Mersehead Recent Sightings 19th – 25th January 2019

It’s been a wintry week of freezing temperatures, the odd snow flurry and the occasional afternoon of thick fog. However, there have still been sunny spells, and the frosty wetlands with a backdrop of snow dusted hills have certainly made for some beautiful mornings, accompanied by the ‘wink wink’ of huge skeins of Pink-footed Geese passing overhead.

Frost-tipped grass and glorious blue skies make up for the sub-zero temperatures. Photo credit: Jack Barton

The week began with a very cold WeBS survey. Staff made sure to wrap up warm before heading out to count all the wetland birds that call Mersehead home. Barnacle Goose numbers were low with only 308 counted (although later in the week numbers were back up to the thousands). Iced over ponds didn’t seem to affect duck numbers too much; these wildfowl are much better adapted to the cold than us! 178 Wigeon, 221 Teal, 21 Mallard, 82 Pintail and 62 Shoveler were recorded, with 8 Gadwall being the highest count of these ducks this winter. The variety and number of waders remained impressive at the high tide roost count; 1501 Oystercatcher, 34 Ringed Plover, 1 Grey Plover, 198 Lapwing, 275 Knot, 7 Sanderling, 2200 Dunlin and 157 Curlew huddled together on the sand flats.

One of our Trainee Assistant Wardens, Jack, got a surprise at the end of the WeBS survey, when he stumbled across a Snow Bunting on the beach at the east end of the reserve. The males of these stunning birds are black and white in the summer, while the females are more mottled. They become much streakier and buff coloured in winter. They mainly breed in the Arctic, with around 60 pairs breeding in the Scottish Highlands. However, in winter they migrate south, increasing to around 10 – 15,000 visiting birds around Scotland, the North West and East coast of England.

A Snow Bunting was a more unusual sight for one of our Trainee Assistant Wardens. Photo credit: Jack Barton

Elsewhere on the reserve, visitors were treated to excellent views of some of our smaller birds, all from the comfort (and warmth!) of the Visitor Centre. Tree Sparrow, Greenfinch and Yellowhammer are just some of the birds that flock to our feeders, jostling for a place on the crowded bird table. This extra food source is vital for birds in the depth of winter. A cold snap like we’ve been having this week means they need more energy to keep warm, and the short days leave less time to find food. It’s not just good views of passerines, a male Sparrowhawk made a brief appearance in front of the windows, while two Snipe skulked at the edge of the pools.  

It was so cold, even the sea froze! Photo credit: Jack Barton

Again, raptor sightings were excellent; on Saturday, a Kestrel hovered over the main track, while both a Peregrine and Merlin perched in the treeline opposite Bruaich Hide.  Identifying these two birds of prey can often be confusing, however Merlin are much smaller (around the size of a Blackbird), with blunt tails and compact broad-based wings with pointed tips. The Peregrine is much larger (our biggest falcon), with a strong black moustache and mask, and black bars across its white chest. A Red Kite circled over the reserve and a glimpse of a ‘Ringtail’ Hen Harrier was seen as it flew past the woodland.

Badgers are regularly seen just outside the Sulwath Centre.

It’s been a pleasure viewing the Badgers outside the Sulwath Centre most evenings, snuffling their way around the garden and investigating leaf piles and logs. We’ve had some great camera trap footage, but it’s even better to watch these fascinating creatures in real life. We are running Badger Banquet events on the 2nd, 3rd and 22nd February from 6pm – 7.30pm, giving visitors the opportunity to watch the badgers rootle around from the comfort of the Sulwath Centre, booking is essential.

For more details, check online at: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/find-a-reserve/reserves-a-z/events.aspx?reserve=Mersehead

 Katy Westerberg, Trainee Assistant Warden

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