RSPB Mersehead blog 28th May – 3rd June 2022
With a heart-shaped face, buff wings and a pure ghostly white belly, the Barn Owl is a distinctive and much-loved countryside bird. Our resident Mersehead barn owl is currently hunting extensively throughout the early evening into the dusk as it is raising chicks. A favoured hunting spot is the upper saltmarsh where it has been seen quartering the ground daily this week.
Mersehead barn owl. Photo credit: G. Chambers
The barn owl is widely distributed across the UK and indeed the World with 10 subspecies found across Europe, Africa, Arabia, India and Asia southeast to Java. The subspecies we have here in the UK (Tyto alba alba) is restricted to western and southern Europe and north Africa (from Scotland to Morocco and from Portugal to Greece).
Mersehead barn owl. Photo credit: G. Chambers
Having just arrived back at Mersehead this week, House Martins are busy repairing nests which have survived the winter storms. The house martins nest is usually sited below the eaves of buildings and in the case of the nest below, against the bathroom window!
Busy Building & Repairing.
Another new arrival to the reserve this week has been the Belted Galloway and Aberdeen Angus herds. These mighty natural lawn mowers are one of the most effective ways of maintaining grassland habitats, slowing succession and keeping areas open ensuring a wider variety of wildlife can flourish. Cows will eat more common and vigorous plant species, wrapping their tongues around vegetation and pulling it out which allows more delicate and less competitive species to grow. Together with trampling the ground, this helps to create a mosaic of different plant heights and micro habitats. We use a system of targeted grazing at Mersehead where the cows graze a particular area for a short period and then are moved on to another area on a rotation. This cycle of grazing allows disturbed areas to be alongside areas that are rested and un-grazed which gives a greater diversity of habitats. The area and timing of grazing is not fixed so will be different each year.
Belted Galloway. Photo credit: R. Flavelle
Aberdeen Angus. Photo credit: R. Flavelle
With spring turning into summer the breeding season is well under way. Initial analysis of data looks promising with around 33 pairs of breeding Lapwing. This is an increase from 28 pairs last year and 20 pairs the summer before. Successfully fledged birds are forming groups whilst some adult birds are still sitting on eggs. An unsuspecting hare seemed to receive quite a shock from one tightly sitting adult we have been monitoring using a camera trap!
Camera trap footage.
Fledged Lapwing. Photo credit: P. Radford
Oystercatcher chicks. Photo credit: P. Radford
With 2,000 developing Natterjack toad tadpoles onsite, all fingers are crossed for an excellent emergence of toadlets in a few weeks’ time. Although the pool has shrunk considerably, it does make monitoring and tracking the tadpoles progress relatively easy as they are confined to one area! We have been giving them a helping hand to ensure that these tadpoles retain the water they require over the next few weeks.
Topping up. Photo credit: R. Flavelle
Natterjack tadpoles. Photo credit: R. Flavelle
The weekly moth survey has been increasing in diversity as we progress into the summer with 46 moths from 16 species recorded. Brimstone, Silver-ground carpet, Heart & Dart and Spectacle were all new for the year. Whilst completing the butterfly survey where four species were recorded, Red Admiral, Orange-tip, Peacock and Green-veined White, a Elephant Hawkmoth was spotted resting amongst the grass. The Lesser Whitethroat has remained on the reserve having been heard singing in and around the car park.
Elephant Hawkmoth. Photo credit: P. Radford
Lesser Whitethroat. Photo credit: G. Chambers
Rowena Flavelle, Warden
How to begin Birdwatching
Friday 22nd July
*Holiday Cottages - Planning your 2022 holidays? Discover the breath-taking scenery, wildlife, cultural and history of Dumfries & Galloway whilst staying in one of the Mersehead cosy semi-detached holiday cottages – Barnacle and Shelduck – located in the heart of reserve.
*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 firstname.lastname@example.org or check the RSPB Dumfries and Galloway Facebook Page for daily updates.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654
Accepting all non-essential cookies helps us to personalise your experience
These cookies are required for basic web functions
Allow us to collect anonymised performance data
Allow us to personalise your experience