RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 16th- 22nd February 2019

As usual, the weather has been a big topic of conversation this week. Spending so much time working outside means that you always have your eyes on the weather forecast. For the most part the weekend was dry with sunny spells, although a viciously cold wind whipped in off the Solway. This wind has stayed with us for the week, bringing a distinct chill to the air. On Wednesday the heavens opened and now the reserve is looking well and truly sodden, with large areas of standing water covering the fields. These extra wet ‘splashy’ areas are perfect for ducks and waders, including Redshanks which have been seen daily from the Visitor’s Centre.

The full ‘supermoon’ this week meant that we experienced extremely high tides, reaching 9.19m on Thursday. Combined with the driving wind these tides transformed the landscape as the saltmarsh became inundated by the sea. We only see tides this high a few times a year, so it’s rather exciting when it happens!

Yet again we had lots of fun conducting the WeBS counts at Kirkconnell Merse, Mersehead and Preston. At Kirkconnell highlights included 323 Pink-footed Geese, 187 Wigeon, 75 Curlew and 10 Goldeneye as well as Redshanks, Teals, Shelducks, Mallards, Oystercatchers and a lone Whooper Swan. At Mersehead we had a good count of 6017 Barnacle Geese using the reserve, including the Leucistic (white) Barnacle Goose. The numbers of geese will fluctuate quite considerably from count-to-count, all depending on where the geese choose to forage on the count day. The large quantity of wet areas meant that we had a decent duck count this week: 323 Pintail, 208 Teal, 110 Wigeon, 73 Mallard, 35 Shoveler, 15 Gadwall (a very good count for Mersehead), 2 Goldeneye and 1 Tufted Duck.

Leucistic Barnacle Goose amongst flock.  Photo credit:  Mark Chambers

Our staff faced a race against the tide during the count to reach the wader roost sites before they were covered by the rapidly growing tide. Luckily, they made it just in time to count waders gathered on the small areas of sand. The wader assemblage was somewhat depleted on this occasion as they were spooked by a windsurfer who was taking advantage of the strong winds. Unfortunately, waders are easily disturbed and many flew away down the beach. We still managed to count 1612 Oystercatcher, 39 Ringed Plover, 446 Dunlin and 43 Grey Plover as well as flocks of Curlews, Lapwings and Golden Plovers around the reserve.

Supermoon tides- 9.19m tides meant for a dramatic view of the saltmarsh.  Photo credit:  Lana Blakely

Last weekend we welcomed a team of students from Reaseheath College who are studying Conservation and Countryside Management. The big task for the weekend was to start clearing a large stand of gorse on the Preston Merse area of the reserve, which the RSPB acquired back in 2016. The long-term aim for this strip of land, which used to be a conifer plantation, is to clear all the vegetation and eventually remove the fence-line, incorporating it into the neighbouring field. This will then increase the area of land that is suitable for Barnacle Geese and breeding waders. The team of students and their tutors did a grand job over two days and were a massive help in clearing the gorse. Of course, we had plenty of tea-breaks throughout and even saw a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier which was a first for many of the students. I think it’s safe to say we were all tired and had aching muscles by the end of the weekend.

Reaseheath College helping to remove gorse.  Photo credit: Jack Barton

Towards the end of the week the weather had warmed considerably and the wildlife had noticed too; birdsong has grown louder and more frequent, with plenty of Song Thrush, Greenfinch, Great Tit, and Blue Tit singing from the hedgerows. We have also spotted our first Common Frog spawn of the season; let’s hope we don’t get another ‘Beast from the East’ this year, as heavy frosts can damage spawn. There are many perks of living and working on a nature reserve, one of which is seeing and hearing owls from your living room! On Thursday night, 2 Tawny Owls were heard from The Roost, our residential accommodation.

We are very much looking forward to our Badger Banquet event tonight and our keeping our fingers crossed that some hungry badgers make an appearance. Although this event is fully booked we have two more coming up on the 16th and 17th March. You couldn’t get much better views of badgers than from our viewing area in the Sulwath Centre. The weather is also looking great for our Beach Clean event this Saturday. The recent high tides have brought in a LOT more waste, so please come along with your enthusiasm and help us to clear it up!

For more information about our upcoming events please click here

Jack Barton, residential volunteer