Mersehead Recent Sightings 29th June-5th July 2019

This week we were out on the wetlands carrying out fences checks in preparation for the arrival of cattle to carry out some essential grazing. Cattle will graze on the grassy areas and open them up to allow establishment of new plants, creating a mosaic of vegetation much like in the picture below. Species found in our meadow include White Clover, Yellow Rattle, Common Spotted Orchid and Meadow Buttercup. These species can also be found on the path down to Bruaich Hide, where we use a mower and strimmer to simulate the job that the cattle do, only on a much smaller scale.

Wildflower meadow.  Photo credit: L.Blakely

The bird survey season is slowly drawing to a close, and one of the last to be carried out is rope dragging for Snipe. Detecting drumming snipe in spring is a good indicator that they will be breeding on site, but it is also useful to know if they’ve nested or have successfully hatched chicks, particularly when considering introducing cattle to a field; trampling rates are known to be high and can put up to half of nests at risk.

Snipe.  Photo credit: Ben Andrews

So, in order to detect if there are any birds either on nests or with chicks, a team of people will carry out rope dragging. Two people will drag a rope across the top of the vegetation in a field where Snipe are suspected to be breeding. One or two people, known as watchers, will walk behind the rope and watch carefully for any Snipe that flush. The area that they come up form is then checked carefully for either a nest or chicks.  

Rope dragging. Photo credit: L. Blakely

We carried this out on a field on our newly purchased land where a Snipe was recorded drumming early in the season. We didn’t record anything on the survey, but we will carry it out a second time just before the cattle are due on. As with the meadows on the wetlands, we are using cattle to create a varied sward structure and re-wetting the land to create optimal breeding conditions for Snipe, and hopefully in the future Curlew too.

An impressive 52 species were caught in the moth trap last night, our best catch of the year so far. Amongst them were some real gems; Elephant Hawkmoth, Gold-spot and Lempke’s Gold-spot, Beautiful Golden Y and Lychnis (pictured below). However, it was a rather less imposing moth that stole the show; a Cloaked Carpet. An inhabitant of wet woodland, this moth is nationally scarce and locally rare, and will represent an excellent record for Mersehead pending acceptance by the county recorder.

Lychnis.  Photo credit: L. Blakely

Not wanting to be outshone, there were plenty of butterflies out for the weekly transect around the reserve. Ringlet topped the bill with an impressive 64 noted, alongside 27 Meadow Brown, 17 Painted Lady, 2 Common Blue and singles of Small White and Orange Tip. The weekend is looking warm and dry, so there should be plenty of action around the reserve.

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, and On the Night Watch – search for creatures of the night with a short walk using infra-red cameras and bat detectors. See what insects you can catch at Under the Surface- Pond Dipping.

Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden