RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 11th July – 17th July 2020

We would like to start by thanking all our visitors for their patience whilst waiting for Mersehead to re-open, and for being understanding of the additional measures and restrictions that have had to be put in place to enable the reserve to be enjoyed once again.  It has been great to see and hear so many people around the site during the last week, and staff and volunteers continue to work hard to get us to a place where more of the facilities can gradually re-open.  The visitor centre (including toilets), viewing hides, Sulwath Garden and children's play area remain closed for now, to ensure social distancing measures are followed. Although our team won’t be engaging folk directly, signage and information has been placed to help ensure a great experience for all users on the reserve. More information about the re-opening of RSPB reserves and facilities can be found at: Reserve Reboot

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that there are now cattle grazing on the salt marsh adjacent to Rainbow Lane.  The cattle are enclosed behind a wire fence, but as an additional safety measure two wooden gates have been closed on the lane.  Kissing gates can be used to avoid opening these gates.  Please also note that the wire fence is electrified, as is the fence that runs along the dunes.

Electric fence for grazing cattle on salt marsh. Photo credit: P.Radford

Volunteers continue to help us catch up on the work that has built up over the 3 months of lockdown, as gardening, bench painting, weed management and preparing the holiday cottages for welcoming guests from mid-August is keeping everyone very busy.  Regular visitors won’t be able to help but notice the progress that is being made.

Visitor Centre flower bed. Photo credit: P. Radford

There has been evidence of farming at Mersehead for over 500 years, and since the RSPB took on the land in 1992, many similar operations have continued, with a focus on farming for nature.  As such, the tractor is a vital piece of machinery and offers a unique perspective for experiencing much of the wildlife that visitors to Mersehead can enjoy at this time of year. 

Tractor and Oxeye Daisy. Photo credit: P.Radford

During one afternoon topping the grass in preparation for cattle grazing, Swallows put on a constant and mesmerising display as they darted around the tractor, which disturbed the insects on which they feed.   Amongst the insects spotted trying to avoid becoming lunch were Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Red Admiral butterflies, Large Yellow Underwing moths – a regular visitor to the Mersehead moth trap – and a White-tailed bumblebee, who decided to catch a lift on the bonnet of the tractor.  These swallows, who nest in the outbuildings around the farm, were joined by a lone Sand Martin and 2 Swifts, who flew over towards the end of the afternoon.

Swallows from a stationary tractor. Photo credit: P.Radford

Brown Hares and Pheasants frequently appeared from their hiding places as the grass gradually provided less cover, and a resident Common Buzzard evidently anticipated that smaller mammals may also be flushed, as it kept a close lookout from surrounding fence posts.  This bird was also witnessed employing an uncommon flappy, hovering hunting technique which it may have picked up from the Kestrels which, as mentioned last week, are believed to have bred on the reserve.  A Raven briefly arrived on one of the fence posts adjacent to Rainbow Lane, and Stonechat, Pied Wagtail, and Meadow Pipit danced amongst the Oxeye Daisies.  Above them, Skylark continued their territorial display and around 50 Starlings appeared to be auditioning for the spectacular murmurations that are such a special winter experience at Mersehead, and for which no tractor is required.

Meadow pipit on merse with insect cache for brood. Photo credit: C. Murray

It has been an exciting couple of weeks in terms of moths.  Firstly, we were fortunate to record a micro moth, during our weekly Garden Moth Scheme trapping, which has been confirmed as the first record for Scotland.  The Fenland Pearl (Anania perlucidalis) is related to the familiar Small Magpie, and although its European food plant, the cabbage thistle, is not found in the UK, it is assumed to feed on other species of thistle.  It really has made quite a leap to appear in Dumfries and Galloway, as the most northerly recent appearance, for a moth which is most frequently seen in East Anglia, was around the Manchester region!

Fenland Pearl (Anania perlucidalis). Photo credit: P. Radford

Two weeks ago, we reported the sighting of a Lunar Hornet Moth on Rainbow Lane, for which there are very few records in D&G.  The theory that this species is probably more abundant than records would suggest, was strengthened when Iain Leach made contact to ask if he could test out a chemical lure that has uncovered Lunar Hornet Moths at other sites.  The lure works by mimicking the pheromone that female Lunar Hornet Moths use to attract males.  Two of this day-flying wasp mimic were seen when Iain set up the lure close to the Meida hide, amongst some mature sallows from which the moths are known to mature and pupate.  The moths then emerge after two years through oval holes in the bark at the lower part of the trunk. 

Lunar Hornet Moth at Mersehead. Photo credit: Iain Leach (https://www.iainleachphotography.com)

A moth appeared in the trap this week that is not quite so rare or unusual, but is still not that common at Mersehead.  It shares its name with a previously mentioned bird, but is more likely to be attracted to bright light than to a tractor.  The Swallow-tailed Moth gets its name from the characteristic pointed tail on the hindwing.  It is most frequently seen from late June to mid-August, and is common and well distributed through-out England and Wales, the southern Scottish Lowlands, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and Ireland.

Swallow-tailed Moth. Photo credit: P.Radford

You don’t need to stay up late with a bright light to see moths, as many fly during the day – especially during warmer months.  Keep an eye out for Latticed Heath, Cinnabar, and Six-spot Burnet moths (to name but a few) around the reserve, and especially on the ungrazed grass along the salt marsh path.

Six-spot Burnet Moth. Photo credit: C. Murray

We look forward to welcoming you back in an albeit different way. Unfortunately, all events scheduled to the end of August have been cancelled and our direct visitor engagement is on hold for now but we will endeavour to make you feel as welcome as possible and have a great experience when you visit.

And of course, we hope you all continue to stay safe and well.

Paul Radford, Assistant Warden

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