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  • Secrets of Mersehead

    Mersehead is full of secret spots and great hideaways where you can relax, take a breath and really get close to the wildlife. Today we’re discussing a not so secret one; we’re taking a closer look at the Bird Feeders in the Visitor Centre garden!

    In the back of the visitors centre, beyond the windows is a perfect example of a paradise for nature. Flanked by two deadwood trees it’s a flourish of different flowers, hidey holes and little homes for insects all designed to show off a real, achievable home for nature that can be done from the comfort of your own little garden!

    The showstopper comes in the form of two, plain ol’ feeders perched on those deadwood trees which attract a wealth of garden birds, some of which you may have never seen before!

    Close to the windows and the perfect viewing distance from two – very comfy – sofas the birds dart back and forth without a care in the world to the viewing public only a few feet away! The two feeders are of varying sizes in order to allow a number of birds to visit at any one time and are filled first thing in the morning using a mix of seed which makes sure to cater to almost any visiting bird. A little extra is scattered across the nearby logs and ground to treat any of the birds that prefer to hop rather than hover and then the feeding frenzy begins

    Tree Sparrow, Photo Credit Oliver Smart Right: House Sparrow, Photo Credit Ray Kennedy)                              

    First into the fray are the Sparrows. The House Sparrows are straight to the feeders, usually in pairs followed by the cheeky little Tree Sparrows, chasing each other out the way. The Tree sparrows have a more chestnut head compared to the house sparrow and a black check spot either side 

    (Left: Greenfinch, Right: Goldfinch, Photo Credit Jennifer McDougall)

    The Finches are next, both Gold and Green and although it’s the green ones that look grumpy as sin it’s the Goldfinches that have a mean streak! They’ll nip at the other bird’s tails and scare them away! 

    (Left: Blue Tit, Right: Great Tit, Photo Credit Jennifer McDougall)

    The Tits fill the gaps, sneaking back and forth, patiently waiting for a space to appear so they can grab lunch and dart away. 

    (Yellowhammer and Chaffinch, Photo Credit Mike Lane)

    All the while the Chaffinches hop back and forth hoovering up anything that drops from the feeders, mixing with the Dunnocks and the beautifully bright Yellowhammers. The Pheasants are also regular visitors, strutting their way through the flowers and are sometimes joined by Blackbirds, Jackdaws and the odd nosey pigeon. It is busy busy busy all day!

    The only time our feeding station ever sits empty is when there’s a hungry bird of prey prowling! Sparrow Hawks sometimes take a sneaky dive at the station hoping to pluck a distracted bird from its dinner! You can always tell when the Sparrow Hawks on his way when there’s a frightened squeak from the Oyster Catchers across the pond and a flutter of wings, he soars right past the window with lunch in his talons!

    Sparrowhawk, Photo Credit Steve Knell)

    The feeders provide a great all day spectacle and there’s rarely a moment the feeding station sits empty. So whether you’re taking a moment to rest after exploring the trails, catching up with a few garden favourites or warming up with a spot of tea, the Visitor Centre garden is worth a sneaky peak!

    Even if some of the birds do look a little grumpy!

    (A very grumpy Greenfinch, Photo Credit Jennifer McDougall)


    Jennifer McDougall

    Residential Volunteer


  • Get your wellies on! This week is all about the waders and waddlers

    When I first heard the term “waders” I pictured an odd variety of birds that spent their time trudging through sludgy river banks and reed filled ponds. Turns out they’re a mixed bunch including the dancing Lapwings, shy Shelduck and the downright ridiculous looking Curlew. 

     The term wading bird describes a range of species in all different sizes, shapes and colours but share several physical characteristics. Firstly they have long thin legs with agile toes to help keep their balance in wet areas. Secondly they have long thin bills often with specialised shapes to help them forage and finally long agile necks with powerful muscles to help them hunt. 

     (Photo credit Andy Hay)


    Mersehead is absolute full of wading birds! Which means it was another week of early starts for the Mersehead staff as we got down to surveying them.

    At the crack of dawn we were up and out. Binoculars ready with a clip board, map and pen – the equipment is always surprisingly simple! – we set to task.  By walking along the sites surveyed in pairs, keeping an ear open and eyes on the ground the birds can be fairly easy to spot. They’re recorded in their numbers as individuals or possible pairs and regularly listed as to whether they are nesting, displaying or just making a racket. As with all surveys we set out with a task in mind of keeping record of the numbers and activities of bird species, to help towards monitoring and protection.

     I personally set out with a mind not to fall into a creek again.

     If you ask me, Oystercatchers are a tad spooky looking (Photo credit Andy Hay)

    In all it was a successful week of surveying with a wealth of birds spotted and recorded! At both Mersehead and partnering sites we recorded a multitude of Shelduck, Mallard, Lapwings and Oyster Catchers, a few Redshanks, a pair of Tufted Duck AND we even spotted a Curlew nesting!

    It’s always worth a trip to see our wading birds. Whether you’re a fan of the impressive soaring Lapwings or a follower of silly waddling ducks (I know I am!) there’s plenty making their home at Mersehead.

    Keep your binoculars ready at the hides and on the Merse. You never know what you might see!



    Residential Volunteer

  • Lapwings galore

    Ignore the drizzle and the drab because spring is truly in the air! The Lapwing chicks, our new favourite little bundles of fluff have come out to play!

    Though this wee fella seems to be doing more snoozing then play!- Photo credit Eric Neilson


    The first three were spotted – finally! - late last week and since then we’re now up to a grand total of 9 Lapwing chicks at Mersehead. There’s sure to be more hiding away and another brood on the way with at least one other mother resting patiently on her brood. It’s looking to be a busy nesting season for the Mersehead Lapwings!

    Lapwings typically would be found nesting on farms in amongst the sown seeds or swooping over ploughed fields and although found all over Britain are, in fact, considered endangered. At risk from habitat loss, predation and even heavy rain drowning out nests it’s been a hard knock life for them.

    At Mersehead they have a much easier time nesting within the safety of Scotland’s only anti predator fencing! Designed in order to discourage any mammals looking for a scrambled egg breakfast it protects the Lapwings during nesting, brooding and the chicks when they hatch and feed. In the relative safety of the site we hope to see a great increase in the number of adults raised from within the fence and surrounding area where some adults have braved to nest. In fact, we’ve already seen an increase in the number of adults returning to the site! Lapwings are very loyal to good breeding sites and will return year on year to somewhere they feel is safe for them and their little balls of joy.

    Seriously, have you seen a Lapwing chick? It’s a ridiculous ball of adorableness on stilts- photo credit Chris Knight

    If you get a chance to pop down to Mersehead keep your eyes peeled for the chicks, they’re tiddly, but the adults are not subtle and have a great give away to help you spot them. Watch out for them behind the Visitors Centre, swooping low to the floor over and over again near shallow pools of water. Calling all the while with a “Peeeewit!” they’ll be busy herding the chicks to the waters edge to feed.

    Keep a good watch! It’s worth the wait to see them.

    Photo credit Eric Neilson