The Mersehead Warden and Assistant Warden live on the reserve and are going to try and keep you updated on the wonderful wildlife they see at Mersehead at this challenging time during their daily walk and whilst completing essential work on the reserve in line with government guidance.

RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 6th June – 12th June 2020

Mersehead is going to start looking, sounding (and probably smelling) very different over the coming weeks, as we welcome cattle onto the reserve to graze.  These will join the sheep and cows who are already enjoying the grass past the woodland, and on West Preston and Preston Merse.  Grazing is a vital part of how the land at Mersehead is managed for wildlife, as it contributes to ensuring that the sward height is just right for the Barnacle geese when they return in September, and for the Natterjack toads to hunt their prey prior to returning to their hibernation sites.

Much of the essential work on the reserve this week has focused on preparing and catering for our new residents.  Water troughs have been repaired and checked, and electric strand fencing – which acts as a visually unobtrusive, harmless and effective way of keeping the cattle where we want them – has been tested and cleared of vegetation.  Some of this fencing runs alongside Rainbow Lane, the Merse and the sand dunes (which is particularly evident following storm damage to the dunes) and will give a nasty shock if touched.  Look out for the yellow signs which will be displayed along the most exposed areas, but the safest approach is to stay well back of any fencing on the reserve.

Cattle at Preston Merse, eagerly awaiting water trough repair. Photo credit: P. Radford

Geese made an unexpected and brief return to the reserve on Thursday, as around 100 Canada geese flew low over the Lagoon from the Solway in v-formation.   A pair have successfully breed on the wetlands this spring, but where a skein should be heading at this time of year was initially a mystery.  Thankfully the RSPB Handbook of British Birds provided a possible explanation, describing the development of a regular moult migration, with young, non-breeding birds from the Midlands and Yorkshire flying to northern Scotland around the end of May to moult.

The discovery of developing Natterjack tadpoles in the ditch last week prompted a survey to be carried out.  This revealed over 4,000 developing tadpoles and, most excitingly, a tiny Natterjack toadlet!  It’s impossible to say for certain, but with the majority of four legged tadpoles being Common Toad, could this be the same four-legged tadpole included in last week’s blog? Natterjack toadlets – with unmistakeable yellow dorsal strip – are typically only 6-8mm at emergence, and tend to wait for the next period of heavy rain to disperse from breeding pools.  If they stay in the vicinity of the pools at Mersehead, the next time we are likely to see them is in three to four years, when they reach maturity and return to breed.

Natterjack toadlet. Photo credit: P. Radford

The weather hasn’t been great for butterflies recently, but two recent species to emerge have been Common Blue and Large Skipper.  The Large Skipper favours tall grassland, and is on the wing from early June until late July.

Large Skipper. Photo credit: P. Radford

It was also not ideal moth trapping conditions this week, as despite the weather being mild, Thursday night was extremely windy.  Despite this, 9 species from a total of 10 moths were still recorded, with one new addition to this years list; the Bright-line Brown-eye.  A white, orange blotch in the kidney-mark and chalky-white outer cross-line are key to identifying this species, which flies from late May to mid July.

Bright-line Brown-eye moth. Photo credit: P. Radford

We are extremely lucky to live at Mersehead and to still be able to walk across the reserve and complete essential work in line with government guidance.

Although some lockdown measures have been eased, Scottish Government guidance remains that you should stay local. Our reserve facilities will remain closed and we are continuing to ask you not to visit Mersehead whilst we prepare for a gradual re-opening of the reserve. We will only do so when we have everything in place to keep our employees, volunteers and you – our fantastic members and supporters – safe.

We look forward to welcoming you back soon, in the meantime, stay safe and I hope you enjoy the weekly Mersehead updates.

Paul Radford, Assistant Warden