RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 12th- 18th January 2019

Despite a drop in temperature, this week has mainly been characterised by glorious sunny weather. The dramatic landscape of the lake district looked spectacular in this crisp, cold weather. The week started off with a sighting of 2 Mistle Thrush at the entrance of the reserve, whilst a further 4 were spotted on the main track towards the woodland on Friday. Similar to a Song Thrush but bigger and bulkier, these birds are known for their resource guarding; by ensuring that it has a constant supply of food throughout the winter, it is more likely to have bigger and earlier clutches than those who do not guard their food.

It’s been a good week for bird of prey sightings; on Tuesday, the ‘Ringtail’ Hen Harrier was seen again, flying past the woodland and over the sand dunes, whilst on Thursday a Red Kite was seen flying low over the wetlands, and fields near the visitor centre. It was joined for a brief time by a Sparrowhawk. Red Kites are being seen more and more at Mersehead as their population in Dumfries and Galloway continues to expand.

Photo credit: Mark Thomas

The wild bird cover next to the woodland seems to have had a second wind when, on Monday, 200 Chaffinch were noted. Most of the Sunflower seeds seem to have been stripped so they were now focussing their attention on the smaller linseed, white millet and mustard. Amongst the throng of Chaffinch, 2 Goldfinch and a Linnet were also spotted feeding. Today (Friday) the Willow Tit has been seen again in this area.

Linnet.  Photo credit: Andy Hay

In the woodland itself a Siskin was showing well near the path, together with 3 Goldcrest and 6 Long-tailed Tits. It is thought that feeding in a mixed flock like this helps the birds find food more efficiently and avoid predation. A Sparrowhawk was also seen hunting through the woodland.

In the field just past the woodland, a good count of 65 Skylark were present and for two lucky members of staff, a male Hen Harrier was seen briefly near the woodland and at West Preston (the easternmost section of the reserve). Two Ravens were seen circling over the woodland before flying away west, their ‘cronking’ calls being heard from quite a distance.

Raven.  Photo Credit: Chris Gomersall

On Friday morning we carried out our first WeBs count of the year for Kirkconnell Merse. The freezing cold weather made for an uncomfortable start but the stunningly crisp view of Glencaple, the Merse, and with Criffel as the backdrop, we couldn’t complain! There was a good variety and number of birds present as well. Highlights included: 4036 Barnacle geese filling the sky half way through our count, 26 Wigeon, 88 Teal, 57 Mallard, 206 Pintail, 16 Goldeneye, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, 3 Goosander, 10 Grey Heron, 131 Oystercatcher, 313 Lapwing, 119 Curlew, 262 Redshank, 254 Black-headed Gull, and 80 Common Gull. 2000 Dunlin were also present on the mudflats opposite the Merse.

View towards Kirkconnell Merse with Criffel in the background.  Photo credit:  Lana Blakely

Yesterday saw us continuing work on the new section of land; when purchased, there was a strip of non-native conifer plantation present that held little value for wildlife. This was removed and we are now starting the next phase; clearing all the brash, gorse, stumps and old fencing that were left behind. Once this is removed and made safe for grazing livestock, we will be able to incorporate it into the adjacent field which will be managed primarily for breeding waders.

Hard at work clearing brash from the plantation.  Photo credit: Lana Blakely

Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden