RSPB Mersehead blog 8th October – 15th October 2021

Some of the first Barnies arriving at Mersehead on Monday morning. Photo credit: Luke Jones

This week has finally seen the long-awaited arrival of thousands of our Svalbard Barnacle Geese. It’s lovely to have the Barnies back at Mersehead, and the sight and sound of thousands of geese flying overhead is amazing to witness, and well worth a trip to the reserve. The first large groups of geese arrived at the reserve on Monday morning, with 719 geese being counted during Monday’s Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS). Numbers built up over the start of the week, with a total of 9,270 geese being counted on the reserve during Wednesday’s coordinated goose count. 5,000 of them were seen in one single field alongside the Coastal Trail path, and later this week some of the barnies were seen hanging around with our Belted Galloway cattle.

Meet and greet. Photo credit: Luke Jones.

Among the thousands of geese on the reserve are two leucistic barnacle geese, which are easy to pick out among the others. This condition results in a lack of pigmentation in animals, resulting in partial or full white colouration to the geese, with some faded black or grey feathers coming through (ghost pattern) and a dark bill and legs that show that they are leucistic rather than albino. There are believed to be 8 leucistic individuals within the Svalbard population, with up to 4 of these being present on the reserves in past years.

Leucistic Barnie. Photo credit: Luke Jones.

One of the five hybrid geese (Canada GooseGreylag Goose) seen last Thursday was still present on the reserve earlier this week. This is the most common goose hybrid that can be found in Great Britain, although they only account for approximately 0.3% of the combined Canada Goose and Greylag Goose population. A study conducted by WWT in the 1990s noted 261 of these hybrids in Great Britain, with a more recent study (Ottenburghs et al., 2016) suggesting a population of only 88. Other peculiar goose sightings on the reserve in past years include a Snow Goose in 2016 and some Lesser Canada Geese. If visiting the reserve, it’s always worth keeping an eye out for any uncommon geese hidden in the large flocks! 

Canada Goose X Greylag Goose hybrid (left). Photo credit: Luke Jones

On Monday, the monthly WeBS was carried out on the reserve. 719 barnacle geese were counted during the survey, and we were lucky enough to see some of the first geese arriving at Mersehead after an arduous journey from the Arctic. 1,252 Oystercatcher, 672 Teal, 559 Dunlin, 205 Golden Plover, 204 Curlew, 165 Lapwing, and a number of other ducks, geese, waders and gulls were recorded.

Earlier this week, a bright orange Palmate Newt eft (newtlet) was found on land. Newtlets emerge from water around August and spend the Autumn feeding on various invertebrates in preparation for winter. Mature adults also emerge from the water at the same time, with the newts then overwintering (not quite hibernating) in safe places such as under rocks, in compost heaps or buried down in mud. If you happen to find a newt out of water from Autumn until the beginning of Spring, it is recommended to leave them where they are, provided they are in no danger. 

Palmate newt eft/ newtlet. Photo credit: Luke Jones

Four moths of four different species were recorded during the weekly moth survey; these were Merveille du Jour, Green Brindled CrescentLarge Wainscot and a Blair’s Shoulder-Knot. This moth was first recorded in the UK on the Isle of Wight in 1951, and since has spread northwards rapidly, with the first record in Scotland being in Kirkcudbrightshire in 2001. This moth’s flight season lasts from October to mid-November, and it has not been recorded on the reserve in a number of years.

Merveille du Jour, Green Brindled Crescent and Blair's Shoulder-Knot moths. Photo credits: Luke Jones

Several Whooper Swans have been seen from the two hides throughout the week, which would have recently arrived from their breeding grounds in Iceland. Most Icelandic Whooper swans overwinter in Britain and Ireland, while those from Scandinavia and Siberia overwinter in mainland Europe. A female Wheatear can still be seen on the beach (as of Friday 15th), and a Goldcrest was reported in the woodland on the way to the Meida Hide.

Shaggy Ink Cap. Photo credit: Dave Jackson

A stand of Shaggy Inkcap/ Mane (also know as the Lawyer's Wig (Coprinus comatus)) mushrooms can be seen on the entrance to the beach from the woodland. Red Admiral butterflies have been seen throughout the week, feeding on flowering Ivy and the Michaelmas Daisies around the Sulwath Gardens; These butterflies can even be seen as late in the year as November! 

Luke Jones, Trainee Warden.