It’s that time of year when many birds are starting to arrive in the UK, from Southern Europe and Africa, to set up home while those wintering here are thinking about heading north to Greenland, Iceland and Northern Europe. For the next few weeks there will be an interesting mix of migrants, with Wheatears feeding alongside Barnacle Geese, and Swallows and Martins feeding over wintering wildfowl.
Whooper Swans (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
The first spring migrant to arrive was a pair of Garganey on 11th March. We had to wait just over a week for the next migrant in the form of a couple of cracking male Wheatear feeding along the beach which arrived on the 19th, the same day as our first Peacock Butterfly on the wing. Chiffchaff just arrived yesterday (22nd) with one feeding around the car park.
Chiffchaff (Photo by Gavin Chambers)
Sitting in the visitor centre I can currently see 1000’s of Barnacle Geese feeding and bathing along with 10 sleepy Whooper Swans which arrived overnight and are now resting and feeding before continuing their migration north to Iceland, 26 Whooper Swans moved through on 14th. In the same fields are several pairs of Lapwing tumbling and swooping in their display flight. Several Yellowhammer have continued to brighten up the already vibrant feeding station along with a good number of Tree Sparrow.
Mersehead feeding station in full bloom!
Also seen around the reserve have been; several Goldcrest, ringtail Hen Harrier, male Goldeneye, Water Rail from Meida Hide, the long staying Green-winged Teal, Weasel outside visitor centre, and both Barn and Tawny Owls have been seen and/or heard after dark.
It’s not just birds that migrate at this time of year. Rob, our regular winter blogger over the last 5 months has now departed and is due to start his summer contract at the RSPB Mull of Galloway reserve at the end of the month. Without wanting to put pressure on Rob, I’m sure there will be blogs coming from the Mull throughout the summer! It won’t be long till I’m also heading off south to start a summer contract at RSPB Lake Vyrnwy in mid-Wales.
Coot:: Photo credit - Gavin Chambers
Two coots have recently been spotted on the water out from the Meida hide. These small water birds may not seem the most likely creatures to get excited about, however coots have not been recorded here at Mersehead in the last few years. Coots are common throughout most of the UK and often seen on large bodies of open water. Slightly bigger than a moorhen, they are extremely territorial during the breeding season and will spend large amounts of time seeing of other birds. Their distinctive plain white forehead on an otherwise slate grey/black body is where the term 'as bald as a coot' is derived from.
Other sightings aound Mersehead include:
From the hides - mute swan, shelduck, shoveler, teal, green-winged teal, curlew, scaup, wigeon, gadwall, mallard, moorhen, little grebe, grey heron, pintail, tufted duck
From the visitor centre - robin, goldfinch, greenfinch, chaffinch, great tit, blue tit, coal tit, house sparrow, tree sparrow, yellowhammer, dunnock, pheasant, blackbird
In the woodland - rook, goldcrest, great spotted woodpecker, song thrush and wren
On the shore - oystercatcher, redshank, dunlin, ringed plover and flocks of twite feeding around the sand dunes.
Around the reserve - hen harrier, kestrel, buzzard, barn owl, lapwing, skylark, linnet, carrion crow, snipe, and barnacle geese. starling, stonechat, starling, and wood pigeon.
As we enter into a new season with all the changes that come with it, such as species that have been hibernating over winter slowly awakening, winter visitors preparing to move northwards , early summer migrants eagerly awaited, spring flowers beginning to blossom and longer days full of more and more sunshine (fingers crossed), this is one of my favourite times of the year.
Here at Mersehead we have already been witnessing the rooks frantically collecting material to build nests, had woodpeckers drumming away, saw our first 7 spot ladybird on the wing, had bats emerging from their winter slumber and increasingly hearing and seeing lapwing displaying over the fields.
Lapwing: Photo credit - John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Lapwing are a species that have drastically declined in numbers in recent decades and one we specifically manage areas of habitat for.
These ground nesting birds like soft muddy soil that they can probe for food, short grass to nest in so they can see potential predators coming and tussocky areas that offer cover for young developing chicks. However, as ground nesting birds, although the adults can fly away if threatened, the eggs or newly hatched chicks are extremely vulnerable.
Since creating an area near the visitor centre surrounded with fencing designed to keep predators such as foxes and badgers out, lapwing breeding success has been on the increase and this year we are hopeful for another successful year.
A visit to Mersehead throughout March, along with the spectacle of so much other wildlife, will most certainly be rewarded by the aerobatic display flights of courting lapwings and their distinctive calls as they attempt to attract mates and defend territories.
Other highlights from around the reserve this week include a male scaup seen from the Bruaich hide, 3 whooper swans, water rail and a green-winged teal.
Additional sightings include:
From the VC, yellowhammer, tree sparrow, house sparrow, blackbird, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, dunnock, pheasant, robin, chaffinch and greenfinch
From the hides, teal, shoveler, pintail, gadwall, wigeon, mallard, barnacle geese, moorhen, little grebe and hen harrier
On the beach, dunlin, oystercatcher, redshank, shelduck and ringed plover
In the woodland, rook, goldcrest and great spotted woodpecker
Around the reserve, merlin, buzzard, kestrel, linnet, twite, skylark, mistle thrush and grey heron
If you're planning a visit to Meresehead, why not check out our website for upcoming events which include moths and mocha and wellies and worms