Author: jo taylor

Blog Post: Snowed under in summer

Summer season is snowed under at Fairhaven With an underlying uncertainty shrouding the beginning of the year we were never wholly certain as to what the uptake of school visits back to Fairhaven would be like. Having been in a position to offer a funded subsidy we knew that the uptake at Leighton Moss had been substantial and with us having had a delay to the water supply to the new centre we weren’t sure what to expect. On return from the Easter holidays historically there’s a flurry of school enquiries and despite some trepidation this year did not disappoint, the flurry started before the schools broke up and continued on return too. As a result we are now almost fully booked for the whole of June and July. This has been no mean feat, some of our bookings are quite large, luckily Kirsty one of our education team volunteers enjoys leading too and where she is unavailable we have been able to call in the cavalry, with assistance from Carol the Learning Officer at Leighton Moss. In fact in it’s thanks to all of our volunteers that we are able to host so many visits. Our team of education team volunteers are fabulous. Assisting with the preparation of resources in the morning, engaging with the pupils and staff and then cleaning and tidying away at the end in readiness for the next day ensures that the day runs smoothly. Our feedback so far has been exemplary too, teachers really appreciating the effort that our volunteers go to and the valuable contribution that they make. There’ll be a nice big get together at the end and drinks will be on me! If you or anyone you know would be interesting in volunteering for the education team then click this link for further information. We are very much looking forward to a very busy season. For further information about our school offer click here , there are plenty of days in September. Our coastal sessions are popular at this time. On the other side of the estuary Things have been hectically busy on the other side of the estuary too. There’s been an arrival of new vehicles. Firstly there’s the new tractor, meaning excitement all round. This new vehicle also has a cab, so that even in inclement weather our wardens will stay dry! However, with the vehicle being a substantially taller, we’ve had to have a new door fitted on the garage to accommodate it. We’ve also had a boat donated to us from Burton Mere . Being in the middle of two of our sister reserves certainly has its benefits. There’s been volunteers working hard to renovate her and get her “ship shape” should we say? The boat will enable us to maintain the “wet fences” a lot easier than previously. Now does she need a name? Maybe in honour of a long standing staff member? We’ve a lot to thank our volunteers for here too as they’ve been e flat-out maintaining the fences and cutting the paths. They’ve also found time to construct some nice human ‘perches’ which have been going up around Marshside too, providing a rest for weary visitors (they’re much appreciated by the weary wardens too!). Our predator fences around the new scrape at Rimmers Marsh and at Hesketh out Marsh have been switched on, hopefully protecting the avocets nesting there, we are expecting chicks on the loose anytime soon. The tern rafts have also been put out at Hesketh, again protecting the terns from land predators, with Arctic terns queuing up to inspect them immediately, fingers crossed for a successful nesting season for them. Arctic terns make one of the longest migratory journeys wintering in the Antarctic and joining us here in the summer to breed, so lets hope they’re satisfied with their accommodation. Don’t forget to call in and see us in the Fairhaven Lake Visitor Centre , grab a coffee, peruse the books and grab some bird food, my birds are almost eating me out of house and home at the moment. Looking after little ones is energy zapping so I’m glad that the food I provide gives them that well deserved energy boost. All in all, we’re all snowed under, but in a good way. Jo Baby Arctic tern by Wes, tractor by Tony and school children by Jo

Blog Post: Cracking on with spring

Well it’s been a fabulously busy couple of weeks all around for the Ribble Reserves team. Over at Marshside a brand new outdoor viewing screen has been installed. The old one, worn and rotting was taken down with surprising ease. With help from our wonderful volunteers putting the new one up was made lighter work. The coot nesting nearby showed remarkable resilience and patience. Whilst not directly impacted by the short term alterations it must have encountered some light disruption. The wonderful new screen was an immediate attraction as not more than two days later a broad billed sandpiper filled the gap that last weeks black winged stilt had left. The sandpiper, a rare American vagrant to our shores was however a short lived visitor, disappearing overnight, classic broad billed sandpiper behaviour. What a wonderful bird for those that were lucky enough to catch its fleeting visit. However, the broad billed left a curlew sandpiper behind, another wonderful wading bird to add to the Marshside list. Over at Fairhaven, the spring migrants started to trickle in a little more steadily. Greater numbers of swallows were seen and whitethroats were once again singing in their usual territories on the dunes. Thursday this week saw a fleeting drop in from a female redstart and Friday brought more wheatears who had been surprisingly noticeable by their absence of late. I was also stopped in my tracks on my way around the lake this morning by a rather handsome gull, which I immediately thought to be a yellow-legged gull. I’m not 100% about this as they can be tricky to identify, so I’ve popped it on our Twitter page for some other opinions, so please take a look. As I write I am continually distracted by a pied wagtail nesting in a pile of pallets in front of my window, I’m hoping for glimpses of fledglings in the next few weeks. The school children are also arriving in good numbers from all over the Northwest. Some of the children visiting from Bolton this week had never been to the coast, to hear them say “wow, it’s so beautiful” and display genuine awe was amazing. During our “Investigating Coasts” session they discovered things they had never seen before whilst putting into context some of the things they had been learning about in class. We’ve actually undertaken a lot of coastal investigation sessions in the last few visits, including sand dune quadrat surveying. I know at least one school who has then taken the data they collated onsite and used it to extend learning in class, turning it into graphs to demonstrate their findings. One teacher saying that due the hands on practical aspect in context the children were able to learn in one session what would have taken her around three lessons to teach. We’ve had outstanding feedback so far too and are virtually fully booked for June and most of July, with some availability for May and of course there’s always September too. It’s certainly going to be a busy season. For further information about our school offer click here. We have a wide range of binoculars and telescopes in our shop at Fairhaven Lake too, whether you’re just starting out or are looking to upgrade there is always someone on hand who could help you try before you buy and offer good, impartial advice. We also sell second hand wildlife books, so why not come and check out what we have? We had two or three signed Bill Oddie books recently and have had some good classic identification guides too. There’s been some bargains to be had. If you have any good quality bird, wildlife and conservation books you’d like to donate then feel free to bring them down for us, we’d be very grateful. See you all soon Jo Whitethroat on Fairhaven sand dunes, wheatear and Oakhill School quadrat surveying by Jo

Blog Post: Never the twain shall meet

The Arctic meets the Mediterranean at Marshside this week The last time a black winged stilt was seen on the land at Marshside was when some of us were still in short pants, but not all of us (not to mention any names). The bird in question was seen on Polly’s Creek on 28 April 1984. Not a million dates away from this years sighting on 18 April. Stilts are members of the wader and avocet family and are more widely found in Europe and Africa, on marshes and shallow lakes. But, here is one on a saltmarsh in northwest England. This is testament to the fabulous habitat at Marshside. The land, managed by our wardens to attract protected and scarce breeding wading birds in the spring and to provide food and safety in winter has caught the eye of a “new” bird. This Mediterranean wader is currently rubbing shoulders with our Arctic winter visitors, who will be on the move northwards to their breeding grounds in the next few weeks. Whilst it may seem likely that the snow goose observed this winter has possibly got itself mixed up with the wrong flock of geese or “got on the wrong bus” so to speak, the stilt does not have that reason as to why it is here. It is commonly known that stilts do overshoot their northern migration or is it that this bird is a pioneer or a scout? The first successful breeding pair of black winged stilts in Britain was recorded in 1987 and a few pairs breed in southern parts of the country reasonably regularly, but it is still an unusual occurrence to find one in northwest England. If you’ve not seen it yet, it has been giving good views from Nel’s Hide. We also have other exciting visitors have also been seen or heard. Whilst many of the ducks that we see over the winter are now making their way over to the Northern breeding grounds, leaving our shores. Conversely there is one duck that travels from much further south, some of them landing on our shores. These beautiful visitors are garganey . They are the only ducks travelling northwards that land on our shores for the spring/summer season. It’s never truly certain how many of these secretive and elusive ducks breed here. They often arrive in pairs, but ducklings are rarely seen, never the less they are a marvellous duck and there has been a pair seen around the reserve. Fairhaven News During the Easter holidays families have enjoyed many activities around Fairhaven. We were pleased to note that the sun was shining on us for our family mud dipping session, and what a time we had. We found lots of weird and wonderful washed up beach treasures and then also found loads of live invertebrates that inhabit the mud. Ragworms were particularly abundant and there were plenty of bivalve shells to identify too. By the end of the session we were full of mud, we’d found fabulous things, had lots of fun together and had discovered lots of new creatures. The “Easter Egg-stravaganza” trail has also proved popular. If you’ve bought a pack but have not yet completed the trail, you have until the end of the month to do so, but don’t worry there will be a brand new fun family trail for the Summer holidays. We also have our bug hotel making on Sunday 1 May 1-3. Our bug hotels have been lovingly hand made out of marine plywood and are incredibly durable. Please book here to reserve your spot. Our nestbox making event in February half term was filled to capacity so booking is essential. We have also returned from the Easter break and are inundated with school visit enquiries which is great! We are almost full in June, but do have some spaces available in May. If you’d like to know more then check out our bookings pages here. See you all soon and keep your eyes and ears peeled, springtime is all around…. Jo Black winged stilt from archive by Jo, mermaids purse by Jo

Blog Post: Tis the season to be jolly.

Spring Arrivals Earlier in March we had a little blast of spring air. Chiffchaffs arrived, buds started to show and we had a blast of warmer air. We all started to get excited about the change of season, the arrival of wheatear and hirundines, such as sand and house martins . Visiting schools were especially thrilled, they appeared to have brought the sunshine with them. And then it all changed, the clouds and rain came over, and the wind changed direction. Despite several wanderings, only 2 wheatear have been seen out on the sand dunes and only a couple of sightings at Marshside . The change of wind direction is no longer favourable for them, there’s been very few sightings of hirundines over the coast too. Sand martins have been seen zipping around at some of our sites such as Leighton Moss and Burton Mere though. And, the avocets have made it. It would seem that osprey migration has continued with reports coming in of flyovers in the local area and the return of the ospreys at Foulshaw Moss , once again great to watch on the webcam. There’s also been a couple of ring ouzel sightings locally at Marton Mere and Cocker’s Dyke. But that’s it! However, April is the month of migration. Many of our summer breeders arrive in April, so the best is yet to come and I shall be keeping my eyes peeled for arrivals up on the dunes. The Haven of Fairhaven Meanwhile the summer season has kicked off at Fairhaven. The opening ceremony marked the official opening, of the Fairhaven Marine Lake and Gardens. The lake boats are now running at weekends and during school holidays, the trial canoeing, kayaking and SUP sessions took place and our Easter Eggstravaganza Family Lakeside Trail opened, which will run throughout all of April. Find out fun facts about a wide range of eggs and the amazing creatures that lay them whilst enjoying some fresh spring air after all those Easter eggs. We have also run a number of successful wader walks over the autumn and winter. Some with Stuart from Ribble Bird Tours and others with our other experienced guide John Swarbrick. Both have many years experience guiding bird and wildlife walks and you’ll never fail to learn something new. It was especially pleasing to see so many ringed plover on the high tide roost last week at Lytham jetty. This remarkable birds were well camouflaged along with lots of turnstone amongst the pebbles. They and the turnstones may not be around for very much longer as they commence their migratory journey northwards to breed in the Arctic tundra with so many other waders that over-winter on our shores. Education at Fairhaven It’s great to see schools returning to Fairhaven too. St Paul’s from Hoddlesden joined us earlier in the month and not only brought the sunshine with them but nearly 60 children. The trip consisted of children from Years 1 and 2, all of whom had never previously had the chance to attend a school trip because of the pandemic. They were fabulous, exploring the lake and gardens using their senses and discovering lots about plants. It was a real joy to have children back at the site where the RSPB have delivered an education programme since 1997. It’s nice to see so many enquiries and bookings now coming in for the summer term. So if you would like to visit with your class, I would urge you to book. June and July are filling up fast, there is more availability in May as it currently stands. If you would like to know more about a small travel subsidy that we have available for a limited number of visits then please email, check out our school visits page here for further information about our sessions and how to book your class a place. There’s also still time to book onto our Easter Family Mud Dipping event on 13 April at 2pm, for further information and booking please click here and don’t forget to regularly check out our events and activities page for everything available for the family with the RSPB at Fairhaven. This weekend see the Fairhaven Open Day on Sunday 10 April, where it’s your chance to have a go at all the activities available at Fairhaven. Check here, to find out just what’s on and call into the Visitor Centre for badgemaking and a browse. Take care all, Jo wheatear and ringed plover by Jo, mud dipping by Lisa Yarrow

Blog Post: Spring cleaning is in the air

Midwinter maintenance at Marshside Now is the best time to cut back your woody vegetation and our volunteers have been hard at it in the last few weeks. R egular ‘coppicing’ is a vital part of our successful habitat management. It promotes healthy re-growth and flowering and benefits insect life. This in turn benefits the ecosystem in an overall holistic way. We have a don’t have much time before the spring is here and the birds will want to start nesting again. It is imperative that we do this important work in this time frame, before true spring arrives. Once the birds start prospecting nest sites we are then unable to carry this work out. We have already noticed that some of birds are beginning to sing and it won’t be long before the pink footed geese depart our shores for their breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland. Soon afterwards we will begin to notice our breeding birds arriving back, chiff chaff, willow warbler , blackcap and wheatear often amongst the first spotted. Whilst trees and shrubs are important, we have to be careful to maintain them at a level that is in keeping with our coastal wetland setting. Leaving them to run wild would not be conducive to the important habitat we strive to provide for the wildlife here. The marsh is a magnet for nesting wetland birds, many of whom are of red list conservation status. We manage the land and growth of the vegetation to protect them from predators, we need to avoid having too many trees that would attract nesting crows and magpies. Of course, if it wasn’t for our human houses and gardens, the marshes would extend much further inland and the grazing animals and regular flooding would prevent the trees and shrubs from establishing themselves. Our human exploitations have already had a negative impact on the land, so we now work hard to remedy this, by providing a hospitable environment for these niche habitat birds to live and breed successfully. Cutting back the trees and shrubs has a multifaceted benefit, it also helps our smaller birds and insects. It creates a thick tangle of small branches which are ideal for protecting ground level nests such as wrens and robins from the attentions of the local cats and magpies. Why not volunteer? If you would like to help us out and join our volunteer team do get in touch. It’s a great way to keep healthy, meet people and learn more about wildlife. For more information about our opportunities then click here. We are looking for a wide variety of volunteers on both sides of the estuary. So if you or anyone you know is looking for a new challenge then why not check out our page? Sea wall walking We do sometimes have to close the footpath along the top of the sea wall if we are doing any potentially dangerous work. Please respect the signage and keep clear for your own safety. The section alongside the houses is not a Public Right of Way but a Permitted Path and so we are able to close it whenever we need to for safety reasons. If you do use the sea wall path to walk your dog, please do respect the needs of our other visitors, (people and wildlife), by keeping your dog on a lead and picking up any mess. Bins are available. Tony Jo Black tailed godwits on the cover by Wes

Blog Post: Nuts about nestboxes

February half term is National Nestbox Week Putting up a nestbox is a fabulous way to watch wildlife in your garden or local park, from noticing that the nestbox is being checked out by prospective tenants to watching the parents frantically to and fro with never ending supplies of food, to finally seeing the long awaited fledglings appear all wobbly and tentative at first, taking their first short flights. It can be a really exciting and rewarding experience. This week we are hosting two nestbox building sessions at Fairhaven Lake along with the Fairhaven Lake park team. We have some pre-cut nestbox kits ready to put together and then stain. NEWSFLASH: This event is now fully booked These nestboxes can then be taken home or donated to the park. But which birds are we likely to see using them and where is the best place for them to be placed? A nestbox is an excellent substitute for a tree hole. The species you attract will depend on the location, the type of box, and the size of the entrance hole. How big does the hole need to be? The entrance hole size depends on the species you hope to attract: 25 mm for blue, coal and marsh tits 28 mm for great tits, tree sparrows and pied flycatchers 32 mm for house sparrows and nuthatches 45 mm for starlings. Our pre-cut boxes are all cut with a hole ready for attracting tits predominantly. However, boxes with open fronts can attract robins, pied wagtails or wrens. These are available in the Fairhaven Lake Visitor Centre shop. It’s also a good idea to put a metal plate on the front of a tit box, to aid in minimising predation and destruction of the box. Positioning the nestbox Boxes for tits, sparrows or starlings should be fixed two to four metres up a tree or a wall. Unless there are trees or buildings which shade the box during the day, face the box between north and east, avoiding strong sunlight and the wettest winds. Make sure that the birds have a clear flight path to the nest without any clutter directly in front of the entrance. Tilt the box forward slightly so that any driving rain will hit the roof and bounce clear. House sparrows and starlings will readily use nestboxes placed high up under the eaves. These birds nest in loose colonies, so two or three can be sited spaced out on the same side of the house. Keep these away from areas where house martins normally nest. Two boxes close together may be occupied by the same species if they are at the edge of adjoining territories and there is plenty of natural food. While this readily happens in the countryside, it is rare in gardens, where you normally can only expect one nesting pair of any one species. The exceptions to this are house and tree sparrows and house martins, which are colonial nesters. By putting up different boxes, several species can be attracted. How to fix the nestbox Fixing your nestbox with nails may damage the tree. It is better to attach it either with a nylon bolt or with wire around the trunk or branch. Use a piece of hose or section of car tyre around the wire to prevent damage to the tree. Remember that trees grow in girth as well as height, and check the fixing every two or three years. Open-fronted boxes for robins and wrens need to be low down, below 2m, well hidden in vegetation. Woodpecker boxes need to be 3-5m high on a tree trunk with a clear flight path and away from disturbance. Nestboxes are best put up during the autumn. Many birds will enter nestboxes during the autumn and winter, looking for a suitable place to roost or perhaps to feed. They often use the same boxes for nesting the following spring. Tits will not seriously investigate nesting sites until February or March. Avoid inspecting and going close up to nestboxes in use, however tempting it may be. Watch and enjoy from a distance, disturbance from humans can lead to nest desertion. If you want to see the chicks as they grow, you could consider installing a nest box camera before the breeding season starts. When to clean and empty the box We recommend that old nests are removed in autumn, from September (ideally October) onwards once the birds have stopped using the box. Please ensure the nest is no longer active, as some species can nest right through to September. Use boiling water to kill any remaining parasites, and let the box dry out thoroughly before replacing the lid. Do not use insecticides and flea powders. Unhatched eggs in the box can only be removed legally between September and January (August-January if you’re in Scotland) – and must then be disposed of. If you place a small handful of clean hay or wood shavings (not straw) in the box once it is thoroughly dry after cleaning, small mammals may hibernate there, or birds may use it as a roost site. There were once 64 wrens discovered in a winter roost inside a nexstbox! Good luck with yours this season Jo nestbox by Andy Hay and blue tit by Matt Wilkinson (RSPB-images)

