With the height of spring here, the reserve feels at its best with bluebells in full bloom, avocet chicks hatching and lots of warblers singing. The weather has been keeping us on our toes with regular changes of blustery rain showers to glorious sunshine.
Bluebells in full bloom - Elizabeth Maddock
We’re all watching excitedly out to the scrape and wet grassland, monitoring the nesting avocets, lapwings and redshanks, hoping for a successful breeding season as chicks start to emerge. Just prior to the recent stormy weather our latest counts were eighty-nine lapwing nests, forty-two avocet nests with thirty-six pairs still to lay, and fifty-six redshank pairs or nests.
Amongst the breeding waders, there are flocks of non-breeding black-tailed godwits, some sporting their rich summer colour, and when looking closely there have been occasional bar-tailed godwits that have drifted in from the estuary. Small flocks of knots and dunlins drop onto the scrape regularly, especially when the tides are high on the estuary, and two male ruff coming into summer plumage were briefly lekking earlier this month.
At least two pairs of Mediterranean gulls are tucked away with the black-headed gulls one of the the scrape islands, with another four pairs also out on the reserve. Two common terns were seen on the scrape in early May and a little gull was here on 25 April. There’s plenty of ducks around the old fishery ponds and The Mere, scrape and Bridge Pool including gadwall, tufted ducks, shovelers, shelducks and teal, along with a few pintails. A pair of garganey have been the stars of the show, the male seen regularly from Bridge screen and Marsh Covert flood. The female has been out of sight for much of the time, only being seen recently but the smart male has been in sight for a couple of weeks.
Male Garganey - Tom Giles
Looking out from Bridge screen, spotted redshank are a regular sighting, in their smart black summer plumage with brilliant counts of up to twenty-three, also dropping onto the scrape on a few days. Up to five common sandpipers have also been seen recently and two passage wood sandpipers were seen on 26 April. A pair of little ringed plover are nesting and a pair of snipe has also been seen on a nest further out on the reserve.
The swallows, sand martins, house martins and the most recent to arrive, swifts have been a highlight on the more overcast and soggy days swooping low over many of the paths and pools. Warblers are out all over the reserve including sedge warblers, reed warblers, willow warblers, grasshopper warblers, chiffchaffs and Cetti’s warblers that surround us with song when walking around. The Cetti’s warblers are having an extraordinary year with twenty-seven pairs counted on territories! Whitethroats are heard close to the visitor centre, whilst blackcaps are close to the wildlife garden. Whinchat and a redstart were seen last week by the team whilst carrying out surveys around the perimeter of the wet grassland. Yellow wagtails are a regular sight, seen along the easterly side of the scrape predator fence, and wheatear have passed through Burton Point headland in good numbers.
Swift - Paul Jubb
From Reedbed screen, little grebe chicks can be seen, hopping onto their mother's back whilst meandering around the open water. The bittern that arrived earlier in the season had gone quiet late April, seemingly retiring his boom for the season leaving us questioning if he is still there. Over the last week or so he has been reminding us of his presence, flying between sections of reed and providing brief glimpses from the screen. The always elusive bearded tits are also nesting, with two pairs breeding and occasional sightings of them flitting between the reeds.
Our heronry is alive with little egrets still ‘bubbling’ away whilst nesting, with the latest count seeing an amazing seventy pairs nesting, two pairs of great white egrets and two pairs of cattle egrets. Spoonbills are back over at Parkgate and one was briefly seen the end of April at Burton Mere, but no signs of breeding on the reserve this year so far.
Buzzards are continuing to drift over the reserve, seen close to the visitor centre, Marsh Covert woods and Gorse Covert woods. Marsh harriers are a little quieter now with a nest to tend to, but it’s coming up to a great time to see them doing food passes to take food into the nests. We’re also continuing to see regular sightings of kestrel, peregrine, sparrowhawk and the first few sightings of our summer-visiting hobby in the past week.
Over at Point of Ayr, the first five little terns were reported on Monday having just arrived back to breed on the shingle beach, with numbers much higher when the warden team attended to start installing the electric fencing on Tuesday. They are one of the most vulnerable bird species in the UK; their nesting sites see threats from high tides and disturbance from the public, our warden teams are now working hard to ensure they are protected while they breed.
A cuckoo has been a brilliant find on the reserve for the season, been seen perched over close to Burton Point and has been around for several days since its first sighting on Wednesday 5 May. It was quite mobile between Decca Pools area on Burton Marsh, to near Burton Point and even flying over the fen at Burton Mere Wetlands; unless, of course, there was more than one bird!
Cuckoo - Allan Conlin
The never-ending list of spring jobs continues for our warden team! Keeping a close eye on the water levels around the scrape and reedbed have been essential during the stormy weather recently, ensuring they don’t get too high and risk flooding nests. Regular breeding bird surveys have also been underway by the team, keeping a close eye and recording how well our key species are doing this year.
With the confirmation of Step 3 in the Government roadmap out of lockdown going ahead, we can finally open our new Border hide on Monday 17 May, and after the winter with it not being used our work party last week were giving it a coat of proofing varnish to help it withstand any damp conditions. Also keeping the path edges mown and clear have been extra tasks to complete and keep on top of any gaps in fencing preventing sheep from coming onto the reserve from our tenant farmer's fields!
This week our volunteer work parties are focusing on the little tern fencing over at Point of Ayr, an essential job to protect our breeding little terns on the shingle beach. Taking three days and all hands on deck, this vital job alongside a regular presence through the season, thanks to our first full-time volunteer tern warden, will help these protected birds nest as safely as possible.
We’ve welcomed a new member of staff to our team this week; Lizzie (not to be confused with existing Assistant Warden, Liz!) joins the team as Assistant Warden for Woolston Eyes nature reserve near Warrington as a part of our partnership work there, but the role also provides additional warden resource for the Dee Estuary sites when required.
Following announcements confirming the change in Government guidelines from Monday 17 May, we're delighted to be able to reopen our three hides next week, including the brand new Border hide built last autumn. As when hides were last open, before Christmas, face coverings will be required inside and capacity will be limited, so please follow instructions from the welcome team and signage at the hides when you visit. The visitor centre will remain closed for the time being whilst we await further guidance.
We’re pleased to have our mail-order shop up and running again. Grab a catalogue from the team at the welcome point, fill in the order form and the team can pop the order through for you. Everything from the catalogue, or our online shop, is available to order with fast, free home delivery on orders over £15 and the profits directly support work at the Dee Estuary reserve. We’re also able to offer appointments to try out any of our range of optics to help you decide before you buy.
Our takeaway food and drinks are still available from the welcome point outside the visitor centre, with our popular sandwiches back on sale from Saturday 15 May.
The car park, toilets and trails are now open from 9am–9pm, and will be throughout May, June and July. We continue to ask visitors not to arrive before 9am due to this blocking access for the reserve team and our neighbouring farm, so if you do find yourself in the village before 9am we recommend a short detour to nearby Burton Marsh, a brilliant, under-appreciated part of the reserve just a five minute drive away on Station Road, Burton to catch some early sightings.
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