RSPB Mersehead Blog 30 July - 5 August 2022

Life continues to be busy for everyone at Mersehead and this volunteer certainly jumped at the chance of a visit to Kirkconnell Merse, tagging along with a group bursting with botanical knowledge is a perfect way for me to spend a few hours, I just hope that I've retained some of the info!

Thursday saw Kirkcudbright Botany Society members, a couple of R.S.P.B. wardens, an invertebrate expert and a bewildered volunteer exploring R.S.P.B. Kirkconnell Merse on a perfect August day. 

A lovely foray onto the merse                       Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

Previous adventures on the merse (when we were carrying out survey work) had proved a challenge. Although I have honed my 'sliding' technique on the estuary channels,  the saltmarsh has claimed a pair of gloves, an important part of my binoculars (my own fault, I knew it was loose) and my dignity! My fellow volunteer finds my exit from these channels of misery highly amusing, I literally crawl out onto the grass like a terrapin apparantly... encouragement and support Sam, that's what's needed, not hilarity!

Relieved to be out!  Nearly!                   Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

No such exploits on Thursday as we wended our way towards the Nith, examining the plant and invertebrate life. All the usual suspects were in attendance: Sea Aster, Scurvy Grass, Sea Purslane and Thrift, but Sea Milkwort, Glasswort and Sea Arrowgrass featured in a ‘pioneer’ area where plants are just getting established.

Pioneer plants trying to find and establish their feet in a challenging environment              Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

My eyes continually alighted on the Parsley Water-dropwort, which was a beautiful feature of the reserve.  In particular, I noticed that many of the flower heads were occupied by a striking spider, a Four-spotted Orb Weaver, Britain’s heaviest. On closer inspection, I noticed that one little arachnid was chomping on a Leafhopper! In fact, it was nibbling on one, but also had another waiting in the pantry as it were, ‘she’ is certainly on a high protein diet. The female builds a more elaborate web than the male, incorporating a safe retreat space, and she can also change their colour to match her surroundings! 

Four-Spotted Orb Weaver having luncheon.                                       Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

Interesting fact coming up: Parsley Water-dropwort is from the same family as Hemlock Water-dropwort…and we all know what that means… poison! It was the plant that the Phoenicians used to do away with their elders when they’d had enough of them! And also, famously, Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens and so sentenced to death by drinking an infusion of the stuff! I don’t fancy that! Hemlock Water-dropwort is widely regarded as the most poisonous plant in the UK, and the toxic alcohols in the plant can prove fatal, the poison causing asphyxia by constricting the muscles! One to avoid me thinks.

Tasty nectar treat for a hungry drone fly                                     Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

This Drone Fly, a species of hover fly, landed on the dropwort to feed. The only region you won’t find this fly is Antarctica and the name ‘drone’ derives from the fact that they bear a resemblance to Honeybee drones, giving them protection while they search for nectar. But it doesn’t just look like a honeybee, it also moves like a honeybee, following similar flight patterns.  Amazing!!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

There were also plenty of Grasshoppers leaping about, I had to rescue two from one of the brackish pools as they’d leaped in the wrong direction and ended up out of their depth! This one did try a touch of breaststroke before I threw it the lifebuoy…

Common Green Grasshopper                      Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

This Shore Crab was scuttling through one of the brackish pools, after its ignominious inspection, it quickly sank to the bottom and nestled into the sand becoming almost impossible to see once again.

Shore Crab                                                           Photo Credit : C.J.E. Farrell

Back at Mersehead the seasons roll on. In a previous blog I mentioned that Sparrows were known to wait until House Martins had patiently and diligently constructed their nests and then move in, and I was pleased that it wasn’t happening here….well, I am pleased no more! As far as I can see, just one of the nests built by house martins has produced house martin young! I like sparrows a little less than I used to!


I nipped round to the washing line at the back of the barns last weekend and ended up staying there for 3 hours! Why? I hear you ask…well, I could not tear myself away from the forest of Wild Marjoram that covered the area, it was ‘nectar central’ and alive with a plethora of insect life. The biggest bumblebee I’ve ever seen banged into me several times then really did ‘bumble’ into the flower head, sending it rocking! 

A new queen bee stocks up on food!               Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

There were Small White, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Green-veined White butterflies fluttering about among a range of hoverflies, the plants were alive with life and I just couldn't tear myself away!

