New Year at Marshside and Hesketh Out Marsh As the year that was 2020 drew to a close, Marshside saw a few fleeting appearances of Kelvin- Helmholtz clouds. These rare wave like formations take their name from the physicists that first described the complexities of wave formations in air and liquids (The Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability ). They occur in clouds when there is a strong vertical shear between two air streams, which happens surprisingly scarcely. The new year arrived with some ‘proper’ winter weather freezing most of the reserve. Rimmer’s marsh was almost completely frozen, with only the hardiest gulls left standing on the ice and good numbers of pintail and shoveler on the small patches of clear water. Moving water on Sutton’s and Crossens marshes kept the ice at bay in places, much to the advantage of wigeon and teal . The cold snap eventually subsided to rain (and a little snow) leaving the marshes looking muddy and wet again. Any freshly exposed mud was quickly taken advantage of as birds topped up any extra calories they missed under the ice. The long range forecast suggests that we are due another cold snap in the near future as a result of the polar vortex collapse at the beginning of January. Keeping the Reserve Open and Covid Safe 2020 was testing and turbulent for everyone (2021 is starting much the same). At Marshside , the changing rules and guidance on what we can open, social distancing and hygiene have affected the way people can visit our sites and the way we work dramatically. On the ground our amazing volunteers rose to the challenges at short notice, incorporating safe working and traveling throughout. Despite the social distancing constraints, sanitising of tools and daily interference that Covid has brought they continue to over achieve. We would be lost without their dedication. Why don’t birds feet freeze It seems an impossibility that birds can stand so happily on ice without getting cold, or even frozen feet. This hardiness is the result of a clever complex of veins and arteries, including a contraflow arrangement mid leg. This system acts as a heat exchange, releasing only enough heat to the foot to keep it going. This keeps the rest of the body warm as minimal heat has a chance to pass to the ground. Feathers make great waterproof insulators, and we see these change externally as they move from summer to winter plumage. Breeding plumage can take up a lot of energy to keep up (after all they are showing off), winter plumage is less elaborate which saves energy on maintenance. Underneath this exterior change, big changes can happen. Long distance migrants can change the size and shape of their organs to help them fly amazing long distances. Birds wintering in cold climates can change the size and shape of organs to keep heat in and store more fat. Works at Marshside/Hesketh Weather and lockdown permitting we have plans to finish the fencing work started last year on Rimmer’s and Hesketh East. We also hope to get the ‘tern sanctuary’ on East established, all we need is some good weather at the right time. Our bigger projects are; We have some more ‘you are here’ signs ready to go up around the reserves at key points. Predator exclusion fencing on Rimmer’s Marsh Predator exclusion fencing on Hesketh East New tern rafts and habitat at Hesketh East Ditch restoration and habitat creation at Hesketh West And at Fairhaven Work continues in the RSPB building at Fairhaven Lake, with all internal structures in place, walls are plastered and ready for painting. Very soon it will be time to fit out the new shop area and start the installation of the new information boards for the Visitor Centre. These photos show the interior of the pagoda building. The first picture is of the shop area. This has been expanded to include the old office and kitchenette area. Thus making the retail space far bigger than previously. The second picture shows the layout of the Visitor Centre side. There will be a site ‘Welcome’ from here and an opportunity to download informative site apps as well as interactive boards and screens in the centre itself. Work is also progressing well in the Isaac Dixon boathouse. This will be the watersports and education centre. Included in this will be a fabulous new classroom area for visiting schools. It’s light and airy and has ample toilets and handwashing facilities for children. It’s going to make a fantastic base for our education delivery, before we get out to the ‘hands on’ stuff. The double doors will be the main entrance to the classroom space. There will be ample toilet and washing facilities for this area. The whole building is such a huge space it’s really exciting to know that it’s going to get lots of use.
RSPB Marshside Christmas Challenge Can you help decorate Sandgrounders’ hide Christmas Tree ? And what can you see on the way? This is a two part Christmas challenge Part One – At home Using your Christmas crafting skills make a decoration for our Christmas tree in Sangrounders’ Hide – Marshside Nature Reserve. Wrap up warm ready to visit Marshside reserve Part Two – At Marshside Nature Reserve Find Sandgrounders’ hide at Marshside Reserve and hang your decoration on the tree (The tree will be up until the 4th of January). Optional – take photo of it in place, or a selfie of you hanging it, and share with us (Tweet @RSPB_Ribble or Facebook @RSPBRibbleEstuary ) and we will share it on. On your way to the hide and back to deliver your decoration, can you do the following? Find a bird with a long neck Hear a duck whistle See bird with a long beak Find a bird that has travelled from Iceland Count a flock of 1000+ birds (best guesses are OK) Hint- The longer you stay hidden in the hide the more you will see Decoration Ideas Make a string Bird – Click here for tips Make a Food Chain Mobile – Click here for tips Or be Creative – Check out these festive birds made by our teams little ones Map Link to full map here Cheat Sheet Pink Footed Geese travel to Marshside to winter all the way from Iceland and Greenland. They are the most numerous goose on the Ribble, and we have counted over 23,000 at Marshside in one go! B lack-tailed Godwit have long beaks to reach into the mud and find tasty worms in the deep mud. Wigeon are wintering at Marshside in large numbers – And they whistle – kind of – most certainly more of a whistle than a quack! https://vimeo.com/80365772 Little Egrets are experts at fishing, but don’t mind eating the odd frog or two! They have a long neck to increase their reach. Info on Covid Safety stuff for grownups here Info on the reserve here (Carpark is free to RSPB members and £1.50 for two hours for non-members) If you enjoyed this – why not check out our other wild challenges here
What are my birding highlights over the last few weeks at RSPB Marshside ? Well, there have been spectacular displays of thousands of Black-tailed Godwits , Lapwings and Golden Plovers which make an incredible sight when flushed from the ground by a hunting raptor. This has notably been a Peregrine, which had a real go at them! However, this time has provided me with close-up portraits of both male and female Kestrels , a useful opportunity to compare. There I was photographing my first ever Grey Phalarope (rare bird!), when this male Kestrel flew towards me, landed on the most perfectly placed fencepost and posed coyly for several minutes. His blue-grey head and tail and lighter, less speckled back separate him from all other British falcons. Top moment! This female Kestrel was waiting patiently for me to photograph her. Immediately I’d finished, she bobbed a couple of times and flew off fast and low, causing mass panic among the ducks. Its grey-brown head separates it from the male (with blue-grey head). It’s also paler brown on the head and back than the female Merlin and has streaks rather than the Sparrowhawk’s bars on the front. The Grey Phalarope is quite a rarity, as only a few make landfall during their southwards migration which is mostly over the Atlantic Ocean. About the size of a Starling , this winter bird is identified mostly by its head pattern, which to me makes it look like a balding old man with a black eye! There is also a distinctive dark stripe down the back of its neck. This Water Rail was only the second I have ever seen! I know most of you realise how rare and privileged a sight this is, as these birds generally stay well out of sight in the reedbeds. They are rather like a small, attractively marked Moorhen, with longer red beak. The beak was covered in mud in the first two photos, which made me think it might be a young one. However, young ones have a paler straw-coloured beak and much paler neck and breast. They have a beautiful dark blue-grey neck and breast, chestnut-brown back heavily speckled with black and bold black-and-white barring on their underparts. This one held its tail permanently upright, like a Wren . The final joy for me at this time of year are the incredible Marshside sunsets, which give a whole new perspective on bird photography. Here is a small selection of photographs featuring Greylag and Pink-footed Geese , which I feel speak for themselves.
Marshside Large flocks of birds love our Marshside reserves this time of year. Peak counts of black-tailed godwit still surpass 5,000 while over 20,000 pink footed geese regularly roost on the saltmarsh and graze the inner marshes. Wigeon are mobile, but have been giving up super views from Marshside rd recently often accompanied by teal . Scarcer ducks can be found, with a sleepy scaup settled in by Faircloughs platform and a visiting goldeneye. There have been up to two long tailed ducks at HOM and reports of short-eared owls across the NNR. An unseasonal Avocet has also made an appearance at HOM – and unusual sighting for this time of year. Grey Phalarope on Rimmers A grey phalarope has stayed for a few days on Rimmers marsh as I write. This is the second of the year, and much more visible than the last. We just love the way these birds spin and forage. Ron Jackson’s video of the bird below puts this ‘dance’ to music. https://youtu.be/kmMU3BvTFRs Video – Ron Jackson Moths and Spiders on the marsh A late flying moth made an unexpected appearance – an aptly named; feathered thorned moth was found on the reserve. A relatively common moth that’s caterpillars feed on deciduous trees, not so common at Marshside. A more expected bug encounter came in the form of furrow orb spiders, many of who had colonised the electric fence posts. This particular orb spider prefers wet grassland, preferably with reeds, which we guess the posts were making up for. Reserve Team The reserves team have been out on the islands on Sandgounders’ pool to knock back some of the club rush that develops on the edges. As well as hampering views, this plant has a tendency to take over valuable wet areas. Its also not very