I have been on the Dee Estuary for two months now and since my last blog spring has definitely sprung! There are avocet chicks everywhere and I have been continuing to do brood counts now the eggs have hatched. Butterfly transects are another weekly job and plenty of dragonflies and damselflies are seen along the way. The red-eyed damselflies are really impressive and its good to see them in such big numbers at Burton Mere Wetlands as we are near the northern limit of their range. The bluebells were also in full swing at the beginning of the month and I went on my first event here at the reserve, a Dawn Chorus walk guided by our site manager, Graham.
One of my aims for this month was to try and see all the warblers we have on the reserve. I have managed to see chiffchaff, willow warbler, reed warbler, sedge warbler as well as the elusive Cetti's warbler. One of my favourite places to go is next to our reedbed screen where you can look out and see the reed and sedge warblers flitting around. The Cetti's warbler is usually not far from this spot too and you can hear its loud call even if you don't see it. I also managed to get a good view of a reed bunting one evening when looking through the reeds. I am still to see a grasshopper warbler even though I have heard it a few times, so hopefully that will happen soon! Male reed bunting seen from the reed bed screen Woolston Eyes is another, lesser-known wetland nature reserve near Warrington where the RSPB support the management of the reedbed there to encourage a wide range of species. Black-necked grebes are a very rare species in the UK (only 40 pairs) but there are around nine breeding pairs at Woolston and I was fortunate enough to see a pair with a chick when we went on a site visit a few weeks ago. I also saw a great crested grebe pair feeding their chick on the back which was a first for me! One of the reedbeds at Woolston Eyes This month has been a month full of wonderful wildlife however my highlight definitely has to be the badgers! We have a badger hide here on site which people can pay to come and use. I had the opportunity to go and sit in it one evening and it really was one of my best wildlife experiences! We put food out to attract the badgers to use the site and, as long as you're quiet, they come right up close to the hide! I would definitely recommend it to anyone who’s interested so do get in contact with the RSPB Burton Mere (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in booking it one evening! Soggy badger seen from the hide When you look out over the main scrape at Burton Mere Wetlands you can see power stations and an industrial landscape on the other side of the estuary. Some people may think this ruins the view but I think it's great as it shows how wildlife can still exist so close to the human world. When I went on a walk after putting out the badger food one evening I managed to see a drinker moth caterpillar, a bee orchid, a common toad and a beautiful large skipper butterfly that had just emerged, all along the path in the space of five minutes. All the while I was in view of the power stations. I think this just shows how amazing nature really is and I am excited for what else I will see on the rest of my placement here! View from the visitor centre at Burton Mere Wetlands
All the usual warblers can still be heard, and seen with patience, including the lesser whitethroat family around the wet woodland on the Inner Marsh Farm trail. Around the Main Scrape, avocet chick numbers peaked at 48 this week, with only a low level of predation from kestrel particularly. Mediterranean gulls are still present amongst the black-headed gulls.
One cattle egret, in full breeding plumage, enjoyed the wet grassland to the east of the main scrape for a few days at the beginning of the week, and the drake pintail was still on Centenary Pool by Inner Marsh Farm hide.
A late cuckoo was heard on Wednesday, and on Friday a female redstart perched on the fence at the bottom of Burton Point field added to the draw of mistle thrushes and green woodpeckers in that area.
Green woodpecker by John Hewitt
Very close to being the week’s star bird was a male ruff in full breeding plumage on Saturday, whilst other wader highlights were one spotted redshank and one little ringed plover from Marsh Covert hide plus two dunlins from Inner Marsh Farm hide.
Nearer Reception Hide, the first tufted duck brood of the year hatched, and the single common tern took to diving spectacularly for fish in The Mere, as we’ve seen in previous years.
The continued warm weather meant plenty of excellent butterfly activity including the first painted lady returning from North Africa, plentiful common blues and several large skippers. Southern marsh orchids continue to add a wonderful splash of purple to the reserve, whilst the first handful of bee orchids flowered this week.
Has to be hobby; two were seen together on Wednesday, but generally we see one at a time. Most days this week one was sighted, including terrific views hunting swallows in front of Reedbed screen on Thursday.
Hobby by Jeff Cohen, taken here in 2013
Much the same as last week, with lots of grass mowing to keep the trails visitor-friendly, interspersed with the breeding bird surveys and predator monitoring. Last week’s comms troubleshooting proved successful; with a helping hand from our HQ IT department John and Graham were able to reinstall the radio link to repair comms to Reception Hide.
Next Sunday is Father’s Day and we’re running our usual “Dad’s Go Free” offer, perfect for a family day out. Plus there’s still chance to book onto our “Orchids and Wildflowers” guided walk on Wednesday 20 June, to learn all about the rich floral diversity of Burton Mere Wetlands.
The week started well with a cattle egret making friends with the newly-arrived cows in the field adjacent to the reserve near Bunker Screen. This herd will graze the wet grassland areas of the reserve once the breeding season is over.
Amongst the growing number of avocet chicks, a pair of Mediterranean gulls is another highlight on the Main Scrape. Single drake pintail and wigeon were unseasonal sightings, whilst common tern, little ringed plover, ruff and up to three dunlins were the other best picks around the water. A pair of little grebes have been prominent on Reception Pool this week, whilst the great-crested grebe pair still favours Bridge Pool.
The best of the warblers was a pair of lesser whitethroats nesting near the Burton Point railway bridge. Please be sensitive when viewing or photographing, keeping a sensible distance from the birds to avoid disturbance. A hobby was seen on a few occasions, whilst Saturday saw a marsh harrier fly over the scrape, sparking a keen reaction from the waders and gulls. Another unseasonal record was a short-eared owl seen from Burton Point flying over the saltmarsh.
The warm weather meant plenty of butterfly activity, including the nationally scarce wall brown, for which the reserve is a local stronghold. Common lizards continue to bask on the fence near the reedbed and the southern marsh orchids are now flowering, forming a pretty purple haze across the islands.
A week after the gull-billed tern’s first showing, a single adult black tern was found on Wednesday evening and showed well on and around the Main Scrape until dusk. Unfortunately there was no further sign of the bird on Thursday.
Black tern flying over Main Scrape (Chris Challoner)
After the storms on Sunday evening, the ditches and culverts draining the reserve’s access track needed unblocking after they struggled to cope with the deluge. Various other infrastructure maintenance was done including painting the Burton Mere footbridge metalwork and cutting grass and scrub to clear paths, signage and views from screens.
Even some troubleshooting was needed after Sunday’s storm affected the site’s IT system, plus the retrieval of a giant pink metallic balloon from the far edge of Donkey Stand Flash at Parkgate! As last week, trips to the Point of Ayr to monitor birds nesting on the shingle beach, and offering support to the Gronant little tern project, are an important part of the reserve’s spring routine.
June is definitely the month to focus on the reserve’s wealth of wildflowers, so if botany is your cup of tea, don’t miss our Orchids and Wildflowers guided walk on Wednesday 20 June; two hours exploring the reserve led by former assistant warden, Geoff, who is as knowledgeable about plants as he is birds.
If you prefer something a little broader and more varied, a Wildlife Wander could be for you; guided by a volunteer who will point out anything and everything of interest at the time, plus share the background and history of the reserve and its landscape.
Finally, it’s National Volunteer Week from 1-7 June, and we’re looking to grow our team to continue giving our growing number of visitors the best possible welcome as they arrive at Burton Mere Wetlands. If you're interested, get in touch on email@example.com for more information.