Mersehead Recent Sightings 4th – 11th January 2019

Here at Mersesead we’re all back from our Christmas break and are back into the swing of reserve life, looking forward to the year ahead. The New Year always brings the promise of spring just around the corner, but there’s still a long stretch of winter lying ahead. With dark misty days and temperatures dropping below freezing, it can leave you with the feeling of cold feet (in more ways than one)!

Chilly toes don’t bother our staff too much though, and this week we’ve been busy conducting our reserve counts. At Mersehead the icy water meant that there were fewer wildfowl than usual with 86 Wigeon, 172 Teal, 36 Mallard, 103 Pintail, 50 Shoveler and 5 Tufted Duck, 2 Gadwall and 1 Goldeneye totted up.

Whilst it wasn’t such as good week for the ducks; it was great week for plovers. A shimmering flock of 636 Golden Plovers were counted over at West Preston as well as 421 Grey Plovers, 146 Lapwing and 22 Ringed Plover. These counts were trumped by an astonishing 2528 Dunlin at high tide.

Dunlin and Grey Plover at high tide. Yup, they're a headache to count! Photo: Jack Barton

At Kirkonnell there was also a large aggregation of Dunlin, with 1740 counted. Our other wader counts for Kirkonnell this week included 113 Lapwing, 124 Curlew, 344 Redshank and 73 Oystercatcher. 22 Goldeneye were counted, which is our highest count this season. In their dapper black and white plumage and shiny green head, male Goldeneyes look especially exquisite at this time of year. 3 Goosander and 1 Red-breasted Merganser were also spotted.  If you’re heading past the Kirkonnell stretch of the River Nith, keep an eye out for these two Sawbill species, so called because of their narrow serrated beaks.

There’s been an impressive array of raptors seen during the last week with Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Kestrel and Buzzard all seen. The highlight was a stunning male Hen Harrier flying low across the saltmarsh, its pale wings glinting in the winter light. If all that wasn’t impressive enough, our Assistant Warden watched a Barn Owl hunting near the entrance to the reserve during the twilight hours, and I heard a Tawny Owl calling during the night!

January and February are often the most difficult months of year for our birds. Finding enough food to survive and keep warm is as constant challenge. Most of the Autumn berries have long been scoffed-up, leaving the hedgerows particularly bare. Hard and frozen ground can make it particularly problematic to forage for invertebrates such as worms and grubs. On top of this, our resident birds must compete with an influx of overwintering migrant birds fleeing the colder weather on the continent.

Blackbirds are one of many species that benefit from feeding in your garden. Photo: Jack Barton

The birds in your garden need all the help they can get. Providing your garden birds with a little extra food is not only a vital source of extra nutrition for the birds, but can be great fun too. Many of our visitors take great pleasure from watching the myriad of hungry birds that flock to the bird table at our Visitor’s Centre including Greenfinches, Yellowhammers and this week even a Brambling. If you already feed the birds in your garden then why not contribute to the World’s biggest citizen science project – the Big Garden Birdwatch! On the  26 - 28th January sit back with a cuppa and count the birds visiting your garden for an hour. Who knows what you might see?

For more information about the Big Garden Birdwatch visit the RSPB website here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

Jack Barton, Voluntary Trainee Warden

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