Recent Sightings

As we reach June and the beginning of summer, the excitement of the spring migration may wane but the reserve still offers a wide range of wildlife to enjoy when visiting.

Avocets are one of the reserve's star breeding birds, with over seventy pairs recorded nesting across Burton Mere Wetlands this year and several half-grown chicks now readily watched from the comfort of the visitor centre, or equally good views from Bunker hide. The bustling black-headed gull colony on the scrape also has plenty of well-grown chicks, lapwings can be seen pirouetting over the grassland and redshanks occasionally creep out from the rushes.

Shelduck broods have emerged on and around the scrape in recent days, whilst a family of shovelers have offered brilliant views on Reception Pool right outside the visitor centre windows. Although harder to see than at the start of spring due to the growing vegetation, Mediterranean gulls can still be spotted on the scrape.

There are typically several hundred black-tailed godwits across Burton Mere Wetlands at the moment, spread between the scrape, Bridge Pool flood at Marsh Covert hide, and Centenary Pool. We're lucky to host this non-breeding summer flock that takes advantage of the prime feeding areas the reserve offers, whilst we can enjoy many of them in their red summer plumage. Their numbers will soon grow, joined by breeders on their southward migration from the Arctic, often in even more striking colour. Of interest is the increasing regularity of a small number of bar-tailed godwits, normally confined to the sand and mud of the outer estuary, being picked out in the flock by experienced birders - the differences between the two species very subtle until they take flight and show their tails.

 Black-tailed godwit flock (Paul Jubb)

Peregrine and hobby have been seen hunting over the scrape in recent days, with grey herons, little egrets and great egrets flying down from the heronry trying their luck to pick off a helpless chick, protected valiantly by the adult avocets and black-headed gulls.

Further out on the reserve, Marsh Covert hide has been worth spending time to look for little ringed plover on the shallows of the Bridge Pool flood, which also at times has good counts of godwits, plus teal, gadwall and shoveler. The marsh harrier pair nesting in the reedbed often fly close to the hide, and their young should be fledging soon. Although there were occasional bittern sightings in early spring, it does not appear they are nesting like last year due to the lack of feeding flights by adults bringing food to a nest.

 Pair of little ringed plovers, next to a moorhen (Paul Jubb)

Highlights from Bridge screen are a pair of great crested grebes with a chick, male garganey seen again on Wednesday 8 June, small numbers of non-breeding pintail and wigeon along with chance of most of the other ducks and gulls seen elsewhere on the reserve. The Wetland trail from Reedbed screen to Border hide is littered with the sound of warblers, with Cetti's, reed, sedge and whitethroat all abundant, whilst plenty of willow warblers, chiffchaffs and blackcaps sing from the woodland and scrub areas.

 Great crested grebe with chick (Livelywildphotography)

Around at Border hide, highlights include regular sightings of single knot and sanderling, plus at times more than 30 dunlinRecent mixed weather has brought swallows, house martins and swifts flying low over the pools. It's not been the best spring for butterflies, dragonflies and damselfies due to the generally chilly temperatures, wet spells and wind, but if you're here when the sun's out you're sure so see plenty of activity which should increase as we head through summer.

We get asked a lot by visitors about spoonbills, very much a summer staple on the Dee Estuary now, but as last year they have only briefly graced us with their presence at Burton Mere Wetlands, preferring to spend the majority of their time in the brackish pools on the saltmarsh at Parkgate.

Star Sighting

No question of this week's highlight; the adult white-winged black tern that was found feeding over the scrape as we opened up the visitor centre on Monday morning, and hung around for a couple of hours before leaving to the south before lunch. This dainty freshwater tern is a long way from home in Eastern Europe, no doubt finding its way to the UK on the recent continental airflow we've had.

 White-winged black tern (John Hewitt)

Wardens Wanderings

In the depths of breeding season, the warden team steers clear of the habitats other than to monitor the nest and chick numbers to determine the success of the season - occasionally carefully traversing the wet grassland in the tractor, like a mobile hide giving an ideal elevated viewpoint, with the birds far less wary of a vehicle than of a human figure. Early indications are of a reasonably good year for avocets, with 72 pairs having nested, though a below-average number of lapwing nests but with a good productivity rate (the number of chicks successfully fledged per pair). We'll give more details on the numbers after final surveys are done for the year.

As the wader season at Burton Mere Wetlands nears its end, extra effort goes into protecting the little tern colony at Point of Ayr, with at least 14 little tern nests being monitored by our two little tern voluntary wardens, supported by further volunteers engaging with beach users to discourage disturbance. This week the team have extended the rope fencing, intended to keep people and dogs away from the sensitive nests, after at least one pair of ringed plovers - a red-listed bird benefitting from the work we do to protect the terns - have nested on shingle outside the fence installed at the beginning of the season.

 Knocking in new fence posts at Point of Ayr

The RSPB's Watch Your Step campaign has helped raise awareness of the risks to vulnerable ground-nesting birds, but as a beach on a busy tourist coastline, Point of Ayr will always need extensive effort to allow the little terns, ringed plovers, and the small number of oystercatchers to thrive. Read more about the RSPB's work to protect little terns around the UK here.

The wardens also spent a day supporting our staff based at Woolston Eyes Nature Reserve near Warrington, with the arduous task of pulling the extensive jungle of invasive Himalayan Balsam.

 Himalayan "balsam bashing" at Woolston Eyes

Get Involved

After the success of the national Big Picnic events for the school half term and Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend, plans are gathering pace for the return of Big Wild Summer for July and August - watch this space.

In the meantime, any budding photographers can book on for a day's tuition with Wirral-based photographer Ron Thomas. For something a bit different, you could get yourself on one of the Bird Watching and Wildife Cruises in partnership with Mersey Ferries, for a trip out into Liverpool Bay on one of the famous boats.

There's also chance to see one of the rarest and most elusive birds, on a Nightjar Walk at Llandegla Forest in North Wales.

June is a brilliant month for wildflowers at Burton Mere Wetlands, including orchids, and as breeding season reaches its end we'll soon start seeing the return migration of some birds, the distinctive spotted redshanks usually being the first before the end of June. We're still on the lookout for new volunteers to support our busy weekend days at the visitor centre, so if you'd like more information and details on applying, see here.

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