Mersehead Recent Sightings: 12th- 18th October 2019

The magic of bird migration continues to thrill us here at Mersehead. This week saw more winter visitors arrive, including the first sightings of Redwings and Fieldfares. These colourful Scandinavian migrants are best looked for feasting on the abundant supply of bright scarlet hawthorn berries in the hedgerows along the Wetland Trail. A male Brambling was also reported from the woodland near the Meida Hide on Monday. 

Redwing. Photo credit: Ben Andrew.

The thousands of Barnacle geese on the reserve have continued to excite visitors, with over 7,500 (barnacle geese, not visitors!) counted across the reserve on Monday. It is quite some sight (and sound!) when flocks of these black, grey and white birds take to the skies en masse, perhaps taking fright as a Buzzard or a plane passes overhead. Do listen out for the yapping calls of these sociable geese around the reserve, distinct from the higher-pitched ‘wink-wink’ calls of the Pink-footed geese that regularly fly over in v-formation.

As the days begin to shorten, it really is a cheering sight to see thousands of geese flying out to roost on the extensive sand- and mud-flats that make up part of the reserve. If you are interested in witnessing this spectacle up close, why not come along to one of our ‘Sunset on the Solway’ events taking place this coming week (on Sunday 20th and Thursday 24th). For details, please see our Facebook page or call us on 01387780579. Booking is essential as spaces are limited.

Pink-footed geese. Photo credit: Andy Hay

The first of our seasonal ‘Badger Banquet’ events took place on Wednesday evening, with further events planned this coming week (on Saturday 19th and Wednesday 23rd). Thankfully the Badgers arrived right on cue and proceeded to tuck in to the irresistibly tasty snacks that had been laid out for them around our wildlife garden. Our guests for the evening were treated to close-up views of up to four badgers during a sold-out 90-minute viewing session, which included a dramatic altercation with a hungry Fox that was quickly seen off by the feasting badgers. If you would like to come along to one of these sessions, please see the details on our Facebook page or call us on 01 387780579 and remember that booking is essential.

Badger. Photo Credit: Ben Andrew

Daytime visitors to the reserve this week have enjoyed close-up views of many different wintering wildfowl and wader species from the hides along our Wetland Trail. This has included sightings of up to seven different species of duck, four species of goose, and two species of swan! See how many you can spot next time you visit, and don’t forget to listen out for their varied calls –the somewhat comical ‘weeooo’ of the Wigeon remains a personal favourite!

Also keep your eyes peeled for tiny Teal, our smallest duck and also the most numerous duck species counted on the reserve this week. Another highlight has been to see two Whooper swans on the reserve, likely to have travelled between 800-1,400 km from their Icelandic breeding grounds. A good tip for separating these large graceful swans from the more familiar resident Mute swan is to look at the bill. It is wedge-shaped with a large yellow patch at the base in the case of whoopers, and orange with a large black ‘knob’ at the base in the case of mutes.

Whooper swan. Photo Credit: Ben Hall

If you would like to get a closer look at Mersehead’s wintering wildfowl or brush up on your identification skills, why not visit us next Monday when our resident ‘Guide in the Hide’ will be on hand to assist you in spotting some of these birds with the aid of binoculars, a telescope and bird books. If you are lucky, you might get to see some of the barnacle goose families take a bath in front of the Bruaich Hide!

The murmuration of Starlings roosting in the reedbed in front of Meida Hide is slowly starting to grow in size, with up to two Marsh harriers being seen most evenings. Elsewhere, good numbers of seed-eating passerines – such as Linnet, Goldfinch, and Skylark – have been counted feeding on the wild bird seed crops that were planted across the reserve last spring. Fantastic views of Tree sparrow, Yellowhammer and many other small birds continue to be enjoyed from the visitor centre. 


Tree sparrow. Photo Credit: Ray Kennedy

Of course, the reserve is home to more than just birds. There have been lots of sightings of Roe deer this week, particularly in the fields bordering the main footpath leading down to the woodland. Red admiral butterflies and Common darter dragonflies have been sighted during the intermittent warm sunny spells enjoyed throughout the week. Several different species of grassland fungi have also been recorded, including impressive numbers of football-sized Giant puffballs, golf-ball sized Common puffballs and brightly coloured waxcaps (specifically Golden waxcaps and Snowy waxcaps). Why not come along to one of our regular ‘Autumn Discovery Walks’ to find out more about the great variety of species that can be found across the reserve.

Visitors taking the Coastal Trail around Mersehead should remember to look out for the delicate pale-lilac flowers of Sea rocket – a plant with shiny leaves reminiscent of the ‘wild rocket’ leaves used in salads – which is still in flower along the top of the beach. Many thanks again to the dedicated volunteers who came to the beach clean event last Sunday. If you would like to help us out in keeping the beach free from plastic and other waste, please do come along to our next beach clean event on Sunday 10th November. 


Sea Rocket. Photo Credit: Andy Hay

Last but not least, one of our lucky volunteers (me!) was fortunate enough to spot an Otter over at Kirkconnell Merse on Wednesday during one of the regular high-tide bird counts that take place right across the reserve. This discrete section of saltmarsh at Kirkconnell is best viewed from the eastern banks of the Nith at Glencaple, where on Wednesday we counted impressive numbers of wintering waders and wildfowl, including over 600 Pintail and over 700 Lapwing. Species present in smaller numbers included Teal, Red-breasted merganser, Curlew, Little egret, Redshank and two Scaup.

All in all, quite an event-full week!

Donal McCarthy, Mersehead Trainee Warden