The Mersehead Warden and Assistant Warden live on the reserve and are going to try and keep you updated on the wonderful wildlife they see at Mersehead at this challenging time during their daily walk and whilst completing essential work on the reserve in line with government guidance.

RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 20th June – 26th June 2020

The highlight of the week was seeing some much missed faces back at Mersehead.  Not only did Calum, our Assistant Warden, return but we were also able to welcome back some of our volunteers to undertake essential ragwort clearance.

Ragwort pulling. Photo Credit: P. Radford

The last time the volunteers were working on site was at the start of March, which coincided with completing the Meida Hide path project.  The world is a different place to three and a half months ago, and seeing the volunteers again led to a reflection of how much Mersehead has changed over that time.  The path to the Meida Hide is a very good example, as the woodland has gradually started to merge with the boards and gravel, with it almost feeling like the path has been there for years.  Left unattended, the woodland would reclaim all the ground currently occupied by the path, so some low-key maintenance will be required periodically in the future.

Approach to Meida Hide in early March. Photo credit: P. Radford

Approach to Meida Hide in late June. Photo credit: P. Radford

Lots of positive comments about the path were received from visitors back in March, as they made their way down to the Meida Hide.  Back then, the view that greeted them would have been an array of ducks, geese, herons and egrets enjoying the expansive wetland with hills, including Criffel, dominating the backdrop.

The wetlands in the spring sunshine. Photo credit: P. Radford

The hills are still there, but the rest of the view looks very different.  It is no surprise that water levels have dropped during the very dry spring and early summer, but we are also able to drain this area thanks to a series of sluices and pipes that ultimately link the wetlands with the Beck Burn and Southwick Water.

Lowering water and rising vegetation. Photo credit: P. Radford

The ability to dynamically control water levels is key in enabling us to manage the vegetation in areas that are wet for much of the year.  Four-legged lawn mowers are used for this management in some areas, which creates a mixed sward height and increases the biomass that the wildfowl and waders rely on.

It’s hard to imagine that the view from in front of the Visitor Centre can change in just a few months, from this:

Photo credit: P. Radford

To this:

Photo credit: P. Radford

When I arrived at the reserve in February, the Rooks were already busy building nests in the trees around the Sulwath Garden.  Since then, their gregarious and raucous behaviour has been a constant element of the soundtrack around the Sulwath Centre.  However, it has been noticeably quieter in recent weeks, suggesting the birds are spending less time at the rookery, and more time feeding out on the fields and at communal roosting sites.

Many of the hedgerow birds are also now less obvious.  They are still there, but are skulking within the hedge rather than singing proudly from the tops of branches.  The breeding season will be drawing to a close for many, and you can almost sense from their calls – which lack their previous urgency – that they are taking a much needed rest.  The fact that some Common Whitethroat can still be seen performing their plummeting song-flight along the hedgerow, suggests that the trip from sub-Saharan Africa has not been entirely fruitful for all.  Whitethroat reduce or cease singing once paired, and only unpaired individuals will continue to sing until July or August.

Common Whitethroat. Photo credit: John Bridges (

I was very excited to spot the unmistakeable sickle-shape of a Swift flying over the farm early on Thursday morning; the first for me since moving to Mersehead.  The RSPB are working in partnership with Action for Swifts, Natural Apptitude, Swift Conservation and the Swifts Local Network to map the locations of swift nest sites around the United Kingdom.  The bird I saw was flying high over the reserve, which wouldn’t associate it with a nest site nearby.  However, if you spot swifts flying low around buildings and screaming, or see them entering a nest site, it would be great if you can enter this information using Swift Mapper.

Not all changes are as gradual as water levels and woodland growth.  Last week we reported on around 4,000 growing Natterjack tadpoles in the breeding ditch.  This week the count was more like 600, and with at least three toadlets spotted in the grass nearby, the hope is that many of the tadpoles seen previously successfully reached the toadlet stage, and are now either in the surrounding area, or have dispersed following the recent rain.

Natterjack toadlet. Photo credit: P. Radford

An adult Natterjack was also spotted during the survey; now that it is raining more frequently, toads will emerge to forage, following a state of drought induced dormancy.  It is nice to imagine that, three years ago, this young toad was spotted emerging from the breeding pool as a toadlet during a similar survey.

Adult Natterjack toad. Photo credit: P. Radford

The thermometer in the Sulwath Garden hit 30 degrees Celsius on Thursday, and the bees, butterflies and moths took full advantage.  The bramble flowers are buzzing with life, Ringlet and Meadow Brown are exploding from the bank and undergrowth on Rainbow Lane, and the moth numbers were well in excess of 100 individuals and 40 species.  Included amongst these was the stunning male Ghost Moth.  This is one of the five (and largest) species of swift moth that occur in the British Isles.  All these moths hold their elongated almost vertically when at rest.  The male Ghost moths attract females by releasing a goat-like scent, during a swaying display flight which can involve several dozen moths.

Male Ghost Moth. Photo credit: R. Flavelle

Finally, the beach was invaded earlier in the week, as very high tides washed up an army of Compass Jellyfish.  The pattern on the cream coloured bell of this jellyfish – which can reach 30cm in diameter – resembles a compass.  Their tentacles are in sets of three, and are capable of causing itchiness or a rash.

Compass Jellyfish. Photo credit: P. Radford

I am are extremely lucky to live at Mersehead and to still be able to walk across the reserve and complete essential work in line with government guidance.

Although some lockdown measures have been eased, Scottish Government guidance remains that you should stay local. Our reserve facilities will remain closed and we are continuing to ask you not to visit Mersehead whilst we prepare for a gradual re-opening of the reserve. We will only do so when we have everything in place to keep our employees, volunteers and you – our fantastic members and supporters – safe.

We look forward to welcoming you back soon, in the meantime, stay safe and I hope you enjoy the weekly Mersehead updates.

Paul Radford, Assistant Warden

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