Mersehead Recent Sightings 13th - 19th July 2019

I’m back – not in Arnie style but I’m glad to say, I’m back at RSPB Mersehead for another two weeks of residential volunteering. It’s been three years since I was last here and while some things have changed (there’s a butterfly meadow), much remains the same.

I’m half way through my second week and am on a rain break as pulling weeds out of a path is nobody’s idea of fun while it’s raining. However, it does give me an opportunity to write this.

Due to the time of year, last week also involved pulling Ragwort from fields being used for hay. Ragwort is a great plant for many insects, including Cinnabar moth caterpillars, however, it’s poisonous for horses. As the hay will be going to local horse owners, it’s imperative the Ragwort is removed before the hay is cut. It can be difficult and tiring work because the Ragwort hides in the long grass and looks significantly different when it’s young than when it’s about to flower. However, it is immensely satisfying at the end of the day to see the number of sack loads collected and know we’ve done that. Thank you, Rowena, for the cheese and chive muffins on the first day which were a lovely treat at morning break.

It was also fascinating to see the number of animal tracks through the grass from Badger, Hare and Roe Deer. In some places you can even see where roe deer have slept for the evening. Flattened areas of grass, occasionally in groups, represent individuals, sometimes a female with fawns.

While the weather was good last week, we also put up a temporary fence to stop the cows getting into the reed bed. Lots of fun was had squelching around in the mud – I have never been so grateful for borrowed wellies. Thankfully the rush had been topped so we could easily see where we were meant to put the fence posts and walk along the route. As the ground was soft, it was relatively easy thumping in the posts along the edge of the reeds. Pulling the wire out and making sure there were enough post protectors on the wire for the relevant sections, turned out to be a little bit more challenging. But we got there in the end.

As we headed back at the end of the first day, my new-found confidence in wellies took a slight knock. I ended up completely stuck in the mud. First with one welly, then a second, at which point Lana had to come to my aid. Finally, the first welly got stuck again. I was very grateful for the recently installed fence post as it turns out they’re not just good for keeping cattle out. Meanwhile this was all captured on camera.


Stuck in the mud. Photo courtesy of D. Jackson.

As mentioned in last week’s blog, we helped to continue lowering the water levels in the wetlands. Cheye and I trekked through 7-foot reeds in a quest to reach the furthest possible sluice gate. Three quarters of the way there, we realised it was easier to go through the shorter rush. After making sure our phones would be dry if we fell in, Cheye climbed into the burn and started to lift the planks up. By staying on top, I helped pull them up and store them on the bank out of the way. We took three planks out before water started to run out of the reserve. Job done, or so we thought. Rather than walk back the same way, we continued walking through the rush (we could see over the top of the reeds to the hide) and tried to push through the reeds at the last minute. I’m only 5’5” (and a little biddy bit) and it is not easy walking through thickly growing reeds in wellies. We had a couple of false starts including completely losing each other. After following the sound of each other’s voice, it turned out we were only a couple of meters apart. In the end it was sheer determination which got us back to the hide.

Friday morning is one of my favourite days here. That’s because, if the weather is clear, the moth trap goes out the previous evening. When I first started coming here, moths weren’t high on my agenda but the two self-confessed ‘mothers’, who were also volunteering at the time, converted me. Now, my moth book is one of the first things I pack when I’m heading back.

Last weeks didn’t disappoint. In total, we got just over 40 moths including my favourite – the Poplar Hawkmoth.


Poplar Hawk-moth. Photo courtesy of T. Samuel-Smith

I know it’s wrong, but to me, it looks like a flying teddy bear. However, a very good friend said in response to the photo above, ‘you’re living my nightmares’. Remembering it’s each to their own, I was more than happy spending time with these and others, such as Small Elephant and Elephant Hawkmoths and Drinker. I might try and convert her next time we meet.

So far, this week has been less strenuous with a good quantity of mowing and path clearance. With the weather not looking so good over the next couple of days we might not get the moth trap out and plans may have to change. This isn’t a problem as being here is good for the soul whatever is being done. Whether that is volunteering as I, and many others do during the year, or visiting for a walk around the reserve, I would thoroughly recommend it. 

On the reserve this week, a Grasshopper Warbler was heard singing in the reeds by the wildlife Garden on Monday. A Peregrine Falcon was seen on Tuesday morning being mobbed by a Crow over the dunes. Lots of Hares continue to be seen around the reserve along with numerous 6-spot Burnet Moths along the merse footpath. The elusive Otter was spotted near the entrance the reserve last night.

The weekly moth trap was out last night and attracted a lot of visitors- over 50 different species including the Large Emerald, a first for this year at Mersehead. Other. Common Footman was the most popular this week as 31 individuals were found in the trap. Burnish Brass, Snout, Buff Arches, and Plain Golden Y were among the many others found.

Large Emerald moth, blends in perfectly with the egg carton. Photo credit: T. Samuel-Smith

The Badger Banquet event happened late last Friday night which turned out great as three badgers came to investigate the garden right outside our window. The next Badger Banquet is on the 30th August. There are other events going on this summer including Summer Discovery Walks- discover what summer brings with a guided walk around the reserve and On the Night Watch- search for creatures of the night with a short walk using infra-red cameras and bat detectors

Tracey Samuel-Smith

2-week residential volunteer