Mersehead Recent Sightings 27th July - 2nd August 2019

Butterflies were out in force again on our weekly butterfly transect, enjoying afternoon temperatures of 24°C. Painted Lady were the most abundant, with 78 recorded in the Butterfly Garden alone. Peacock, Meadow Brown, Large and Green-veined White and 6 Spot Burnet Moth were also present, it is well worth spending some time there. Wall Brown are most prevalent around the gates at the entrance to the woodland and Small Copper are best looked for along Rainbow Lane. A Small Skipper was also spotted along the main track this morning; this minute orange Butterfly is right on the north-western edge of its range in Dumfries and Galloway.

It was another bumper night for the moth trap, with over 150 individuals of 50 species recorded. Large Yellow Underwing, Smokey Wainscot and Common Rustic all hit double figures and the first stunningly scarlet Ruby Tiger of the year was caught too.

Ruby Tiger and Antler Moth.  Photo credit: L. Blakely

One plant worth taking a close look at currently is Common Ragwort. Easily recognisable as a tall plant with lots of small yellow flowers, it plays host to an abundance of wildlife but is equally well known for being toxic to livestock when dried. It is of particular importance to the Cinnabar Moth which lays its eggs on the lower leaves of the plant. When they hatch, the caterpillars will feed on the plant, eventually consuming enough of it to become toxic themselves. Their snazzy orange and black stripes warn predators of this. On the butterfly transect this afternoon, 5 species of butterfly, 4 species of moth and 3 species of bee were seen feeding on the flowers, plus numerous other insects.

Antler Moth on Ragwort.  Photo credit: L.Blakely

In bird terms, raptors have been well represented on the reserve this week, with Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Merlin and Peregrine all being seen over the saltmarsh in last few days. There are large parties of adult and juvenile House and Tree Sparrow feeding around the reserve, and can often be best observed on the main track. If you’re visiting in the evening, over a hundred Swallow and House Martin have been seen starting to gather on the wires outside the farm buildings before going to roost, providing quite a spectacle. With some large tides over the weekend, the beach is worth checking for waders as they move up and down the Solway; Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Ringed and Golden Plover, Redshank and Turnstone are all possible. If you do make it down, then please don’t walk too far towards the western end of the beach at high tide. It holds a very important wader roost which can be easily disturbed.

Peregrine.  Photo credit: Ben Hall

Finally, the RSPB held its annual reserves conference last week; a get together of reserve staff from around the UK to share knowledge, experience and to celebrate some of the great work that the RSPB is carrying out across the UK. As part of the proceedings, there was a mini award ceremony, and Mersehead were the proud winners of best Natterjack Toad reserve in the UK. Our trophy is now hanging proudly on the wall in the office!

The 'Golden Spade'! 

Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden