What a fantastic month it’s been since our last reserve round-up blog. We have had some great fledgling numbers from the breeding season and in particular our waders did better than expected after the initial unfavourable weather of the cold, dry April and wet May. Lapwings had around ninety pairs with between 40 and 50 chicks fledged, whilst redshank and avocet had better years with around seventy pairs of each and an average of one chick per pair. This represents a record year for redshank at Burton Mere Wetlands, a tremendous success.
Other great successes have been the great egrets with three pairs and ten chicks fledging, between 70 and 80 little egret nests with their young only just starting to fledge in the last couple weeks, great views recently of them perched on our lily pads on The Mere. We have had spoonbills around but no sign of breeding unfortunately, just coming in to visit every few days and teasing us.
Great egret in reedbed (Mark Woodhead)
The reedbed this year has been one of the most exciting habitats in recent years. With our now resident bearded tits breeding once again for the third year with two pairs, being fairly elusive but those visitors patient enough to wait at Reedbed screen have seen adults and recently some juveniles. Then for the second year running a successful pair of marsh harriers with so far one very striking dark brown juvenile being seen most days quartering the back of the scrape, occasionally testing its hunting skills on the black-headed gulls.
The star of the show has got to be our bittern pair for the first time ever recorded at Burton Mere Wetlands! We have yet to confirm young but just the fact that we have had two different birds, a male booming initially and then plenty of feeding behaviour across the reserve, it is a great sign for the future and a testament to the health of the reedbed that was planted from scratch less than 15 years ago.
Female bittern seen from Reedbed screen (Andrew Wallbank)
Keep an eye out for full details of the breeding season in another blog coming soon.
Other recent highlights have been wood sandpiper, green sandpiper and greenshank on passage, common tern, sandwich tern, hobby, red kite, little owl, green woodpecker and this female mandarin duck skulking around Willow Pool.
Female mandarin duck (Tom Giles)
Visitors are starting to see more of the usual summer stars including common lizards, an array of dragonflies and damselflies, plus butterflies including occasional views of purple hairstreaks and the Essex skippers that were first found here last summer.
Another great boost we have just had was the first public event we have been able to run in eighteen months, a fantastic Moth Morning to celebrate the national Moth Night. It was a resounding success, with not only the attendees enjoying and learning about these fantastic, super important creatures but we managed to identify 151 different species caught overnight on the reserve! Many of those are species you could find in your garden, but a good amount were wetland specialists as the Moth Night theme was focused on this habitat. All records have been set off and this data all builds a picture of how moths are doing nationally but their declines can show trends in the health of the wider environment.
Site manager, Graham leading the Moth Morning last Friday
Spotted redshanks have been great this season with at least 16 birds seen at any one time and in full breeding plumage. Now if you’ve never seen these birds at this time of year its worth a visit as some still just have their dark charcoal plumage with the tiny white speckles that give them their name. An interesting fact about spotted redshank is the females tend to return first from their breeding sites in the Arctic soon after the eggs have hatched, leaving the males to raise the young.
Spotted redshanks with black-tailed godwits (Paul Jubb)
Here at Burton Mere Wetlands the focus has been on monitoring the breeding wader and wildfowl numbers, with weekly surveys and constant crossed fingers for a decent year. There has been constant vegetation cutting back for the warden team, with the recent warm and wet weather turning the reserve into a jungle! They have also just recently been able to cut in front of Reedbed screen for the benefit of visitors' viewing, which means there is hopefully more chance to spot any young bitterns, keep your eyes peeled people! There will be cutting in front of Bridge screen and the hides to improve views in the coming weeks.
At the other end of our vast Dee Estuary reserve at Point of Ayr, volunteer warden John has maintained a near full-time presence, supported by other volunteers, to carry out important management and monitoring work to support the little tern colony and the two pairs of ringed plovers, precious red-listed waders that are susceptible to increasing disturbance and habitat loss. Assistant warden, Liz makes regular trips to support, and together they gave the hide a summer spruce up with a trim of the vegetation in front to aid views for visitors.
Freshly-cut view in front of Point of Ayr hide (Liz Holmes)
Another part of their job is to organise each year some hooved visitors to help with some wetland management… Some of our regular visitors may have noticed that our Autumn residents are back grazing across from the Visitor Centre. Yes, the cattle are back. Now if you haven’t seen them out there before its quite an unusual sight to see, and it really gives you a different perspective of how shallow the main scrape really is. They play a crucial role in helping us reduce the height and density of the vegetation, whilst churning up the soft ground leaving lots of divots in a process known as poaching; an all-important management technique for many lowland wetland nature reserves, while also leaving behind a nice bit of fertiliser!
Cows following the wardens' truck (John Hewitt)
The reserve's facilities have been nearing normality for a couple of months since the opening of the hides in mid-May, but next week's Government changes on Monday 19 July will see some new changes as restrictions ease further, including the opening of our visitor centre. Keep an eye out for another blog on Monday outlining what the changes mean to your visits to Burton Mere Wetlands.
The car park, toilets, trails and hides are open from 9am–9pm and will be until the end of July, when the closing time will change to 8pm. We continue to ask visitors not to arrive before 9am as vehicles waiting block access for the reserve team and our neighbouring farm. If you arrive in the area before 9am we recommend a detour to nearby Burton Marsh only five minutes away down Station Road, Burton where you can look over the saltmarsh from your vehicle, or take a stroll along the Burton Marsh Greenway.
The visitor welcome point is open from 9.30am-5pm daily, with our mail-order shop and takeaway refreshments available until 4.30pm. We have a wide range of binoculars in store to try before you buy, and anything from the RSPB catalogue is available to order with us. When you order with us, there’s free home delivery on orders over £15 and the profits come directly back to the Dee Estuary reserve. A reminder that we currently do not have sandwiches available to buy but we are working hard on sorting a new supplier, but we have plenty of great snacks and drinks to add to your picnic or just a treat with a brew.
Our exciting Big Wild Summer activity pack is ready and waiting for eager families to buy and get an interactive and inspiring guide to enjoying their adventure around the reserve. The last clue on the quiz trail is in our Wild Play area, which is open daily for families to have some den building fun and test their agility on the natural obstacle course.
With our volunteer team somewhat depleted due to the pandemic, we're currently seeking new volunteers to join our visitor experience team, helping out with a range of duties at the welcome point and visitor centre but also more widely around the reserve. To find out more and how to enquire about applying either send us an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you soon.
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