RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 17th – 23rd November 2018

Prevailing easterly winds made for colder temperatures this week but the sunny skies that came with it made for good wildlife watching conditions. There have been multiple sightings of Whooper Swans; first seen on Saturday when 8 birds flew into the wetlands, then again on Wednesday, with 10 birds flying into the wetlands again as well as along the beach. Whoopers are attracted to large bodies of water such as lakes, estuaries and coastal bays, which they use as safe roosting and preening sites; the open water habitats at Mersehead provide this habitat for them.  Looking out from Meida and Bruaich Hide a variety of ducks have been seen; counts have included 86 Pintail, 9 Gadwall, 4 Tufted Duck, 43 Shoveler, 15 Wigeon and 219 Teal.  Out from the high tide roost there were 1110 Oystercatcher, 53 Curlew, 7 Redshank, 1 Dunlin and a Drake Goosander.

Whooper Swan.  Photo credit: Ben Hall

The numbers of Pink-footed Geese seen migrating over the reserve has slowed down in the last couple of week’s so it was good to hear the distinctive ‘wink-wink’ calls from above on Saturday morning; a quick count revealed 220 birds. A Red Admiral was also seen on the Saturday; these butterflies are usually on the wing from July- November, so this could be one of the last sightings of the year. This cohort of butterflies will have come from parents that emigrated in the spring from North Africa and Continental Europe.

The Sparrowhawk has once again been seen at the bird table at the visitor centre. This particular bird has an interesting strategy, in that instead of ambushing birds in hedgerows and around the feeders, he simply flies directly in and sits on the bird table, looking around expectantly! Also around the visitor centre, Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow have been using the feeders regularly, giving great views to visitors, whilst the hedgerows seem to be full of Greenfinch and Chaffinch. The Red Squirrel has been visiting the bird table again so it’s well worth grabbing a hot drink and settling in for the chance to see any of the above!

Red Squirrel.  Photo credit: Andy Hay

On the 18th a Marsh Harrier was spotted from Bruaich Hide, whilst on the 21st a ‘Ringtail’ (the name for a female Hen Harrier) was seen over at Preston Merse, which is the new section of our reserve. Little Egret have been spotted throughout the week around the reserve but the best place at the moment to go for good views tends to be up Rainbow Lane, where the Merse (saltmarsh) begins. Out on the sand and mudflats a count of 264 Shelduck was recorded. Although at first glance this habitat may look devoid of food, sand and mudflats are teeming with life. The Sheduck will be exploiting aquatic snails, invertebrates and small shellfish. Shelduck are particularly interesting in that they breed in holes, mostly on sand dunes in old rabbit holes but also in all kinds of different ones, even in tree cavities, 8m above ground!

Marsh Harrier. Photo credit: Les Bunyan.

The wild bird cover is still attracting good numbers of winter passerines, at last count we recorded 109 Chaffinch, 98 Greenfinch, 30 Linnet, 1 Siskin, and 4 Goldfinch. The Willow Tit is still being seen regularly in this area, so keep an eye out as you head along the track to the woodland, and into the woodland itself. As well as wild bird cover strips, we also provide a forage brassica crop. The main types of Brassica crop that can be used include Kale, Swede, Turnip and Rape. Here at Mersehead we are using Rape. This crop provides food and cover for a variety of farmland birds, many of which are in serious decline. Recently this field was grazed heavily by the Barnacle Geese which has allowed farmland birds such as Skylark and Linnet to access the seeds and leaves from the weeds growing below. Because of this heavy grazing we had our peak count of Skylark recorded for the season, with 85 birds noted. Curlew are also enjoying this field, with 61 counted. We also stumbled upon a Jack Snipe, a nice way to end the survey!

Siskin.  Photo credit:  Ben Andrew

On Thursday a Kingfisher was sighted flying along one of the ditches whilst today (Friday) we’ve had more sightings of the Red Squirrel; this time with staff spotting it outside the office window.

Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden.