It’s been a few weeks since our last round-up blog and there has been quite a bit of excitement across the reserve, from a first record ever at Burton Mere Wetlands to an almost record number of great egrets. We have welcomed some brand new visitors over the 10 year anniversary weekend, and they have given us some wonderful feedback on the reserve, the volunteers, and the other visitors. We are so pleased to see new and old visitors enjoying the reserve.
So not only do we have a new hide giving access for all, but we also now have a new scrape, which in time will make Border hide an even more fantastic place to watch birds from. It was an instant success with the cattle egrets abandoning the cows and tractor to feed on the exposed insects and amphibians. This area has also still been getting sightings of hobby, spotted redshank and even the “star sighting” - see below - spent time down there.
The visitor centre has either been overrun with Canada geese for their usual seasonal moult, or had some fantastic views of great egret, cattle egret, and our star sighting, which you will have to keep scrolling down to see! Generally, it’s been a great spot to still see most of the duck species we have including one of my personal favourites the understated gadwall, along with teal, wigeon, shoveler, shelduck and pintail across the reserve; Bridge screen has been spectacular recently for pintail with over 800 birds counted recently, excellent for the early autumn. Most ducks are now a bit easier to identify as they have finished moulting and regaining their more colourful plumage.
Pintail male: Paul Jubb
Our beloved pink-footed geese have returned! Coming in now in their hundreds, soon in their thousands. If you’re struggling to tell the difference between these and the greylag geese here are a few top tips. Pink-footed geese are a much daintier goose with a smaller bill and a sweet little "wink-wink, wink-wink" call. Yes, they do have pink legs, but this is often hard to see. When they fly, they have no white on the wing, unlike greylag geese that have a distinctive white section on the wing in flight.
Pink-footed geese: Paul Jubb
The pink-footed geese are a fantastic spectacle at this time of year. Most of our birds come from Iceland and we can get peak counts over 20,000 on the Dee Estuary with sometimes half of those at Burton Mere Wetlands.
We have had up to 34 great egrets and six cattle egrets this week showing really well from the visitor centre on the recently cut area of wet grassland. Due to the high winds, they stuck around for quite a while and gave visitors some great photo opportunities. Little egrets and grey herons both showing well too, seen most mornings heading out to the marsh to feed, or if you’re lucky enough (like one of our visitors on Tuesday) to catch the grey herons when they are feeding in one of the ditches, wrestling with massive eels.
Great egret: Paul Jubb
Raptors have been putting on some spectacular shows recently, from late in the season hobbies still feeding on the abundance of dragonflies we still have around, to the dramatic encounters of peregrine hunting black-tailed godwits over the scrape. Even the marsh harriers have been getting into scraps with buzzards and crows. Sparrowhawk can be seen frequently across the reserve hunting the smaller birds, often hangs around near the feeders looking for an easy meal. If you’re really lucky as we go through winter, you may see a hen harrier straying from the marshes. The birds we are seeing now have a very distinctive white band around the base of the tail giving it its nickname ringtail, which can refer to a female or juvenile.
Ever-elusive green woodpecker and kingfisher are the top two birds I have been asked about in the last month. They are many people’s bogey birds (a bird that constantly eludes you) but if you keep persisting you will get them eventually. We even had spectacular views of kingfisher hovering like kestrel over the pool just under the visitor centre as it fished and then sat in the willow tree to devour its catch.
Plenty of waders about to enjoy at the moment. We’ve had great numbers of on scrape area from the visitor centre, Bunker hide, the East Bank Viewpoint which was reopened for the star sighting twitch, and equally from the Border hide other birds like the occasional greenshank & spotted redshank, loads of snipe & ruff, dunlin, black-tailed godwit, lapwing, common sandpiper, green sandpiper and some of the first curlews.
Tuesday 21 September saw a rarity that has not been recorded in Cheshire since 1991 and for the reserve was a first! Straight out on the scrape first thing in the morning from the Visitor Centre, site manager Graham Jones spotted a pale unusual bird, a Wilson’s phalarope! What a stunning little bird it was! With its distinctive feeding behaviour and a slender pale body. It stood out amongst the many ruff feeding on the muddy edges, which made for a great contrast.
Wilson's phalarope: Paul Coombes
This bird was trying to migrate from its breeding grounds in North America to South America for the winter and unfortunately got blown off course. It stayed with us furiously feeding at Burton Mere Wetlands for three days, before being found on the Boathouse Flashes at Parkgate on Friday morning, but has not been seen since. The days it was at Burton Mere Wetlands were some of our busiest on record, with well over 700 people rushing to see this national rarity.
What a few weeks it’s been on the warden team. They have managed to get a new scrape in with the contractors along with some new footdrains at the far end of the reserve.
The cutting continues with Thursday the team hitting the visitor centre scrape islands, they worked hard even when it started to rain, they just kept going.
Tuesday saw the wardens, Becky and Liz joined by visitor manager Dan at Point of Ayr to dig out over 50 wooden posts and gathering netting that were used for the little tern protection fencing at Point of Ayr.
Then Wednesday, Becky and Liz set off to help out at Woolston Eyes nature reserve near Warrington where we employ two staff, Lizzie and Ged, to deliver their ambitious management plan. They spent the day pulling mountains of young willow out of one of the pools to prevent the area getting taken over by the willow.
In amongst all the usual day to day duties at the Dee, this lot really deserve a massive pat on the back for all their efforts and great work they do in all weather.
All our hides are open and we are still asking that all visitors continue to wear a face covering in our indoor spaces unless exempt, as all RSPB staff and volunteers are still doing for everyone’s safety. The staff continue to take orders and payment for all refreshments as takeaway from the outdoor welcome point and visitors are permitted to take them inside to consume. This helps us keep things flowing smoothly especially at busy times. We appreciate your patience and understanding.
Our mail-order shop is at full pelt now with Christmas items on display and for you to browse and then order with us and get free home delivery for any order over £15. When you are shopping onsite with us you are directly supporting the Dee Estuary reserve.
We have the last of the ‘Creatures of the Night’ family quiz trail left before we start getting spooky with a great Halloween activity pack similar to our recent Big Wild Summer. Keep an eye out for this in October!
We will be holding a Binocular and Telescope Open Day on Sunday 10 October, with expert knowledge and advice available to help you make the difficult decisions to find the right optics for your needs. Find details here: events.rspb.org.uk/deeestuary
With the changes in season and the shorter days, the reserve will continue to close earlier each month; from Friday 1 October, we will be closing at 6pm so please make sure you are leaving the car park by this time.
All current updates and further info about the reserve can be found here: https://bit.ly/3gc8qCk
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