Burton Mere Wetlands 5th June 2019

The Birdwatching Group had an official summer car trip to Burton Mere on the Dee Estuary on the 5th of June. I had been there on a private visit a few week’s earlier on 15th May. This report is a combination of both visits.

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Earlier in the spring the RSPB were excited to announce that 5 species of heron were attempting to nest at Burton Mere reserve. There is already a thriving colony of Grey Herons and Little Egrets at the site, and they were joined this year by a pair of Western Cattle Egrets, a pair of Great Egrets, and a pair of Eurasian Spoonbills. The Cattle Egrets had bred here successfully back in 2017 but neither Great Egrets nor Spoonbills have bred here before.

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As well as the herons there were also several other “exotics” breeding on the reserve. At least 10 pairs of Mediterranean Gulls were reported to have joined the Black-headed Gull colony and there were a lot of Pied Avocets present. I didn’t count them but there could well have been 20-30 pairs. Just a few years ago both species were typically confined to the south and south-east of England but they have been relentlessly spreading their breeding range northwards in recent years. And for good measure the RSPB confirmed that 2 pairs of Bearded Tits were now nesting in the reedbed. So, a lot to look out for!

Unfortunately on the day of the Group visit the Cattle Egrets had disappeared. They were reported present on BirdGuides the day before and they were back again the day after. However no such problems on my first visit. Shortly after arriving at the reception area an egret flew in from the right (where the heronry is) across the scrape then out of sight on the left. We immediately set off along the path in that direction and found 2 Cattle Egrets in the field behind the Bunker Hide. They were in the field with the cattle just as Cattle Egrets are supposed to do. The egrets were certainly showing breeding plumage with orange on the crown, breast and back. They were quite far down the field and stayed well apart so I couldn’t get both in the same photo. The cattle were lying down so not actively disturbing insects and the egrets were going really close in and at times seemed to peck directly on the cattle.

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On the other side of the reserve on the path heading towards Inner Marsh Pool the RSPB had mown the long grass and fenced off a small area near the entrance to the Marsh Covert Hide to provide a viewpoint towards the heronry. On the way there on the first visit we saw a Spoonbill flying in towards the heronry with sticks in its beak, suggesting nest building. From the viewpoint a Spoonbill could be seen sitting in the trees but it wasn’t possible to see if it was sitting on a nest or not. At times it was very close to a Grey Heron and Little Egrets could frequently be seen in the foreground. It was possibly not the same bird that we had seen flying – this one seemed to be roosting rather than nest building.

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On the day of the Group visit no Spoonbill activity could be seen in the heronry from the viewpoint, in fact no heron activity of any kind there at all. But we did have very nice views of a Spoonbill out on the Inner Marsh Pool. It was standing in shallow water roosting for a while then went for a walkabout into the deeper water where it then enjoyed a very vigorous bath. There has obviously been an influx of Spoonbills into the area this year. I have noticed that a group of up 9 Spoonbills have been reported on Parkgate Marsh over the summer.

On the first visit a Great Egret dropped in on the Inner Marsh Pool while we were in the hide. It didn’t stay long though. It was immediately harassed by the Black-headed Gulls which constantly dive-bombed it since they were unhappy about it being so close to their colony. After a few minutes it soon got the message and flew off elsewhere for some peace and quiet. There were no Great Egret sightings in the reserve on the Group visit. Paradoxically it now appears that Great Egrets were the only members of the trio of new nesters to successfully breed at Burton Mere this year. The RSPB announced that 2 juvenile birds had been seen begging food from the adults suggesting a successful fledging. As far as I am aware neither the Cattle Egrets nor Spoonbills fledged any young this year.

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Mediterranean Gulls could be seen in the main Black-headed Gull colony on the islands of the scrape on the first visit, but not easily. They seemed to occupy the centre of the islands in the longest vegetation. A head or two could occasionally be seen through the scope but too far away for any photos. No Mediterranean Gulls could be seen here at all on the Group visit, mainly because the vegetation had now grown even longer. I thought we were going to dip on this species but we were fortunate that a Mediterranean Gull flew in onto the Inner Marsh Pool while we were watching the Spoonbill from The Marsh Covert Hide. It landed on a small tussock of grass completely out in the open giving good scope views. After a quick spruce-up lasting less than 5 minutes it flew away. Reports of juvenile birds seen later in the summer indicate that the Mediterranean Gulls had a successful breeding season. There were lots of Black-headed Gull chicks, mostly very noisy and constantly begging for food, easily seen on the Group visit.

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Avocets were plentiful on the reserve on both visits. On the first visit many adults were out on the scrape fishing or roosting by the edge. But it appeared that many more were possibly sitting on nests. On the second visit this was confirmed by lots of Avocet chicks running around. Although mostly still at the downy phase with short bills, the start of an upturn in the bill could easily be seen.
Black-tailed Godwits were also plentiful at the reserve on both visits. Many were showing the orange rufous colouration of breeding plumage on the head, neck and breast and were possibly using the reserve as a stopping-off point to feed up on the way to their breeding grounds in Iceland and northern Europe. On the second visit there was a particularly large flock of over 100 in front of the Inner Marsh Hide which also contained a handful of Dunlins. A small flock of Dunlins was also seen on the mud at the edge of the pool.

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Turning now to consider the reedbed, both Reed Buntings and Reed Warblers were seen here, the latter on the Group visit. However, the Bearded Tits were as elusive as ever with so signs seen at all on either visit. From the Marsh Covert Hide, looking out on the reedbed side, there was a very nice close-in Little Grebe on my first visit and also several Coot chicks – fluffy little black balls with gingery heads.

During the second visit there were quite a number of Common Whitethroats present, particularly in the bushes down on the farm side of the reserve. They were actively singing and quite approachable with care. Also at this time there were a lot of Barn Swallows and Sand Martin flying over the reserve, and one or two Common Swifts in the air as well. Back at the Reception feeders we were entertained by several juvenile Great Tits and then a Great Spotted Woodpecker that came in for a feed.

For more photos from Burton Mere please visit Sandpiper’s page on the Group website at http://www.wgbwcopy.wikidot.com/sandpiper-s-page

ROBERT D

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