Giving Nature a Home
Last winter our residential volunteers recreated their own version of the Giving Nature a Home campaign outside the Visitor Centre to inspire our visitors and show them how easy it is to get involved. Ideas taken from the advertising campaign include a hedgehog campsite, bird cafe, bug hotels and a frog pool. Our Tuesday volunteers have completed the display by growing wildlife friendly flowers (look closely and you will see a bee visiting a big pink flower) and choosing a bird bath.
Drumming & Tumbling
Although we are down one pair compared to last year, our lapwings have had a fantastic summer and fledged 15 chicks from 8 pairs – that is a productivity count of 1.9! All the lapwing nests were located inside the anti-predator fence; so far, signs show that it is working well. Snipe numbers have been good this year with a maximum of 8 heard drumming whilst staff were completing an adult natterjack toad survey. A pair of oystercatcher also nested inside the anti-predator fence and fledged 2 chicks. Reedbed surveys have found 10 pairs of reed warbler, 37 pairs of sedge warbler and 22 pairs of reed bunting. Grasshopper warbler has been heard singing down Rainbow Lane and a ringed plover nest was discovered on the beach whilst taking the dogs for a walk.
Stuck in the Mud at Kirkconnell Merse
Surveying Kirkconnell Merse is always a challenge but extremely good fun as there are small winding creeks to jump, holes to fall down and oozing mud to get stuck in, or in Colin’s case, lose your wellingtons! Waders at Kirkconnell are remaining stable with 15 pairs of curlew, 11 pairs of oystercatcher and 1 pair of lapwing. Redshank have done well this year, increasing from 10 pairs last year to 16 this year.
Make Hay while the Sun Shines
We manage 50ha of dry grassland for the benefit of the internationally important population of wintering Svalbard barnacle geese. Each year we take a harvest of either hay or silage off each of the dry grassland fields to ensure that they are in optimum condition for the returning barnacle geese. This year, Cottage Field was cut for hay and 4 days later we had 260 bales from 32 acres. Roughly 36 bales will make the 227 mile journey via motorway and sea to Oronsay to supplementary feed their cattle and sheep over the winter. Silage was cut from 41 acres. The wetlands have been drained, topped and areas rotavated ready for the returning wildfowl; dropping the water level also meant that we have been able to access the reedbed and remove the scrub growth.
All of a Natter
Our natterjack toads have been hitting the headlines and featured on BBC Radio Scotland’s good morning program and ITV Border news. The Solway Firth is the only location in Scotland where the natterjack toad is found so the 40-50 strong colony at Mersehead is of vital importance to the species survival here. We have been working with Amphibian & Reptile Conservation to gather a catalogue of photographs from which we can study the unique pattern of dorsal warts and so identify individuals in the future.
Comings & Goings
Throughout the summer at Mersehead we take short-term residential volunteers on two week placements. This year, 8 enthusiastic volunteers descended on the reserve and got stuck into all the work that is involved in running a nature reserve. They completed butterfly surveys, hacked at willow, pulled ragwort, assisted with offsite events, chatted to visitors, painted chalkboards and helped round up the cattle when they made a great escape attempt! Their hard work and enthusiasm has contributed 597 hours, great work has been done with their help and a big thank you goes to them all. At the end of July, Alexandra moved on from Mersehead to start her second long-term residential volunteering placement at Surrey & Hampshire Heaths, we wish her luck in her new venture!
Here are the recent sightings from Mersehead
Meida Hide- water rail, reed warbler, spotted flycatcher, lapwing, sedge warbler, kestrel, reed bunting
Bruaich Hide- linnet, snipe, oystercatcher, sand martin, whitethroat, sparrowhawk, heron, siskin
Trails- curlew, wheatear, swallow, house martin, barn owl. osprey, peregrine, willow warbler, buzzard, starling
Visitor Centre- magpie, greenfinch, house sparrow, goldfinch, blackbird, blue tit, chaffinch, tree sparrow, yellowhammer, dunnock, wren
other sightings- fox, hare, roe deer, stoat, badger, blue tailed damselfly, small copper, peacock
Ailsa Craig is a tiny island in the Firth of Clyde, off the West coast of Scotland, famous for its granite being used to make 60-70% of the world’s curling stones. However, as workers for the RSPB we were going there for the 73,000 breeding seabirds, including the UK’s third largest gannetry!
After a slightly rocky crossing from Girvan, we set up camp and re-fuelled with a round of tea (an integral part of doing conservation work I’ve found). Several of us then went off to start checking the rat bait stations. The importance of the monitoring the island for the presence of rats is that they heavily affect the breeding puffins, which are especially vulnerable as they nest in underground burrows. As well as checking the ground for threats to seabirds, we also did counts of the many gull nest sites around the island, providing us with a few views of young fluffy chicks amongst the eggs!
During our second day, we conducted onshore and offshore seabird counts of gulls, kittiwakes, puffins, shags, razorbills, oystercatchers, guillemots and black guillemots. All the while with several grey seals following us as we walked around the bottom of the cliffs, but of course whenever a camera lens appeared they would dive back down underwater. After a day of bird counts and walking up to the top of Ailsa, where we only ended up seeing a lovely view of the inside of the cloud and a few gulls that were close enough, we spotted a small pod of harbour porpoises milling just offshore!
One other bird that we had to try to find was the Manx shearwater. When we were sat gathered around our driftwood bonfire and the light had finally faded, we started to hear the characteristic calls that could only be coming from a shearwater flying overhead. Unfortunately, though, we were not able to confirm that they were breeding in any of the many old rabbit burrows on the granite cliffs.
Our last day brought the best weather we could have hoped for, blue skies and flat calm sea, perfect for our round the island boat trip. Each of us had an assigned seabird species and was sat with binoculars and a clicker at the ready to count the island totals, with hats on and hoods up in preparation for the threat of aerial attack from the masses of gannets we were about to encounter! Luckily, as this was my first big seabird count, I did not have one of the more abundant species; instead, I got to focus on one of my favourite seabirds, the puffins! After we had circled the island once to complete our counts, we went around again giving us a chance to focus on the whole view of the island and not just that of one species through binoculars. At the end of a long couple of days we set off back to the mainland. After a final appearance of a harbour porpoise behind the boat we made it back to civilisation and headed straight to the nearest chip shop.