RSPB Mersehead recent sightings 14th-20th September 2019

It feels like the reserve is really starting to come alive again as the number of geese, ducks and waders continue to increase.  Pink-footed Geese have definitely stolen the show this week as groups up to 800 strong have been spotted feeding around the reserve mainly out on the wetlands and in the fields past the woodland.  The best time to see the ‘pinkies’ is early morning, as this is when they move from their roosting site on the sand and mudflats of the Solway, to the surrounding fields and wetlands where they graze throughout the day.  It really is quite a spectacle seeing the sun rising and hundreds of ‘pinkies’ wink-winking overhead.  Geese are easily disturbed by low flying aircraft and will take to the air en masse in response; the sight and sounds can be incredible as thousands are disturbed, although it’s obviously not fun at all for the geese and causes them to use up precious energy and takes time away from feeding!  On Wednesday this week, we spotted a small aircraft not too far away from the reserve and sure enough, the geese erupted into the sky.  We managed to count over 2000 birds around Mersehead and the surrounding landscape.

Pink-footed Goose.  Photo credit: Andy Hay

On Sunday we carried out our monthly WeBs count.  Although relatively quiet compared to counts carried later in the year when the numbers of wintering birds peak, it was nice to see a few of the familiar ducks and waders building in numbers at the high tide roost areas.  At the West Preston high tide roost which is at the eastern end of the reserve we had a variety of waders present.  It is always interesting to see the different behaviours that each species exhibits as they feed as the tide comes in.  The Oystercatcher are always in a dense group right up to the incoming tide, they are one of the more challenging to count as they pack together tightly, and then mid count decide to all shuffle away from the incoming tide! This week we counted 641 at Preston Merse and 255 at the western high tide roost.  Numbers will continue to build, and we should be getting counts of around 2000 at their peak.  Curlew are one of the easiest to count as they are our largest wader and tend to spread out more; a total of 419 were counted, 329 of which were at the western end.  Dunlin and Ringed Plover are like little clockwork toys, dashing here and there in a mad rush; during mid-winter we can get counts of over a thousand Dunlin but on Sunday we got a humble 34.  Other highlights included 5 Red-breasted Merganser, 22 Lapwing, 4 Golden Plover, 42 Ringed Plover, 7 Bar-tailed Godwit, 103 Mallard, 1 Gadwall, and 2 Little Egret.  Gulls were well accounted for with 168 Common Gull, 197 Black-headed Gull, 44 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 84 Herring Gull, and 27 Great Black -backed Gull.  On the survey we only recorded 7 Teal out on the wetland but from casual observations through the week we have seen over 100.

Oystercatcher. Photo credit: Ian Francis.

Winter passerines have continued to build; flocks of Linnet and Goldfinch are starting to use the Wild Bird Cover that we planted in the spring.  The Sunflowers, Millet, Linseed, Mustard and forage brassica are an attractive source of food for seed eating birds over the winter when food in the surrounding landscape can be hard to come by.  They will be joined by other seed eaters such as Reed Bunting, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Yellowhammer and Skylarks.

Linnets perched above Wild Bird Cover.  Photo credit: L.Blakely

Although we are now well into Autumn, butterflies continue to be seen in good numbers.  On Saturday we had many reports of Speckled Wood butterflies flying along the woodland path to Meida Hide, these butterflies love woodland rides and glades where the dappled light allows a variety of flowers to grow.  Another species seen in good numbers still are Red Admirals, again the best place to see them is along the woodland paths and hedgerows.

Red Admiral butterfly.  Photo credit:  C. Pollard

It is a good time of year to see Wheatear around the reserve.  A male and female were spotted sitting on some fence posts by the dunes, whilst another was flushed from the assistant wardens’ doorstep as they left for work in the morning!  Three Stonechat were seen along Rainbow Lane perched atop the gorse whilst Buzzards have been conspicuous around the woodland and fields along the track, with sightings being reported nearly every day.

Wheatear.  Photo credit: Ben Andrew

The Great British Beach Clean is taking place on Sunday 22nd September from 11am – 3pm. Come along for as long as you would like or spend the whole day helping! We’ll be focusing on removing the plastic from our shores and need your help!

Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden