RSPB Mersehead Blog 3rd February – 9th February 2024
What a topsy-turvy weather week we have had on Mersehead!! Some amazingly calm and beautiful days sprung hints of an early spring, with certain species searching for, and in some cases find their singing voice (more on that later). But alas…by the end of the week we are returned to the dark, dreich depths of winter winds, snow and sleet with shelter sought by all. This week also saw the Mersehead welcome its newest team member, Freya, who has joined as our new Assistant Warden. I am sure we will hear from Freya in the coming weeks on here!
Time for Singing and Drumming
February is a month of change, days get longer (they do, I promise) and change can be felt, well more precisely heard, in the air. The start of this week offered up some early signs that breeding season is not far away with several species heard, and subsequently seen across the reserve.
Throughout the last two weeks, I have been hearing the very distinctive song of our Skylarks. It began with the odd individual, however on Wednesday I was treated to a full display by a pair singing and flying directly upwards and hovering in areas visible from our visitor pathways. The track between our two hides has been particularly active this week and I managed to count 6 individuals at one point. The song of the Skylark is a wonderfully distinctive warble and if you would like to listen and to learn more then click here.
Another beautiful bird I have heard this week is the Song thrush. Although not in quite the same abundance as the Skylark but I was lucky enough to hear one in full voice. Quite often with this type of species it is likely you will hear them first and can then use their song to zone into where they are, allowing you to perhaps catch a rare glance. This particular individual was atop a Hawthorn close to the turn off for our woodland path to the beach. Like the Skylark, if you would like to learn more about Song thrush then click here.
Play this audio clip
Recording of Song thrush taken on the Woodland path to the Beach. Credit: Nick Bone.
Next up, not a song but rather a beat, allowed me to catch sight of a Great spotted woodpecker halfway up a dead tree trunk along the path to Meida hide. I first heard the distinctive drumming, slowed my pace and began to scan the trunks along the path until I eventually locked my binoculars onto my Great spotted woodpecker (click here to learn more).
Recording of Great spotted woodpecker taken on the path to Meida hide. Drumming can be heard near the end. Credit: Nick Bone
And finally, did you catch the Chaffinch at the start of that recording? If not, then listen again and near the start you can hear a Chaffinch singing, in of course some very noisy Rooks! Not sure what a Chaffinch sounds like? Then click here to learn more.
Keep Your Eyes Open
Make sure that in the coming weeks you keep your eyes open for Lapwing displaying in the reserve. They normally start towards the end of February but have been known to sporadically display earlier in February. The odd pair have indeed already been seen hinting at but not performing a full display near the Visitor Centre. Watch out for flickers and flashes of black and white, sharp turns, sudden dives and tumbles are with a touch of reckless abandon.
Lapwing in-flight. Note the distinct wing shape and black and white markings. Photo Credit Ian Francis, RSPB Images.
Flock of Lapwing. Note the distinct difference of the white on the underwing and black when the wings beat downwards. Photo Credit Ben Andrew, RSPB Images.
Tuesday Work Party
This week saw the continuation of rotational willow cutting on the Reserve. Our hardy Tuesday volunteers worked tirelessly to help us finish a key piece of willow removal in preparation for the breeding bird season. Our vegetation removal habitat management work must be completed before the 1st of March, to minimise disturbance of our breeding birds.
Assistant Warden Freya hard at work removing willow. Photo credit: Frances Gilgunn.
The Return of Winter
As mentioned earlier, the end of the week saw the return of wintery conditions but did afford a rare close sighting of a leucistic Barnacle goose. Across this winter we have been lucky enough to have 3 leucistic geese on the reserve but it is rare to get so close to one. Leucism is a condition affecting around 1 in every 5000 Barnacle geese and as you can see below, gives a striking white plumage to the individual.
Leucistic Barnacle goose on Mersehead this week. Photo Credit Freya Sanders.
Members of the Mersehead reserve team braved challenging weather conditions in order to complete a WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) at RSPB Kirkconnel Merse this week. The survey is conducted from the Glencaple side of the River Nith which looks across to the reserve.
Please be advised that on Monday the 12th February the path to our Meida hide will be closed due to some planned tree safety work. We apologise for the inconvenience. The rest of the reserve pathways will remain open.
Nick Bone, Trainee Warden
For more information on individual events and to book a place, please go to our website:
Svalbard to the Solway Story Trail
10th – 17th February; Self-guided family event
Badger Banquet Fully Booked
Easter’s Egg-Layer Trail
23rd March – 3rd April; Self-guided family event
Put a Spring in your Step Guided Walk Booking Essential
Easter Badger Feast Booking Essential
Natterjack Night Guided Walk Booking Essential
Lapwings and Larks Guided Walk Booking Essential
*Flooding - Please note that Mersehead nature reserve is prone to flooding during periods of high rainfall and/or strong winds and tidal surges. To avoid disappointment at these times, please contact the reserve in advance of your visit by email in the first instance at email@example.com or check the RSPB Dumfries and Galloway Facebook Page for daily updates