RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 22nd – 28th September

The biggest news of the week here at Mersehead has been the arrival of the Svalbard Barnacle Geese on Tuesday morning when 38 birds dropped into the wetland. This is 13 days earlier than last year but is not anything unusual; birds can arrive anytime from late September onwards depending on the weather in the Arctic, prevailing winds, feeding conditions elsewhere and a host of other factors. As the week progressed numbers have increased daily and at close of play yesterday (Thursday) there were over 500 birds present, most of which can be seen from Bruaich and Meida Hides.

Barnacle Geese in flight.  Photo credit: Mick Durham

Prior to the ‘Barnies’ arrival, one of the biggest spectacles out on the wetland was (and still is!) the number and variety of geese and ducks. On Monday morning there was a cacophony of calls from the Pink-footed Geese coming from the wetland. A walk down to Bruaich Hide revealed a gathering of c.1400 birds out on the wetland, as well as 70 Lapwing, 52 Canada Geese, 34 Greylag, and a mix of Shoveler, Teal, Mallard, and Pintail. On the walk back from the hide the hedgerows seemed filled with the trilling calls of Greenfinch as they fed on autumn fruits; a quick count revealed a flock of about 30 individuals.

Female Greenfinch.  Photo credit: Ben Hall

The good sightings kept coming on Monday morning, when a Willow Tit was spotted in one of the only wet and willow filled areas of the reserve! This is a very unusual record for Mersehead, being a scarce resident breeder in Dumfries and Galloway, the stronghold here being RSPB Ken Dee Marshes. There are usually records of this bird around the county in all months of the year but only one or two records at a time. This species is one of our most sedentary, not usually moving too far from where it was born, so to see it here was a real treat. This bird can be easily mistaken for a Marsh Tit, which is noted as rare in the region, with the last record being in 2001. However, the call of the two species is quite different and so is the most reliable way to identify it; luckily it was very vocal, and confirmed itself as a Willow Tit. After a couple of minutes it disappeared into the wild bird cover and wasn’t seen again.

Drawing of Willow Tit.  Artwork credit: Mike Langman

Out from Meida Hide a Little Grebe has been seen on regular occasion, whilst out on the wetland in front of the visitor centre the male Sparrowhawk has been seen hunting again; a Raven was spotted flying over being mobbed by other corvids, and as water levels have increased over the last week, a group of 38 Canada Geese were some of the first to take advantage.

We carried out our bi-monthly reserve counts at Mersehead as well as Kirkconnell on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. Counts from both hides produced 375 Pink-footed Geese, 47 Greylag Geese, 128 Canada Geese, 131 Barnacle Geese, 57 Wigeon, 207 Teal, 69 Mallard, 21 Pintail, 103 Shoveler, 3 Little Grebe, 258 Lapwing, 2 Snipe, 3 Mute Swan and 17 Curlew.

Out on the high tide roosts there were 46 Mallard, 6 Red-breasted Merganser, 1 Heron, 1852 Oystercatcher, 73 Ringed Plover, 37 Golden Plover, 2 Sanderling, 64 Dunlin, 171 Curlew, 3 Redshank, 1 Back-tailed Godwit, 114 Black-headed Gull, 44 Common Gull, 9 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 8 Great Black-backed Gull, and 11 Herring Gull. Over at West Preston (the name for the furthest part of our reserve) there were 128 Barnacle Geese feeding. This area is one of the most favoured spots for the geese so it was great to see the first few birds starting to gather and feed here.

Red-breasted Merganser. Photo credit: Paul Chesterfield

Over at Kirkconnell Merse the count produced: 590 Pink-footed Geese and 49 Barnacle Geese flying over, 97 Teal, 65 Mallard, 79 Pintail, 1 Red-breasted Merganser, 4 Goosander, 7 Cormorant, 6 Grey Heron, 4 Little Egret, 16 Oystercatcher, 619 Lapwing, 43 Curlew, 521 Redshank, 110 Black-headed Gull, 266 Common Gull, 362 Lesser Black-backed, 38 Great black-backed Gull, and 64 Herring Gull.

Today (Friday) there has been a group of c.20 Swallows that arrived briefly to perch on the wires along the main track and then hawk for insects before leaving to carry on their journey south. The wires at the start of Bruaich Hide path are a great place to look for a variety of different passerines. As I write this there are 16 Linnet perched in a row there.

Swallow on wire.  Photo credit: Chris Gomersall

We are running the Reserve’s Last Piece in the Jigsaw guided walks, which will offer the chance to experience Preston Merse (the new part of this reserve that now links Mersehead with West Preston). Join our walk to see firsthand the work we’ve been carrying out, learn the story behind the new land, and hear how it completes the jigsaw for the reserve and what our vision for the site is going forward. This walk is for the physically fit, as ill be quite strenuous. The event will take place on 16th October and again on 17th November, from 10am to approximately 3pm. Booking is essential and there will be limited spaces for those wishing to take part.

For more details, check online at


Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden