RSPB Mersehead Recent Sightings 2nd- 8th February 2019

Clear, sunny skies and a not too cool breeze on Saturday morning saw for a flurry of sightings. Out on the Merse, viewed from Rainbow Lane, a flock of 32 Twite, their characteristic ‘tweee’ and ‘tveeiht’ (hence the name Twite!) calls alerted us to their presence. Similar in size to a Linnet, but more heavily streaked on the back, sporting a yellow bill in winter, and giving off a slightly stockier appearance with its smaller head and ‘looser’ feathering, the Twite can be seen along coastlines, coastal fields, and saltmarshes throughout winter. Feeding exclusively on seeds year-round, they could be seen out on the merse busily feeding on the ground, picking through the vegetation, every now and again lifting as a group (affording great views in flight) only to settle down again and continue feeding.

Twite.  Photo credit: Tom Marshall

A Stonechat was sighted along Rainbow Lane next to the Merse, characteristically perched atop of some scrub, whilst another was sighted along the track on the way to the woodland. In the field next to the track the distinctive dry rattle, ‘zer ‘r’r’r’r’r’ call of the Mistle Thrush gave its presence away. Like the Song Thrush but bigger, stockier and with round instead of arrow shaped spots streaking the belly, the Mistle Thrush behaves differently to its smaller cousin in that it is a lot more boisterous, and is known for guarding its resources. A Jack Snipe was spotted in one of the many wet areas behind the sand dunes whilst two Buzzards circled overhead. On Sunday, a visitor was lucky enough to spot a male Hen Harrier from Meida Hide.

Mistle Thrush; bigger and bulkier than the Song Thrush.  Artwork by Mike Langman

On Monday, we headed over to our Kirkconnell Merse site to carry out our bimonthly reserve count. Highlights included 142 Pink-footed Geese, 2588 Barnacle Geese, 20 Shelduck, 101 Teal, 2 Goldeneye, 7 Grey Heron, 494 Dunlin, 134 Curlew and 137 Redshank.

On Wednesday, we carried out the Mersehead count; a good variety of wildfowl were present from both hides including 95 Wigeon, 2 Gadwall, 71 Teal, 25 Mallard, 69 Pintail, 52 Shoveler, 3 Tufted Duck, 2 Little Grebe, and one female Goldeneye. 970 Oystercatcher were recorded at the high tide roost at the western end of the reserve, whilst 1720 Dunlin were at the eastern end. 146 Curlew were recorded feeding in the fields around the reserve, while elsewhere there were 770 Lapwing packed outnumbering the 58 Barnacle Geese that were feeding beside them. The Barnacle Geese numbers can vary quite a lot depending on the weather on the count day, feeding conditions or time of day. This week we were in the right places at the right time and managed to get a much higher count of 7592, slightly better than the 211 birds recorded last week!

Curlew.  Photo credit: Andy Hay

During the Mersehead count we were lucky to spot a female/juvenile Merlin huddled behind a Yellow Meadow Ant hill. A Kestrel was spotted at West Preston (the furthest-most point of the reserve), and a Sparrowhawk shot past us through the woodland.

Merlin.  Photo credit: Chris Gomersall

Roe Deer have been even more conspicuous around the reserve than normal this week, with a group of 7 spotted together just past the woodlands. Roe Deer are more solitary in summer but can form loose groups in winter. 4 of the group were male; sporting short ‘velvet’ antlers. The ‘velvet’ on antlers is actually skin and hair that contain blood vessels that help the antler grow. In the spring, when the antlers are fully grown, the blood supply is cut off at the base of the antler, causing the ‘velvet’ to die and drop off, revealing the bony antlers beneath.

The wet and windy weather on Friday saw a marked increase in Pintail numbers as they took advantage of newly flooded ‘flashes’ on some of the fields. A count revealed 388 individuals. Also recorded in these new wet areas were 30 Redshank and 4 Little Egret.

Little Egret.  Photo credit:  Paul Chesterfield.

Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden