RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 23rd February – 1st March 2019

An unseasonably warm week here at Mersehead (and around the UK) made it feel more like mid-May than the end of February! The sunny days were full of the signs of spring, with snowdrops out in full force and daffodils and crocuses beginning to emerge, providing beautiful splashes of colour around the trails. The conditions made it much more pleasant working outside, but it is none the less concerning just how this warmer weather will affect our wildlife.

Cherry blossom outside the Sulwath Centre. Photo credit: Jack Barton.

Mornings begin with the sound of a Song Thrush singing its distinctive repeating phrase. A House Sparrow can be seen flitting between the blossomed cherry tree and a nest box on the Sulwath Centre, carrying soft nesting material ready for a clutch of eggs. In the garden, Rook are busy collecting twigs for their tree top nests and a Red Kite soars high over the fields. Down Rainbow Lane, the yellow, flowering gorse flanking the track makes for a fragrant walk, with a Stonechat watching from a fence post and Skylark rising vertically from the saltmarsh, singing their spectacular song effortlessly. Around the wetlands the usual assemblage of ducks dabbling in the shallow pools are joined by a pair of Goldeneye, while Lapwing swirl overhead, recklessly tumbling through the air in their display flight. Three Little Egret pick their way through the mud, searching for an unlucky frog. The amphibians on the reserve are busy too; Common Frogs hop over the road, while searching the smaller puddles reveals the first frogspawn of the season and a pair of Common Toads are in a tight embrace on the track.

Common Toads on the track. Photo credit: Jack Barton.

Elsewhere on the reserve we were busy conducting surveys. Barnacle Goose numbers continued to be good with 5425 birds counted, including two leucistic geese (these geese look white due to a partial lack of pigmentation). Our weekly winter passerine survey revealed at least 125 Chaffinch, six Reed Bunting and five Goldfinch are still using the wild bird cover crops. Linnet and a Lesser Redpoll provided some welcome variation in the species present.

A group of thirteen Whooper Swan arrived on the reserve on Thursday morning, with their distinctive trumpeting calls alerting us to their presence. Whooper Swans over-wintering in the UK breed in Iceland and this group is likely preparing for their spring migration back to their northern breeding grounds. Ahead of them is a non-stop flight of 800 – 1,400km; the longest sea crossing of any swan species. It was particularly enjoyable to see a family within the group paddling around in front of Meida Hide, with four first year birds accompanied by their two parents, calling softly to each other to maintain contact. Cygnets will remain with their parents through their first winter, but often return to Iceland independently in the spring. First year birds can be distinguished by their much greyer feathers and lack of colour on their bill.

A group of Whooper Swan was a rarer treat here at Mersehead. Photo credit: Jack Barton.

This week also provided the first butterfly sightings of the year, with several sightings of Painted Lady by both staff and visitors and a Red Admiral fluttering around outside Meida Hide. It was also the first week of the Garden Moth Scheme; one night every week from March to November you put out a moth trap and count the number and species of moths you see. This week we caught 22 moths of seven species, including Early Grey, Dotted Border, Hebrew Character and Mottled Grey. An Oak Beauty was found outside our volunteer accommodation and it definitely lived up to its name!  

A rather fetching Oak Beauty moth. Photo credit: Jack Barton.

Visitors to our Badger Banquet event last Friday were treated to close-up views of three Badgers snuffling around the Sulwath Centre for the duration of the event (an hour and a half!). It was wonderful to see these black-and-white striped animals up close and our visitors certainly felt lucky! Bats could been seen fluttering around illuminated by the lights and the eery "screeeeech" of the resident Barn Owl could be heard, with the call of a Tawny Owl accompanying visitors as they left. 

Nurdles found on the Beach Clean. Photo credit: Katy Westerberg

The Beach Clean on Saturday was once again a success, with a dedicated group of volunteers not just collecting the obvious bits of plastic, but trying to focus on the tiny nurdles which often go unnoticed on beach cleans. A big thank you to all involved!

Katy Westerberg, Trainee Assistant Warden