Regular followers of our Facebook page will be aware of the solitary scaup that has been hanging around outside the Meida hide as well as a recently found green-winged teal.
Green-winged teal are the North American equivalent of our native teal and can be identified by the vertical rather than horizontal white stripe as seen below.
Green-winged teal (centre) with Eurasian teal at Mersehead in Feb 2014 (Photo Credit: Gavin Chambers)
Scaup are more commonly seen at sea but do on occasions turn up inland. They look similar to tufted ducks but the scaup's greyer looking back and lack of tuft on head are the main diagnostic features for telling them apart.
Moulting male scaup at Mersehead. (Photo Credit: Gavin Chambers)
Other sightings from the Meida and Bruaich hides include large numbers of pintail, teal and shoveler along with gadwall, tufted duck, little grebe, grey heron, mallard, lapwing, barnacle geese, pink-footed geese, wigeon, snipe and curlew
Around the visitor centre and along the hedgerows there has been yellowhammer, reed bunting, blackbird, robin, dunnock, great tit, blue tit, chaffinch, goldfinch, coal tit, house sparrow and in the section between the visitor centre and the farm buildings there was approximately 40 tree sparrow on Monday evening
Flocks of twite ranging in number from around half a dozen to almost 50 have been seen at various points around the reserve, such as the start of the path leading to Bruaich hide, in the fields along to the strip of woodland and on the sand dunes as you wander along the beach.
Bullfinch, wren, treecreeper, long tailed tit, stonechat and goldcrest have all been seen on the circular coastal walk and on the beach itself there has been lapwing, greenshank, redshank, oystercatcher, shelduck, dunlin, ringed plover, grey plover, golden plover, cormorant and curlew.
Good numbers of starlings are still murmurating over the reedbeds around sunset and a male and ringtail hen harrier have both been spotted on a number of occasions. Juvenile and female hen harriers are jointly referred to as ringtails due to the difficulty of telling one from the other and the distinctive markings on their tail. Click here for more info.
Roe deer continue to be seen regularly around Mersehead and badger and fox have also been reported in the last few days but the most exciting mammal sighting was various reports of an otter seen in the ditch along the track heading from the Kite garden to the strip of woodland.
Barnacle Geese flying over Kirkconnell Merse, photo taken from Glencaple. (Photo Credit: Gavin Chambers)
Recent sightings from Kirkconnell Merse include a peregrine falcon, barnacle geese, wigeon, teal, mallard, goosander, cormorant, grey heron, dunlin, curlew and over 500 redshank including one leucistic redshank (image available here). Leucism is a genetic abnormality that occurs in some birds resulting in them having white patches or in some cases appearing completely white.
If visiting Mersehead keep your eyes peeled for a leucistic barnacle goose that has been seen on a number of occasions or the leucistic tree sparrow featured recently on our Facebook page!
As autumn draws to a close and winter creeps ever closer there is still plenty of colour to be seen around the reserve. Sunrise at this time of year can be particularly stunning, mixtures of fiery reds, glowing oranges and mellow yellows reflecting off low sweeping clouds can make the sky seem alive.
Sunrise at Mersehead
And of course it is around sunrise the reserve comes to life. Starlings sweep from the reed beds in large groups and head off in various directions in search of food, large flocks of barnacle geese that have spent the night roosting out on the mudflats resume their endless grazing amongst the fields, tree sparrows, linnets, finches and tits busy themselves searching for food to replenish their energy levels after long chilly nights and a multitude of ducks including pintail, shoveler, teal and wigeon can be seen on the open water in front of the hides.
Throughout the day yellowhammer, chaffinch and the occasional bullfinch add to the variety of colour in the hedgerows, lapwing, snipe and curlew patrol the wet fields, probing the soft soils with their bills, great spotted woodpecker and goldcrest are sporadically seen in the woodlands and small flocks of twite along with infrequent stonechats can be seen as you walk along the trails.
As the day draws to an end and the sun begins to set over the Solway, once again providing stunning visual displays, the majority of birds begin to settle back down for the night and as the starling’s murmurate over the reedbeds they are often joined by a sparrowhawk searching for a late night meal.