palatable, so the cows don’t help us out with it. Strimmers at Marshside: Martin Campbell Clearing work has continued along the road and sea wall. Its important we prevent these areas from ‘scrubbing’ up and encroaching or providing nesting and perching for generalist predators. It may also help provide better view of parts of the marsh. With winter months fast approaching, the reserves are beginning to hold more and more surface water. As well as providing for some of the winter visitors now, this water is creating feeding areas for returning birds in spring. Settling Down The large works at HOM and Marshside have started to bed in and be put to use. We are waiting for the mud (its deeper and softer than it looks!) to calm down before we can finish the fence on Rimmers marsh and start the fence on HOM east. We are very happy with the water controls that are now in at Marshside. The connection between the outer and inner marshes has already proved invaluable in keeping the marsh wet/dry in the right places. We have taken delivery of a set of new signage, the first of which has been put on the recycled notice board in the carpark at Marshside. Look out for these popping up at strategic points around the reserve. We hope that they will help new visitors find their way around, and may even help the most seasoned of visitors with the names and locations of some of the pools. (Excluding the labelled Phal video and strimmers) – all other images Wes Davies on the reserves
It was unusual to have the Merlin sitting on the fresh marsh – but there is one around quite regularly now. Walking up the cycle path from the carpark towards Preston – take the little path just past the sandworks (just out of the wind – 25 yards or so…
Yup – I must stop trying to do two things at once (just seen my mistake)
Intro from Wes Extra pressures and working arrangements in our reserves team brought by Covid19 has made fitting in some regular blog writing time tricky. So we are delighted to have had an offer from Martin to help us out. We often bump into him (if you can still bump into people from 2m away!?) at the reserves, searching for the best light or telling tales of godwits escaping peregrines or impromptu starling murmurations. We love his posts that pop up on social media – not just the stunning photos – but the way he describes the experience of enjoying his wildlife encounters, often ‘through the lens’. This week is an introduction, we can’t wait to see what images and musing come our way in the coming months: Hello, My name is Martin Campbell and I have been requested to do a regular post to the RSPB website/community. I have been interested in birds for as long as I can remember, from the days of primary school, roaming the County Durham countryside looking or Herons , Kingfishers , Treecreepers , Yellowhammers and the like. Sitting on the fence – Kestrel at Marshside At around the age of 18-20, I did several stints of voluntary wardening at RSPB reserves including Leighton Moss, Coombes Valley and Insh Marshes. Then work got in the way, though during my 36 years as a primary school teacher, I did a lot of nature-based work with children, often using my own photographs. In recent years, this included the RSPB’s Big Schools Birdwatch . Cattle egret in flight – Marshside I am now three years retired and have loved having the time to spend on nature photography. Since lockdown, my link with RSPB Marshside has flourished as it’s one of my nearest open spaces. I am currently posting regularly on Facebook (West Lancashire Nature Notes) and this is definitely raising the profile of the reserve. Hare in the grass – Marshside Hopefully my photographs will highlight how underrated this place can be as a nature reserve. Black-headed gull feeding – Marshside Teal in the sun at Marshside
It’s a strange time for us all at the moment, but it’s lovely to hear how much nature helps lift your spirits through lockdown. We know for many of you, our Ribble Estuary reserves are a big part of providing enjoyment and solace in the natural world. Before setting off, please read through the following update on the opening situation of the facilities at each of our Ribble Estuary sites, changes that may be in place to keep everyone safe, and how you can help protect vulnerable wildlife during your visit: Traveling to Marshside / Hesketh Out Marsh Current government local restrictions effect both Marshside and Hesketh Out Marsh reserves. Please check restrictions in your area before traveling to any of our reserves. Marshside – Is in Sefton – Tier 3 Heasketh Out Marsh – Is in West Lancashire – Tier 2 Current government advice is for no nonessential ravel between tiers Marshside , We’re delighted that the car park and both hides are open daily, 8.30am-5pm, along with all the trails. You’ll notice we’ve made some changes to help keep you and our team safe: When visiting us, please observe current guidance on social distancing and hygiene and follow all signage on-site. We’ve put hand sanitiser at the entrance to each hide, so please use it before going in. We also recommend you bring your own. Unless exempt, all those who can are required to wear a face covering in our hides. You’ll see that we have spaced out the seating to allow for social distancing and so some windows are not in use – we have clearly marked these. Some are locked open and some are locked shut to avoid touching, so please leave them as you find them. You’ll spot that we’ve got maximum numbers signposted at the entrance to the hides too, so please consider the amount of time you dwell in them on busy days, to allow everyone the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful wildlife in safety here. Due to limited staffing at the moment, our toilet remains closed for now. Please be mindful of our limited car parking capacity, particularly on sunny days, and don’t park on the road. D o consider visiting at less busy times or have an alternative destination in mind if we are full when you get here. Normal car parking charges apply for non-members. RSPB members park for free – please place your membership card face down in your windscreen. (Images of the newly refurbished inside of Sandgrounders’ hide, showing the socially distanced seating and window set up. Images by Wes Davies Hesketh Out Marsh We’re pleased to say the car park is open, along with the trails. As with Marshside, please be mindful that it has limited capacity and can quickly become full in fine weather. D o consider visiting at less busy times or have an alternative destination in mind if we are full when you get here. Please do not park along Dib Road, as it causes an obstruction for our neighbours and other visitors. On-site, please observe current guidance on social distancing and hygiene and follow all signage. Ribble Discovery Centre We remain closed to the public here because w e’re having a makeover! Thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund , we’re delighted that the Ribble Discovery Centre is being completely refurbished, along with other facilities and activities at Fairhaven Lake, as part of an exciting Fylde Council project. This means we are closed until March 2021. School and youth group bookings are being taken for April 2021 onwards. In the meantime, all our great products can be purchased from our other Lancashire store at the fabulous Leighton Moss or from our online shop . We will provide updates on this blog and social media (see links below) when we have more information. Thank you for your support and we’ll see you when our transformation is complete. Important to remember: It is a crucial time of year for our wildlife, as we move into migration season. As part of the Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve – both Marshside and Hesketh Out Marsh are incredibly important sites for a huge variety of species to raise their young and to rest on migration. Many birds rest and nest on the ground – they might not be obvious and can easily become disturbed by human activity, causing them to unnecessarily use up energy and so reduces their survival chances. With nests, parents being scared off can make the eggs or chicks go cold and not survive. When visiting our sites and elsewhere in the countryside, you can really help the wildlife by following these five important points: 1. Keep a look out – with fewer visitors during lockdown, wildlife may be closer than usual. Tread cautiously on verges and paths. 2. Stick to the designated paths – you can easily disturb wildlife by veering off-route. Download a trail map for Marshside here and Hesketh Out Marsh here to see where the designated trails are. 3. Keep dogs on leads – loose dogs can easily disturb ground-nesting birds, birds that are resting and other wildlife. 4. Back away – sharp alarm calls, birds with full beaks or coming unusually near to you could mean you’re too close and they may have chicks. Back up the way you came, being careful where you step. 5.Report anti-social behaviour – if you see anything suspicious, such as evidence of wildlife crime, fly-tipping or uncontrolled fires, report this to the relevant emergency service. Thank you for your continued support and patience. It really means a great deal to us. Keep up to date with changes to our Ribble sites by subscribing to this blog and if you’re on social media, by following us on Facebook and Twitter . Stay safe. These colourful black-tailed godwits continue to grow in numbers at Marshside as more birds return from their breeding grounds – image by Wes Davies
Last Updated – 19/03/20 These are difficult and unsettling times for all of us but we hope that nature can provide a welcome respite in whichever form and wherever you may encounter it. Following the latest advice, we have made some changes to the way …
Out and About The RSPBs work extends far beyond our reserves. Working with partners across the county and country helps us give nature a home wherever we can. This week the Marshside team and volunteers were out and about in the wider area lending a hand ‘off site’. We surveyed Newton marsh, a privately owned site used as grazing pasture on the northern side of the Ribble. This site is great for waders, and is one of very few sites black-tailed godwit breed in the UK. We were glad to see avocet back on site (a recent coloniser). Not only because they are ace, but they are committed to defending sites from avian predators, and help defend the godwits by proxy. We also cleared broken trees from the anti-predator fence, a piece of infrastructure we helped get installed on site. Over the summer, working with the graziers and farmers, we will continue to monitor the site and give the black-tailed godwits the best chance of fledging chicks possible. If you think you could help out at this site, check out this blog for details. A little further down the road at United Utilities – Alston reservoir, we helped out at a decommissioned reservoir which has been transformed into a super little wetland. Staff and volunteers from Marshside and Leighton volunteered time to make some final pre-season improvements to the site. The encroaching rushes were strimmed, mowed and scythed and the sand martin boxes were renovated ready for the summer residents. Images: WesDavies Highlights were four jack snipe and ice-creams High Tides The last of the wintery big high tides was able to quietly cover the reserves, with no encouragement from any storms. While at its peak, it seemed that all of the pink-footed geese moved onto crossens marsh, although they seemed pretty unsettled. https://vimeo.com/397168379 Video: WesDavies Twite: StuartDarbyshire High tides are a great time to get close to birds as they are pushed up the saltmarsh. Stuart Darbysire was able to get this ace (above) shot of a twite feeding on the rising strand line. Its not often you get such good views of that colourful rump. The key to great views, experiences and photos like the one above is timing and patience. It should go without saying that walking up to/through flocks of birds at the top of the tide is not a good idea. This is when they are most vulnerable as most of their habitat is under water and disturbing them can be harmful. Waiting still, as the tide rises is they key to being surrounded by birds. They are well worth the wait !