Mersehead recent sightings 27th April - 3rd May 

This week we undertook our 2nd Natterjack toad survey of the year. With a relatively mild evening temperature, little wind and light drizzle, it seemed the perfect conditions for Natterjack activity. However, there was only 31 adults found across the site. This is a drop from the 81 adults found 2 weeks prior. The number of toad spawn found are increasing as the days progress.

Whilst searching for Natterjack, we came across several other species in the pools, including Palmate newts, Water scorpion, Diving beetle and Diving beetle larvae - all which prey upon Natterjack spawn. Palmate newts look very similar to Smooth newts, however Palmate newts can be found in more acid water and shallower pools. Breeding males develop black webbing on their back feet and a filament at the end of their tail. During metamorphosis, newt tadpoles develop their front legs first followed by their back legs- which is opposite to frog and toad tadpole development.


Adult Natterjack toad. Photo credit: C. Pollard

Diving Beetle larvae. Photo credit: C. Pollard

We had several counts this week: Breeding wader survey’s across Mersehead saltmarsh and at Kirkconnell; the coordinated Barnacle Goose count; and territory mapping of the Reedbed birds at Mersehead. The Mersehead breeding wader survey noted Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Mallard present on the saltmarsh.

The visit to Kirkconnell confirmed the presence of Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatchers, Shelduck and surprisingly around 90 Pink-footed Geese were still in the area. Like the Barnacle Geese, the Pink-footed Geese use The Solway for their wintering grounds before departing around March-April to return to their breeding grounds in Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland. Also spotted during the visit to Kirkconnell was a male Wheatear. These are migratory birds which arrive from Africa to breed in Western and Northern Britain. They are easily identified when in flight by their white rump and distinct black “T” shape on their tail.

Most of the Barnacle Geese have now left the area as only 68 were recorded on Wednesday. The geese are departing for their breeding grounds in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

The territory mapping survey saw singing Sedge warbler, Reed warbler and singing Reed Bunting in the Reedbed, which can be seen from Meida hide. This survey is completed 4 times to map out the territories of these birds. Also noted during this survey were Water rail and Curlew

The early morning starts were worth it to see the sunrise over Criffel hill. Photo credit: C. Pollard

A small team of volunteers helped to clear our beach and sand dunes of any plastic and debris that had been washed up onto the shore. Two interesting characters were found on the beach during our beach clean, a toy soldier and a much smaller toy woman (which have now been rehomed in the visitor centre).  A big issue we face is the amount of plastic that has reached our natural environment. The microplastics are particularly important to pick up as these can easily be ingested by wildlife, and therefore affect the whole food-chain. The bigger pieces are also dangerous as birds, fish and mammals can become tangled. Beach cleans are a good reminder to recycle what you can and cut down on the volume of plastic you purchase.

Washed up on the beach (not the tractor). Photo credit: C. Pollard

 During the beach clean it was difficult to ignore the large numbers of St. Marks flies buzzing around the sand dunes. The name comes from the large numbers of adult flies which emerge around St Marks day (April 25th). These flies are easily identified by their legs hanging down as they fly. The St. Marks fly is an important pollinator in our ecosystem as they feed on nectar and pollinate fruit trees and crops.

St. Mark's fly. Photo credit: C. Pollard

Sightings across the reserve this week include a Whitethroat on the path to Bruiach Hide, a Hooded Crow, a Marsh Harrier, Common Sandpiper and a Mallard with 15 ducklings were seen from the Bruiach hide. Also, Grasshopper Warblers were heard singing, Sedge warbler, Blackcap, Song Thrush, Shoveler, Gadwall, Little grebe, and a Moorhen were spotted across the reserve. Stonechat and Buzzard were spotted from Rainbow Lane, and a Reed Bunting visited the visitor centre. Peacock and Orange-tip butterflies were also spotted at Mersehead.

There are plenty of opportunities to get involved at the reserve this May including Natterjack Nights; Spring Discovery Walks; and Pond & Play MAY-hem.  Visit our website for more information:

Cheye Pollard, Residential Volunteer