Author: WesDavies

Blog Post: Ruff, but Ready – By Martin Campbell

Marshside: an extraordinary place for an extraordinary bird Starting with a nice shot of an ordinary looking wader. What evidence is there in this photo for what this bird is likely to become? Which of the birds shown here is it likely to be? The answe…

Blog Post: Spring Springing – by Martin Campbell

Signs of new life at RSPB Marshside In February, there are still many of the wintering birds (e.g. black-tailed Godwit , golden plover , lapwing , curlew and wigeon ), visible in impressive numbers. However, this is the month when the first summer bird…

Blog Post: Spring (ish) at Marshside

Iridescent It’s the time of year when birds start to switch from wintering to breeding ‘mode’. Some changes start to take effect before migration, some are obvious to us and some are not. Teal have been over wintering at Marshside for some months and completed their eclipse phase some time ago. Despite sporting summer plumage for some months, they seem to have developed a deeper iridescent quality in the recent warmer weather. Its amazing how this blue/green teal colour can appear distinctly one or the other as they move around the light. Their behaviour has started to change too, with pairs more likely to break from the flock and dabble in courtship behaviour before remembering they have a journey to make first to their breeding grounds on the northern moors and mires. Shelduck and shoveler are often overlooked as ‘iridescent’ species. Although they have been in breeding plumage for some time, they appear to be stepping up their glossy game of late. Tufted ducks appear jet black in some lights, but at the right angle colourful purples and a shimmering of green can be picked up. These subtle colourings and coatings are predominantly found on the ‘showy’ male birds. Creating the most colourful/glossiest display is a sign of fitness, as it takes a both energy and micro nutrients to develop and maintain. This indicates both good genes and good foraging behaviour to any would be suiter. This effect must be more evident from a birds perspective, as they can perceive light at higher wave lengths to us. Another sign of birds getting into breeding condition can be heard. A particularly striking sound is that of little grebes , their explosive chuckles can now be heard ringing out across the marsh. Some familiar colours are coming back to the black-tailed godwits on the reserve as their infamous rusty plumage starts to develop. Some of these birds will be getting ready to head to Iceland and breed, while others sit the season out remaining at Marshside. Arrivals and Departures Avocet have started ‘prospecting’ at Marshside and Hesketh Out Marsh. The first 15 arrived a few weeks later than last year, but with the sporadic winter sightings including a very unseasonal visit to Hesketh we wonder if a few wintered out on the estuary. Almost fifty have now been recorded, mostly standing together on Rimmers and Sutton marshes, but occasionally starting to act territorial around the pools. The wintering pink-footed goose population has started to hit a transition stage. As when they first arrive the population increases and decreases suddenly. The decreases represent the birds leaving for Iceland (mainly) and the increases are from populations further east enjoying a ‘pitstop’. This time of year they often spend more time towards the top of the saltmarsh along Marine Drive, and the current road closure makes for excellent views. Signs of Spring As well as the changes in the birds of Marshside, non avian signs of spring can be seen. The first frogs have been seen emerging from their hiding spots, much to the delight of the returning little egrets . The hares have also been acting in true ‘mad’ fashion and small patches of snowdrops and daffodils can be found along the flood banks. It remains to be seen whether the temperatures will hold, or whether winter has one last reach. All images by Wes Davies – Spring 2021

Blog Post: A Frozen Marshside – Martin Campbell

Winter has given me a whole new set of magical Marshside moments, notably during the cold snaps which have frozen over the birds’ open water. Ice gives us a whole new perspective on both rare and common birds, plus an extraordinary range of unusual tex…

Blog Post: Managing Marshes in a Developed Landscape – Scrub:

Marshside’s coastal grazing marsh is a remaining fragment of a much wider network both locally and nationally. Ongoing habitat loss in the last century has seen the large declines in species such as lapwing and redshank. Standard semi-improved grasslan…

Blog Post: New Year (ish) 2021 on the Ribble Estuary

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.

Blog Post: Christmas crafting and family walk at Marshside

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! 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

Blog Post: ‘My Latest Marshside Highlights’ by Martin Campbell

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.

Blog Post: Marshside – Hesketh – Roundup

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. 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

Comment on Introducing Martin Campbell – A new Guest Blogger

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…