The Mersehead Warden lives on the reserve and is going to try and keep you updated on the wonderful wildlife they see at Mersehead at this challenging time during their daily walk and whilst completing essential work on the reserve in line with government guidance.

RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 9th – 15th May 2020

With warm and sunny weather holding throughout the weekend I headed down to the sand dunes last Saturday as I had a feeling, I would spot some new species of butterfly on the wing and I was not disappointed! Before I even reached the sand dunes, I spotted a Wall fluttering along the avenue of hawthorns and a Small White feeding on dandelions.

Wall. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

On reaching the sand dunes a flash of red quickly revealed the presence of the day flying moth the Cinnabar. The next new species of the year was a Small Heath. I had almost given up hope of finding the tiny Small Copper, the butterfly I had come to look for, when suddenly a flicker of copper amongst the marram grass gave away the location of this sun-loving butterfly.

Small Copper. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

A quick walk back through the woodland found several Speckled Wood enjoying the dappled sunlight falling through the leaves. The last new butterfly spotted this week is the Large White, the brilliant white forewings are marked with strong black tips, with the two black spots identifying the individual below as a female.

Large White. Photo credit: P.Radford

Whilst out and about on the reserve, I noticed that in many of the deeper ditches there were tadpoles. These will most likely have been Common Toad tadpoles as the adults prefer to spawn in deeper water. The Natterjack Toads have had a bumpy start to the year with all the pools dry before the end of April. As a boom and bust species, this amphibian is very resilient, and the colony will continue to thrive providing they achieve just one good breeding year every three years. They also have a prolonged breeding season which enables them to take advantage of the weather. With some rain and minimum night temperature of 10oC forecast next week, the weather will be much more to the Natterjacks liking!

Common Toad tadpoles. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

Essential habitat management work on the reserve this week has focused on preparing two wild bird cover plots. Oats and sunflower seeds have been drilled into the ground with mustard, linseed, white millet and a forage brassica also sowed across the ground. It was great to watch a pair of Tree Sparrow pecking in the soil for some of the seeds.

Seed drill. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

Using a mix of cereal and oil-rich crops will provide the most reliable food source for seed-eating birds throughout the winter such as YellowhammerLinnet and Reed Bunting. The nectar is great for insects throughout the summer and autumn too. Not only do sunflowers provide hundreds of thousands of seeds for birds, they create quite a spectacle, fingers crossed they grow as well as they have in the past.

Sunflowers at Mersehead in 2018. Photo credit: Mark Chambers

Both Hebrew Character and Powdered Quaker were recorded in the moth trap again this week along with 5 new species for the year! The first Elephant Hawkmoths made an appearance. These striking pink and green moths will be on the wing until the end of July. Single moths of Dark-barred Twin-spot Carpet, Rustic Shoulder Knot, Pale-shouldered Brocade and Brown Silver-line were also recorded.

Elephant Hawkmoth. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

Pale-shouldered Brocade. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

I am extremely lucky to live at Mersehead and to still be able to walk across the reserve and complete essential work in line with government guidance.

We look forward to welcoming visitors back to Mersehead again once restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, stay safe and I hope you enjoy the weekly Mersehead updates.

Rowena Flavelle, Warden