RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 24th - 30th November 2018

This week started off very cold and crisp. Temperatures dropped to below freezing on Monday night and we woke to encounter a frosty Mersehead on Tuesday morning. With not a drop of rain since the 15th November, we were starting to forget what getting drenched felt like. However, the weather began to change on Tuesday afternoon as a low-pressure system swept up from the South. On Wednesday and Thursday we were pelted by strong winds with gusts exceeding 50mph, as well as plenty of rain. A few visitors braved the wild weather on the coastal path and returned to the Visitor Centre enthralled, albeit rather wet and windswept!

Despite the bad weather this week, there has still been a great assemblage of other birds seen around the reserve. The ringtail Hen Harrier has been sighted daily, including just outside the Visitor Centre. The more elusive Merlin has also been seen hunting over the reedbed, so keep your eye’s peeled whilst sitting in the hides. In the woodland, five Treecreepers were sighted skulking around the branches picking morsels of food from underneath the bark. A Twite sighted on the beach is hopefully the first of more to come. In previous winters we have had small flocks of these rarer finches appearing on the reserve. Out on the saltmarsh there were 5 Little Egrets. Their bright white plumage is visible from a considerable distance on a dull and cloudy day.

Little Egret. Photo credit: Jack Barton. 

Whilst the weather was still fine, on Monday we conducted our bi-monthly Wetland Bird Survey. This included our usual assemblage of ducks with 156 Wigeon, 150 Teal, 18 Mallard, 93 Pintail and 39 Shoveler counted using the wetlands. Among the 5106 Barnacle Geese counted, there were two leucistic barnacle geese seen together. This is the first time we have seen two leucistic geese, which have very little dark pigmentation, together this winter. This confirms there is more than one using our reserve. We counted 11 species of wader using the high tide roosts and the farmland, some in spectacular numbers. The totals were: 1725 Oystercatcher, 2721 Dunlin, 550 Golden Plover, 483 Lapwing, 180 Curlew, 25 Knot, 25 Sanderling, 12 Redshank, 10 Grey Plover, 5 Ringed Plover and 2 Bar-tailed Godwit.

We often get asked how we count such large number of birds. The truth is, it’s tricky. Each bird poses unique difficulties and when the numbers start getting large you have to count in 10s! Oystercatchers pack together extremely densely in their roost and they turn into a seemingly impenetrable mass of black, white and orange. Focus is key. If you lose concentration, you’ll have to start counting all over again. Dunlin aren’t as big and bold as oystercatchers. Being small and brown, it can often feel as if you’re counting distant stones - not waders. The only difference is that Dunlin are extremely erratic. The flock doesn’t sit still for long. If you’re not a quick counter half the flock will have flown away before you’ve finished! If you want to imagine what it is like counting Barnacle Geese, try picturing counting a dense herd of zebras grazing on plains of Africa. The striped black-and-white plumage of the barnacle geese acts like a dazzling optical illusion. You start to question yourself. Is that one Barnacle Goose, or three?  

Barnacle Geese. Photo Credit, Jack Barton

In non-birdy news, the one-eyed Red Squirrel has been seen visiting the feeders at the visitors centre. We also caught it on our camera trap attempting to break into the shed where we store our birdseed!

Red Squirrel caught on the camera trap

Red Squirrel Caught on the Camera Trap. 

Meanwhile the volunteers have been busy tackling the 400m strip of Japanese Rose that smothers the hedgerow that leads to Bruich hide. Japanese rose is an invasive species and our plan is to remove it and over time replant the hedgerow with native species such as thorns and brambles. The volunteers have made substantial progress in the past month, but there’s still a long way to go!  

Jack Barton, Trainee Assistant Warden