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As we wind our car park closing time back to 7:30 pm, there’s a definite sense of autumn in the air. The kids are going back to school and the dusky-coloured eclipse plumage of the arriving ducks says it all.
Last week started with bank holiday Monday, which was certainly one to remember; we hit a new reserve record for the number of visitors in a day, with 370 people taking advantage of the excellent weather! This rounded off a very busy August, again proving to be our busiest yet, and the first summer month – usually our quietest season – to pass the 4000 visitor mark.
Our impressive flock of 12 spoonbills seem quite settled and show no sign of moving on just yet, whilst another reserve favourite, the kingfishers, are being seen more frequently around the old fishery pools but also in the reedbed.
Of the raptors, marsh harrier and hobby have been most notable lately, although kestrel, buzzard and sparrowhawk have been vying for top spot, not to mention the odd peregrine hunting the growing flocks of waders and wildfowl. It’s a tricky time of year for identifying the latter, with the adults moulting and going through eclipse plumage meaning they lose the distinctive colours by which we learn to recognise them. Essentially all of our regular ducks are present now; the resident, breeding mallard, tufted, shelduck, and gadwall but growing numbers of the wintering teal and shoveler plus the first few wigeon and pintail too.
The wader migration hasn’t landed anything really special yet, however you can’t fault the variety so far. Single common and green sandpipers have taken up residence on Reception Pool taking advantage of the fresh mud exposed by our successful plan to drop the water level during migration. The odd black-tailed godwit, ruff, and ringed plover have even ventured to the bank under the Reception Hide windows.
Green sandpiper by John Hewitt
On the scrape, over 50 greenshank were present, the highest count here for several years, plus the odd little ringed plover, golden plover and varying numbers of dunlin and knot. The recent improvement work on Centenary Pool, restoring it to how it was first created in 1989, has attracted single wood sandpiper and little stint, up to 8 curlew sandpipers and numerous snipe showing well.
This bodes well for the fast approaching Wirral Wader Festival on October 1 and 2; if you’d like some tips on wader identification, come along to our “What’s that wader?” event on the afternoon of Sunday 2 October.
We can’t ignore the recent Canada geese influx, an annual occurrence after the dispersal of the 9000 or more that use the isolated saltmarsh of the nearby Mersey Estuary for their annual moult. The couple of thousand presently on the Dee are making the most of the local crop stubble, but once that is gone they’ll move on and make way for the already arriving greylags, and the pink-footed geese that will begin to arrive in the coming weeks. Mixed in with the Canadas, a couple of feral barnacle geese and pink-footed geese are worth looking closely for.
Not to be outshone by their spoon-billed cousins the little egrets, whilst venturing further out onto the estuary parts of the reserve (Burton Marsh, Parkgate) during the day, still fly in to roost in Marsh Covert every evening, with 301 counted along with 2 great whites this week.
Great spotted and green woodpeckers are best seen along the edge of Marsh Covert and the old fishery ponds. Other highlights away from the water are passage wheatears in the Burton Point field and a growing flock of linnet in the nearby sacrificial crop. Cetti’s warblers continue to be heard in various locations close to the trails, whilst on the barn feeding station, greenfinch families are the current stars.
Whilst some people lament the end of summer, its long days and supposed warmth, we at the Dee relish the ensuing autumn; the myriad of leaf colours, the swelling flocks of duck and the return of the graceful hen harriers. At least one hen harrier has returned to the estuary already, regularly seen hunting over Burton Marsh; why not come along to this year’s first Parkgate Raptor Watch on Sunday 25 September, for a chance to see a variety of birds of prey that make their home on the reserve?
Posted by Dan Trotman
I really hope you’re not getting bored of our spoonbills yet – how could you possibly be? Incredibly though, it’s now over two months since the first four turned up out of the blue and set up residence with the little egrets in Marsh Covert woodland. Four quickly became seven, and since last Thursday the count has been NINE! Where they keep coming from is impossible to be certain, but what we do know is they’ve proved to be arguably the star attraction here as we moved into the school summer holidays last week.
Whilst the families lapped up the big birds, other attention turned to a new star; two tiny spotted crakes, an adult and a juvenile, which appeared on the muddy edge of the main scrape on July 22. We’ve had them here in each of the last two summers, but they’re of such scarcity in the UK that they always cause a stir, with droves of visitors spending hours desperate for a glimpse. Whether they’ve bred here this year is unclear, as there was no sign of the distinctive whip-like call of a territorial male through the spring which first alerted us to their presence in the successful breeding year of 2014.
For the past few days, only the juvenile crake has been showing, but it’s still a notable bird to have on the reserve and its presence is still drawing plenty of visitors through the doors. Not to be outdone, of course, are the variety of waders arriving on migration; spotted redshank, ruff, common and green sandpipers have graced the pools for days, whilst growing numbers of dunlin and knot join the vast flock of black-tailed godwits returning for the winter.
Marsh harriers have suddenly returned to the fore, with up to 3 individuals seen together on some days, whilst a peregrine has been harassing the wader flocks along with the less threatening but equally impressive sparrowhawk and hobby.
The past weekend was the RSPB’s annual Big Wild Sleepout event, with 30 people made up of seven families and one small Cub Scout group having exclusive overnight access to Burton Mere Wetlands, with the site team guiding them through an evening of activities discovering the bats, badgers and weird and wonderful moths that call the reserve home, before spending the night under canvas right here on the reserve.
Now in its fourth year, it’s without doubt the reserve’s biggest family event, with more than one of the attending children disappointed to have to go home on the Sunday, and desperate to camp another night! Great to see children, and families together, enjoying and embracing nature, especially that which we all normally miss out on because it only wakes up as we wind down at the end of our day.
The reserve is well worth a visit through the rest of the school holiday, with growing numbers of geese making easy and entertaining viewing, and the reserve generally looking lush with lots of greenery and some late wildflowers blooming. As it’s also the beginning of the wader migration, our August family quiz trail focuses on the variety of wading birds which make their home on the Dee Estuary at different times of year, whether it’s to nest in spring or to sit out the cold winter months away from their Arctic breeding grounds. A great bit of fun, so don’t forget to pick up your quiz sheet as you arrive at reception.
Hope to see you down here soon!
We're always striving to write more blogs to keep our visitors and online followers up to date with reserve developments and inspire you to visit, so we're delighted that one of our wonderful volunteers, Paula, has decided to start writing for us. Here, she writes an introduction to herself and explains the slightly different view of the reserve and its wildlife that she'll provide.
My name is Paula and I will be your budding resident blogger for the Dee Estuary reserve. I currently volunteer as a Centre Assistant at Burton Mere Wetlands and am often misrepresented as "that loud one that never stops talking". I'd like to take this moment to dismiss that terrible rumour. Just kidding. I am quite loud.
But let's not focus on that.
A little bit of background information about myself: (skip these two paragraphs if you're bored already!) I've been volunteering now in the Reception Hide for approximately two years. I had visited Burton Mere with my (then) boyfriend back in summer 2014. I recall I was approached by a friendly member of staff, who had informed me that I couldn't pay by card for a day visit, but that I would be able to join! Being impulsive, I just joined there and then, before even actually setting foot out on the reserve! Needless to say, I enjoyed it so much that I soon after enquired about volunteering. Also, the boyfriend didn't last. I just know you were wondering that.
To be honest, I wasn't much into birding when I first started. I just enjoyed being at the reserve, in a fantastic landscape surrounded by rich and varied wildlife - I didn't even know what a coot was. Although I had once taken up birding as a child with my father, my broken bird knowledge was mostly with the small songbirds that anyone might see in the garden. This general apathy carried on for about a year, until I slowly started to develop an interest and I found myself actually going to different places to seek out new birds.
My reasons for wanting to take up blogging on here are twofold: I really enjoy reading blogs and I'd love to see more people taking up blogging, and secondly I feel that there are so many people who come through the doors at Burton Mere Wetlands who are beginners to birding, just like me. They don't know their godwits from their redshanks but man, do they want to learn? To those with enthusiasm but a general lack of knowledge; I get you. I'm here for you.
Come learn with me.
I typically volunteer every other Sunday and this week I had a little wander around the reserve. As I'm not the best at bird identification, I often find I learn best from others and try and absorb as much information as I can. Today I had the great fortune to wander around with a great birder, who is also pretty darn good with identifying bird song too. (His name is Jonathan, should you ever wish to harass him with birding questions!)
Hard to miss were the four spoonbills which seem to be really enjoying the amenities at chez Burton Mere; hopefully they will grace us with their presence for a while longer yet. They can still often be found feeding and preening on the scrape in front of the Reception Hide.
Around the old fishery ponds, there were some very lazy juvenile moorhens having a bit of a lie down by the water's edge. They're always great to watch with their huge clumsy feet. A sedge warbler sang its heart out somewhere within the reedbed. (Note to all newbies: to me, a sedge warbler often sounds as though it's been holding its song inside for as long as it can and it just has to let it out.) It's a very frantic and sudden burst of song. We also saw common whitethroat, a greater-spotted woodpecker and heard (but didn't see) a very noisy green woodpecker.
