Needless to say, Rhian's excited proclamation - upon the arrival of our first avocet of the year in mid-February - that spring was here, was a little premature. Since then we've had plenty more snow flurries, frozen pools and lots of gratitude for the stove in our reception hide. However, we've had a number of good sightings to please those who have braved the weather.
That first avocet quickly moved on, but ten days ago we had three fresh arrivals, gradually growing in number to the eleven we have today; making themselves at home on the main scrape, hopefully preparing to nest on the same "avocet island" as last year. In amongst the usual wintering waders were a handful of spotted redshank for much of the past two months, along with two to three hundred golden plover, not a common sight here on the Dee Estuary.
One of our keen-eyed regular visitors picked up a solitary corn bunting in a mixed flock of winter finches and reed buntings making the most of our sacrificial seed crop a short distance from the reception hide. The lesser scaup which had been picked up on pools around the south end of the estuary for weeks made a brief appearance at Burton Mere Wetlands, mingling with the tufted duck on the reception pool.
After widespread disappointment that we'd not had a bittern this winter, a couple of reliable sources have reported brief glimpses in the reedbed from Marsh Covert hide - will it stick around for the summer and how long until we hear one booming?! Visitors to the Inner Marsh Farm hide last wednesday were treated to this winter's first sighting of a green-winged teal, along with a Cetti's warbler perched on a bulrush in front of the hide. Today, that side of the reserve has had reports of a single ruff on passage (or will we be lucky enough to see courtship behaviour again like last year?).
Soon we'll bid farewell to our winter flocks, and the iconic short-eared owls and hen harriers will leave our marshes for their higher breeding grounds; a worrying time for the latter, after their pitiful recent breeding success, we must hope that the increased efforts of the RSPB to protect them on the heather moorlands will begin to make a difference.
For daily updates on sightings at the RSPB Dee Estuary reserve and all around the Wirral and north-east Wales, visit http://www.deeestuary.co.uk/index.html