The change from winter to spring is by far my favourite time of year. It gives me a sense of excitement thinking about new beginnings associated with the arrival of migrating birds, the emergence of fresh green leaves, and spring lambs jumping excitedly across local fields. As Al mentioned in his recent blog, our tenant farmer has taken some of his ewes off the saltmarsh for lambing which makes me think spring is in the back of everyone’s mind.
The past week or two I’ve been reminded of this excitement with various clues around the reserve. The lengthening days make the commute to work from Chester more enjoyable as I can watch in daylight the pink footed geese heading out to feed in Cheshire’s pastures in their typical ‘V’ formation from their overnight roost on Parkgate marsh.
Then recently I arrived at work to be greeted by two avocets making themselves at home on the main scrape in front of Burton Mere Wetlands’ Reception Hide. These were the first avocets to arrive this year and tempted me into thinking that we are seeing the back of winter already. It’s not just me that think the worst of winter is done; as you pull up in the car park at Burton Mere Wetlands you’ll be able to hear the chiffchaffs calling in the dominant way that they do, quite often in competition with the song thrushes as to who can sing the loudest.
Away from the Reception Hide, I started to notice how parts of the reserve are starting to change colour. The drab emptiness of a woodland in winter is starting to rejuvenate in colour, the willows along the Reedbed Trail are showing bright orange and reds of new growth. Alder catkins are now developing in green and pink to contrast the brown cones that have been holding onto the trees despite being the centre of attention for siskins and goldfinches that can still be seen feeding across the site.
Siskin in alder tree (Roy Lowry)
Alder catkins (John Langley)
In the reedbed Cetti’s warblers are setting up territories while bluebell leaves are emerging at Burton Point and along the Gorse Covert Trail.
Although the warming weather might have got me carried away with the joys of spring ahead, I was still very much in the mindset of winter. Earlier in the week I visited Point of Ayr to check our hide and fencing along the shingle spit, and bumped into a couple of birdwatchers. I always like to talk to people who ask me questions and as normal when people see an RSPB vehicle turn up they ask the usual question of “Do you know if there is much around to look at?”
Luckily on the Dee Estuary there is almost always a lot to look at but often people want to see that something a little different. The people that asked me this week where told on a previous visit a good mix of birds were seen including the typical waders including curlew, oystercatcher, and dunlin as well as shelduck, teal and birds of prey including merlin. I did also mention that snow bunting were feeding on the tide line but were likely to have moved on as they have been reported in a few different locations in the estuary. Yet to my surprise soon after walking onto the beach, past a small flock of twite, five snow bunting were feeding in a group. This was a good sighting and distracted me from a job that is inevitable at Point of Ayr; the litter pick.
Picking litter is a job that I enjoy to do as it makes me feel that I am clearing environmentally sensitive areas and leaving them in a better state then when I found them. However, the high tides at this time of year make you realise the amount of plastic that must be floating around in the sea. Confined to a narrow strip at the high water mark you can find all sorts from bottles, to plastic centres of cotton wool sticks but the things that upset me most to see on a beach is a helium balloon.
These worn, almost transparent remains of something joyful often wash up and make me double check to see if it is a stranded jelly fish, but these balloons are normally recognisable by the brightly coloured ribbon trailing down the beach. It does make me wonder though the damage these are doing to the sea; if I need to double check what they are how do fish and sea mammals fare when these balloons float past looking like a favourite meal. I always pick and bin these items with anything else I find but do feel like my efforts are a tiny drop in the ocean, so to speak.
Beach litter (John Langley)
If you’ve visited Burton Mere Wetlands in the past fortnight, you may have noticed a slight change to the view towards the wet grassland behind the scrape. The warden team have been busy clearing areas of reed from around the main scrape, carried out to limit the encroachment of reed, and maintain wet grassland and rushes to hopefully encourage even more lapwing and redshank nests plus water rails and possibly spotted crake to breed on the site once more.
Wardens and volunteers clearing and burning reeds (Sam Ryley)
As well as being important habitat managaement, the work consequently improved the view of the wet grassland. In the spring you may be lucky enough to spot garganey on this newly exposed flooded area, as well as young lapwing running along the ditch edges.
This is a highly rewarding job as you can instantly see the outcome of your work with a visit to the Reception Hide and take in how the view has changed, and hopefully come the end of the breeding season this year we will see more rewards for our work in the shape of even more successful wader chicks than we had last year!
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