In the all too infrequent warmer spells there's been some great butterflies seen around the reserve too; I tried to get a picture of an admiral but alas, it decided it didn't wish to pose for me. I hope that in the upcoming weeks as we move through summer, I will be able to update you all on which weird and wonderful insects I have discovered - as well as the added suspense of whether I ever manage to learn what they are! In the meantime, don't just wait to hear what I've seen; get yourself down to Burton Mere Wetlands, or the wider Dee Estuary reserve, and have a wander this summer. You won't regret it!
Until next time... Paula
I hear your groans, but I couldn’t possibly write this blog without using that awful pun. Without question, the star bird of the past week was the single white-winged tern, a rarer relative of the vagrant black terns of which there were multiple sightings in the North West this spring, including at Burton Mere Wetlands.
Around 3 pm on Friday, the staff and volunteers were alerted by a keen-eyed visitor of the unexpected yet distinctive bird over the main scrape in front of the Reception Hide, much to the delight of everyone present and the scores of birders who “twitched” once the news was made public, with many still present at 9 pm when the car park was due to be locked.
White-winged black tern by Anthony Lovatt
Despite best efforts of Site Manager, Colin to find the bird on Saturday morning there was no sign, suggesting it had moved on. There were still plenty of highlights over the weekend, most notably the increasing little egret activity in the top of Marsh Covert as the young birds on the nests approach fledging.
Amongst them, an immature great white egret was displaying some interesting nest-building behaviour – of course, too late for this year, not to mention the absence of a mate and the fact it’s not of breeding age – but perhaps following its instincts and getting some practise in for next year?
Little egret having a bad hair day by Lynne Greenstreet
To add to the numerous duck broods mentioned last week, a family of little grebes has been showing well at the Reedbed Screen, whilst the mute swan family have taken up residence on the Reception Pool with their four growing cygnets.
One of our summer fixtures, the non-breeding black-tailed godwit flock, seem to be enjoying the slightly higher water level on the scrape after last week’s rainfall, with numbers over 200 in recent days. Some are even braving the Reception Pool, offering fantastic close views, which bodes well for when we drop the water level there in the coming weeks to attract more waders during their migration. Just today, a single spotted redshank and a funky orange-plumed ruff joined the party, suggesting the beginning of the "autumn" migration is imminent.
Away from the birds, the common lizards have been putting on a show on the fence at the beginning of the Reedbed trail, basking on the warm wood during recent sunny days. Stoats have also been showing their face a lot along the Burton Mere trail and close to the Marsh Covert Hide.
The bee orchids continue to delight our visitors with their unusual, ornate flowers; over 100 “spikes” are now in bloom, perfect timing for our Wonderful Wildflowers guided walk on Sunday. There are still places available so call or email the reserve if you’d like to attend: 0151 353 8478 or firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re also now taking booking for this year’s Big Wild Sleepout; for one night only, we’re inviting families for an evening adventure discovering the nocturnal wildlife that makes its home here, then spend the night camping on your favourite nature reserve! Click here for full details or contact the reserve on the details above.
Typical; just as we were getting comfortable in the lovely warm, dry weather, the British summer gets up to its usual tricks. Whilst we’ve barely seen the sun for days, the rain showers have generally been brief although heavy, but if you manage to dodge them the mild temperature still makes for a lovely walk around the reserve.
There’s still plenty of wildlife to enjoy at this time of year, not least the stunning wildflowers coming into full bloom, especially our numerous southern marsh and bee orchids. If you’d like to learn more about the wildflowers at Burton Mere Wetlands, why not book onto our “Wonderful Wildflowers” guided walk on Sunday 26 June? Click here for full details.
Bee orchid by Ray Banks
In the meantime we have a wildflower-themed quiz along the Burton Mere trail, for any families (or fun-loving adults!) to enjoy on an after school or weekend visit. Pick up an answer sheet in reception before you head out for a walk.
The aforementioned orchids are drawing plenty of comments from visitors at the moment, with dozens of bee orchids lining the east end of the Burton Mere trail, and the purple marsh orchids popping up all over the wetland but lots visible on the islands of the main scrape adding a splash of colour amongst the lush green hues.
We saw the last avocet nests hatch last week, and with over 70 chicks around the scrape and many almost fully grown now, we’re getting close to celebrating a fantastic year for one of our main breeding wading birds. Two others, lapwing and redshank, may be less visible but our surveys suggest they’ve had decent breeding seasons too.
Recent sightings of note include the odd Mediterranean gull, sandwich and common terns, cuckoo, yellowhammer, ruff, spotted redshank, great crested grebe and a pair of garganey. An oystercatcher brood has been showing well from the Inner Marsh Farm hide, whilst a great spotted woodpecker has been feeding a juvenile close to the feeders near the Reception Hide.
