Spread your wings and shake off the cobwebs - spring is here!
Perhaps tempted by the increasingly sunny skies (and who could blame them!), the most noticeable change to our main scrape this week has been the rapid increase in avocets, making their way back up north and pairing off in preparation for breeding season. Burton Mere Wetlands is a haven for this landmark species, and if you plotted their numbers here over the past few weeks, the graph would look a little like their iconic beak- curving upwards! Thursday this week saw over 40 avocets settling in in front of the visitor centre.
Avocet Landing- Ron Thomas
It's been a good week for raptors, with hen harriers swooping low across the wet grassland, marsh harriers occasionally getting mobbed by smaller birds and swift peregrines scattering the scrape's waders before we've had a chance to spot them in our binoculars! Talking of waders, though the long-billed dowitcher from last week was only with us for a short time, we've continued to have sightings of woodcock, snipe, lapwing, redshank and black-tailed godwits as usual on the reserve. If you've cast your eyes to the sky whilst walking along the Reedbed Trail you're likely to have seen dozens of herons soaring around the trees, perhaps even with nesting material in their beaks! We have a thriving heronry, and our three species of egret (cattle egret, little egret and great white egret) as well as the grey herons will be raising their chicks there soon.
A variety of egrets and a heron roosting perched in a tree
Cattle egrets have indeed started to be spotted with some regularity again on the reserve, and on Thursday, an incredible 4 were reported! Other rarer visitors who we hope will breed here again this year are the Mediterranean gulls, the occasional one or two have been spotted over this past week on 'gull island', the aptly named largest island on the main scrape. The scrapes, meres and waterways have continued to be home to tufted ducks, shovelers, teal, wigeon, and the odd gadwall.
Visitors have continued to enjoy sightings of Egyptian geese on the meres, and on the field behind the house. A pair of kingfishers have also been seen on the meres - did you know that the female kingfisher has a pink-orange lower mandible to her beak, whereas her mate will have one all-black? These bright birds have been spotted on the back edge of these pools by lucky visitors to the reserve. Green woodpeckers have been an occasional but regular sighting across the reserve, and a continental pied wagtail, known as a 'white wagtail' has been seen as well on the field behind Bunker Screen hide.
Male Kingfisher -Michael Cram
Little grebes can frequently be heard 'trilling' on Willow Pool, a distinctive 'whinnying' noise- very loud for such a small bird! Cetti's warblers have continued to be occasionally heard in the Reedbed, and flocks of curlew sometimes gather on the fields up near Burton Point. If you haven't been down to the reserve in a while, it's really worthwhile to see how some of the 'regular visitors' change in breeding season, both in terms of eye-catching plumage and courtship behaviours!
Walking through Gorse Covert Wood on your way to the Visitor Centre from the entrance track, you'll see thousands of verdant shoots beginning to carpet the ground. These are bluebells, and from mid-April to May they will form a fragrant sea of flowers to welcome you to the reserve, attracting dozens of butterflies. It's a sight not to be missed- don't forget to check out the 'get involved' section at the end of this blog post to find out about upcoming events we have planned to make the most of our incredible landscapes here.
Yellow-legged gull -rspb.org.uk
Yellow-legged gull! This bird has only recently been officially recognised as its own species, having previously been thought to be a race of herring gull. Rarely spotted at Burton Mere Wetlands, this bird has characteristic bright yellow legs, and looks similar to a herring gull, but with a darker back that is still paler than a lesser black-backed gull. This particular one was spotted from IMF hide on 1 March.
The wardening team has been working non-stop as usual to keep the reserve in tip-top shape! To ease the transition to Spring, the potholes that were ravaged by the recent stormy weather have been filled in over a few early mornings, and hopefully it will be smooth sailing for a while yet! On Monday morning the reserve checks were done by residential volunteer, Jess, and with the help of Les, our trusty volunteer handyman, the broken window-beading in Marsh Covert Hide was replaced. Tuesday saw the work-party clear a large amount of young willow from the far bank of Willow Pool, to open up the view; on Wednesday morning, Chester Zoo came and collected the cut willow to feed to their rhinoceroses: waste-not, want not! The team has spent the rest of the week putting up a temporary electric fence in Chapel Field to protect wildflowers from grazing sheep, and undertaking the low-tide bird-count on the Mersey.
Fixed Window on Marsh Covert Hide -Jess Agar
Panorama from Viewpoint- Jess Agar
Bring the kids down for our new Wild Challenge Family trail, “Mysteries of Migration”. This self-led activity is part of the RSPB's Wild Challenge awards scheme and aims to get families outside for at least half an hour to learn more about the reserve and nature in general, there will be a sticker and little certificate to collect when you bring your quiz back to the visitor centre.
The next month's Little Explorers events will be on Monday 9 March and 23 March, 10-11.30am. Meet at the visitor centre and come see what stories and activities we have planned. Price: £5 per child (£4 RSPB Wildlife Explorer members); accompanying siblings half-price.
Join us for our next Parkgate Tidewatch events on Tuesday 10 March - Thursday 12 March between 10am-2pm. We will be down at the Parkgate Old Baths for the spectacle of high tide as it comes in and pushes small mammals up the saltmarsh which can bring in some spectacular raptors.
Join our friendly, knowledgeable volunteer, Richard for a leisurely amble around much of Burton Mere Wetlands on our Early Spring Wildlife Wander on Wednesday 18 March between 10am-1pm Price: £6.50 per person / £5.20 RSPB members. Booking is not essential, but places are limited so arrive early to avoid disappointment.
Don’t miss out on Mothering Sunday at the reserve as Mums Go Free! Sunday 22 March, 9.30am-5pm. We have a great selection of sandwiches, snacks and drinks to buy too, plus you can browse our mail order shop!
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