RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 8th February – 14th February 2020

The British Isles have been taking a battering over the past week, with Storm Ciara blasting through earlier in the week. Mersehead faced high risks of flooding and with tidal surges and high winds, parts of the reserve were closed off to visitors for their safety. Snowfall on many of the surrounding hills, along with previous and predicted rains could well see the reserve closing over the next few days. For any updates check our Facebook page (@RSPBMersehead), regarding closures. Defying this grey, bleak weather, Criffel (the largest hill nearby) shined brilliantly in the few moments of sunlight. Did you know that this hill takes its name from the raven? A bird which can often be seen or heard on the reserve. It is the abrupt sound of their call that gives this hill its Norse name.

Snow-topped Criffel on way to Mersehead Reserve. Photo credit: Calum Murray

Standing waters and further melting has resulted in flooding, making access to the site limited for visitors and so sightings have lessened this week.

Starlings are still putting on a great display with their murmuration at dusk over the reedbed (with a few thousand continuing to gather before roosting). A mini-murmuration (ca. 300 birds) could even be seen at the farm and over the Sulwath Garden before moving on to join others over the reedbed. Our residential volunteers were entertained, watching the spectacle unfold immediately in front of the kitchen window of their accommodation, upstairs at the Sulwath Centre.

From Meida Hide an otter has been spotted swimming in the pools by a few visitors, while otter spraints have been found on Rainbow Lane (on the Coastal Trail path by the merse). These two locations seem to be the best places on reserve, to have a chance of seeing one.

Otter swimming. Photo credit: Calum Murray


The Wetland Birds High Tide Count was undertaken last Monday, with nearly 7,000 wetland birds counted overall.

Barnacle geese have been more dispersed over the last week in a number of smaller flocks across the reserve, with 2128 geese counted in total. They are moving around at present, so numbers could vary each day but they are still feeding close to trails. Many have been spotted feeding in the field next to the reserve car park for several days now.

On the coast, 580 dunlins, 630 oystercatchers, 290 knots, 300 golden plovers and 53 grey plovers, 12 redshanks and 31 sanderlings were reported. Sanderlings can be noticed by their counter-shaded plumage, where the white undercarriage is a striking contrast to grey feathers on the topside of their wings, head and back. This creates a sudden flash as they fly over the tide, changing direction to expose the two tones of colour.

Sanderlings on shore. Photo credit: Andy Hay (

On the Coastal Trail, skylarks (now ascending and calling), reed buntings and the odd stonechat have been seen on the trail approach alongside the merse, with little egret also spotted popping in and out of channels on the merse and on the wetlands. A red-breasted merganser is still being seen offshore from the reserve.

A good number of 339 lapwings were counted over the wetland. Like sanderlings they exhibit countershading as they move in unison, with sudden changes of colour showing from their white bellies to dark green backs and wings.

165 Shelducks, 102 wigeons, 509 teals, 96 pintails, 71 shovelers, 33 mallards as well as 7 each of tufted ducks and gadwalls and a red breasted merganser as well as 4 mute swans, 3 little grebes and 4 little egrets on the wetlands.

Both great tits and blue tits are now in full voice, singing their display calls across much of the reserve. Listen out for them, especially along the hedgerows and woodland.

It is also worth checking the telegraph poles and power line along the farm road for a kestrel. One was seen around the farm and road several times this week.

Common kestrel. Photo credit: Louise Greenhorn (


And of course, there is plenty of activity going on at the bird feeding station outside our visitor centre, with common sightings of house sparrows, chaffinches, green finches, goldfinches, starlings, yellowhammers and tree sparrows, with the odd visit from titmice, rooks and collared doves, as well as pheasants (from neighbouring estates. Sadly, the scheduled event for seeing some of these birds ‘in the hand’ this weekend has been cancelled (with Storm Dennis on its way).

Unfortunately, the Bird Ringing and Trapping Demonstration being run by North Solway Ringing Group will no longer be taking place on Sunday morning (16 February). However, it is hoped that a similar event can be run later, in the spring or summer. These events give onlookers an opportunity to see how songbirds are rung. The ringing group also answer questions and share stories about some of the things learned from this work. But the welfare of these wild birds is paramount, so cancellation is necessary.

Yellowhammer outside the visitor centre. Photo credit: Calum Murray

Work continues on reserve, in preparation for spring, with willow clearance from ditch banks, near to the Bruaich Hide. Volunteers reported seeing a possible jack snipe. One of the great things about getting off the trails and into this habitat is the chance of close encounters with much of the wildlife often hidden away (like snipes) and this is one of the advantages in helping with this kind of work.

Our regular volunteers were accompanied by the newly appointed Assistant Warden, Paul Radford, who started working at Mersehead this week. He’s already sharing his naturalist knowledge with our volunteers and will soon join us in sharing more sightings too, on our weekly blogs.

In the woodland, on the trail leading to Meida Hide, work is well underway to widen the path and is almost ready for laying down surfacing material. Our Trainee Warden, Donal has been charged with the task of completing this work in the next couple of weeks, before finishing his time here at Mersehead. So make sure you can come down and see his work, once it is done.

Residential and regular volunteers installing edging boards on the trail to Meida Hide. Photo credit: Calum Murray


Discover more wildlife sightings for yourself as you visit the reserve in the next few weeks. Why not join us on our guided Winter Discovery Walk (on 20 February) – see our Facebook page for more details.

Please note that the Badger Banquet event on 22 February is now fully booked but there will be more opportunities to attend badger watches in April and through the summer period.

Another great way to spot and share what’s onsite is through volunteering. Some of the work we want assistance with will be regular patrolling of trails and having more guides in the hides, through our visitor experience volunteering role. Get in touch to find out more.

And finally, as it is Valentine's Day and we all love our nature, how can you show your love for it? The RSPB want you to help in the campaign to save nature and tackle climate change. We've already seen just how this weather has affected our own lives this week (stormy, to say the least), so it is timely to make others aware of climate change and ask how they can help individually (if for no other reason than for the love of it). Join the Climate Coalition and #ShowTheLove.

Personally, I am going to reduce my fuel consumption by a third, using my car only where it is necessary and making use of other ways to get around (especially for shorter journeys).


Calum Murray, Assistant Warden