RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 1st - 7th December 2018

The week started off with blue skies and low temperatures. Clear skies on Monday night were a perfect chance to make the most of the dark skies here at Mersehead and gaze at the stars, with the characteristic honking of a group of Whooper Swan heard flying over and a Badger was seen rootling around in the Sulwath Centre garden. Small groups of Pink-footed Geese were seen passing overhead, travelling from their overnight roosts on the sandflats to find feeding grounds for the day. The wetlands continued to provide good views of an array of waterfowl. Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Pintail and Mallard where all seen from Meida and Bruich Hides this week, as well as Little Grebe and a flock of 300 Lapwing.  

Orion. Photo credit: Jack Barton

Tuesday morning dawned crisp and cold. The reserve was white with frost, while the wetland pools were fringed with ice. It certainly felt like winter was here! Roe Deer picked their way through the frozen fields. These often solitary deer form small, loose groups in the winter, as the males begin to grow their antlers in preparation for the summer rut. A female colour Hen Harrier was again seen gliding over the icy Merse and two Fieldfare feasted on the remains of berries in the hedgerows and woodland, alongside the tiny Goldcrest. The week proved good for raptor sightings; in addition to the Hen Harrier, a Merlin was seen at the entrance to the reserve, a Buzzard provided good views at Bruich Hide and a Peregrine made its first appearance for quite a few weeks.

Roe deer. Photo credit: Jack Barton

The wild bird cover crops around the reserve continued to provide good numbers of winter finches. 100 Chaffinch, 48 Greenfinch and 108 Linnet flitted between the sunflower crop and the safety of the woodland, where a Brambling and four Bullfinch were seen. In the Brassica crop, the air filled with the sound of 70 Skylark, interspersed with characteristic ‘scratch’ of Snipe and the eerie ‘cuur-leeuw’ of Curlew. The Scottish name for Curlew is ‘Whaup’ with its haunting cry often called the ‘wheeple of the whaup’ and referred to in poems and literature as far back as 1000AD.

Brambling in the sunflower crop. Photo credit: Jack Barton.

Unfortunately, the sunny weather didn’t last. By Wednesday an icy wind was accompanied by a plenty of rain and the surrounding hills were completely obscured by thick cloud. However, this didn’t stop our weekly Barnacle Goose count! Staff kitted up in full waterproof gear to brave the less than ideal conditions. Despite this show of dedication, it seems Barnacle Geese don’t like the bad weather either (despite living in Svalbard the rest of the year) with a lower than average count of 1,121. 

The rainy days provided a good opportunity for odd jobs around the reserve, from making new sluice boards to allow us to better control the water levels and create the ideal conditions for our wetland birds, to chopping up firewood and catching up on office work. It’s amazing the variety of work you can turn your hand to on a nature reserve. Good progress has continued to be made on the Japanese Rose on the path leading to Bruich hide, thanks to the help of our dedicated volunteers. We’re now over half way and the optimistic among us have declared it could be cleared by Christmas!

Katy Westerberg, Trainee Assistant Warden