The reserve is literally bubbling with life at the moment! Particularly with the little egrets making their fantastically strange breeding calls up in the woods opposite our Marsh Covert hide where they are making nests alongside the grey herons. Great egret and cattle egret have been seen in breeding plumage, so hopefully they will have a successful breeding season again this year. This time last year we had spoonbill return and, for those that follow our news each year, it was back in 2019 when a pair tried to nest but unfortunately got distracted by a third bird moving in and playing tug of war with the nesting material.
Image: Grey heron, little egret, great egret and cattle egret. Dee Estuary
Looking over the main scrape from the Visitor Centre you can see hundreds of black-headed gulls, jostling for a good spot to get their nests built and get laying. You cannot miss their very noisy calls as you arrive and open your car door. Now some people may not appreciate just how important our breeding gull colony is, but black-headed gulls declined dramatically in the 70s in the UK and rely on reserves like ours as safe breeding sites. The gulls will take the odd wader chick but serve as “guard dogs” reacting very swiftly to any predators that come near the scrape area. This is very useful to species like the avocet that are even more scarce in the UK and whose nests are particularly vulnerable to predation.
Image: Avocet pair. Ron Thomas
Along with the avocet, redshank and lapwing nesting efforts are also fully underway. Just today “Thursday” I found my first lapwing chick and warden Becky has been out on the wet grassland and found many more, all very exciting indeed. The scrape area is also home to at least 5 pairs of Mediterranean gull this year and can be a great challenge to try to spot if you’re keen to get better at gull identification.
Image: Black-headed gull left Mediterranean gull right. Ron Thomas
If you have been enjoying the sunshine on our main decking by the Visitor Centre, you may have been lucky enough to pick up the whitethroat calling and see it in the nearby scrub. Then if you have a keen eye and head down toward the big barn gate and look across the wet flashes and rush area you may well have picked up the yellow wagtail that have just returned. Looking from this area you can also occasionally pick up wheatear but the more likely area is at the far end of the reserve on Burton Point along the walls.
Image: Wheatear. Ron Thomas
Moving along the reserve toward the big ramp and around The Mere, you will hear a cacophony of birdsong at this time of year. I have heard and seen chiffchaff, blackcap, Cetti's warbler and even willow warbler which is a species that is passing through and often a bit harder to spot, but if you listen out for its distinctive descending scale you might spot it flitting around the trees.
Image: Male blackcap. Paul Jubb
As you head further along the reserve to the reedbed area, there is yet more excitement this year with two female marsh harriers nesting with one male servicing them. This means he will be bringing food in for them and then when the chicks hatch helping to feed them too. Another large bird looking to hopefully nest here are two bittern that have been reported recently. The reed and sedge warblers can now be heard singing away as well as reed bunting, seen regularly flitting between the reedbed channels.
Ducks galore so far this year across the reserve, with the long-tailed duck still being seen most days for about a month now, from the Bridge screen. The typical duck species you can almost always rely on seeing are pintail, teal, shoveler, shelduck, gadwall, and tufted duck. The normally very elusive garganey are still showing occasionally but you do have to work a bit harder for them. We originally had three pairs showing very well and although some of these would have been passing through, we now think we have one pair staying to breed, which is great news.
Fantastic views of some very smart looking spotted redshank can be had from the Border hide and Marsh Covert hide. At this time of year, they are on migration back to their breeding sites, so are a gorgeous black charcoal colour with white speckles, hence their name, “spotted” redshank. If you look hard amongst the flocks of black-tailed godwit you may well pick up a few bar-tailed godwit that have been seen on a regular basis from these hides too. The main difference when identifying these birds is when they fly, they have either black and white bars or solid black on the tail.
Most days we have been getting decent reports of sand martin, swallow and the odd house martin. They are generally across the reserve, so you need to be on the lookout scanning the fields or up high feeding on insects. While you are looking to the skies never forget to look out for passing red-kite.
Then after exploring the whole reserve you cannot leave without a calming stroll through the main woodland to gaze across the stunning purple haze of bluebells. They are in their full splendour right now and won’t last long so get down here and get exploring. Just please remember to stick to the paths to not trample these protected flowers, thank you.
On 13 April we had a fantastic osprey flyover!
The team and visitors spotted it coming over from all directions, some caught it flying across the main scrape from the Bunker hide, then visitors alerted us at the Visitor Centre while the site manager had picked it up from the Border hide. It caused a fabulous stir amongst the humans and birds alike. We all watched it fly low over the Willow pool then turn back to fly right over our heads on the Visitor Centre decking, before heading away towards Burton village. What a sight to see!
Image: Osprey. Ben Andrew
This is one of the busiest times of year for the team. With the breeding season upon us the warden team have been working hard to get everything in place.
The warden team have been carrying out wader surveys this week to start assessing how many breeding pairs we have. They have also had to carry out some emergency repair work on the Border hide fence to protect the breeding birds within this area, as there has been some recent badger activity. Please be aware that the fencing is electrified so please stay well away from it as we ask all visitors to not stray from the paths for your safety and to protect against disturbance to wildlife and livestock. We want you to have a safe and enjoyable visit when exploring the reserve, thank you.
Image: Extra electric fencing at Border hide.
Assistant warden Liz and the fabulous team of volunteers have been out in all weathers this week, working incredibly hard to erect the little tern fencing at Point of Ayr. This fencing is essential to keep predators out, much like we do here at Burton Mere Wetlands, but also to help direct people and dogs away from the nesting sites on the beach. Again, we implore you to be mindful when enjoying the countryside. There is so much to enjoy out there but the best way to keep these species safe, especially at this time of year, is to look out for these fences signs and to stick to obvious routes.
Image: Liz (Assistant Warden) with the fantastic volunteer team, working hard to get the fencing in at Point of Ayr.
The reserve is fully stocked with some great goodies to pack for a picnic on your adventures, from a range of tasty sandwiches, chocolate treats and ice-creams.
We are extending our Big Wild Easter at Burton Mere Wetlands and still providing our family Quiz Tail for those families still on half-term break. We also have some great kids backpacks to explore the reserve with and don’t forget if you haven’t got binoculars you can hire some from us for the day.
Events are back on our calendar and we have some fantastic guided walks coming up! On Sunday 1 May we will be getting up with the sun for international Dawn Chorus Day. Then on Sunday 8 May we have our Birdsong and Breakfast walk along Burton Marsh Greenway ending at Nets Café for a great breakfast. Booking essential: Dee Estuary (rspb.org.uk)
If you’re in need of some help with binoculars or telescopes, then look no further! On Saturday 7 May we will be hosting a Binoculars and Telescopes Open Day with an expert to advise you, then you can simply order via our 'mail-order shop with free delivery.
Speaking of the shop there is a great offer from Wednesday 27 April on 12.75kg Suet Nibbles and sprinkles with 20% off.
Finally, are you passionate about protecting wildlife near you? We’re looking for enthusiastic people to help protect the Point of Ayr little tern breeding colony and engage with visitors. Click here to apply; Species Protection (Little Tern Volunteer Point of Ayr) | RSPB Volunteering
Keep checking our social media platforms for the most up to date information on Facebook and Twitter.
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