RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 2 July – 9 July 2021

With the summer survey season drawing to a close, estate and vegetation work become the priority.  This shift in focus did initially leave me concerned about when I would find the opportunity to gather sightings from around the reserve for the blog.  However, I shouldn’t have worried as despite the binoculars and camera not often being close at hand, much of what the reserve has to offer was still on display.

Of the many post breeding flocks starting to form across the reserve, a ‘siege’ of Grey Herons (I counted 9) rose up from the Wetlands behind the Visitor Centre as I went round to top up the bird feeders early one morning.  Usually solitary birds, it may have been surprising to see so many birds together were it not for the fact that a heronry is known to exist just north of Mersehead.

Grey Heron. Photo credit: P. Radford

A hard-working group of volunteers spent much of Tuesday pulling ragwort in two of the fields just beyond the woodland.  Inevitably, searching amongst the long grass for this yellow flowering poisonous (to cattle at least) plant yields further discoveries.  Firstly, the vast array of wildflowers that can also be found in this sandy, dry grassland habitat.  A sea of Hawkweed, Buttercup and Scentless Mayweed is impossible to miss, but several members of the violet family – including Dog-Violet and Wild Pansy – are only discovered hiding amongst the grasses when almost trodden on.  More conspicuous is a large clump of Tufted Vetch at the far end of one of the fields which, along with many of the other flowers present in the fields, is a popular choice for a range of pollinating insects.  On this particular morning, those seen included Buff-tailed and Red-tailed bumblebees, whilst the butterflies were predominately represented by Ringlet and Meadow Brown.  A day flying Silver Y moth, temporarily rested for long enough to be identified,  and the striking caterpillar of a Chamomile Shark moth, which feeds on the flowers of scentless mayweed, was spotted by one eagle-eyed volunteer.  Later in the week, we were joined by volunteers and RSPB colleagues for another ragwort session.  On this occasion we were treated to the sight of 3 Swift and an Osprey.  Cinnabar moth caterpillars were also busy making themselves poisonous to would-be predators by feasting on the ragwort left at the margins.

Volunteers pulling ragwort. Photo credit: P. Radford

Scentless Mayweed and Hawkweed. Photo credit: P. Radford

Wild Pansy, Dog Violet ,Chamomile Shark moth caterpillar and Cinnabar moth caterpillars. Photo credit: P. Radford

If we didn’t cut back a small amount of the vegetation that is growing rapidly along the visitor trails, the paths would quickly disappear.  It was whilst clearing the edges of the woodland path to the Meida Hide that the drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker drew my gaze skyward at just the right moment to spot a Nuthatch perching on a branch of a dead tree.  Although still present, the Rooks are far less raucous now that most young have fledged.  This gives the opportunity for the songs of many of the other woodland residents to be enjoyed, including the melodious tones of a male Blackcap and the size-defying, powerful refrain of the diminutive Wren.  Closer to the hide, Water Rail can regularly be heard, but a lot of luck and patience would be needed to spot one of these elusive birds amongst the dense reeds.

Nuthatch feeding. Photo credit: D. Lewis

Wednesday brought a series of short, sharp, thundery downpours, which abated for long enough to enable a section of temporary fencing to be removed from the edge of the lagoon.  Providing the entertainment was a flock of around 100 Starlings performing a mini-murmaration across the dune grassland, whilst being flanked by the few remaining Lapwing who are yet to leave what have proved to be very successful breeding grounds for this red listed plover.  When my attention was returned to pulling out posts, a Six-spotted Burnet Moth stayed resting on a nearby grass stem for long enough to have its picture taken.

Spot the starlings. Photo credit: P. Radford

Six-spotted Burnet Moth. Photo credit: P. Radford

Back at the farm, the small herd of Belted Galloways, who have been hidden from view in one of the northern fields, were moved to a far more conspicuous location behind the Visitor Centre.  Note that the Visitor Centre viewing area is now open in line with Scottish Government guidelines, so why not pop in and marvel at this iconic, local breed.  Whilst waiting for the herd to be rounded up,  I was able to enjoy the chattering of House Martin and Swallow on the telegraph wires above the yard, which were acting as more of a hirundine washing line, with feathers being dried following a recent downpour.

House Martin and Swallow. Photo credit: P. Radford

Wednesday also saw the start of the hay making season, with the large field adjacent to the Bruaich Hide path being mowed.  It was undoubtedly a treat to see a double rainbow as sunshine met showers, but fingers are now being crossed for a period of settled weather to enable the hay to be turned, dried and baled.

Double rainbow. Photo credit: P. Radford

The emergence of Natterjack Toadlets last week justifies continuing with weekly surveys for now, and with eyes glued to the bank of the ditch in the hope of spotting some movement that may give away the presence of toadlets, I would have missed the Roebuck on the far bank had he not decided to leap away through the vegetation.  Damsel and Dragonflies were also present in good numbers, including Blue-tailed Damselfly and a female Common Darter.  All these distractions didn’t prevent 27 toadlets being counted, with many more surely hiding in the grass and hoof prints.

The visitor centre is now open for viewing from 1000-1600, in accordance with social distancing guidelines, giving glorious views over the grassland.

Paul Radford, Assistant Warden