It's been a wild, windy week with lots going on! Walking towards the visitor centre every morning we're greeted by the sound of the increasingly active scrape with the many black-headed gulls and lapwings busy getting ready for breeding season. It's that lovely transition time between winter and spring, with wigeon, teal, shoveler, shelduck, gadwall and tufted duck all present on the scrape and Reception Pool whilst avocet numbers increase daily with more than 70 counted across the site early in the week.
The wind helped this week's ten metre spring tides significantly flood the saltmarsh from Burton to Parkgate, and our three Parkgate Tidewatch events delivered terrific spectacles of record numbers of pink-footed geese, various raptors and short-eared owls plus the drama of a water rail falling prey to a mob of greater black-backed gulls.
Water rail dropped by gulls (Andrew Wright)
As well as impressive birdwatching on the estuary, the huge tides gave Burton Mere Wetlands some additional highlights, namely the odd knot, spotted redshank and a small flock of golden plovers, whilst a couple of whooper swans, five barnacle geese, over 2000 pink-footed geese and an estimated 4000 redshanks seeking refuge on the non-tidal wet grassland!
As always, good wader variety on the reserve with black-tailed godwit, redshank, dunlin, snipe and ruff present whilst our pair of oystercatchers have been coming closer to the visitor centre, giving a good opportunity to see them up close. At least six Mediterranean gulls have been counted amongst the black-headed gulls, standing proud and starting to look smart with their summer plumage.
At least one woodcock is still present in the wet woodland on the path to Inner Marsh Farm hide, tucked away and taking some perseverance to see well camouflaged in the undergrowth. Cetti's warblers have also been heard and seen increasingly this week as they establish breeding territories, a pair of great-crested grebes made a welcome return, a little owl was seen back up on Burton Point near where they nested last year and a barn owl was hunting near Marsh Covert hide in the middle of Friday afternoon, making up for lost time after difficult hunting conditions through the week.
Woodcock on woodland floor (Paul Jubb)
The two Egyptian geese continue to reside on and around The Mere, where the cattle egret has occasionally been roosting in overhanging branches when not on the farm behind Bunker Hide, but two were seen together with little egrets in the cow field on Saturday. The grey herons braved the winds this week to continue nest building and one bold individual caught a rat on the edge of Reception Pool, entertaining visitors whilst trying to swallow it!
As you'd expect in March, frogs and toads are becoming more visible, along with their fresh spawn in shallow pools throughout the reserve.
Common frogs with frogspawn (Paul Jubb)
After a few weeks, even months, of uncertainty, bearded tits were confirmed as still being present in the reedbed with a sighting in mid-week followed by some excellent visitor photos emerging on Saturday. Fingers crossed they repeat last year's breeding success!
Female bearded tit, one of four birds seen on Saturday (Paul Jubb)
Newly-recruited volunteer, Mark has kindly started writing a summary of what he and the work party gets up to each time they're in. Here are a couple of excerpts from the last two weeks:
"Another busy day for the Tuesday work party today and for once in recent weeks an almost dry day with light winds. We were a bit thin on the ground for volunteers but spent all day cutting willow. We do this because too much willow can cause damage to our ditch banks and block out some of our amazing views, plus becomes unwanted perches for predators to sit and wait for opportunities to scavenge wader eggs or chicks. You will be pleased to know that the cut willow does not go to waste. It is collected by Chester Zoo and used to feed their rhinos. Who knew?! I was was a little late today, so no birding before 'work'; it was however nice to pop into the visitor centre afterwards and see the avocet flock building in numbers and hear lapwing display calls all day.
"Today we were working at Burton Point, fencing off the sprouting Bluebells to protect them as they come into flower. The wind was wild early on with some light rain but it got nicer as the day went on. The tide was high and I reckon there were at least 10,000 pink-footed geese on the marsh, an amazing sight and sound. Best of all were good views of a 'grey ghost', a male hen harrier scouting the edge of the incoming tide. Magical."
Cutting willow (top) and protecting bluebells (bottom), (Mark Varley)
Inevitably the question on many people's mind right now is where we stand with the current Covid-19 (coronavirus) situation. The RSPB are monitoring and reviewing government guidance daily, which we all know can change rapidly. For now, our reserves remain open for business as usual, with our staff and volunteers taking extra precautions to protect ourselves and our visitors through more rigorous and regular cleaning of key areas and surfaces as well as the standard guidance around hand-washing.
It's possible that some of our forthcoming events may be affected as and when further government guidance develops. For now, you can find details of all forthcoming events here, which will be updated if any cancellations are enforced.
With the departure of Matt at the start of the month as he heads back to the Farne Islands for another season working for the National Trust, we have a vacancy for our residential volunteer opportunity, details here.
Hopefully see you soon as we enjoy ever increasing daylight and improving weather!
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