Did you know the average garden has over 2000 species of insects? That’s 2000 little creepy, crawling critters sneaking through the undergrowth!
That’s 2000 more than I’d like anywhere near me!
Gosh I hate bugs. Always hated bugs. They just make my skin crawl! It’s something about the extra legs and beady little eyes but even I can’t deny the importance of insects nor how special some of them can really be. For all they make me squirm some insects really are beautiful … from a distance ... away from me.
Photo: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
Mersehead is full of invertebrates (that’s all the animals missing a backbone!). We have all the usual suspects. Bumble Bees commute regularly to both the Visitor Centre and Sulwath Gardens accompanied by the odd Lady Birds, Cinnabar Moths and Red Admiral Butterflies. Out on the Merse and in the wild grasses there are Cinnabar Moths and Frog Hoppers whilst there’s no end of Shield Bugs, Common Dragonflies, Ground Beetles and Centipedes all over the reserve!
Photo Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Insects can be found crowding everywhere from the sand dunes to the marshes, which is a good thing for our birds! During the breeding season for example a Blue Tits twelve odd fledglings require a staggering 1440 caterpillars a day between them! Imagine your Mum having to buy 1440 burgers each day to feed you!
What makes Mersehead really special though are the oddities you find on the site. Not necessarily rare or even scarce but the little things you maybe wouldn’t see on your average day out! This month I’ve been treated to a Gold Ringed Dragonfly and an Elephant Hawk Moth! They were beautiful, elegant and surprisingly friendly as the Elephant Hawk Moth would sit quite happily on your chest! With its Rhubarb coloured wings, I could see why Victorians wore them as brooches. For me it was quite an unusual accessory to go with the RSPB blue that day!
You can get close and personal with all sorts of insects at Mersehead. The best introduction though is at the monthly Mocha and Moths event! This week Kirsty introduced me to all sorts of moths caught out on the trap. She even got me holding – after a lot of protesting – some of the moths! It’s a great event to go to if you’re looking for a mini introduction to some surprisingly cute invertebrates!
I may still not be a fan of bugs but I suppose I’ll give the moths a shot.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a fan of an early morning. So at 5 to 6 in the morning - an hour late - I fell out of bed, donned my beloved bobble hat and peddled up the road to the Media hide to join in this week’s Bird Ringing survey.
(Robin, Photo Credit Jennifer McDougall)
Along the woodland walk and the reed beds just beyond a large string of nets had been erected. They were tied up to trees with what appeared to be all the string in the known universe and invisible to birds (and sleepy volunteer) eyes. The team were set up and ready to catch in HQ Media where a pop up research station had been set up with wing rulers, scales and rings all ready to go.
(A two weekish old Wren, now lovingly named “Poo-zilla”, Photo credit Kirsty Griffiths)
The process was easy enough with the net checked at regular intervals and birds gently released into a cotton bag in order to keep them calm and relaxed during transport. Each bird was recorded under its species, measured, weighted, sexed and aged before being released.
(Photo Credits Martin Edgson)
By participating on Mersehead in bird ringing surveys it allows for a vast, detailed record of individual species to be complied as the years go by. Where a listening and visual survey may give us the gist of what’s about and a little information about it, bird ringing opens up a wealth of potential in studying much finer details about each species. By seeing the bird up close we can sex them, see if it’s brooding and check the age, each of which helps inform us about the species in that areas nesting habits and survival rates.
(Left: Tree Creeper, Right: Coal Tit Photo Credit Jennifer McDougall)
It was a fantastic morning and a great opportunity to pick some expert brains on all things birds. We recorded and rung Blackcaps, a few nippy Blackbirds and a Tree Creeper (definitely a new favourite bird) but the bird that stole the show was undoubtedly the Greater Spotted Woodpecker. A beautiful bird with the most vivid red feathers I think I’ve ever seen I felt absolutely privileged ... to let someone else hold it as there was no way I was letting it poke holes in me.
What I mean is it was a lovely, well behaved bird. It wasn’t an absolutely grump at all...
(Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Photo Credit Jennifer McDougall)
(Bluetit, photo credit Martin Edgson)
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)