Blog Post: saltmarsh, sand dunes and sea air

Saltmarsh The Ribble Estuary is one of the most important places for birds in Europe and so has been designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) offering high levels of protection. The Ribble Estuary NNR , which includes our Marshside and Hesketh Out Marsh reserves, is England’s third largest NNR and is one of the Top Ten most important wetlands in the UK for the numbers of water birds that live here, which is why it is so important to protect it. That’s not to mention the abundance of brown hares , butterflies, other incredible insects and specialist plants that live there too. But it isn’t all here by magic…… Saving Saltmarsh The saltmarsh and wetlands of Marshside are not only home to a range of incredible creatures, from insects, to plants, mammals and birds that thrive in this harsh environment. They also benefit people, by reducing flood risk to homes and businesses and helping to tackle climate change by storing carbon. Sadly though, much of the saltmarsh and wetlands in this country have been lost to human activity such as development and agriculture, and are further threatened by climate change, making this reserve vitally important for wildlife and people. That is why it is so crucial to protect the landscape here at Marshside and the wildlife that lives in it all year round. When visiting any of our Ribble reserves that’s Marshside, Hesketh out Marsh and Fairhaven Lake , we ask that visitors please stay on the waymarked paths, keep dogs on leads and #watchyourstep because venturing onto the saltmarshes can cause serious disturbance to both wintering and nesting birds, and can also be hazardous for people and dogs. Many of the birds on the Ribble Estuary have flown thousands of miles from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to spend the autumn and winter months here on the Ribble Estuary. Some use the site as a service station to refuel on their migration north or south, such as wheatear on their spring and autumn migration passage. Other birds spend the spring and summer months here and use the saltmarsh to raise their families. Unfortunately, the birds are often unintentionally disturbed by human activities such as: dog walking, drones, model airplanes, birdwatching, photography, walking and kite flying. The birds perceive these to be predators and so the effect of this disturbance is multifaceted. Disturbing birds does more than simply causing them to fly away; it uses up their energy reserves, decreasing their chances of survival. Once disturbed, birds, especially waders take a long time to settle and will remain alert for a long time afterwards. This means they cannot rest properly after a disturbance event. The over-wintering birds come here to feed or to ‘roost’ (rest and conserve energy). Winter is a particularly stressful time for these birds, some of which may have lost half of their body weight during migration. They need to be able to rest and feed on the marshes undisturbed, to regain condition and put on enough weight to survive the winter and make the migration back to their breeding grounds in the spring. The same can be said for the saltmarsh and sand dune areas of Fairhaven. Continual disturbance by humans and dogs jeopardises birds fledgling and survival rates. Just because you cannot see the birds does not mean they are not there. We have also had to respond to an increasing number of incidents of dogs attacking swans and other birds at Fairhaven. A swan or goose will protect itself and its young if under threat. A Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) is now in place, which means dogs do need to be on leads around the lake and it would be sensible to do the same in the sand dune area too. There isn’t actually a very long history of the marsh at Marshside being used by the general public, as up until 2006, the sand works were still operational. There were big dumper trucks to contend with during the day, which put off all but the keenest of folk. These large vehicles are now gone, but there are still continuing safety implications for people accessing the marsh. Warning signs are up to highlight the hazards of incoming tides, strong winds, soft mud and gullies. However tempting the landscape looks, we strongly advise that visiors should stick to the waymarked route and always be mindful of high tide times, to avoid getting stranded or caught out by the sea. pink Marshside sunset and wheatear by Wes Davies

Blog Post: A Marshside mix – guest writer and Marshside regular Martin Campbell

Marshside observations from a Marshside regular At this time of year, there are thousands of birds, pretty much everywhere at Marshside, alternately picked out by the low winter sun and disappearing in the overcast gloom. There has been days of perfect light as well as some dark, gloomy days, some of those fortuitously relenting to the winter sunshine eventually. There’s a wide variety of ducks on the pools, including high numbers of wigeon , teal and pintail . The handsome male pochards stand out with with their stunning red eyes reflecting the sun as they drift in the wind, viewed well from Nel’s hide. Days of perfect, lovely light display golden plover as their name suggests, golden and shimmering in the winter rays of the sun. There are an estimated 2,200+ golden plovers over-wintering here, a few of them are already beginning to show the black of their stunning breeding plumage on their underparts. Seeing these flocks wheeling through the skies is mesmerising, their golden shimmers twisting and turning in the sun. Alongside these are roughly 4.300 lapwing , peewit or green plover as they used to be known. The sun once again uncovers the beauty of their plumage. Iridescence giving rise to shades of blue, green and purple. From Fairclough’s (Hesketh Road), groups of winter black headed gulls , all face into the wind, just like the plovers and redshank are easily spotted feeding in the shallow waters. From Nel’s Hide little grebes give their locations away with their neighing horse like calls whilst little egret and pied wagtail are frequently observed regulars from Sandgrounder’s Hide. Winter peregrines give amazing and spectacular displays of hunting skills and are often viewed from Fairclough’s platform (Hesketh Road) these flybys frequently throw the ducks and waders into mass panic. Scattering them in all directions until some sort of calm is restored, often temporary as they are always on high alert, the redshank often poised even more acutely than anyone else. Photos: Two male pochards and “peregrine panic” by Martin Campbell Cover photo: Little grebe by Martin Campbell

Blog Post: Advance notice of resurfacing works for Marine Drive

Marine Drive (Marshside) to close for 3 months Sefton Council are planning to resurface much of the Marine Drive coast road at Marshside, with the road set to close from Monday 24 th January for up to 3 months. The aim is to improve the surface and rem…

