A few not-so-subtle changes have occured in the past week or two as the first summer visitors have arrived whilst most of the winter stayers have left.
Several unmistakable sounds were noticed as I opened up the reserve this morning, firstly at least 3 chiffchaffs were singing - and yes that distinctive two-note onomatopoeic song, is their version of a song, not all warblers could top the pops.
The second noticeable new sound was the loud, piping "kloop, kloop, klup" emanating from the main scrape, this to the trained ear is the unmistakable sound of the RSPB's logo bird, the avocet. Currently at least 10 of these elegant pied wading birds are present, hopefully at least a few of these will attempt to breed. They can have no reason for not doing so as we have worked hard in completing a predator-proof fence around the new scrape, we've done our bit now will they keep their end of the bargain?
Thirdly and probably the least subtle change is the noisy presence of dozens of black-headed gulls that have suddenly acquired their brown hoodies and are very interested in one or two of the islands on the new scrape.
Not all the changes are that easy to see however, and a careful eye is needed to spot perhaps our smallest regular wading bird. A close inspection around the edges of the islands and scrape should be rewarded with views of a little ringed plover which turned up on Friday. These tiny waders have only recently colonised our parts and can be hard to distinguish from the slightly larger ringed plover. Good things to look for are the prominent bright-yellow eye-ring, dark bill (orange on ringed plover) and duller legs (bright orange on ringed plover) as well as one or two other more subtle differences in plumage. Hopefully our single bird will be joined by a mate and in the next few weeks.
With the weather brightening up what reason have you got for not coming and seeing these birds and others as they arrive from their long migrations? In the next month we expect sand and house martins, swallows and willow warblers amongst others to arrive and breed. And if you don't want to drive miles to see osprey then their is always a chance to see one or two pass through on their way even further north.
Recent SIghtings (all Burton Mere Wetlands unless otherwise stated) : Marsh Harrier, Blackcap, Black-tailed godwit (x100), Spotted Redshank (x6), Greenshank, Spoonbill (more regularly seen at Parkgate), Hen Harrier (another two at Parkgate), Wheatear (five at Burton Point), PInk-footed Geese (x800).
It has been a long time since I had the time to sit down and update what we have been up to on the practical side of things! Sorry!
You may have seen me this afternoon mowing half of the sacrificial crop – destructive as it may look there is a good reason for it! We mow it now before birds begin to breed in it so that we can plough it and re-sow it in a couple of months to grow more crops full of seed for wintering farmland birds.
What have we been doing since Christmas you may wonder.... well it all began with a bit more wall demolishing! Don’t worry though, the contractors have very nearly finished re constructing it. We then got stuck in to clearing the rhododendron growing in Gorse Covert along the track down to Burton Mere Wetlands. This was a very satisfying job – especially eating baked potatoes fresh out of the fire we created burning the cuttings! We have planted 5 oak and 3 rowan in the space created.
We then got down to fencing along the path to the bunker hide with the help of our contractor Stewart Sim – I challenge you to find a kink in that straight fence line!! The following week a full team was at work on the Monday and Tuesday (Valentine’s Day) planting 850 hedging plants. A mixture of hawthorn, blackthorn, gorse and dog rose were planted around the car park to prevent people from wandering off the paths; whilst hazel, crab apple, rowan and honey suckle were also added to the mix where proper hedges were planted.
Next week we have some early bird volunteers coming to help us erect the temporary predator proof fence in front of the reception hide. This will close off, the area known as IMF2 and deter predators from entering it,resulting hopefully in a successful year for breeding lapwing, yellow wagtails, oystercatcher, little ringed plover and maybe even avocet...... It is a 7am start to reduce disturbance to any bird watchers who come once the reserve is open.
Come end of March our tenant farmer will begin his second lot of lambing. I will keep you updated as to how it goes.
I’m sure I will see some of you this weekend, Rhian
With exactly one week to go before our first Parkgate high tide event of the year, there is much excitement in the air as numerous phonecalls, emails and enquiries begin to ask the familiar old questions. Where is the best place to go? What is the best time to be there? What is the best day to come? Will the tide come all the way in?
The answer is that even we don't really know the answers and isn't that just the best thing about nature, that even we cannot with all our modern technology and experience predict exactly what, where and when.
The only thing we can say with some conviction is that if you are not there and the tide does come in rapidly then you will definatley miss out on arguably the best wildlife spectacle in the North.
For those of you who have not been before then this is probably the only time that the layman can see the true value of protecting such a vast wilderness as hundreds of small mammals and thousands of birds flee the incoming waters (NB for the lovers of tooth and claw nature, this fleeing wildlife spectacle obvioulsy attracts the attention of the local predators such as short-eared owls, hen harriers and foxes).
If you have never seen a brown hare swimming, a water rail taking refuge in a back pack nor a skylark taking cover in a car then get yourself down to the Old Baths car park, Parkgate, just a few hundered metres from the Boathouse Pub. RSPB Staff and Volunteers will be on hand with telescopes to explain all the shenanigans on the following days:
Friday 9th March, Saturday 10th March, Sunday 11th March
All events start at 9am for us and the hardened birdwatchers but feel free to pop along anytime until early afternoon.
Further Info - http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-301081 or phone 0151 353 8478/336 7681