Mersehead Recent Sightings 5th September - 11th September 2020


There are exciting times ahead, with one season closing as the next begins. Last week, there were plenty sightings of birds passing through, like wheatears and stonechats. We still had a good number of swallows on reserve and more activity in terms of winter waterfowl passing through. This week has seen a change and winter is certainly on the way.

 Changes are taking place on the wetland. Water levels are quite low and some vegetation management is still needed but hopefully, it won’t be long before we can re-open hides to see a wealth of water birds (albeit in a controlled way to avoid concerns with coronavirus). The team have been busy topping and removing rushes at Meida Hide, to open views of the waterbody. Once we are ready to re-open, the conditions will be just right to enjoy wildlife from these viewpoints. But even while the hides remain closed, there is plenty to see from our trails and on the shore.

 In the last few days, around 40 Canada geese and similar numbers of Greylags have been spotted flying off the wetland to fields in other parts of the reserve. Also rising from the wetland, a ‘deceit’ of about two hundred lapwings was seen flocking in the sky. Likewise, several hundred starlings have taken to the air in small flocks, as these skittish birds feed in damp fields. It’s worth getting down to the reserve early in mornings to see the geese moving around. Skeins of pink-footed geese can be seen flying over the reserve, on their migration from Iceland or Greenland.

 Oystercatchers are feeding on the sandflats, while the odd curlew is heard calling from fields and the saltmarsh (merse). A few mallard ducks may take refuge on the Southwick Water in between trips to the grassy merse to feed. At least two grey herons have been stalking around various wetlands too.

Following storms and tidal surges in the past few weeks, it was saddening to find some dead seabirds on the sandflat. Two razorbills and a guillemot were washed up on the shoreline. We also received a call from a woman to say that she found a young puffin on a [unknown] beach. This often happens when seabirds encounter storms, possibly from ditching into the sea or being unable to recover in the difficult waters.


Dead razorbills and guillemot, collected from seashore. Photo credit: David Lewis


The osprey spotted a couple of weeks ago, still appears to be around and making the most of its time fishing on the coast. It has mostly been seen on the WW2 bombing target (platform) near Sandyhills. Ravens and common buzzards are fequently seen or heard around the reserve over fields and it is worth checking fence posts for sparrowhawks as well as the rooks, carrion crows or occasional magpie that forage in the cattle fields. On our dry grasslands, there’s plenty of activity with roe deer and brown hares foraging. If lucky, you may even spot a fox about in daylight (as one visitor noticed last week).


Sparrowhawk resting on fence post. Photo credit: David Lewis


Hedgerows along the trails are festooned with berries, with hawthorns (hawberries), dog rose hips, brambles galore and hogweeds and other plants in seed. These are great places to search for many of the finches and other songbirds in the next few weeks. Goldfinches, chaffinches and greenfinches, as well as several lesser redpolls have been busy feasting on seeds and fruits. A family of six bullfinches have been ranging between the farm and woodland, feeding on meadow-sweet seeds, fruits and other plants along the verges. The young birds lack the black heads of their parents. Listen for their light, soft “peu-peu-peu” call, often from within dense hedgerows. Reed buntings and linnets can also be found perching on fence lines around the reserve and a few lesser redpolls are around on walks to woodland from farm and along the track from houses to the shore (what we call Rainbow Lane). Meanwhile, yellowhammers, house and tree sparrows are frequent visitors to the feeding stations at our visitor centre.


Juvenile bullfinch on hawthorn. Photo credit: Calum Murray, and lesser redpoll. Photo Credit: Mark Chambers


Flocks of wheatears continue to stop on migration, with stonechats and meadow pipits joining them close to the shore (especially on the merse). You can still find a few swallows feeding in skies over the wetland and fields near the shore. These are younger birds, now in lesser numbers at the reserve. If passing the Sulwath Gardens or walking in the woodland strip, keep your ears and eyes open for great spotted woodpeckers, goldcrests and usual species like robins and wrens. At this time of year, these can move around in search of food and may be spotted along hedgerows as they do.


Great spotted woodpecker. Photo credit: David Lewis, and stonechat (juvenile). Photo credit: Mark Chambers


This week saw mixed results for our mothing, with hardly any being trapped on Friday morning (on our regular moth count, using a Robinson’s trap). But another mothing session took place last Tuesday, near to the reedbed behind the farm (using a Skinner trap). My colleague, David managed to capture up to 13 species of macro-moth, including: Common Marbled Carpet, Bullrush Wainscot, Common Marbled Carpet, Flounced Rustic, Heath Rustic, Large Wainscot, Rosy Rustic, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Silver Y (known to fly in daytime also), Small Square-spot, Small Wainscot, Square-spot Rustic and Straw Dot.


Moths from the catch: Heath Rustic. Photo credit: David Lewis, and Silver Y. Photo credit Calum Murray


David also trapped a dung beetle (Agrilinus ater) and couple of aquatic insects, including a water beetle (Ilybius Sp.) and Common Sedge caddisfly. Both of these species begin life as aquatic larvae, so no surprise to find our pond-dipping platform was close to the site used for trapping. As the sun came out on Wednesday afternoon, I managed to get out to do some much needed grass cutting along the trail edges and spotted several butterflies (mostly Small Tortoiseshells and a Red Admiral butterfly) A Small Heath was spotted earlier in the week. These are usually found on heather moors., so may have ended up on reserve by being blown in on strong winds, from nearby hills A Common Darter dragonfly was disturbed from its perch on the hawthorn as I trundled past on the mower.


Cinnamon Sedge (caddisfly). Photo credit: Calum Murray, and Small Heath butterfly. photo credit: David Lewis


In preparation for re-opening more facilities on reserve, volunteers have been busy renovating and (in some cases) rebuilding parts of the Sulwath Garden. Work is now underway to complete the ‘Giving Nature a Home’ corner, with the provision of a new bug hotel, hedgehog box and other inspiring features for visitors to try and recreate at home. While deconstructing the old bug hotel, we were surprised to find a fully grown common toad in the penthouse suite, at the top of this structure. The toad was safely put to one side, as work continued.


Under construction – the new ‘bug hotel’ in Sulwath Garden. Photo credit: Calum Murray


Our volunteers were also involved in a beach clean on Tuesday, tidying up a stretch along the Coastal Trail. Thankfully, most of it was relatively small pieces of plastic but whatever the size, it needs to be removed. Even small pieces can harbour toxins, as plastic behaves similarly to organic fats and so attracts chemicals in much the same way. This in turn can be ingested by marine life, like fish or seabirds and be harmful too them  as toxins as well as through causing suffocation or gastric problems.


Volunteers on the shore collecting plastic debris. Photo credit: Dave Jackson


If you are keen to help out and volunteer with us, we are looking for more help for our visitor experience work. As we move towards a return to opening facilities and/or ways to engage visitors, could you get involved? If so, please contact me by email ( or message us on Facebook @RSPBMersehead. 

Our visitor centre (including toilets) and viewing hides remain closed to visitors, as is the Sulwath Garden and children’s play area. However, we will be trialling the re-opening of a toilet next week, for visitor use. In mean time, we hope you can continue to visit and stay safe at this time, while following Scottish government Covid19 guidelines. Please keep updated about the re-opening of RSPB reserves and facilities at: Reserve Reboot


Calum Murray, Assistant Warden