Blog Post: The best of 2021

Well, it was slow start to the year with the easing of Covid restrictions. But the wildlife is ever present, no matter who is watching, or waiting, the cycle of life continues. These are some of the wildlife highlights this year. Firstly though we must mention the re-opening of our brand new Fairhaven Lake Visitor Centre. We are proud once again to be serving the people of the Northwest and from further afield. Bringing wildlife to your doorstep, supplying bird feeders and nature homes to the region and re-starting our vital education delivery of up to 2000 school children per year. This year started a little frosty. The development works to the buildings around the lake were in full flow. The lake almost totally froze over at one point in January, providing some swan ice skating comedy. The black and white oystercatchers out on the estuary high tide roost, looked like penguins from a distance too. Moving into spring, the arrival of stonechat mark the beginning of the breeding season. In comparison to many other migratory birds they have a relatively short distance to fly, with many coming from Spain, France or even just further south in the UK. A pair nested on the sand dunes at Fairhaven and produced a very early brood, with four fledglings. It’s more than likely that they went on to produce at least one other brood too. Watching this little family groups was fantastic and a personal highlight for me. However, one cannot forget the extraordinary photos of avocets at Hesketh out Marsh either. This photo taken by Wes at the beginning of April, looks like a painting. Their monochrome bodies bright against the perfect blue sky and I love the odd one out. Can you spot the stray bird? Look at the larger picture in the header. It was also cuteness overload with our Arctic tern chicks. Fabulous to see them using the tern tables, which provide a safe off the ground nesting spot, less accessible for land predation. Seven pairs were observed to breed at Hesketh out Marsh on the new rafts with three of the pairs successfully fledging two chicks each. The signs so far look good for the coming years. We were treated to a fabulous display one spring morning at high tide. A large flock of ringed plover and dunlin on a migratory stopover were pushed into Granny’s Bay at high tide. Everyone meandering down the promenade stopped to watch this extraordinary sight. With the advancing tide, the birds were pushed even closer to the shore, with hundreds of birds dotting around on the sand close in. Spectators “oooed” and “ahhhed” and were astounded at this spectacle, rarely do we see such a large flock so close in to the seawall. During the summer swallows swooped and swifts dash across the lake. Their numbers felt lower than years gone by, they face difficulties along their journey as well as limited spaces for nesting. Swift boxes must be a priority to put up next year. The lake and gardens are alive with busy birds throughout summer, not just the mallards and geese, but the garden, woodland and coastal birds. Linnets busily feed their families in the gorse bushes on the sand dunes, were wonderful to watch. There are a host of newly fledged birds including goldfinch , chiff chaff and willow warbler, as well as the more familiar blackbirds and robins, hopping around the trees. Before long the autumn passage begins and we start to note wheatears on the saltmarsh once again, stocking up on fuel before undertaking their enormous journey to Africa. Again watching wheatears hopping around the saltmarsh is an autumn highlight for me. Many of these are young birds making their way to warmer climes for the winter. The particular bird in the photo caught my eye this year as it was a paler bird than the others it was with. It is vital that these birds are able to utilise this feeding period to full advantage, stocking up on nutrients to last them as their journey progresses. However, it is all too familiar a sight that dogs disturb them, sending them into panic, using up food stores they are desperately trying to increase. Sadly this is the same for the birds that arrive on our shores for the winter too. Wader numbers increase by thousands on the estuary for winter. Once again these birds are constantly feeding, their need to consume calories to see them through the winter is a finely tipped scale. Dogs off leads allowed to chase feeding birds are a major source of disturbance and in some cases can be the difference in their survival prospects. Suddenly, the sound of pink footed geese fill the air. Hundreds of thousands of pink footed geese make their way from Iceland and Greenland to our shores to spend the winter. They are joined by vast numbers of black and bar tailed godwits , wigeon , teal , shelduck and pintail . All of these birds breed further north, making their way to our shores in autumn. The Ribble Estuary is the largest and most important single river estuary in the UK for these over wintering wildfowl. Many flit between Marshside and Lytham, spending their days feeding on the mudflats and wetlands. On our latest “Wader Watch Walk” large numbers of pintail were observed flying across the estuary and these beautiful ducks can sometimes be seen bobbing on the high tide at Granny’s Bay. Our next walk is our “Christmas Wader Watch Walk” on 23 December 11-2. If you’d like more information or to book, please click here. Of course the “lake cormorants ” also return for the winter, little egret and heron are seen on a daily basis around the lake edge. We are still awaiting the return of the winter kingfisher and eyes are peeled for the zip of blue. Scaup , pochard and a female goldeneye were also seen hanging around with the tufted ducks last year. We are awaiting to see who will choose the lake this winter. Marshside is of course alive with raptors at this time of year. Many harrier species are on the move throughout autumn, so ringtail hen harriers can be seen and there’s plenty marsh harrier activity too. Approximately three short eared owls are being regularly observed across the marshes presently. Short eared owls are diurnal and can therefore be seen hunting in daylight hours too. There’s been excitement recently at Sandgrounders hide with the re-emergence of a water rail . Whilst they may never have actually been anywhere, it has been some time since a water rail has been observed, so this is a definite positive to look forward to as the year progresses. Of course the autumn and winter sunsets are unbeatable along our coast too, across the estuary and over the lake, from the sand dunes is a great spot. As you can see the estuary and area around Fairhaven is alive with wildlife and all the other flora and fauna make up the balance in delicate ecosystem. The role our wardening team play in maintaining the wetland environment at Marshside and Hesketh out Marsh is of vital importance and their fabulous work enables nature to flourish, doing exactly what our strap line says and “giving nature a home”. What a wonderful place for some fresh air and nature. There’s loads going on around you all the time. As well as our fabulous #RobinRobin adventure trail at Fairhaven Lake there’s plenty for all to see. Don’t be afraid to call in the Visitor Centre to find out more and we hope to see you soon. Jo Photos from left to right Juvenile stonechat (Jo), swans on frozen Fairhaven Lake (Jo), avocets (Wes), Arctic tern chick (Wes), ringed plover at Granny’s Bay (Jo), wheatear (Jo), single ruff with black tailed godwit at Marshside (Wes), sunset (Jo), short eared owl (Ben Andrew RSPB-images)