Mersehead Recent Sightings 6th – 12th July 2019

With high pressure and temperatures of 20oC forecast for the next couple of weeks, the hay mower has been retrieved from the depths of the machinery shed and the first 20-acre field cut. We still have a further 22-acres to cut over the weekend. The fields are always cut from inside to out to ensure any wildlife can move safely away from the tractor. Today’s job was avidly watched by a Red Kite on the lookout for some lunch. Making hay from the temporary dry grassland fields is an essential part of our Barnacle Goose management. The temporary grass rotation ensures the vegetation is nutrient-rich to feed the geese up after their 2000-mile migration, whilst the cutting of the grass ensures the fields are a good sward length. The importance of sward length was demonstrated last autumn. In one of the fields the grass was too long, and the geese hardly fed there all winter!

First field finished. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

The start of the week saw us preparing for hay making by pulling ragwort out of the fields. Although an important plant for wildlife this species is toxic to livestock in large quantities and as most of our hay bales are sold to horse owners, we do our best to remove this plant from inside the hay fields. Around the rest of the reserve, look out for the instantly recognisable black and yellow Cinnabar caterpillars which feed on Ragwort. Another interesting caterpillar seen in large numbers this week has been the Peacock. When fully-grown the caterpillars have black velvety bodies with black spines and white dots.

Ragwort pulling. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

Caterpillar of the Peacock butterfly. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

Sitting in the hides at Mersehead you may wondered where all the water has gone! Draining the wetlands throughout July and August is important management for the returning wintering wildfowl and helps to maintain attractive breeding areas for next year’s waders. A temporary fence has been placed in the wetlands from Meida Hide to allow the cattle to graze and create a mosaic sward structure. We will also be creating these conditions mechanically later in the summer. Many soil invertebrates do not flourish in constant anaerobic conditions so by draining the water we should help to ensure a stable invertebrate population.

Temporary fencing. Photo credit: Dave Jackson

The warm nights have continued to produce plenty of moths with 42 species identified this week. We can confirm that the Nationally Scarce Cloaked Carpet caught last week has been accepted by the County Recorder and is officially the 11th record for Dumfries and Galloway. This week produced another exciting find with the unmistakable Buff Arches. This moth is fairly common in wooded areas of England but largely absent from Scotland. Out on the merse footpath look out for Britain’s commonest day-flying burnet moth, the 6-Spot Burnet Moth.

Buff Arches. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

6-Spot Burnet Moth. Photo credit. Tracey Samuel-Smith

We have a variety of events coming up including Summer Discovery Walks – discover what summer brings with a guided walk around the reserve; Badger Banquet event – come and watch badgers feeding in our garden from the indoor comfort of the Sulwarth Centre; On the Night Watch – search for creatures of the night with a short walk using infra-red cameras and bat detectors.

Rowena Flavelle – Mersehead Warden