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 23rd – 29th May 2020

Essential work on the reserve this week has focused on inspecting and repairing livestock fencing, cleaning out water troughs and generally preparing for the imminent arrival of the cattle which graze the reserve during the summer months. Knocking in new fence posts by hand in 20oC is certainly hot work but the odd break, sitting on the grass with a bottle of water, was a great opportunity to explore at ground level! A bright orange speck on a ragwort leaf soon caught my attention and revealed the larvae of a 7-spot Ladybird. The larvae feed on aphids for around 3-4 weeks before pupating into an adult.

Larvae of the 7-spot Ladybird. Photo Credit: R.Flavelle

Sunbathing on some flattened reed was this magnificent Drinker caterpillar. The adult moth is on the wing throughout July and August when eggs are laid on the stems of grass and reed. The eggs will hatch within 10 days with the caterpillar growing to about 25mm long before hibernating. This individual is fully grown at 70mm and will soon be building a cocoon to develop to the next stage of its life.

Drinker. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

With nigh-time temperatures dropping no lower than 13oC a total of 94 macro-moths from 25 species were in the moth trap this morning. A few new species for the year were Herald, Knot Grass, Fox Moth, Scorched Wing, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Flame Carpet and Silver-ground Carpet.

White Ermine & Herald. Photo Credit: R.Flavelle

Brimstone Moth. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

Peppered Moth. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

At this time of the year the eggs of some of our early butterflies are hatching and developing through a series of instars which allows the caterpillar to moult its skin and grow bigger. Gently rootling around in the vegetation may uncover a multitude of amazing colours, stripes and spikes.

Orange-tip 4th instar. Photo credit: G.Chambers

Insects will only lay their eggs on certain species known as a foodplant, the plant which the caterpillars will feed on. Knowing which plant a butterfly prefers will help in locating some butterfly caterpillars. Both Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell usually lay their eggs on Common Nettle whereas the Orange-tip prefers Cuckoo-flower or Garlic Mustard.

Small Tortoiseshell 5th instar. Photo credit: G.Chambers

Peacock 4th instar. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

Another Mersehead resident and I were having a competition to see who could spot the first Painted Lady of the year. I lost by one day! I saw my first Painted Lady on Wednesday whereas Paul saw one on Tuesday! This butterfly is one the greatest migrants of the butterfly world flying all the way from North Africa. Adults are first seen in late March as they start to arrive on our shores and numbers build up in May and June as further migrants arrive and start to spread north. Butterfly Conservation are running a project to map the arrival, spread and departure of migrant insects and need your help! Submit your Painted Lady sightings to Migrant Watch and contribute to this great citizen science project.

Painted Lady. Photo credit: P.Radford

Although some lockdown measures have been eased, Scottish Government guidance remains that you should stay local. Our reserve facilities will remain closed and we are continuing to ask you not to visit Mersehead whilst we prepare for a gradual re-opening of the reserve. We will only do so when we have everything in place to keep our employees, volunteers and you – our fantastic members and supporters – safe.

We look forward to welcoming you back soon, in the meantime, stay safe and I hope you enjoy the weekly Mersehead updates.

Rowena Flavelle, Warden