Recent sightings

A real wet start to May, after barely any rain at all in April; on Sunday 1 May we had our Dawn Chorus event and it rained! Thankfully it wasn’t too bad, and the event was great with a fantastic array of species being heard including grasshopper, sedge and reed warblers, whitethroat and the smallest bird in the UK, the goldcrest. Let’s hope the rain doesn’t persist throughout the breeding season, as we have all our hard-working waders with their eggs and newly hatched chicks to look after.

Goldcrest by Paul Jubb

In between the rain there has been some lovely sunshine even if at times the wind has been fresh. During the sunny spells we have had our first few damselflies appear like the large red and the azure. The butterflies have been putting on a pretty good show too, with brimstone, orange-tip, holly blue, small tortoiseshell, red admiral, peacock, green-veined white, small white, common blue, speckled wood and most recently and one of my personal favourites the wall all showing across the reserve.

Small tortoiseshell, speckled wood and peacock butterfly by Paul Jubb 

Out on the scrape, it is somewhat quieter than last month but still the centre of activity with the black-headed gulls and avocets defending their nests from aerial predation. With a bit of patience you will spot Mediterranean gulls nesting out there too, sometimes hidden behind the ever-growing vegetation on the islands. Amongst the flocks of now ginger coloured black-tailed godwits, we are still getting reports of the odd bar-tailed godwit mingling with them. If you were lucky enough you may have also caught the pair of little ringed plovers that have been seen recently from Marsh Covert hide and the more scarce ringed plover on Wednesday from Boarder hide. Identifying these two birds can be tricky at first but the two main differences to look out for are that the little-ringed plover has a dark bill and a white patch on the front of the head whereas the ringed plover has an orange and black bill with the black on the front of the head joining straight into the grey.

Little-ringed plover by Paul Jubb

Ringed plover at Point of Ayr by John Langley 

We are still getting daily reports of spotted redshank and ruff both looking really smart now in breeding plumage, with the spotted redshank almost black with the tiniest white speckles and the ruff in a variation of colours as their feathers change and form that distinctive “ruff” of feathers around their neck. Some even scarcer waders that have dropped in for a brief visit have been three wood sandpipers we had for a couple days then a lone sanderling that turned up on Tuesday and stuck around Wednesday, visible from the visitor centre and Bunker hide.

The most recent bittern sighting has been from Marsh Covert hide last week, seen flying into the reeds in the evening. So, fingers crossed the two birds are starting to nest now and we may get more regular sightings once they start to search for more food.   

All the usual marvellous ducks about including the odd pintailtealshovelershelduckgadwall, tufted duck and a group of pochard with one male sticking around for a few extra days on  Bridge pool.

Male pochard by John Hewitt

Blink and you’ll miss it! The hobby has been seen zipping directly over the visitor centre and car park last week. Another bird that has just returned and sometimes gets confused in the same family as swallow, house and sand martin is the swift, which is actually part of the order Apodiformes with hummingbirds.

Along with the little egrets that are still bubbling away, the grey heronsgreat white egret and cattle egret are all busy squabbling away up in the treetops nesting. We have one spoonbill that has been dropping into Burton Mere Wetlands albeit very briefly, then heading back out to the marsh and seen at Parkgate the past few days, we hope in search of a mate to bring back to Burton Mere Wetlands for another nesting attempt.

Spoonbill by Paul Jubb

The most recent breeding wader numbers for our top three priority species are in! They are looking good so far with lapwing having 43 nests and from that, 23 pairs have 52 young, avocet have 72 nests and two pairs having six young, then redshank have nine nests but with 29 territorial pairs yet to nest. So, all in all it is a good start to the season and huge praise goes to the warden team who work tirelessly to secure funding, new land to look after, spend their hours in dirty ditches and early mornings surveying the wildlife out there. Often their work is not noticed as they are often in the background trying their best not to be seen so they don’t impact the visitors' enjoyment. When you look across the reserve the next time you visit take a moment to appreciate all the work that may not be so obvious.

Star sighting

This week’s star sighting is the one of the cutest we have had a in a while and equally a bird not widespread in the UK. Now if you visit regularly you may take that for granted as at this time of year as they are now firm fixture with us. They usually are one of the first breeding birds to return usually around 14 February. Have you guessed which species I am talking about yet? Yes, it’s our Avocets and the first six chicks of the season are here!

Avocet with chicks by Ron Thomas

Wardens' wanderings

The warden team have been incredibly busy working eleven-hour days some weeks recently! As breeding season hits us the work continues to mount, with huge amounts of work going on at the farthest flung point of our reserve across the Welsh border, Point of Ayr. The team have recently finished installing the electric fencing on areas of shingle beach to protect the little tern colony, that nest in different spots each year due to the dynamic landscape being changed by tides and storms each winter. This means the fencing must be collected up every year and reinstalled again come spring.

Point of Ayr 

The fencing is to protect the little tern colony from fox predation and disturbance from dogs or unsuspecting visitors that walk along the beach. We endeavour to have a member of our fantastic volunteer team there every day to explain the importance of this area and hopefully be able to point out to you these gracefully little birds. See the end of this blog if you are keen to join the team.

On Monday this week, the team took part in filming a feature for the ITV Wales' Coast and Countryside, featuring the little terns as well as natterjack toads that are both a key part of the new Our Dee Estuary project.

Warden Becky and Assistant Warden Liz with just some of the warden volunteer team that work at both Point of Ayr and Burton Mere Wetlands.

Get involved

The reserve is fully stocked with some great goodies to pack for a picnic on your adventures, from a range of tasty sandwiches, chocolate treats and ice-creams.

We have a new family quiz trail out all about the Beautiful Butterflies you can see at this time of year at Burton Mere Wetlands. We also have some great kids backpacks to explore the reserve with and don’t forget if you haven’t got binoculars you can hire some from us for the day.

Finally, are you passionate about protecting wildlife near you? We’re looking for enthusiastic people to help protect the Point of Ayr little tern breeding colony and engage with visitors. Click here to apply; Species Protection (Little Tern Volunteer Point of Ayr) | RSPB Volunteering

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