Written by Matthew Scarborough
The wetlands here provide us with many daily spectacles and this week we have had the usual fantastic variety and views of raptors. Common sights are soaring buzzards and sparrowhawks as you arrive at the reserve and kestrels just outside the Visitor Centre hovering very obligingly for photographers. Most days we also have marsh harriers quartering over the marsh and reedbed as well as the occasional missile like merlin darting in low to the ground, lifting lapwings and wildfowl alike. Other fairly common raptors include peregrines hunting over the pools, hoping to catch prey such as teal and lapwing. Hen harriers have also been seen every two or three days this week flying over the reedbed as well as over the scrape in front of the visitor centre. The area of saltmarsh between Burton Mere Wetlands and Parkgate have still been providing us with great views of hen harriers and marsh harriers as well as views of short-eared owls and bitterns!
It has also been a great week for waders with very close views of black-tailed godwit, dunlin (which have been increasing in number this week), lapwing, snipe, curlew, oystercatcher and ruff. We have also had near daily views of green sandpiper and spotted redshank from Bunker Hide and the Visitor Centre respectively. Our winter ducks are still in their thousands across the site with the usual views of shelduck , teal, wigeon, pintail, gadwall, tufted duck and shoveler. We similarly have had huge numbers of geese including pink-footed geese, Canada geese and greylag geese being most common with the occasional pair of Egyptian geese too. The two tundra bean geese were last seen on Sunday from Inner Marsh Farm Hide, but we are keeping our eyes peeled as they are likely still in the dee area often mixed in with pink-footed geese.
The reedbed has been an excellent place to see and hear very active Cetti’s warblers as well as reed buntings, grey wagtails and water rail. Walking towards Burton Point at the far end of the reserve has been the best for seeing the regular groups of fieldfare and redwing as well as great views of green woodpeckers and goldcrests. Woodland sightings this week have included excellent views of great spotted woodpeckers, long tailed tits, nuthatch, and treecreepers as well as occasional views of chiffchaffs. It has also had a lot of mixed finches including siskin, bullfinch, chaffinch, greenfinch and a particularly big group of goldfinch.
We are just starting to see signs that some birds are getting ready for next spring such as the black-headed gulls starting to gather in larger numbers on the scrape and some starting to get their brown heads back. Also, our three little grebes have been particularly vocal this week and some of the carrion crows have even been seen carrying nesting material.
This week has been particularly good for seeing our kingfishers! A pair has been hunting in the reedbed and on the Meres with the best and most common views being on the latter. So if you are around on the Meres it is definitely worth checking low hung branches over the water and for bright blue flashes of their bullet like flight.
Kingfisher at Marsh Covert hide. (Elizabeth Maddock)
The warden team this week have been continuing to extend the birdcrop field viewpoint by clearing and processing the encroaching willow. It has been a monster task but with help from our regular work party volunteers it was done in no time the view from the path is now excellent. Another big task this week has been to clear the vegetation around the electric predator fence that encircles the scrape and the wet grassland. As the vegetation grows it can start to come in contact with the electrified top half of the fence which can start to reduce how effective the fence is at protecting the breeding birds in the spring.
Cleared willow at birdcrop field viewpoint. (Matthew Scarborough)
Section of predator fence after being cleared of vegetation. (Matthew Scarborough)
It's National Nestbox Week this February half term, and we're in need of some new nestboxes to put up in trees around Burton Mere Wetlands. Our Nestbox Building event will be running on Wednesday 19 February between 10.30am-3.30pm. We're inviting families to get involved and have some fun helping us to build them, then choose a spot with our wardens for them to be placed in our woodland.
Our next Little Explorers events will now be running between Monday 13 January to Monday 23 March, 10-11.30am meet at the Visitor Centre and come see what stories and activities we have planned. Price: £5 per child (£4 RSPB Wildlife Explorer members); accompanying siblings half-price.
When you visit Burton Mere Wetlands Visitor Centre we have the new February family quiz trail "National Nestbox Week" to celebrate the British Trust for Ornithology's National Nestbox Week from Friday 14 February to Friday 21 February. Along with the quiz trail we also have Winter Backpacks to hire for the kids to take out and get adventurous.
Join us for our first Parkgate Tidewatch of the year on Tuesday 11 February and Wednesday 12 February between 10.30am-2.30pm. We will be down at the Parkgate Old Baths for the spectacle of high tide as it comes in and pushes small mammals up the saltmarsh which then brings in the likes of short-eared owls, hen harriers, marsh harriers and many other spectacular raptors.
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