With the wonderful weather we've had over the past few days, things have been busy down here at the reserve. Although the weather may have cooled down the bird action certainly hasn't with this morning bringing with it some brilliant views of a female marsh harrier and a male hen harrier, both from the comfort of the reception hide.
This past weekend brought with it the first cuckoo sighting of the year and a stunning drake garganey showed well on the main scrape for most of saturday. The common terns have also arrived on the reserve with reports everyday since sunday and the avocets have well and truly settled in again this year with around 25 nesting on the reserve. Away from the water, the warblers have been in fine voice, as anyone on one of our successful early morning walks over the weekend will be able to verify. Sedge warbler, reed warbler, blackcap, grasshopper warbler, and common whitethroat have all been seen or heard.
The bluebells are out in the woodland and anyone wanting to get the best out of the woodland should grab themselves a place on our guided walk on Saturday the 18th May at 10am. By popular demand there will also be another dawn chorus walk on Sunday 19th May at 5am. Booking for these is essential so pop down or give us a ring on 0151 353 8478 to get a place. Full details: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/d/dee-burtonmerewetlands/events.aspx
Elsewhere on the estuary the marsh at Parkgate is beginning to recover from the damage caused by the fire 4 weeks ago. Hopefully our wardening scheme will prevent any further incidents and the habitat can fully recover.
Finally, in matters more pedestrian, the A540 will be closed on Sunday 12th May from 9am till late morning between the A5117 to the Two Mills junction, there should be a diversion in place but getting here from that direction may take a bit longer.
No doubt many of you are already aware of what happened on Sunday afternoon, but for those who are not so local I’m sure you’ll be saddened by the news that a large area of the saltmarsh on the estuary went up in flames. Staff and volunteers from the reserve joined firefighters in a bid to tackle the blaze, which destroyed the habitat of nesting birds and wildlife.
The fire, which police believe was started deliberately, spread across Neston Reedbed and Parkgate Marsh, causing damage to the reserve and a number of residents’ garden fences. Fortunately no-one was injured in the blaze, however the incident has raised repeated safety concerns from RSPB staff as arson attacks on the site have been an ongoing problem for a number of years.
Our Site Manager, Colin Wells, said: “There is a team of volunteers who warden the area in the evenings to try and discourage people from starting fires, which has successfully prevented any for a few years, but sadly not this year. We are concerned this could lead to a more serious accident.”
The fire has had a damaging impact on local wildlife, particularly harvest mice, as many may have been killed in the blaze. Colin said: “The last few weeks have been dry and combined with a cold easterly wind, the vegetation on the marsh has dried out, which meant the fire spread quickly."
“The harvest mice will have lost their habitat and many of them may have been injured or killed. The area is an important breeding ground for birds such as reed warblers, reed buntings and water rail. Fortunately, due to the recent weather, few birds have nested yet but they will have lost their nesting areas. This loss of habitat is devastating.”
Despite the fire, there is still a significant area of reedbed remaining and we will continue our wardening scheme through the Spring to ensure no further incidents arise. Police are treating the fire as a potential arson case. Anyone with any information is asked to call Ellesmere Port and Neston Neighbourhood Policing Team on 0845 458 6373.
We would like to thank everyone for their support over the last two days and we will keep you updated with any further developments as they happen.
I have a day in the office so I thought I would use my time wisely by writing to you all J
Our tenant farmer and his shepherd are lambing at full pelt now down at Burton Marsh Farm. The sheds are full and the vet students have arrived to gain work experience and to help. Lambing occurs indoors here due to the obvious hazards that the sheep and lambs would have to face if lambed on the marsh – weather not included!! Once the lambs are a few days old and the ewes are showing they have enough milk and common sense to look after their babies they will be turned out in to the fields. You may therefore notice that there are only 600 or so sheep currently on the marsh; they will lamb next year.
The last couple of months have seen some pretty big tides on the marsh and volunteers have helped myself and the shepherd bring the sheep in. This is no easy task, especially last week when the snow had obliterated all of the paths meaning that neither the sheep nor we knew which way to go! A big thanks to our budding shepherds and shepherdesses Les, Roy, Greg, Simon and Rachel. Rachel really did get stuck in and was soon helping sort and identify sheep with us in the pens.
Those of you who have been down to Burton Point recently will have seen that there is a brand spanking new boardwalk crossing the MOD ranges allowing you to walk to Wales! There are some excellent birding spots from the railway embankment across the border pool and the back of IMF2 which are well worth visiting. I am going to bring my bike to work one day to try it out at lunch time! The first wheatears have been spotted along the marsh road along with pairing up stone chats and the short eared owl can still be spotted.
