RSPB nature reserve staff and guests alike have been left “astonished” by feathery visitors from the Mediterranean who have been spotted carrying nesting materials.
The RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, nestled between Liverpool and Chester, is well-known for its grey heron and little egret breeding colonies but this year the more regular varieties of heron have been joined by their exotic relatives- a pair each of spoonbills, cattle egrets and white egrets.
These rare birds are all showing positive signs of breeding, having been seen carrying nesting material into the heron colony. If they are successful, it will only be the second time that cattle egrets have bred at the site and a first for both spoonbills and great white egrets.
Graham Jones, Site Manager at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands said: “It is absolutely staggering to see five different heron species making their home here.
“The grey herons nest here each year, but little egrets only colonised the UK in the late 1980s and have been breeding here since 2005.
“For them to now be joined by the much rarer cattle egrets, great white egrets and spoonbills is even more astonishing.
“They’re usually more at home breeding in the Mediterranean, so we’ve been dubbed the ‘Costa del Dee’ by some visitors, who are enjoying seeing the birds from a special watchpoint that we have created to allow for better views.
“If the birds all breed it will be extraordinary and cause for additional celebration in our anniversary year.”
Over the past 40 years, the RSPB’s work on the Dee Estuary has created valuable spaces for birds and other wildlife.
Further down the West coast at places like the Ham Wall reserve in Somerset, the RSPB’s conservation work has created the right conditions for cattle and great white egrets to nest - paving the way for them to move northward and make their home on the Dee.
Graham added: “I grew up on the Wirral and started coming to Parkgate in the 1980s as a teenager to watch the birds thrive on the marsh.
“Back then it was inconceivable that little egrets would live here, let alone that we would be seeing even more unusual birds like cattle egrets, spoonbills and great white egrets.
“We’ve also got at least 10 pairs of Mediterranean gulls nesting too, so it truly is like being on holiday, and testament to the hard work and dedication carried out here for the last four decades.”
The RSPB is celebrating their 40th anniversary on the Dee Estuary this year, having secured their first reserve at Parkgate back in 1979, creating a protected area for tens of thousands of birds.
Since then, their land holdings have expanded significantly, to both sides of the border, with Burton Mere Wetlands being the most recent addition in 2011.
The whole area is over 6000 football pitches in size making the Dee Estuary nature reserve the fifth largest RSPB site in the country.
The main image is of a spoonbill, taken by Peter Sutton.