Recent sightings 

February has continued to be a wild month for us! We’ve been enduring the gusts and gales of the three storms which blew our way last weekend, once again leaving us with fallen trees, a power cut and also epic surge tides on the estuary! However, there are plenty of signs that spring is just around the corner, with us eagerly awaiting delayed arrivals and there’s been lots of preparation to ensure we have another fantastic breeding season.

Fallen tree on Burton Point - Dan Trotman

Storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin last weekend brought north and westerly winds that whipped down the Dee Estuary and through Burton Mere Wetlands, which created a huge surge on the predicted 9.3 metre tide to bring it up to around 11 metres! Winds also pushed through our woodlands bringing down several trees. Out on the estuary, the tides were some of the quickest ever to come in and some of the highest in over a decade. Areas such as Denhall Quay and Burton Marsh were completely consumed with rushes from the incoming tide, making the normally lush saltmarsh look more like an ocean!

Tide washed in at Denhall Quay - Graham Jones

Following the high tides, thousands of birds have descended onto the floods to take advantage of the excellent feeding opportunities that have been created. The wash of the tide not only brought more food sources for the birds such as fish and crustaceans but also washed up the grasses and seed lurking at the bottom of the saltmarsh. There’s a fantastic spectacle of thousands of birds out on the marsh and if you take some time to look closer, we’re confident there’ll be some rarer birds amongst them. On Tuesday our Site Manager completed his monthly WeBS (BTO Wetland Bird Survey) and after surveying a section of Burton Marsh, his highlight recordings were 500 knot, 5 grey plover and 3 red-breasted mergansers.  

The calm scrape has become active again over the last few days following the storms, with the noisy black-headed gulls returning to welcome in the breeding season and they are already showing signs of courtship. If you look closer there may well be a few Mediterranean gulls with them too. Lapwings are also starting to re-occupy the freshly cut wet grassland and have begun their displaying.

As the adverse weather has calmed down, our long-awaited avocets have made a return. We'd only had a few sightings on the reserve over the last couple of weeks, but they didn’t hang around. Fortunately on Thursday morning, one arrived on the scrape, then moved over to Border Hide and just this morning seven arrived on the scrape with the help of some southerly winds! Like in some previous years, we have a feeling that as they arrive they’ll populate the scrape quickly and begin their frantic feeding as they refuel after their migration! Also, one morning last week, eight great white egrets gathered on the scrape and six cattle egrets gathered Thursday morning.

Great white egrets - Paul Jubb

Although there are vast numbers of duck out on the estuary, there are still good numbers to see at Burton Mere itself. Wigeon, shoveler, teal, shelduck, pintail and gadwall are all around on the scrape, Centenary pool and Bridge pool. Tufted ducks are also occupying Reception pool and it's brilliant to watch them suddenly disappearing as they dive into the water to feed.

A few recent highlights for the reserve have been two whooper swans that dropped in briefly at Border Hide following the storms and a solitary greenshank seen from Marsh Covert hide just over a week ago. We’ve also seen spotted redshank, ruff, golden plover and flocks of dunlin amongst black-tailed godwits, lapwing and redshank adding to the mix of waders and ducks out there. We’re also savouring the sights and sounds of the pink-footed geese heading over the reserve before they return to their Icelandic breeding grounds. It's coming up to the time where they'll be at their peak numbers on the estuary at over 20,000.

Flocks of siskins and redpoll have been frequenting the alders around the mere trail, with a brambling sighted amongst them on the Saturday before last. We’ve also seen large flocks of redwing on the neighbouring fields to the reserve, with easily accessible views of them on the field adjoining the car park, where flocks of curlew have also been residing.

From Reedbed screen, marsh harriers can be seen up close as they continue to take nesting material into the reedbed, showing the prospect of another breeding season. The distinctive call of Cetti’s warblers bounce around the reedbed, declaring their territories. Notoriously tricky birds to see normally, they are currently frequent sightings for visitors as they hop around reeds and fen areas on the reserve. Otter sightings have started to be reported once again, with a keen eyed volunteer spotting one from Reedbed screen Thursday morning.

Star sighting

Prior to the storms, whilst the warden team were out cutting the rush and reeds at the back of the Scrape, Site Manager Graham took advantage of the already disrupted area and went to survey the area for water pipits. We endeavour to keep our presence in this area to a minimum, so surveying this area is kept to once a year. Along with excellent views of jack snipe, 14 water pipits were recorded. Hopefully, as spring arrives, they’ll come into closer view and visitors we’ll be able to see them a little better from the hides.

Water pipit illustration - Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)

Wardens' Wanderings

Getting ready for the breeding season has continued to be top of the warden team’s priority. This has included plenty of cutting back the extensive reed and rush around the back of the Scrape which continued this week, creating the perfect environment for our key waders to nest including lapwings, redshank and avocets.

Rainbow whilst out cutting behind the scrape - Louise McClung

The storms also created more work for them as they had to remove fallen trees and branches, whilst also completing checks to ensure the reserve is safe for visitors. Tree surgeons arrived on Thursday to take care of the larger fallen trees and open up the temporarily closed paths around the Mere trail and the Wetland trail.

Lou checking trees after the storms - Liz Holmes

In the upcoming weeks, they’re also planning to do some rotavating on the barley crop field behind the wet grassland. This will turn up the ground, creating an excellent food source for breeding lapwings.

Get involved

The days are rapidly getting longer as we approach spring and this means we’re able to keep the reserve open for longer. From 1 March the car park will be open 9am - 6pm, with the visitor centre, refreshments and mail-order shop open 9.30pm – 5pm. We remind visitors to be back at their cars by this time as it allows our volunteer lock-up wardens to be able to get away promptly.

The return of the sandwiches and our snack range is proving popular and available Tuesday - Sunday, with sausage rolls also available on Mondays. Perfect for grabbing a picnic lunch, with takeaway brews, cold drinks and snacks also available. 

With further changes in Government legislation, we are still asking for all visitors who are able, to wear a face covering in our indoor spaces to help protect everyone.

We’ve got some great family activities to take part in including our latest family quiz trail, which is Nestbox-themed supporting the BTO’s National Nestbox Week. Pick up a sheet from the welcome team for £2. After cancellation due to the storms, we’ve also rescheduled our family bug box activity which will now be 12 March 10.30 – 15.30. The activity includes personalising a bug house to take home and our family quiz trail to complete whilst here. There are limited spaces so booking is essential. Tickets for the event are available here -https://bit.ly/3p7EU5h .

Looking for a new set of binoculars or considering buying a scope? We’ve got another one of our popular Binocular and Telescopes open weekends scheduled 12 – 13 March, where you can try out our full range of optics and order from us with fast, free home delivery. Buying from us means you support our reserve. Our optics expert will be on hand to give impartial advice and help you find the right product.

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