RSPB Mersehead Blog 2nd - 7th October

At the time of writing, we are still awaiting the long overdue, and eagerly anticipated mass return of the Svalbard Barnacle Geese to the Solway Firth.  Our appetite was whetted on Thursday, when 4 birds were spotted in one of the fields just past the woodland.  It is not possible to say if these are the early pace setters, or part of the local population of feral birds who are getting their bite of the lush Mersehead grass before their Norwegian cousins arrive.  However, those in the know believe a dramatic change in the weather in Svalbard between Wednesday and Thursday (with heavy snowfall) should encourage a mass migration – if this has not already started.

Despite still waiting for the headliners, the support acts have been well worth seeing this week, with visitors to Mersehead being rewarded for tackling the unpredictable and eclectic weather.  The weekend, and Sunday especially, was a story of sunshine interspersed with sharp, heavy showers.  This resulted in some spectacular rainbows stretching across the fields and over the surrounding hills.  The residents of the hedgerows emerged on mass when the clouds parted, with a particular highlight being a charm of somewhere near 130 Goldfinch, twittering and leaping from hedge to tree near the conifer plantation on the access road.  This flock has also been spotted enjoying the sunflowers amongst the wild bird cover.  Look out for recently fledged birds, who can easily be spotted as they lack the characteristic red head of the adults.  Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow, Jay and Willow Warbler are just a small sample of some of the species that have also been recorded along the hedges and through the woodland this week.

“It’s not looking so good behind you”.  All the seasons at Mersehead on Sunday. Photo Credit: D. Jackson

After a slow start, heavy rain last week and continued downpours in recent days has seen the Wetland Trail really come to life.  Water levels are high at the Meida Hide end of the trail, which is attracting the full array of wildfowl that we would expect to see at this time of year.  Although the big flock (300+) of Teal are still favouring the Southwick Water and adjacent grassland pools, significant numbers have made their way to the wetlands.  Wigeon and Shoveler numbers are also increasing, and just a handful of Pintail can be seen.  The water is deep enough in places to encourage a Little Grebe to dive below the service in search of insects, larvae and small fish.

Filling up a bit more. Photo credit: P. Radford

You can't hide with that bill! Photo credit: P. Radford

The new scrapes and ditches that have been detailed in previous blogs have already filled, and are looking fantastic!  If you don’t want to take my word for it, just pop down for a chat with the Lapwing who have been busily feeding along the muddy edges.  Geese have also been attracted, with Greylag, Canada and Pink-footed Geese making the short trip from the wetlands to see what all the fuss is about.  One of our eagle-eyed volunteers, Luke, spotted five curious looking geese amongst them, which look to be Greylag x Canada Goose hybrids.

Wetland extension. Photo credit: P. Radford

Lapwing enjoying new scrapes along with hybrid greylag x canada geese. Photo credit: P. Radford

With thousands of Pink-footed Geese flying over the reserve most mornings this week in classic V-formation, we sent out our scouts to see how many have chosen to break up the journey to their wintering grounds with a stop-over at Mersehead.  615 were recorded on Wednesday, along with 210 Canada and 85 Greylag Geese.  Goose enthusiasts were compensated for the lack of Barnies on Thursday, with the arrival of around a dozen Brent geese out on the mudflats, which are rarely seen this far east.

Are they trying to tell us something? Photo credit: Luke Jones

Pink-footed Geese out on the wetlands. Photo credit: C. Murray

If you haven’t seen the Belted Galloways at Mersehead, you have just a couple of weeks at most left to come and say hello.  They have really become part of the team, and were even eager to help our Tuesday volunteer work party with removing cuttings from the butterfly meadow.  However, once they realised we were creating a pile of knapweed rather than hay, they soon lost interest.  When our bovine friends leave in the coming weeks, Roe Deer and Brown Hare will become even more obvious as the four-legged front runners across the grass and wetland fields.

Photo bombed! Photo credit: Luke Jones.

We're not in the way are we? Photo credit: P. Radford

Buck and Doe Roe Deer showing their best sides. Photo credit: C. Murray

Wednesday was by far and away the best day in terms of weather, with bright sunshine and temperatures reaching a balmy 16 degrees.  The conditions were perfect for spotting some of the late flying bees, butterflies and dragonflies that have been recently sighted.  These include Common Carder bees, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood butterflies and Migrant Hawker and Emperor dragonflies.

Red Admiral butterfly on Michaelmas Daisies. Photo credit: Luke Jones

In stark contrast to Wednesday, rain and strong southerly winds made Mersehead a much wilder proposition on Thursday.  It was a good day to witness a ‘proper’ high tide, which forced a lot of waders to fly into the fields adjacent to the beach.  Some Golden Plover chose to stay well clear of the crashing waves, and could be seen out on the wetlands from the Bruaich Hide.

Increasing bird numbers on the reserve inevitably entices birds of prey, with both a Marsh Harrier and Ring-tailed Hen Harrier being reported by visitors this week.  Female and Juvenile birds both have similar plumage, which is why they are jointly referred to as ‘ring-tailed’, in contrast to the solid grey tail tip of the male hen harrier.

If all this talk of geese is leaving you wanted more the Wild Goose Festival 2021, produced by The Stove Network, and consisting of a wide range of events in an around Dumfries could be just what you were looking for.  Events will run from 16th-23rd October, and encompass art, literature, culture, community and nature.   RSPB Mersehead will be running 2 one-off events, plus a self-led story trail for children (no booking required) to participate in at the reserve throughout the week.  A beach clean, organised by the Solway Firth Partnership, will also take place at Mersehead on 16th October. More details about all these events can be found by following the links below, and on the poster.

Paul Radford, Assistant Warden