RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 20th – 26th October

The week started off with a flurry of good sightings when, on Monday, a 1st winter Marsh Harrier was seen hunting over the wetlands from Bruaich Hide, whilst from Meida Hide a Sparrowhawk and Merlin were both sighted over the reedbed as well as 1 lonely Whooper Swan, who briefly stopped in before carrying on its journey. The winter visitors keep on arriving as more Brambling have been spotted around the reserve; four in the wild bird cover next to the woodland trail (where they have been sighted throughout the week) whilst another individual treated visitors to great views on the feeders at the Visitor Centre. A Red Squirrel was also spotted outside the Visitor Centre on Monday. Fieldfare and Redwing have been noted in small number around the reserve, including along Rainbow Lane and the woodland trail, as well as flying over calling. The calls of these two winter visitors are quite distinctive, listen out for the high pitch ‘seep’ call of the redwing as they migrate at night or the ‘chack-chack’ call of the Fieldfare.

Fieldfare.  Photo credit: Ben Andrew

The wild bird cover crop next to the woodland trail is absolutely heaving with winter finches at the moment. Counts from this week’s survey noted 60 Chaffinch and 90 Greenfinch feeding on the sunflower seeds, whilst a group of 24 Linnet perched on the wires of a nearby fence. As well as the aforementioned Brambling that have been present in these flocks, a Redpoll was also noted on Saturday. Whilst carrying out the count we were lucky enough to flush a Jack Snipe. These birds are about 2/3 the size of a Common Snipe, have a much shorter bill, and feature a beautiful green sheen between the bold yellow stripes on its back. As well as these ID features, there are also behavioural differences between the two species; the Common Snipe will call and fly in a zig-zag fashion once it is flushed from where it has been hiding, whereas the Jack Snipe will usually not call and will fly more directly to nearby cover.

Redpoll. Photo credit: Ben Andrew

On Thursday, we carried out our bi-monthly Reserve Count across the reserve where we observed the following: 100 Greylag Geese, 8 Tufted Duck, 5 Gadwall, 6830 Barnacle Geese, 59 Wigeon, 52 Teal, 9 Mallard, 32 Pintail, 124 Shoveler, 1 Little Grebe, 1 Grey Heron, 992 Oystercatcher, 53 Ringed Plover, 560 Golden Plover, 425 Lapwing, 875 Dunlin, 28 Snipe, and 338 Curlew. The leucistic (appears to be white as it lacks pigmentation) Barnacle goose was sighted during the count; last year there were 2 of these birds that wintered on the reserve so we’re waiting to see if any more turn up as the weeks go by.

Shoveler.  Photo credit: Andy Hay

There have been a lot of Roe Deer visible around the reserve this week, with a total of 13 seen by one visitor as they walked the trails. A male Kestrel was seen flying over the visitor centre as well as a maximum of 4 Ravens, which have been seen multiple times throughout the week.

The sightings haven’t slowed down as the week draws to a close as today (Friday) we’ve had more sightings of Whooper Swan, with 3 birds viewed from Meida Hide this time. A male Bullfinch was seen flitting through the hedgerow near Bruaich Hide calling mournfully. Down at the woodland trail a flock of 14 Long-tailed Tit passed through the woodland feeding and a Speckled Wood butterfly flew in the sunny patches. Down at the dunes 2 Red Admiral butterfly flew in sheltered areas and a late Swallow was seen flying over heading south. There was excitement on the wetlands this afternoon as all of the ducks and wader suddenly took to the sky; a glance upwards revealed the culprit to be a Red Kite flying fairly low. The ducks and waders flock tightly together to avoid predation, although the Red Kite mainly feeds on carrion so they weren’t at risk of being eaten! This is a bird that we are seeing more of at Mersehead as they spread out from their stronghold near Lauriston.

Lapwing above the wetland.  Photo credit: L.Blakely

Last but not least we also carried out our bi-monthly reserve count over at our Kirkconnell Merse reserve. Highlights included: 160 Barnacle Geese, 2014 Teal, 101 Pintail, 5 Goosander, 623 Lapwing and 51 Redshank.

Saturday 17th November is your chance to explore the newest part of the reserve at Preston Merse. This exposed and strenuous walk will cover parts of the reserve not normally seen by our visitors. Find out how we are enhancing this important place for nature. Participants must be physically fit. Cost: Adults £15 (RSPB Members £12). Car parking charges apply for non-members. Booking Essential: 01387 780579 or

Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden