At the start of the week there were mutterings that Spring was slowly starting to arrive, with snowdrops popping through, catkins appearing and birds stretching their vocal chords. However, as most will have noticed, the cold weather returned midweek with the first real snowfall of the winter for the area. This produced the aptly named Snow Bunting on the 29th flying along the beach and landing somewhere on the reserve and not relocated.
Being on the coast we didn’t get as much snow lying on our land but the deeper snow just inland has pushed 100’s of birds down to the coast. There was a noticeable increase in Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Redwing and Fieldfare feeding in almost snow free fields and also flying west along the coastline. A morning winter passerine survey on the 30th produced 405 Skylark (300 more than a week ago), 80 Reed Buntings, 100 Linnet, 20 Yellowhammer, and 150 Meadow Pipit.
Flock of Twite with single Linnet and Goldfinch (Photo Credit: Gavin Chambers)
Other sightings have included the elusive Otter along Rainbow Lane, ringtail Hen Harrier over reedbed, Peregrine causing mayhem, Twite feeding along strandline and a couple of Mistle Thrush in fields along main track.
Brief glimpses of a Water Rail caught on a camera trap at Mersehead.
Any visitors to the hides at Mersehead over the last few days will have noticed the wetland is more of an ice sheet at the moment. With the vast majority of the open water covered with a layer of ice the ducks have largely been forced in to the only open bit of water which is located out from the Meida hide. This has made is easier to see large numbers of pintail, teal, shoveler and a few wigeon, mallard and gadwall. Not so easy to spot is the green winged teal amongst the hordes of native teal but with a scope and a bit of patience you stand a good chance of picking it out. With so many mouths to feed and so little space to go round it is not surprising that many of the pintail, teal and other ducks are also making use of the wet grassland and stubble fields just beyond the woodland strip.
Wigeon - Photo credit: John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
As you approach the Meida hide, just prior to the access ramp, a water rail has often been heard producing its distinctive squeal like alarm call and has even been seen by a fortunate few. Also near this spot is a tree to the left of the hide with a bird box on the trunk, near the top of the trunk is a very neat looking hole. Around dusk a number of wrens have been seen flying in to this hole to communally roost. It is not clear how many there are using this hole but it could easily be in double figures. As one of the smallest birds in the UK it is not surprising that these normally very territorial birds will huddle up together in confined spaces to share body heat in the colder months and often make use of bird boxes for this purpose. Amazingly a record breaking 63 wrens have been recording sharing a single bird box!
Wren - Photo credit: John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Other sightings in the narrow strip of woodland leading to the Meida hide include a goldcrest and a flock of long-tailed tits. Elsewhere there have been around 250 linnet recorded during a survey of the reserve in various flocks, 2 male bullfinches outside the Sulwath centre, 2 little egrets in the fields near the beach, stonechat and reed bunting on rainbow lane and mistle thrush in the field to the south of the path between the Sulwath centre and woodland.
From the visitor centre there has been the usual myriad of chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, dunnock, yellowhammer, blackbird, tree sparrow, house sparrow, blue tit, great tit, coal tit and pheasant.
This coming weekend is of course Big Garden Bird Watch weekend, one of the world's largest citizen science projects. For more information click here
In the last week we seem to have been constantly battered by storms, peaking on Thursday (15th). Heavy rain and hailstorms have caused water levels to rise considerably meaning the access road has been flooded and several fields are now saturated. Thankfully we have not witnessed the same scenes as last January when tidal surges caused major flooding and destroyed a lot of the sand dunes.
It’s not been the nicest of weeks to be out and about, however the birds generally don’t seem to mind too much. They may try and find a sheltered area to sit the storms out but they must also continue to find food. Ducks love shallow muddy water to feed in and the recent rain has created some great feeding opportunities in the form of flooded fields full of winter crops. 100’s of Teal and Pintail have been taking advantage of this along with many Mallard, Wigeon and the many Barnacle Geese on the reserve.
Ruff (Photo Credit: Gavin Chambers)
A Ruff was discovered last weekend (10th) in a field along Rainbow Lane feeding among 500 Lapwing, 3 Redshank and 11 Dunlin and has been present all week. Ruff generally tend to be seen during the Spring and Autumn migration with a few remaining through the winter and more often than not associating with Lapwing. A Little Egret has been seen a couple of times over the last few weeks, last seen flying off the merse on the 13th.
Other sightings have included a Merlin chasing Skylarks, 12 Stock Doves feeding in wild bird cover, a few Goldcrest along hedgerows and a small flock of around 10 Long-tailed Tits flitting around the woodlands. Water Rail have been quite vocal around the Meida Hide in flooded areas of woodland, though as yet they have not been seen!
Some of you may have seen on our Facebook page that a series of anagrams have been put out on the reserve. The first of these anagrams was posted on the page and now is time to reveal the second anagram. To make it slightly trickier I’ve not removed the snow, though I will tell you that the answer is 2 words.
Big Garden Birdwatch 2015
As many of you will know next weekend is the Big Garden Birdwatch. For details on how to take part in this survey along with thousands of other people across the UK, click HERE. Here at Mersehead we are running a couple of events related to watching birds in the garden.
On the 24th January there is a Garden Bird Identification Course where you will be able to learn more about your typical garden birds and more importantly how to best identify them.
On the 25th January we have a Help Feed the Birds event where you will be able to make your own bird food and learn about what birds would like to feed on in your garden.