Mersehead Recent Sightings 11th- 17th May 2019

The latest new arrival to the reserve this week was a Spotted Flycatcher, a red-listed species of conservation concern due to the dramatic decline in their population (87% since 1970). The latest research is suggesting that first year mortality is high and that this may be driving the declines. This could be due to poor-quality breeding habitat and/or habitat loss either on their migratory routes or in their winter grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite initially appearing a little drab, these birds are sleek and charming to watch as the flit about the trees catching flies. The male can currently be heard giving his very distinctive high-pitched song about 40 metres from the entrance ramp to Meida hide; it can easily be overlooked though as it is often fairly quiet, so be sure to listen carefully.

Spotted Flycatcher.  Photo credit: Andy Hay

There was also interesting news from the bird ringing on site this week. Each year, a constant effort site (CES) (see here for more information is run in our reedbed, which gives us an even better understanding of the birds that breed there. We can collect population data by doing standardised surveys, but the CES allows us to get information on adult and juvenile populations, productivity and adult survival. There are always a good number of returning birds that have rings on, but this week the first Sedge Warbler to be caught was sporting a French ring. We know that Sedge Warbler migrate through France on their way to Africa for the winter, but it is always exciting to catch a bird that has been ringed elsewhere, and as soon as we have the full information about where and when it was first caught, we shall let you know!

Sedge Warbler and the French ring.  Photo credit: Ed Tooth

Elsewhere on site, hirundine numbers continued to increase with over 200 Swallow and Sand Martin feeding over the wetlands on some evenings, with House Martin numbers peaking at around 20 at the weekend.  Red Kite is being regularly seen over the reserve, and a Marsh Harrier was seen moving through on the 12th. Siskin still continue to visit the feeders at the visitor centre along with the regular finches, and a female Whinchat was still along Rainbow Lane at the beginning of the week, presumably the same bird as last week. There are at least two Cuckoo that can be heard on site, one along the ditch behind the wetland and the other away on the hillside over the Merse. We are also starting to see the first fledglings of the year, with young Song Thrush and Blackbird now out and about. Speaking of chicks, Lapwing across the site now have young chicks and can been seen (with a bit of patience) as they feed in the wet areas.  The best place to view them is from the wetland outside of the visitor centre.

Newly hatched Lapwing chicks.  Photo credit: L. Blakely

There have been lots of sightings of Roe Deer around the reserve; on closer inspection they appear slightly shabby as they are currently moulting their winter coat. The new coat is a warmer colour than the grey/brown winter coat.

From now to early June the Does will give birth to one or two kids. However, you are unlikely to see the spotted young during their first two months as they will lie hidden in long vegetation whilst the mother feeds, sometimes fairly far away.

The Natterjack’s have had a slow start to the season with cold temperatures prevailing overnight. We had hoped that the warmer night-time temperatures would draw them out but alas no, as on our 3rd adult survey this week we recorded a grand total of 1 toad! There could be a number of reasons for this, for example, it has been incredibly dry, which can cause the toads to hunker down and wait for the rains to appear, when they will emerge again to breed in the newly filled pools. Unlike Common Toads, who generally breed all at once in March/April, the Natterjack can breed throughout the summer when conditions are right, sometimes into early August. It’s definitely not over yet and we’ll keep you updated with the goings on of this interesting amphibian.

Join a Spring Discovery Walk for a leisurely tootle around the reserve or make a mud pie whilst defending a fortress at Pond & Play MAY-hem!

Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden