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  • Anticipation and Preparation

    Mersehead Recent Sightings 10th- 16th February

    Winter and Spring sit side by side at this time of year.  With the hedgerows coming alive with the songs of Greenfinch, Robin, Wren and Blue Tit but with thousands of wintering Svalbard Barnacle Geese, wildfowl and waders still present as well 100’s of wintering finches, it’s a time of anticipation. Animals are building up strength for the trials and tribulations of the year ahead; long journeys, finding a mate, finding food to feed a nest full of hungry mouths.  We manage Mersehead to provide these things; grass for Geese, winter crops for finches, wetland habitat for waders and wildfowl.   Recent management has seen us dropping the water levels slightly in front of the visitor’s centre to expose muddy edges and make accessible areas that were previously too deep for dabbling ducks and as a result there has been a marked increase in the amount of birds present.  Pintail still feed in the deeper areas; its long, sword-like tail feather pointing skyward, whilst the diminutive Teal can be seen hugging the shallower edges, being the smallest duck in the UK it is unable to access food from the deeper water where the Pintail feeds.  Shoveler are regularly present, sieving mud and water with their comically oversized spatulate bill to hopefully reveal seeds and insects within.   Lapwing and Redshank feed along the newly exposed muddy edges whilst the two Little Egret’s continues to be sighted most days.

    Shoveler.  Photo credit: Andy Hay

    We’ve had good numbers of Skylark and Linnet on our Winter Passerine survey this week with 72 and 81 birds counted respectively.  A group of 10 Reed Bunting and 38 Chaffinch were seen feeding in the same field as the Skylark and Linnet whilst two Bullfinch were seen in the hedgerow outside the Sulwath Centre.  Though not recorded on the survey, two Siskin have been regular visitors to the feeders this week.

    Male Bullfinch.  Photo credit: John Bridges

    On Tuesday some of our volunteers and a few lucky visitors witnessed a Barn Owl flying around by the Barns (cliche?) during in the day.  Although we can’t be sure why, one reason that it’s thought Barn Owls hunt in the day, when they’re usually a nocturnal hunter, is that poor weather overnight prevents them from hunting successfully.  This theory fits with this sighting as the previous night saw wet and windy weather prevail.

    Barn Owl.  Photo credit: John Bridges

    On Friday we were over at Kirkconnell carrying out our monthly Wetland Bird Survey.  It was a fairly quiet count compared to previous surveys but highlights included 29 Shelduck, 91 Curlew, 39 Oystercatcher, 85 Redshank, 10 Dunlin, as well as 1 knot and 1 pink-footed Goose.  Although the Inner Solway is the most important site for Knot in Scotland, with large numbers being seen at Caerlaverock close by, the Knot is an uncommon sight at Kirkconnell so it was great to see and record this species. 

    Back at Mersehead 837 Golden Plover were seen on the new land, whilst over 300 Lapwing can be seen feeding and flocking regularly from Bruiach Hide.  During the week Barnacle Geese have been feeding regularly in the first field on your left as you enter the reserve, giving great views as you drive towards the car park.

    Why not join us from 10am- 1pm this Sunday for our Bird Ringing Demo.  North Solway Ringing Group's ringing demonstrations are not to be missed.  We're offering a unique and rare opportunity to experience close encounters of the birds seen at our visitor centre, like blue tits, green finches and highly camouflaged tree sparrows. You never know what you might see! Join us to discover more about the lives of these intriguing little birds. Drop in at any time during the morning's activity.  Price: Adults £4 (RSPB members £3), Children half price. Car parking charges apply for non members. For more information you can call us on 01387 780579.

    Lana Blakely, Assistant Warden

  • Wildfowl and Waders

    Mersehead Recent Sightings 3rd – 9th February

    February has arrived and signs of spring are appearing. The woodland is starting to wake up with the distinctive song of the Wren trilling out from the undergrowth. Great tits are singing high up in the branches and Skylark can be heard over the meadows. The days are growing noticeably longer with the light lingering on until at least five thirty. At the start of the week we were out completing the February supplementary WeBS count across Mersehead with a total of 14,096 individual wildfowl and waders counted. After recent heavy rain and a large amount of snowmelt coming off the surrounding hills, water levels have been a touch too high recently. This week however the wetlands have been looking fantastic with a drop in water levels attracting waders to feed in the freshly exposed mud.