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly nectaring                     Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

Hoverfly covered in pollen                                                      Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

We’ve been out with the Tuesday volunteers doing a litter sweep in the sand dunes again, and as usual we were well employed throughout the morning! Lots of the plastic buckets and tubs have probably been there for quite some time and it was hard to keep the plastic together when we were 'rescuing' it from the dunes.

Litter waiting to be collected                              Photo Credit :      C.J.E.Farrell

I’m always amazed by the amount of plastic, although it should come as no surprise now. There were hundreds of these tiny blue plastic sticks, just in the last week I’ve found them down rabbit holes, in the woods and all over the sand dunes! And balloons...balloons and their ribbons, we always find massive amounts of those! I was reading about Sandhoppers, one of nature's army of refuse shredders that break down the material in the tideline.  Apparently, they tear up the micro-plastics and then of course these are ingested by larger's all a worry really...

Plastic cotton bud sticks?          Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

It has been another mothtastic week with this Canary Shouldered Thorn  the star of the show in my eyes. Canary Thorns are partial to a deciduous woodland and Downy Birch, Silver Birch and Alder in particular, so it's no surprise that they are found on this wonderful reserve! This is one of many moths that only fly towards the end of Summer and into the Autumn, a sign that the year is whizzing by. 

What lovely 'eyelashes' you have!                      Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

Talking of time whizzing by,  this will be my last blog for 2022 as I return to the world of primary teaching in Derbyshire. This will come as a great relief to Paul who has had to put up with my lack of I.T. skills... a quick blog has not been on the agenda! Working at Mersehead has been an absolute blast, being immersed in this incredible environment is a privilege and I'm so lucky to have had the opportunity!

Finally, before Bertie fills you in on his life this week, I'll just tell you about my attempt to grow things in the community polytunnel here. Tomatoes? Great success, tangly mess but bearing fruit, pleasantly surprised. Sweet peas? Not bad, seemed to be OK for a couple of weeks then went off piste but I did have 3 or 4 bunches. Pumpkins ? See for yourselves :

Note the size of the accompanying grape....                          Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

As you can see I did manage to make a lantern.

Claire J Farrell    Volunteer



Bertie’s Blog

It’s been an exciting week for me! I’d been watching a bird box outside the office porch because I’d noticed some bees buzzing about. Well, there were more and more bees about as the weeks went on so we had to call a local beekeeper. A specialist came and had a good look and guess what?…he’s coming back next week to ‘hoover’ them up! Don’t worry…it will NOT hurt them, it’s not like your hoover at home! And then, the swarm will be given to a beekeeper that wants a new hive. For now, I’m taking precautions when I watch the hive, I hope my new hat does the trick.

Me looking for bees on the Sulwath Garden flowers               Photo Credit :          C.J.E.Farrell

The feral honeybee colony that has taken up residence in the loft space           Photo Credit : Raeburn Thomson


Quick quiz for all you nature lovers:

Who’s this that’s sneaking about the saltmarsh?     


Paw prints in the mud                              Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

And, who’s this hiding at the top of the grass stems?


 This has taken a great deal of effort !                                              Photo Credit : C.J.E.Farrell

Bertie the Frog       Volunteer


With the Mersehead holiday cottages fully booked for summer don’t miss out on the opportunity to stay at Mersehead during the winter months of November and December when the reserve is home to thousands of Barnacle geese and internationally important numbers wintering wildfowl. Check out availability for Shelduck and Barnacle through the hyperlinks.


How to begin Birdwatching


Thursday 20th October


Guided walk

Summer Discovery Walk


Thursday 18th August

11:00-13:00 Guided walk

Big Wild Summer at Mersehead

Running daily

2nd July - 31st August

10:00-15:00 Self-led discovery trail

Autumn Discovery Walk

Thursday 27th October

11:00-13:00 Guided walk

Goose Roost on the Sandflats

Sunday 23rd October

Sunday 30th October

17:30-19:30 Guided walk



  • Are there any plans at the reserve, and other RSPB reserves where this happens every year, to increase protection of the house martins sites and nests? Leaving them to house sparrows seems likely to end up with the inevitable conclusion. That would then also mean in future years, even the sparrows would find it harder to breed, once the martins are lost.