Sunset at Mersehead
Badger and fox often appear around dusk, and at this time of year we are taking the opportunity to carry out maintenance and improvement work on our predator proof fences in readiness for next spring. Other maintenance work going on around the reserve currently is the removal of excessive growth of willow in unwanted areas and the thinning of scrub along some of the dunes to improve the habitat for specialised plants and the creatures that rely upon these areas, such as the rare natterjack toad which our Events and Learning Officer, Kirsty Griffiths was recently interviewed about by Ray Mears on ITV (Follow the link here to see it if you missed it first time around)
A recent survey of geese recorded just under 4,200 barnacle geese around Mersehead and West Preston.
Other recent sightings include goldeneye, black-tailed godwit, scaup, hen harrier, moorhen, mute swan, little grebe, redshank and kingfisher from the hides, fieldfare, redwing, blackbird, heron and buzzard from various locations around the reserve and from the feeding station at the visitor centre there has been great tit, blue tit, coal tit, chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, house sparrow, tree sparrow, yellowhammer, dunnock, pheasant and robin.
If you are planning a visit to Mersehead in the near future be sure to check out our upcoming events by clicking here . We have a Christmas Crafts event on 30th November, an Optics, Bird Feed and Bird Care event on 6th & 7th December and a Mulled Wine and Geese event on 13th & 17th December
Having spent the summer working at RSPB Lake Vyrnwy I decided to come back to Mersehead for my second winter as a residential volunteer. Arriving in mid-October I found a wetland covered in wildfowl and fields littered with Barnacle Geese. I spent my first few hours on the reserve sitting in the Bruaich Hide as the sun went down, listening to the amazing variety of wetland bird sounds. The surprise of the evening was the arrival of a pair of Mandarin Ducks in the gloom.
Raptors have been very prominent recently with a stunning male Hen Harrier regularly seen over the wetland with the occasional sighting of a ringtail. Merlin, Kestrel and Peregrine are seen infrequently with Sparrowhawk and Buzzard being more frequent. In the past week a juvenile Goshawk has been seen harassing the sizeable Starling roost which has been coming into the reedbed outside the Meida Hide.
Waders have included a Green Sandpiper, Greenshank, 2 Black-tailed Godwits and a regular flock of a few hundred Lapwing on the wetland.
Starling murmuration on 5th November
One of the biggest questions with Starling murmurations is – How Many? Why not give it a go yourself, try and estimate the number of Starlings in the above image. Feel free to comment with your estimate on this blog or on our Facebook page and the answer will be revealed soon.
One of my roles this winter is to take on a number of bird surveys which are generally conducted on a weekly basis.
On my first day of work I conducted the national Wetlands Bird Survey (WeBS) which is designed to count ducks, geese, waders and other typical wetland bird species once a month, usually around the highest tide of the month. With slight thanks to the Sparrowhawk which spooked all ducks out of the long grass I managed to count:
1090 Teal, 150 Wigeon, 86 Mallard, 48 Pintail, 24 Shoveler, 112 Canada Geese, 6724 Barnacle Geese, 7 Whooper Swan, 3 Mute Swan, 3 Little Grebe, 70 Lapwing.
Duck taking evasive action against juvenile Peregrine
A reserve Barnacle Goose count is conducted at least once a week and a co-ordinated Barnacle Goose count is conducted in unison with other counters around the Solway on a regular basis. Reserve counts have generally been between up to 4000, with a peak of 6724 during the monthly WeBS. This figure also represents the typical count for the general area during the co-ordinated count, with the Solway as a whole having around 31000 birds.
Barnacle Goose - Green DPT (photo taken in March 2014)
A small proportion of the Barnacle Geese have been ringed given Darvic leg rings (coloured ring with 2/3 letter code). Most have been ringed during the breeding season in Svalbard with others ringed here at Mersehead and also WWT Caerlaverock. So far this winter the oldest known bird seen on the reserve is Green DPT, which was ringed in Svalbard on 12 July 1994 as a 1 year old male.
Winter Passerine Survey
A count of Winter Passerines (generally finches & buntings) is conducted each week and aims to see what and how many birds are using areas of wild bird cover which has been specially planted for wintering birds. In the last month species peak counts have included 23 Tree Sparrow, 22 Yellowhammer, 44 Reed Bunting, 21 Twite and 137 Linnet.
So that’s part of my life at Mersehead as a residential volunteer, however it’s not all birdwatching!!
Starling Count: Despite saying 'Never Again' after counting the murmuration last winter I decided to give it another go with the photo in this post. Below is the pointillism artwork and the final count came out as 8688!!