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  • WeBS

    Mersehead Recent Sightings 17th – 23rd September

    Autumn has arrived and that means that the Wetland Bird Surveys (WeBS) start again at Mersehead and Kirkconnell Merse. At 296ha Kirkconnell Merse is one of the largest expanses of saltmarsh habitat in Scotland.  The best place to view the reserve is from the quay at Glencaple looking across the River Nith.  A footpath winds its way along the eastern side of the river heading north from Glencaple towards Dumfries.  The first WeBS at Kirkconnell was a great success with 1253 lapwing, 764 redshank (including 1 albino) and 101 curlew recorded feeding on the mudbanks of the river.  A lone dunlin still in full summer plumage and 1 greenshank were also spotted. Red-breasted merganser are often seen floating along the river, this week we counted 21.  A total of 14 grey heron spread along the river bank concludes the highlights from the count.

    Adding to the autumnal feeling is the arrival of the pink-footed geese.  In last week’s sightings Jonathan reported that a handful had been spotted on the wetlands.  This week the numbers have grown and 660 have been counted feeding in front of Bruiach hide.  Each morning small skeins of pink-footed geese are seen in the distance over the cliffs at Portling, flying towards Mershead and then whiffling onto the wetlands to feed.

     Photo credit: A.Hay

    Last Saturday, the oats were harvested and the straw has since been baled and stored in the shed. This has created a fantastic overwinter stubble habitat for farmland birds.  Walking across the stubble on Wednesday the field erupted with skylark, there were so many I did not even get the chance to count them all.  Now that the oats have been harvested, we can start to increase the amount of water on the wetlands (a ditch runs along the side of the oats field channeling water from the wetlands to the pool in front of the Visitor Centre; we could not allow the water levels to be too high or the combine might have got stuck).  Never the less the wetlands are looking fantastic as the Mershead WeBS count proved.  Three species of goose were present with 105 pink-footed, 74 canada and 18 greylag recorded. Teal numbers have increased to 750, along with 114 mallard, 34 shoveler, and 12 wigeon.  The first 2 pintail of the season were seen too. Lapwing numbers on the wetlands have been good with 720 counted.  On leaving Media hide after counting all the wildfowl a lone red admiral floated past and a chiffchaff sat watching from a branch, it’s that time of year when summer and winter overlap.

     Photo credit: A.Hay

    The high tide count found 1275 oystercatcher, 455 curlew, 5 redshank and 39 lapwing.  Snipe has been a regular sighting as they zoom through the sky.  During the WeBS count 48 snipe flew out of the dune slack along with 2 mute swan.

    Other sightings from this week are a female marsh harrier hunting over the reedbed on Wednesday afternoon.  A visitor reported spotting a green sandpiper and kingfisher from Meida hide.  A badger proudly walked across the path in front of me in broad daylight on Tuesday and pushed its way through the hedge to the polytunnel.  There has been a large increase in the amount of badger activity around the Sulwath Centre as they have started digging up the lawn in their search for juicy worms.  A family of roe deer; male, female and twins have been feeding on the wetlands just to the left of Meida hide in the mornings.


    Rowena Flavelle, Warden

  • Hot with a Wintry Feel

    Mersehead Recent Sightings 10th – 16th September

    The rising water levels around the Meida hide have been attracting a lot of wildfowl to the reserve. Yesterday morning, 680 Teal, 12 Wigeon, 34 Shoveler, 41 Canada Geese, 2 Greylag Geese and 42 Mallard were counted. Large flocks of Lapwing, around 700, have also been present soaring over the wetlands, Little Grebe and a handful of Pink-footed Geese have been reported by a visitor.  For raptors, a Peregrine has been spotted hunting in compartment 2, a Barn Owl has been seen hunting in the merse, Buzzards and Sparrowhawks have also been seen flying around the reserve.

    Photo credit: A.Hay

     A flock of at least 50 Linnet has been seen flying over the western side of the reserve, 65 snipe were also spotted flying over the reserve. Stonechat, Whitethroat and Grey Wagtail have been spotted flying near the sand dunes. Spotted Flycatcher, Reed Bunting, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Great Spotted Woodpecker were sighted in the woodland belt near the Meida hide.

