RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 8th – 14th December 2018

With just a week to go to the big HoHo, we have been beavering away to ensure certain projects are completed before the Christmas break.

With the most successful Natterjack Toad colony in Scotland and across the RSPB found on the reserve, the focus of the winter habitat work has been ensuring ground conditions will be perfect for this amphibian in the spring. Water levels have been drained since Late September to flush out aquatic predators and allow the ground to dry. Vegetation around the pools has been topped to ensure the short sward this toad favours for hunting. Areas inaccessible to the tractor have been strimmed, including down the entire edge of a 550m ditch. Vegetation growing inside the pools has been gently scrapped away to ensure the water remains clear, Natterjacks are fussy! This work was overseen by the Barn Owl which was hunting up and down the field. Boards have been put back in sluices and the water level is now coming up and overflowing the sides of the ditch creating what will be warm, shallow water in the spring – the perfect spawning conditions.

Natterjack Habitat Work. Photo Credit: R.Flavelle

Cutting vegetation with a machine on the back of a tractor (topping) has been completed across 42ha. This reduces the length of the vegetation encouraging Barnacle Geese to feed throughout the winter and into the spring will create the correct sward conditions for breeding waders. Most of this work, 30ha, has taken place on the newest part of the reserve, purchased in 2016. The aim is to turn this rush dominated pasture into a damp meadow perfect for breeding Curlew and Snipe.

Japanese rose (Rosa rugosa) is a commonly grown garden plant that originates from Eastern Asia. It is an invasive species in the UK, favouring coastal and open habitats. This is a problem as it forms dense, wide reaching thickets and will out-compete native species. Unfortunately, this species had taken hold in the hedgerow running towards Bruiach Hide. Our volunteers have been busy removing this non-native species since November and have nearly reached the end of this mammoth task and are confident they will reach Bruiach Hide before they break for Christmas. The hedgerow has been busy with Greenfinch and House Sparrow. Bullfinch and Yellowhammer have been spotted too. Linnet can be seen sitting on the wire above the footpath. We will be replanting the hedgerow with native species, such as hawthorn and brambles, to provide food, shelter and nesting habitats for a wealth of wildlife.

Yellowhammer. Photo Credit:Tom Marshall (

The December Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) has been completed this week. Eight species of wader were recorded at the high tide point with 1848 Oystercatcher, 416 Golden Plover, 557 Lapwing, 138 Curlew, 1669 Dunlin, 33 Ringed Plover, 9 Redshank and 12 Grey Plover recorded. A variety of wildfowl have been dabbling and diving across the wetlands with the usual Teal, Wigeon, Pintail and Shoveler all present. Goosander has been seen in the Southwick Water and the Kingfisher has been busy zooming up and down the ditch near the Visitor Centre. Little Egret has been a daily sight around the reserve.

Goosander. Photo Credit: Ben Andrew (

Two hours before high tide, a tidal bore travels up the River Nith. The incoming tide forms a wave which travels upriver against the flow. This natural phenomenon is witnessed on each WeBS count at Kirkconnell Merse. Goldeneye were present this week with 11 recorded diving in the river. Wildfowl were busy feeding along the edge of the mud with 197 Wigeon, 90 Teal, 42 Mallard, 16 Pintail and 5 Red-breasted Merganser recorded. A variety of gulls were crowded together with a total of 163 Common Gull, 46 Black-headed Gull, 4 Herring Gull, 2 Great Black-backed Gull and 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull. Waders were a little low with 148 Oystercatcher, 191 Redshank and just 11 Curlew. A flock of 745 Dunlin was a good record as we don’t often see this many along the River.

Tidal Bore. Photo Credit: R.Flavelle

Meet us at the Visitor Centre at 10am on Sunday 16th December for a Beach Clean. Please bring your own gloves and a packed lunch. All other equipment will be provided. There is 3 miles of beach at Mersehead so we will be walking around 2 miles to reach some of the furthest areas.

Visitor Centre Opening Times over Christmas:

22nd - 24th December 11am - 3pm

25th & 26th December CLOSED

27th December - 3rd January 11am - 3pm

There will be no refreshments available during the above dates.


Rowena Flavelle, Warden