RSPB Mersehead blog 24th September – 1st October 2021
Geese have been spotted in flight over the reserve this week with the first skeins of Pink-footed Geese arriving from their breeding grounds. This population breeds primarily in central Iceland with smaller numbers also occurring along the east coast of Greenland. The geese winter almost exclusively in Britain with the wintering population having risen from an estimated 280,990 in 2003 to 485,509 last winter. There is also a smaller population of pink-footed geese which breed in Svalbard, wintering in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Denmark.
Pink-footed geese. Photo Credit: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole. One of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas, it's known for its rugged remote terrain of glaciers and frozen tundra, is the kingdom of the polar bear and the summer home of the barnacle geese which winter on the Solway. At the time of writing, satellite tagged barnacle geese amongst the population are still registering Svalbard as their current location. Once weather conditions are favourable they can complete their 2,000-mile migration in less than 65 hours, flying at speeds of up to 70mph.
Barnacle geese. Photo credit: David Andrews (rspb-images.com)
Their migration isn’t the only challenge this species faces. As a strategy against ground predation, barnacle geese build their nests on high cliffs. Within a few days of hatching goslings must jump off these cliff faces in order to meet their parents who are foraging on the grass below. Chicks a few days old have an incredible softness in their bones which allows them to survive falls which would otherwise be fatal. This jump into life was recorded on BBC Earth Life Stories.
The creation of new wader scrapes has been completed to the right of the Bruiach Hide footpath this week. We hope that this new area will provide good views of wintering wildfowl and waders as water levels rise. These new scrapes are connected to the main wetlands situated in front of the Meida and Bruiach hides and we will be able to dynamically control the water levels.
The first task however is filling the wetlands with water! The UK as a whole has seen contrasting weather this summer. Relative to average Scotland has seen the mildest, driest and sunniest conditions. The dry conditions at Mersehead have been very noticeable, with areas which often remain wet, completely drying out. This has allowed us good access with machinery to complete habitat management work and open up new sightlines from the hides. It has also allowed the cattle plenty of time to munch through the vegetation. The wetlands at Mersehead are fed by a burn and although water is currently coming onto the reserve, it is going to take longer than usual for water levels to rise.
Photo credit: Gilbert Johnston
At Mersehead, we record rainfall data on site every day. The graph below shows the average rainfall per month over the past 5 years in orange. Rainfall data for 2021 is shown in blue. With approximately 150mm less of rainfall falling throughout June, July, August and September this year, it is not surprising how dry the reserve currently is.
Wintering species are starting to arrive with a flock of 300+ Teal seen flying across the merse and dropping into the Southwick Water. Lapwing are congregating in the fields.
Teal picture: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com).
Night-time temperatures have dropped to 4C this week with the evenings starting to feel chilly as the nights draw in. Our moth survey resulted in 102 moth’s from 24 species recorded on the weekly Garden Moth Scheme. A colourful yet well camouflaged moth is Merveille du Jour. Flying throughout September and October this moth is widespread though thinly scattered over most of Britain.
Merveille du Jour. Photo credit: R.Flavelle
A good variety of colourful autumnal moths were recorded including pictured below: Flounced Chestnut, Frosted Orange, Autumnal Rustic, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Rosy Rustic, Angle Shades, Square-spot Rustic, Brown Spot Pinion, Canary-shouldered Thorn, Black Rustic, Pink-barred Sallow, Lunar Underwing & Sallow.
Rowena Flavelle, Warden
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