    On the track between the farm and the woodland belt, visitors have reported sightings of Robin, Wren, Yellowhammer and Sedge Warbler.

    If you ventured down to the beach on Thursday you would have been greeted by the haunting calls of the Curlew as 405 were sighted. Also spotted on the beach were 50 Shelduck, 170 Dunlin and 8 Ringed Plover. 50 Meadow Pipit and 5 Wheatear were sighted flying along the beach path.  A Kestrel was also seen flying over the beach.

    Photo credit: B.Hall

    Despite the beautiful, calm and sunny conditions on Thursday, there was little activity during this week’s butterfly survey. I only spotted 9 Green-veined white and a solitary Red Admiral, although I did startle a female Roe Deer in the hay field.

    It has been a blustery week at the reserve, thankfully the winds died down during Wednesday night allowing me to set up the Robinson moth trap. The moths are attracted to the light and are deflected into the box. Moths that fly into the trap are contained by the egg cartons inside, where they settle down for the night. A total of 12 individuals and seven different species of macro moths were recorded. These included: Large Yellow Underwing, Bird Dropping Moth, Small Wainscot, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Common Marbled Carpet, Common Carpet and Rosy Rustic.

    The Starlings have been assembling on the telegraph wires outside the Visitor Centre and the Sulwath Centre. A Weasel has been spotted lurking around the feeders in the Visitor Centre garden and also beside the entrance to the Kite Garden. Badger and Fox have also been sighted on the reserve. Common Lizard and Common Darters have been seen by visitors walking the coastal trail.


    Jonathan Taylor, Residential Volunteer

  • Art at the Reserve

    Throughout this year, three artists have been taking part in the first ever artists-in-residence programme on RSPB reserves in Scotland. The scheme, which was funded by the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities, allowed artists studying for PHDs in Scotland to work with different organisations across the country.


    Through their work, all three artists have brought a new perspective to both our reserves and their wildlife, and creative ideas of how to introduce the sites to a wider audience. It’s been a fascinating experience to watch them work, and we’re looking forward to welcoming further students on the programme next year.


    Two of the artists, Catherine Weir, Roseanne Watt, were based here at Mersehead, and their work will be showcased at an event on October 1: Lunation and Every Field, A Memory. For more information visit:


    You might have seen Catherine’s blogs from earlier in the year, in which she described her work as a digital artist, and her quest to get a picture of one particular bird! If you haven’t read them, you can see them here and here


    But we thought you might also like to hear about the third artist in residence, who was based at Inversnaid in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.


     Luca Nascuiti’s a composer who uses recorded sound, often that of the sonic environment. He was interested in capturing ideas based around some of our current habitat work at the reserve, particularly the attempts to re-wild the area through the planting of trees, as part of the Great Trossachs Forest Project. He produced a two-part installation called Domestic.Green. which was on show at both the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow, and at Inversnaid. Here’s what he had to say in a recent blog:


    In February this year, I visited RSPB Scotland Inversnaid, and my introductory visit allowed me to get an overview of the place and the work being carried out in the area. RSPB Scotland is engaging in many areas of conservation of wildlife and I got to know the many challenges they are facing in trying to reintroduce wildlife. This involves careful planning and consideration to change the landscape into a more balanced ecosystem.


    Picture of Luca


    My recording sessions in Inversnaid were heavily influenced by this awareness. I walked the paths that tourists would walk on and listened to the impact urban planning has there. All along Loch Lomond the sound of road traffic on the other shore is the most significant perceptible source, especially in winter when the wildlife is asleep. This all changes in spring with fully sprung vegetation, green canopy and bird migrations - let’s not forget midges - creating a filter that keeps the sound of traffic a bit more in the distance. The more I walked the more I noticed slight changes in the soundscape based on my position in the land, the morphology of the area, whether I was along a path or on top of a hill. I started to imagine what the area would look and sound like once the woodland will be fully grown. RSPB Scotland is designing a new space for wildlife. It is a project that ‘brings nature back’ by creating something new.


    A video preview of Luca’s work can been seen here and his sound recordings can be heard here