee Estuary reserve.

We are still serving our refreshments from outside the visitor centre, but you're able to enjoy them indoors to escape the weather. With some delicious seasonal cakes in stock; spiced treacle, and parkin slices. So, why not grab a picnic and either brave the brisk autumn weather or settle down in the cosy visitor centre where the fire is roaring and watch the birds go by.

If you’re up for exploring the reserve we have a new family quiz trail out for November, “Treemendous Trees”. With National Tree week at the end of November, we encourage everyone to get out into their local woodlands and explore these majestic wonders of nature. Especially at this time of year when the colours are so beautiful.

We are holding another Binocular and Telescope Open Day in case you missed the last one on Sunday 12 December, with expert knowledge and advice available to help you make the difficult decisions to find the right optics for your needs. Find more details on all current events here:

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

Our winter closing time is now 4.30 pm. So please make sure you are leaving the car park by this time.