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  • Birds of Prey

    Mersehead Recent Sightings 11th – 17th November

    Some cold and frosty mornings this week have given the reserve a very wintery feeling and the hedgerows are bursting with the winter migrants Redwing and Fieldfare. With the leaves having now fallen off, it has become easier to spot smaller birds such as Goldcrest lurking within the depths of the hedgerows. The goldcrest is one of the UK’s smallest birds only weighing a tiny 5-6grams. Also flitting along the main path have been 4 male Bullfinches – look out for a distinctive flash of white at the top of the tail as they whizz past.

    Goldcrest. Photo Credit: John Bridges (

    With the arrival of cooler weather, the feeding station at the Visitor Centre is proving very popular with birds forming an orderly queue in the nearby bush awaiting their turn to jostle for position on the bird table. Numbers of Tree Sparrow have been increasing with 6 spotted feeding together on the table. Yellowhammers have made a reappearance and the Brambling has been seen again consistently this week. A new addition in front of the holiday cottages this week is a driftwood bird table. The residents of Shelduck Cottage spotted 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker checking out the new feature.

    Great spotted woodpeckers on the new driftwood bird feeder.  Photo Credit: Mrs Flynn

    Each year we manage areas of wild bird cover for the benefit of farmland birds of conservation concern. Wild bird seed mixtures are particularly important in areas where traditional food sources, such as weedy stubbles, are no longer available in the agricultural environment. A biennial crop also has the added benefit of providing seed throughout the spring of the second year and helps birds to attain good breeding condition. The winter passerine survey this week recorded large flocks of Linnet, Greenfinch and Reed Bunting. A small flock of Twite have been present on the footpath through the merse.

    The Starling murmuration continues to be very impressive, twirling over the reedbed each evening at dusk. Great views of the murmuration can be gained from the car park, Bruiach Hide and the main track running to the woodland, as well as Meida Hide. When walking through the woodland, keep a look out for Treecreeper and flocks of Long-tailed Tits. The Kingfisher continues to delight by being very active directly in front of Meida Hide.



    Merlin. Photo Credit: Chris Gomersall (


    A great week for birds of prey with a female Marsh Harrier hunting over the reeds and a male Hen Harrier spotted soaring over the dry grassland. The UK’s smallest bird of prey, the Merlin has been present on the reserve this week. Peregrine has been seen hunting over the wetlands. Every evening, 2 Barn Owls swoop out from the old cattle shed and head into the darkness to hunt. Appearing out of the gloom in the car headlights one night, a Tawny Owl was seen quietly perched on a road sign. The Kestrel, a master of stationary flight, has been hover-hunting extensively over the merse and is capable of locating its prey at remarkable distances; it can see and catch a beetle 50m from its perch. Kestrels need to eat 4-8 voles a day, depending on the time of the year and the amount of energy they use whilst hunting. They have a habit of catching several voles in succession and caching some for later. The stored food is usually eaten the same day just before dusk.

    Wednesday 22nd November is our next ‘Duck & Goose Walk’. Come along and join us to see how many different kinds of ducks & geese we can spot.  For more information call 01387 780579 or email or visit our facebook page RSPB Dumfries and Galloway and click on events.


    Rowena Flavelle, Mersehead Warden.

  • Breathing in the joy of nature

    Mersehead Recent Sightings 3rd - 10th November

    Perfect autumn weather with an amazing sunny bright day, clear sky and a chilly atmosphere can better describe the beginning of this week. However, the weather has been very variable but mostly dry for the rest of the week, consisting of heavy rain, plenty of sunny spells and a mist that covered the reserve most of Wednesday.

    Mist approaching in the reserve. Photo credit: Adaica Rodriguez

    The reserve count was done this week, obtaining 26 species, the majority of them were concentrated near the Bruaich hide, east side of the reserve and on the coast when the hide tide was approaching. The survey results highlights were 2,755 Oystercatcher, 1,340 Dunlin, 631 Lapwings, 172 Curlew, 31 Shelduck, 79 Pintail, 337 Teal, 1 first- winter Whopper Swan, 34 Ring plover, 89 Grey plover, 95 Shoveler and almost 5,000 Barnacle geese.

    Another survey executed this week was the winter passerines, counting 192 birds in total.  More than 50% were Linnets, 20% Skylarks, 7% Greenfinches, and 3% of Goldfinches, Yellowhammers and Reed buntings respectively.

