Mersehead Recent Sightings 20th – 26th April

This week, we undertook the first Water Rail survey of the season. These birds are incredibly illusive, and despite recording at least 12 individuals in the reedbed, they are rarely seen from the hides. The survey (like most) involves a very early start; two people head out into the reedbed and stand 20 metres apart. Then, we play the “squealing pig” call that the Water Rail is famous for and wait to see if we get a response. By having two people, we can more accurately pinpoint where the call is coming from. In order to record a pair, they have to be heard calling to each other at the same time. This time out, we were able to record a confirmed 4 pairs, but with more birds present, there is every chance that there is an extra nest or two hiding away somewhere. The Water Rail is still recorded by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel; that is to say there are still less than 2000 pairs breeding in the UK. In 2016, there were just 8 sites across the whole of Dumfries and Galloway where Water Rail were suspected of breeding. If you think you have a pair, either through hearing a pair calling, or even better if you are lucky enough to spot one of their adorable chicks, then you can find out more information on how to submit your records at

Water Rail.  Photo credit: Graham Goodall

As well as the Water Rail that we were surveying for, we also noted that the other reedbed specialists had also arrived. The Sedge Warblers were back in full force, with plenty of males sitting atop willow scrub and reed, singing their hearts out. This year they have arrived bang on average, being recorded for the first time this year on 20th April, exactly the same date as last year, and one day out from the previous year. At least three Reed Warbler was also heard singing during the survey, this is slightly more interesting as it could be one of the earliest arrival records for Dumfries and Galloway, albeit by 2 days! With the long spell of southerlies/easterlies we’ve had recently, it’s no surprise that these birds have arrived when they have.

Reed Warbler.  Photo credit: John Bridges

Reed Warblers are one of the species of birds that are readily parasitised by the Cuckoo (other favourites are the Meadow Pipit and Dunnock). While unfortunate for the poor parent birds that season, it is a fascinating lifecycle nonetheless. The distinctive song of the Cuckoo was heard along the back line of trees as you look out from Bruaich Hide on the 25th. Lastly, on the theme of reedbeds, two female Marsh Harriers were observed from Bruaich Hide late in the day. There is every chance that they may have even roosted there overnight.

We carried out our first breeding wader and wildfowl survey on Thursday morning. Three of these surveys will be carried out over the next couple of months. With a bright, mild, and calm morning, it was a good start. Lapwing were recorded across the wetlands as well as a pair of Oystercatcher whilst on the wildfowl front there was Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Shelduck, Canada Goose and Mute Swan. Good views of these species can be had from either of our hides, whilst from the visitor centre there is a good chance that Lapwing will bring their chicks down to the waters edge where there is soft mud, so they can feed.

Male and female Gadwall.  Photo credit: Ben Andrew

Other interesting sightings from the visitor centre include a Redpoll on the 23rd at the feeders whilst on the 25th a Mallard was seen with ducklings. Out around the reserve there have been a number of records of Grasshopper Warbler singing. The best places to go are at the start of Rainbow Lane, and at the top of the woodland near the beach.

Due to the cold night-time temperatures the Natterjacks have been slow to get going this year but with 8 spawn strings across the site, they have at least started.  As the night time temperatures continue to warm, we should start seeing more and more strings appear over the coming weeks.

Finally, we carried out another Coordinated Barnacle Goose count again this Thursday (they are weekly during April as the birds move around more as they prepare to leave for their breeding grounds on Svalbard) It was fairly quiet, with 4573 birds recorded at Mersehead and along the transect in total but with over 2000 of these present at West Preston, the most easterly part of our reserve.

Bluebell woodland to get to one of the points for the goose count, not a bad way to survey geese!  Photo credit: L. Blakely

There are lots of events coming up in May with an opportunity to see Britain’s rarest amphibian during Natterjack Nights; join a Spring Discovery Walk or make a mud pie whilst defending a fortress at Pond & Play MAY-hem!

Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden