Mersehead Recent Sightings 3rd – 9th August 2019

Sitting in the hides at Mersehead you may wonder where all the water has gone especially with the recent torrential rainfall. To provide the best breeding and wintering conditions for a variety of wildlife, wet grassland must be actively managed. If left alone, succession will occur; grassland becomes dominated by taller, courser species such as rush, which then succeeds to scrub and eventually you would be looking out onto woodland. To halt this succession, we lower our water levels every summer. This allows cattle to graze the fields to reduce the vegetation length creating ideal feeding conditions for wintering wildfowl such as wigeon. Breaking up areas of dense rush by mechanically cutting will attract breeding waders such as Lapwing in the spring. There are other benefits to drying out wetlands too; if water remains throughout the summer, higher temperatures allow bacteria to flourish which can cause the soil to become anaerobic (no oxygen) and toxic. Plants and invertebrates are unable to survive in these conditions, which is bad news for the ducks and waders that feed on them.

View from Media Hide: Photo credit. Andy Hay

With temperatures having reached 23oC there have been plenty of insects on the wing during breaks from the rain showers. The butterfly transect recorded 52 Painted Lady, 36 Large White, 21 Meadow Brown, 13 Green-Veined White, 13 Peacock, 3 Wall and 2 Small Copper. The moth trap was put on last night under the garden lean-too to protect the bulb from the rain. A drop down to single figures in night-time temperatures has seen the number of species caught reduce this week with 22 species recorded. A beautiful Hedge Rustic was a new species for the year. Despite its name this is a species of open grassland and is locally common throughout most of Britain. A few other species recorded include: Flame Carpet, Antler Moth, Least Yellow Underwing, Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing and Rosy Rustic. Several dragonflies have been spotted by visitors this week with Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Four-spotted Chaser and Common Darter reported.

Hedge Rustic. Photo credit: L.Blakely

There are 225 species of Solitary bees in the UK. They are called solitary bees as they live independently with no social hierarchy. However, they can be found nesting in groups called an aggregation. Of the solitary bees, there are 7 species of Leaf-cutter bee. We found a colony nesting in the rotten wood in the gate by the Visitor Centre. The bees cut sections of leaf to use as lining in their nest; segments of leaf are rolled and overlapped to form a cylindrical cavity.

Leaf-cutter bee species. Photo credit: C.Murray

When the hay was baled three weeks ago, the bales were brought indoors but spaced apart to prevent hay combustion. After the grass is cut, the plants cells are still active and respire which produces energy and heat. If packed tightly together there is an extremely high chance the bales will catch fire. The 230 bales have now cooled down and our retired Farm Manager couldn’t resist coming back for a mornings work, stacking the bales tightly and neatly together in the hay shed. The dry grassland field at the back of the car park is now ready for the return of Svalbard Barnacle Geese.

A neat and tidy shed. Photo credit. R.Flavelle

Exciting news for the Mersehead Barn Owls this year as we have 3 fully grown chicks ready to fledge. The Kingfisher has been seen from Media Hide – look out for the flash of sapphire.

Kingfisher. Photo credit: Andy Hay

Build a super sand castle or be a creature creator and enter our Sand Creature Competition for the month of August;  Let the kids run free at Playtime in the Garden; Discover the night-time creatures of Mersehead with Bat detectors at On the Night Watch; or discover what Mersehead has to offer on a guided Summer Discovery Walk.

Rowena Flavelle – Mersehead Warden