    A higher number of garden birds can be appreciated in the visitor centre feeders such as Robin, Blue tits, Great tits, Coal tits, Dunnock, House sparrows, Wren, Yellowhammer, Greenfinches, Chaffinches and Goldfinches, plus the recent arrival Tree sparrows. The Tree sparrows can differentiated from the more common family species, house sparrows, from the distinctive black spot on their white cheeks, shyer personality and their smaller size. Other birds spotted around the visitor centre were a Great Woodpecker, a Sparrowhawk and, some Redwings and Blackbirds in the hedges.

    Tree Sparrow in the feeders. Photo credit Ray Kennedy

    Additionally, there have been many other bird sightings around the reserve including 2 Barn owls that have been spotted regularly around the Sulwath garden, a Kestrel and a Merlin have been flying in front the visitor centre fields, a Little Egret landed in our wetlands at the beginning of the week, 3 pairs of Bullfinches were sighted in rainbow lane, a Black-tailed godwit in the coast and 41 fieldfare counted in the saltmarshes. Kingfishers has been seen all around the reserve, flying in the saltmarshes, wetland, and woodland trails whilst 2 birds seemed to be enjoying the Starlings’ murmuration in front of the Meida hide on Sunday.

    Kingfisher. Photo credit Mike Richards

    Meida hide has become the best scenario to appreciate more than 15,000 starling murmuration. What a truly amazing and joyful spectacle! The surrounding wildlife has been making this murmuration more special, when a regular female Marsh harrier comes around to challenge the starlings aerial acrobatics and philosophy of safety in numbers; or when the beautiful sunshine transform the cheerful atmosphere to celebrate this nature performance; as well as getting delighted seeing a huge flock of barnacle geese moving towards the starlings in their way to their roosting grounds.

    Adaica Rodriguez

    Residential Volunteer

  • Mesmerising Murmurations

    Mersehead Recent Sightings 28th October - 3rd November

    Arguably one of the most impressive of winter scenes, the mesmerising Starling murmuration has begun with gusto this week where up to 10,000 birds were seen swirling, surging and rolling in the sky above the reedbed. Studies have shown that when an individual bird moves, it only affects its 7 closest neighbours, which then affects the next 7 neighbours and so on.   This is why the flock looks like it is twisting and swirling; some birds are moving in one direction at one speed whilst other birds are moving in a different direction at a different speed.

    Photo Credit: David Kjaer (

    Despite thousands of Barnacle Geese around, they do move on and off of the reserve. This was the case on Wednesday when we only counted 1,777 birds. Last week we counted 11,070, one of our highest counts ever. Carrying out counts every week will help us to avoid these polarising situations and give us a clearer picture of goose numbers by the end of the season. By also recording which fields the geese use we are able to see how the geese are moving around the reserve and tailor our management for them accordingly.

    We’ve been over at Kirkconnell again this week where we had a fantastic count of 533 Pintail as well as 4404 Barnacle Geese, 111 Wigeon, 880 Lapwing, 10 Oystercatcher, 229 Redshank, 19 Curlew and 1 Greenshank.

    Once a week we carry out a winter passerine survey. This involves counting wintering flocks of finch, bunting, larks and pipits to see how they are utilising the winter stubble and wild bird cover crop that we have sown for them. The seeds that these fields hold provide a rich energy source over the tough winter months.   The count this week produced 19 Skylark, 16 Reed Bunting, 35 Greenfinch, 32 Chaffinch, 5 House Sparrow and 1 Yellowhammer.

    Photo Credit: Andy Hay (

    The hedgerows are really alive with birds at the moment as they feed on fruits produced there. As well as all the usual suspects such as Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Linnet and so on, Redwing are still present in large numbers, and a striking male Bullfinch was spotted mournfully calling on Monday. Bullfinch are thought to be named due to the stocky, bull-like appearance of the head and neck area together with a stout chunky bill. They are not common at Mersehead due to the lack of their preferred habitats; mixed broad-leaved and coniferous woodland, large gardens and parks. They are not so keen on large open and coastal areas so it was a real treat to see one here.

    Photo Credit: John Bridges (

    A female Marsh Harrier was seen hunting over the reedbed on Sunday and true to form, the Kingfisher that has been seen regularly from Meida Hide didn’t disappoint, showing up almost every day this week. On Wednesday we counted 230 Cormorants roosting on a sand spit as the tide was coming in whilst later that day 17 Snipe were spotted from the visitor centre.

    Throughout November & December we are conducting a series of ‘Duck & Goose Walks’. These will take place on Wednesday 15th, Wednesday 22nd November, and Wednesday 6th December.  Come along and join us to see how many different kinds of ducks & geese we can spot.  For more information call 01387 780579 or email or visit our facebook page RSPB Dumfries and Galloway and click on events.

    Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden