Recent Sightings

After January's fair weather, February has started in stark contrast, with almost ten days of wild weather including some severe gales as well as some heavy rain showers. Nevertheless, there remains plenty to see across the Dee Estuary as we approach the end of winter and enjoy the rapidly lengthening days.

Recent rain has caused the water levels to rise on most of Burton Mere Wetlands' pools, meaning fewer waders in close view as they spend more time on the flooded grassland or out on the saltmarsh, also very wet again after big tides a week ago. You'll still spot a good variety of waders though, the most numerous being redshanks, lapwings and black-tailed godwits, but at times over 40 curlews have been counted, a smattering of golden plovers in with the lapwings, small numbers of dunlins, snipe, a single knot on the scrape on Sunday and an occasional spotted redshank and ruff this week.

 Black-tailed godwits and redshanks (Paul Jubb)

Also on Sunday, in high winds and grey skies, a surprise discovery of two striking avocets brightened the gloom, the first of the year and a whole week earlier than expected based on previous years' form. However, they haven't been seen since, so we eagerly await the arrival of more in the coming days. They are truly one of the highlights of late February into March, as their numbers build into three figures, often staying flocked together as they feed busily, gaining strength before starting courtship and forming territories for the rigorous breeding season ahead - their bold monochrome plumage standing out from the dullened hues of the late winter landscape.

Stealing the show for the past week or so, relishing the windy conditions, marsh harriers are wasting no time in preparing for another nesting attempt in the Burton Mere Wetlands reedbed, where a pair has successfully bred since 2020. Due to the disruption of the past two years, we've not been able yet to fully experience the courtship and nest-building behaviour that we've started seeing this week, with fabulous close views from Marsh Covert hide.

 Marsh harrier flying close to Marsh Covert hide (Paul Jubb)

It's been a quieter winter for hen harrier sightings at Burton Mere Wetlands, but a ringtail is seen a few times a week and a grey male is seen occasionally, most recently in strong winds last Friday. It's also been relatively quiet for merlin and peregrine too, but sparrowhawk, kestrel and buzzard are all fairly easily seen here.

A cattle egret briefly visited the scrape on Tuesday, a first sighting for a while except for occasional glimpses returning to their night time roost on The Mere's islands along with their little and great egret cousins - though they've all been known to be feeding on farmland around nearby Puddington and Shotwick all winter. Time will tell whether all three will go on to nest in Marsh Covert this year, as they have done twice since 2017. Grey herons seem to be getting in the mood for nesting as they start to gather around Bridge Pool, probably awaiting calmer conditions to start scoping out the treetop heronry, but they are an early nester compared to the egrets.

 Grey herons gathered at Bridge Pool (Paul Jubb)

Bridge Pool, and the flood towards Marsh Covert hide, has also benefitted from recent rainfall and has hosted a good selection of ducks this week including an excellent count of over 100 gadwalls, but the other usual suspects of teal, shoveler, wigeon, pintail, tufted duck, shelduck and mallard can all be watched there too. The reedbed pools can be quiet, but look out for shy little grebes, and the unmissable mute swans - and this a highlight this week, on Tuesday not one, but TWO OTTERS were seen together from Reedbed screen - the third sighting in as many weeks, but the first time more than one was seen. Again, one to keep an eye on developments...

Away from the water, the redpolls are still catching the eye, mixed in with siskins and goldfinches, Cetti's warblers are becoming more vocal and the elusive woodcocks are still being located in the alder carr between the Wetland trail and Headland trail, but there is probably no more frustrating bird to look for on the reserve at present!

Out on the tidal reserve, Parkgate remains good at dusk for seeing hen harriers fly into their traditional roost off the Old Baths car park, and seemingly a few marsh harriers are roosting nearby too. The main marsh harrier roost is at Neston Reedbed at the south end of Parkgate, where again at least one bittern is roosting this winter. The short-eared owls that were starring around Denhall Quay at the beginning of the year are less prominent at the moment, hopefully just due to the amount of water on that area of saltmarsh after last week's big tides, meaning less of their favoured mammal prey.

Across in Wales, Point of Ayr remains a vital high tide roost particularly for waders, with our team of volunteer wardens helping to protect it from disturbance, one of whom reported back their sightings on a modest 9.4m tide last weekend, with the following highlights: 30+ sanderlings, 23 grey plovers, 2 ringed plovers, 50 curlews and a single snow bunting along with at least a dozen other different birds - no big numbers, as you'd expect on a moderate tide, but a good variety to be enjoyed.

Star Sighting

Almost losing out to both the avocets and the otters, the award goes to the solitary snow goose that first made an appearance in a flock of pink-footed geese landing at Burton Mere Wetlands on Sunday 30 January, and was seen on and off there and on the flooded Burton Marsh until the middle of last week. Thought to be the bird that has been up in Lancashire this winter, the assumption is it is likely to be a wild individual owing to it associating with pink-feet as opposed to Canada or greylag geese which an escaped or feral one would be more inclined to do.

 Snow goose with pink-footed geese (Andrew Wallbank)

Wardens Wanderings

It's a race against time for the warden team to finish their winter cutting before the breeding season, and the early arrival of those two avocets was not universally appreciated! A last few days of intensive brushcutting has made a big dent in the stands of reed and rush that had developed at the back of the scrape. Whilst we want, and planted extensive reeds to create our reedbed, it's about having the right plants in the right place and this area in question needs to be maintained as wet grassland to attract as many pairs of waders to nest as possible. Don't forget, we set the bar high last year as the most productive wet grassland reserve in the RSPB, in terms of the numbers of wader nests and the rate of productivity, that is the proportion of chicks surviving to fledging age.

There's been some significant infrastructure repairs on the ramp between The Mere trail and the Wetland trail, and replacement of the footbridge just beyond Reedbed screen on the Wetland trail, and another time sensitive task of checking the predator-exclusion fence is in tip top condition before breeding season, in order to give the birds the greatest protection possible from the risk of nest predation by hungry foxes or badgers.

We've been supporting the work at Woolston Eyes where we're delivering some exciting new habitat management and creation, and also over on the Mersey Estuary we were finally able to carry out the first low tide WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count since the Covid pandemic began, of the 2000 hectare internationally important, SPA-designated intertidal habitats we have a monitoring agreement for.

Get Involved

The reserve is fully open, and despite the recent 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're done with our winter opening hours for the year, so remain open until 5pm throughout February, late afternoon being a lovely time to visit, with generally fewer visitors around and some lovely light. 

We're delighted to be stocking sandwiches in our fridge once more, so you can now grab everything you need for a tasty lunch, and further support our work in the process. Please note, due to delivery days and shelf life, sandwiches are NOT available on Mondays. However, we also have a couple of savoury pastry options which are available to buy seven days a week, and our usual range of snacks and drinks remains unchanged.

It was terrific to be able to continue resuming our events programme in January, with the popular Big Garden Bird Walk and Big Farmland Bird Walk both receiving excellent feedback. Fast approaching is the school half term, and as well as a new self-led quiz trail available daily from 12 February, we have a fun Bug Box Family Activity on Saturday 19 February, which includes taking away a mini bug box for your own outdoor space at home. Places on this are strictly limited, and booking is essential here.

Further ahead, in mid-March we have our next Binoculars and Telescopes Open Days, for expert advice on choosing the right optics for your needs - but don't forget, you can try our wide range any day at the visitor centre.

However you enjoy the reserve, whether it's to watch birds, for a bracing walk, an outdoor adventure with the kids or just to meet friends for a coffee and a chat, we look forward to welcoming you here soon.