    Dusk from Bruiach Hide. Photo Credit: Eric Neilson

    A total of 489 Lapwing, 54 Curlew, 2 Redshank and a Little Egret were recorded from Bruiach Hide. The lapwing could be heard as far away as the car park. Eleven species of wildfowl were recorded across the wetlands: Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Barnacle Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Pintail and Shoveler. Red Kite was spotted soaring high over the saltmarsh. At the Western high tide point 1960 Oystercatcher, 199 Curlew and 19 Ringed Plover gathered to wait out the incoming tide. They were joined by 1 lonesome Great Black-backed Gull. There is a second high tide roost at the east side of the reserve looking towards Southerness Lighthouse where there tends to be a higher diversity of waders present. The count earlier this week found 866 Oystercatcher, 166 Golden Plover, 56 Ringed Plover, 48 Curlew, 1880 Dunlin, 3 Redshank and 1 Bar-tailed Godwit. The gull count was fairly low with just 16 Black-headed Gull and 3 Common Gull recorded.

    Wigeon. Photo Credit: Andy Hay

    This winter, we have been concentrating on improving habitat for our rare amphibian, the natterjack toad. Adult and juvenile toads prefer areas with very short vegetation because they actively hunt their prey by running after it unlike other amphibians which sit and wait for their prey to walk past. Tall vegetation surrounding the breeding pools also increases the like hood of the male toads being predated.

    Natterjack pools ready for the new season: Photo credit: Rowena Flavelle

    Don’t forget you can join us on Sunday 11th February for our next Duck & Goose guided walk around RSPB Mersehead.  Learn more about where they have come from, and what we do to attract them.  For more information you can call us on 01387 780579 or email us at

    Rowena Flavelle, Warden

  • Lapwing a plenty

    Mersehead Recent Sightings 27th January - 2nd February

    There has been a steady improvement in weather conditions as the week progressed. The weekend was unfortunately unsettled, and there has been a cold wind blowing through the early part of the week, however Thursday & Friday have been quite glorious, with wall to wall sunshine & clear skies.

    Visitors may have noticed a drop in water levels on the wetland in front of the Bruiach hide this week. A reason we control the levels of water is to assist the waterfowl and waders feeding.  With recent rainfall, levels had risen so much, some areas were becoming too deep for ducks such as pintail & teal to feed out on the water.  A maximum depth of water a pintail can feed in is around 50cm and for a teal is around 25cm.   Altering the levels of water will also encourage the birds to feed in different areas of the wetlands, and make the most of what food is available.

    This also helps the waders too, as the water levels drop and the edges of the wetlands become exposed, a fresh source of invertebrates become accessible for waders, such as Lapwing to feed on. This week we have been watching large flocks of Lapwing, counting over 500 one day, feeding on our wetlands across from the Bruiach hide. Lapwings mainly feed by scanning the ground and listening, before snatching the food in its bill.  Lapwing can begin their courtship displays as early as February with the breeding season continuing through until May/June, so it won’t be long before we are seeing the males perform their dramatic acrobatic displays.

    Lapwing. Photo Credit: Chris Gomersall (

    Whilst surveying this week out on our Kirkconnel reserve, we spotted 35 pink-footed geese. It is this time of year they make their journey back to their breeding grounds in Iceland & Greenland.  Over the last couple of weeks we have been seeing large skeins passing over head. This group were most probably having a few days’ rest, on route from their winter feeding grounds in the south.  Amongst others, we also recorded 5 gooseander, 22 goldeneye, 274 curlew & 126 redshank.

    Pink-footed geese in flight. Photo Credit: Andy Hay (

    The colourful male Bullfinches have been displaying well in the hedgerows along the track towards the woods and in the trees & bushes around the Sulwath centre. Sparrowhawks have been seen scouting above the visitor centre and also within the Meida hide woods.  A kingfisher was spotted dashing along the beck, running parallel with Rainbow Lane on Thursday afternoon.   We have also heard our first singing skylark of the year!

    Male Bulfinch. Photo Credit: John Bridges (

    Don’t forget you can join us on Sunday 11th February for our next Duck & Goose guided walk around RSPB Mersehead.  Learn more about where they have come from, and what we do to attract them.  For more information you can call us on 01387 780579 or email us at

    Jon Foot  Residential Volunteer