Other highlights of recent days have been the discovery of various duck broods – gadwall, shoveler and teal – the latter two particularly significant in this part of the UK, in fact it’s only the second ever confirmed breeding of teal at the Dee Estuary reserve!
At least four spoonbills are still present and spending time between the Marsh Covert woodland, the main scrape and the saltmarsh, plus a single great white egret has returned to the egretry after a few weeks’ absence.
It’s been quiet on the raptor front, with marsh harrier sightings becoming very infrequent, although hobby and peregrine are seen quite frequently and a red kite was spotted overhead twice in the last fortnight.
Finally, don’t forget it’s Father’s Day this Sunday, and our “Dad’s Go Free” event, so why not bring your Dad down to Burton Mere Wetlands where he’ll receive free entry, plus a complimentary hot drink from our concessions stand!
What a week we've had to end May! The warm sunny weather along with the arrival of four spoonbills last Tuesday left some visitors wondering whether they were beside the Mediterranean rather than the Dee.
We'd been getting fairly excited by a single, elusive spoonbill on Burton Marsh for a few weeks, so imagine our amazement when the awesome foursome were first seen in the Marsh Covert treetops close to where the little egrets and herons nest.
Along with the scores of avocets, now with over 70 chicks of varying ages, there was a real continental feel to the reserve heading into the bank holiday weekend. Just as we were getting used to our striking new residents, a fifth bird arrived on Sunday afternoon, and along with the other four spent some time feeding on the scrape, with fantastic views from the Reception Hide.
When Site Manager, Colin arrived early on Monday to find SIX spoonbills feeding on the scrape, we really thought he was dreaming. This equalled the record for spoonbills on the Dee, set way back in 1998.
Spoonbills by Barry Barnacal
The fantastic photo above shows an angry adult avocet fearlessly fending off the spoonbills for straying too close to its brood, to add to the strains of defending their young from lurking black-headed gulls, crows and herons.
Other highlights around the scrape have been the odd yellow wagtail along with the occasional redshank brood emerging from the rushes. Elsewhere, before even leaving the car park visitors have been admiring the frenzied feeding and nest-building behaviour of the pair of spotted flycatchers nesting in a nearby tree. A great spotted woodpecker was seen feeding its recently fledged youngster today, in trees between the car park and Reception Hide.
Spotted flycatcher by John Hewitt
The south-east end of the Burton Mere trail remains a good place to look for hobby, currently taking advantage of the plentiful swifts. At least three Cetti's warblers have been heard dotted along the trails between the reedbed and Inner Marsh Farm hide.
Up on Burton Point, a pair of linnet and a green woodpecker were highlights today, whilst a male garganey and a mute swan family were offering great views from the Bridge Screen.
The recent warm weather has seen the emergence of lots of butterflies, with orange tips, peacocks and large whites the most prevalent at the moment. Red-eyed damselflies are beginning to perch on the lily pads on Burton Mere, whilst the common lizards are in their usual basking spots on the fence rails at the beginning of the Reedbed trail.
If you didn't get down to the reserve over the bank holiday weekend to see the spoonbills, you'll be pleased to hear there are still three around. Will we see any more? How long will they stick around? What's the correct collective noun for a group of spoonbills?! Watch this space...!
Posted by Helen B
Spoonbills by Anthony Lovatt
Marsh harrier - 1 over reed bed
Hobby - 1 over Marsh Covert hide
Spoonbill - 5 on scrape
Avocet - 70+ chicks on scrape
Ringed plover - 1 in front of reception hide
Spotted flycatcher - 2 in trees in car park
Cetti's warbler - 3 around the reserve
Reed warbler - 1 by reed bed screen
Raven - 1 over Marsh Covert woods
Barnacle goose - 1 on scrape
Garganey - 1 in front of Inner Marsh Farm hide
Also seen around the reserve -
Orange tip butterfly
Red admiral butterfly
Small skipper butterfly
Holly blue butterfly
Spoonbill by Anthony Lovatt
Ringed plover - 1 on scrape
Spoonbill - 3 in Marsh Covert woods
Great white egret - 1 on marsh seen from Burton Point
Cetti's warbler - 1 by reed bed screen
Sedge warbler - 1 by reed bed screen
Grey wagtail - 1 in front of reception hide
Green woodpecker - 1 by railway bridge
Barnacle goose - 1 on reception pool
Large red damselfly
Four-spotted chaser dragonfly
Whitethroat by John Hewitt
Spoonbill - 4 in Marsh Covert woods
Black-tailed godwit - 50+ on scrape
Green woodpecker - 1 behind mere pool
Mandarin - 1 on mere pool
Bee orchid - first flower of the year
Green-veined white butterfly
Small tortoiseshell butterfly
Small white butterfly
Large white butterfly
Grid reference: SJ3173 (+2km)
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