Mersehead Recent Sightings 13th – 19th April 2019

With overnight temperatures dipping as low as -2oC during the last few weeks we have seen a delayed start to the Natterjack Toad season at Mersehead. Natterjacks are fussy amphibians requiring a constant air temperature of at least 7oC throughout the night. Wednesday evening was looking promising so we headed out for the first adult population survey of the year. An unexpectedly strong easterly wind picked up causing the air temperature to drop and lower our expectations of finding many toads. We were in for a surprise! A grand total of 81 toads were recorded. This figure is much lower than the 302 recorded last year but is surprisingly high for the weather conditions. We will be repeating the survey at least twice to gain a good understanding of the population this year.

Naterjack toads. Photo by R.Flavelle

Water is slowly receding on the wetlands through wind evaporation and creating a mosaic of wet splashy areas, deeper water and small islands. Lapwings are tumbling through the air, maintaining and defending territories. A number of lapwing nests have been identified, four cryptically coloured eggs nestled in a scrap lined with plant material. Water Rail can be heard “squealing” from the reedbed and Grasshopper Warbler has arrived on the reserve. Wildfowl numbers have been decreasing as they migrate north to their breeding grounds with just 310 Teal counted this week. Those remaining for the summer are forming pair bonds with 2 beautiful pairs of Gadwall feeding just meters from Bruiach Hide. A large flock of gulls have been feeding and roosting out on the wetlands this week with 65 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 26 Herring Gull and 4 Great Black-backed Gull present. The Black-tailed Godwit flock has increased to 17. A pair of Oystercatcher have been feeding in the dry grassland to the left of Bruiach hide, we have yet to identify where they may be nesting. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of Sand Martin and Swallow hunting insects over the wetlands. The Water Pipit has again been seen from Bruiach Hide.

Lapwing nest. Photo by R.Flavelle

Mersehead is a great location to watch Brown Hares. Throughout March and April, hares can often be seen leaping about, wildly chasing each other and boxing. Boxing behaviour is usually a female warning off unwanted male attention opposed to two fighting males. The Barn Owl has been spotted hunting during the day over the saltmarsh which may suggest this is a breeding pair and the male is beginning to bring prey to the female. Barn Owl have bred on the reserve each spring over the last few years.

Brown Hares. Photo by Dave Jackson

New arrivals to the reserve this week also include Blackcap and Orange-tip Butterfly. A Starling caused confusion in the woodland as it mimicked a calling buzzard along with singing chaffinch and blackbird. Last year, a starling repeatedly sat on the workshop roof where it loudly mimicked the Visitor Centre alarm! Birds of prey have been soaring over the reserve this week with Buzzard, Peregrine, Red Kite, Sparrowhawk and a female Marsh Harrier all recorded.

Orange-tip Butterfly. Photo by Tom Marshall

The Barnacle Goose count recorded 7,130 across Mersehead and the surrounding area up to Loch Kindor. The barnacle geese will soon be embarking on their 2,000 mile migration to Svalbard. The last geese left the reserve on May 7th in 2018 so we may only have a couple of weeks left to enjoy their company. A late skein of 65 Pink-footed geese announced their presence high in the sky. Look out for a Brambling and a Siskin pair at the Visitor Centre feeding station. A male Wheatear was spotted in the sand dunes and this tiny 7-spot Ladybird in the middle of the beach.

7-spot Ladybird. Photo by R.Flavelle

There are lots of events coming up in May with an opportunity to see Britain’s rarest amphibian during Natterjack Nights; join a Spring Discovery Walk or make a mud pie whilst defending a fortress at Pond & Play MAY-hem!

Rowena Flavelle - Warden