New fences have been going up everywhere too, around Burton Point and along Chapel Field. We are soon to fence the fields by the farm itself to complete the good image of tidy fences! I can’t wait to see how our hedge turns out this spring and in years to come. With the help of the Wirral Countryside Volunteers we have laid about 100m alongside Chapel Field. It was a tough hedge to do due to its age making the wood very brittle and not easy to bend!
The month sees the start of our survey season. I love it J Birds singing on a beautiful early morning really is a perk of the job. We will also be writing up our annual reports for the Mersey and Dee Estuary summing up our achievements and bird numbers for the last year. It is also time to update our management plan. This is only done every 5 years so is a BIG task.
Take care and see you soon, Rhian
Needless to say, Rhian's excited proclamation - upon the arrival of our first avocet of the year in mid-February - that spring was here, was a little premature. Since then we've had plenty more snow flurries, frozen pools and lots of gratitude for the stove in our reception hide. However, we've had a number of good sightings to please those who have braved the weather.
That first avocet quickly moved on, but ten days ago we had three fresh arrivals, gradually growing in number to the eleven we have today; making themselves at home on the main scrape, hopefully preparing to nest on the same "avocet island" as last year. In amongst the usual wintering waders were a handful of spotted redshank for much of the past two months, along with two to three hundred golden plover, not a common sight here on the Dee Estuary.
One of our keen-eyed regular visitors picked up a solitary corn bunting in a mixed flock of winter finches and reed buntings making the most of our sacrificial seed crop a short distance from the reception hide. The lesser scaup which had been picked up on pools around the south end of the estuary for weeks made a brief appearance at Burton Mere Wetlands, mingling with the tufted duck on the reception pool.
After widespread disappointment that we'd not had a bittern this winter, a couple of reliable sources have reported brief glimpses in the reedbed from Marsh Covert hide - will it stick around for the summer and how long until we hear one booming?! Visitors to the Inner Marsh Farm hide last wednesday were treated to this winter's first sighting of a green-winged teal, along with a Cetti's warbler perched on a bulrush in front of the hide. Today, that side of the reserve has had reports of a single ruff on passage (or will we be lucky enough to see courtship behaviour again like last year?).
Soon we'll bid farewell to our winter flocks, and the iconic short-eared owls and hen harriers will leave our marshes for their higher breeding grounds; a worrying time for the latter, after their pitiful recent breeding success, we must hope that the increased efforts of the RSPB to protect them on the heather moorlands will begin to make a difference.
For daily updates on sightings at the RSPB Dee Estuary reserve and all around the Wirral and north-east Wales, visit http://www.deeestuary.co.uk/index.html
Soon nearly 8 million seabirds return to their breeding grounds on the UK’s coast and our seas will be alive with squabbling guillemots, groaning puffins and graceful fulmars.
Whilst not a truly coastal reserve, the Dee Estuary is home to a sizeable black-headed gull colony and a variety of tern species including the increasingly threatened little tern, making it a fantastic example of how faithful seabirds are to the sites they use every year. Thankfully many of our seabird colonies on land are protected from damaging human activities; however the important areas that these birds use at sea are not.
It’s a sad truth that this story is the same all around the UK - seabirds' nest sites are currently protected, but as soon as they leave the shore to hunt for food for themselves and their chicks, they face threats such as entanglement in fishing nets and disturbance from offshore developments in unprotected waters.
I’d like to thank everyone who Stepped Up for Nature and signed our Marine Pledge. In November 2011, thanks to your support, we were able to hand-in over 50,000 signatures to Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon and show the UK Government that many people care about marine wildlife including the fate of our seabirds.
But we must ask you to take further action.
In September 2011, 127 Marine Conservation Zones in English waters were recommended by a wide range of stakeholders for consultation. Hilbre Island, sitting in the mouth of the Dee Estuary, is itself one of the recommended Marine Conservation Zones thanks to its important geology and habitats for marine life. However the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) only intend to take less than a quarter of these forward for designation. What’s more, seabirds and other species such as basking sharks and dolphins will not be given any protection by these Marine Conservation Zones.
What you can do to help:
Click on our e-action now to let Defra know that that they need to implement a network of Marine Conservation Zones, which offers full and comprehensive protection for all our marine wildlife, including seabirds, without further delay. Why not also add a personal flavour to your e-mail by describing why the UK coast is so special to you and why our marine environment needs protecting.