Mersehead Recent Sightings 16th- 22nd March 2019

After the heavy rain last week water levels remain high across the reserve.  The ducks are obviously enjoying these conditions, with Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, and Pintail represented in good numbers.  Curlew have been enjoying the soft ground conditions too, allowing them to easily probe into the soil with their long, scythe-shaped bills.  Just past the woodland, a group of 50 was recorded, whilst out on the wetland at least 20 birds can be seen from Bruaich Hide with a quick scan of the binoculars.

With temperatures warming again, Lapwing have started displaying in earnest.  Most activity can be viewed from our visitor centre, with up to 9 pairs regularly displaying.  A pair has also been spotted displaying out over the wetlands.  As the weather continues to improve there should be even more activity in the coming weeks.  We’ll keep you updated on the trials and tribulations of these waders as the season progresses.

Lapwing displaying.  Photo credit: John Bridges

A couple of spring firsts this week; on Monday, the first Sand Martin of the season at Mersehead was spotted from Bruaich Hide.  Lucky visitors were treated to a 10-minute aerial display before watching it carry on its journey.  Sand Martins will mainly hunt for insects over water, feeding on the wing.  Although they nest in sandy banks, they will always choose a site near to water in order to feed.  This is reflected in their Latin name Riparia riparia which means ‘of the riverbank’. As I write this, this is the first report of a Sand Martin for Dumfries and Galloway this year.  The 5-year average for the region is the 18th March so this bird was right on time!

Sand Martin.  Photo credit: Mike Langman

Although not on the reserve, a singing Chiffchaff was noted near Colvend, about a 10 minute drive away.  So if you are visiting the reserve in the next week or so, listen out, you might be the first to hear one here.  If you do, please let us know!

It really does feel like spring here at the moment.  Rooks are continuing to nest build at the rookeries in the Sulwath Garden and the woodland.  If you spend a moment looking through the rookery, you can usually see that there are definite pairs; these birds will stay together over multiple years, if not for their entire life.  It is also worth listening to theirs calls; they have a wide variety of vocalisations, from the more familiar ‘cawing’, to quiet ‘mewing’.  They are able to communicate where food is and of what quality, whether they are part of a pair or alone, and possibly even their name! 

The Sulwath Garden Rookery.  Photo credit: L.Blakely

Along Bruaich Hide path Blackthorn is about to blossom and Hawthorn is nearly in leaf.  This is one of the ways in which these similar species can be told apart; Blackthorn will flower before it grows its leaves, its buds actually grow on the spines, whereas Hawthorn flowers emerge from the same point as the bud.  This early flowering is of huge benefit to wildlife, providing a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees and other insects.

Blackthorn blossom growing along spines.  Photo credit: L.Blakely

Singing Skylark are in full swing, together with Meadow Pipits, who have started their ‘parachute’ song flight display.  The best places to view this are at the seaward end of Rainbow Lane on the Merse, along the dunes, and in the fields along the track towards the woodland.

After last week’s successful Natterjack Toad foray and with mild night-time temperatures forecast, we headed out again to see if any more intrepid toads had come out from hibernation.  Again, we found one lone male Natterjack (could it be the same one?) in one of the breeding pools. It may just be a fraction too early for them, as they prefer night-time temperatures to be a constant 7 degrees or more to tempt them out from hibernation.  We’ll keep you updated with any news.

Winter is still technically with us though; thousands of Barnacle Geese frequent the fields, whilst on Thursday 11 Whooper Swans spent the morning out on the wetlands.

Finally, the Kirkconnell Wetland Bird Survey Count was marked by a massive 9m spring tide. The Merse was completely covered, but this did not disturb the ducks and waders. Highlights from this count included 500 Pink-footed goose, 27 Whooper swans, and 24 Goldeneye.

Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden