Category: Marshside (RSPB)

Blog Post: Migration hotspots

Spring hits the Ribble Estuary What a fantastically exciting time of year we are now at. If I am able, on my arrival to work, I take the opportunity to wander out onto the sand dunes at the tip of Fairhaven Lake to a patch of land I have recently christened “Migration Hotspot”. For the last few weeks this small patch of land has not failed to deliver with regular sightings of stonechat and wheatear . A much more learned colleague of mine has informed me that this little patch of land along the coast is a vital haven for these migrating birds. Birds such as this stonechat pictured here undertake a short distance migration, often arriving mid March onwards from Spain. They frequently stop off along the coast to feed tending to hug the coast as they travel. They stay a short while to re-fuel and then continue onto their breeding grounds. “Migration Hotspot” now has another patch within it named “Stonechat Corner”. Indeed another colleague and I walked over to “my” “Stonechat Corner” one lunchtime , whilst I held my breath after my bold claims of always seeing one there, luckily for me I was not let down, not only did we see them, we could hear them. The sound of this bird is like no other, it really does sound as if two stones are being knocked and rubbed together, fabulous when they are in full flow. They are the most terrific posers for photographs too. Stonechat are the earliest arrivals, next came the wheatear. After seeing photos and hearing tales of wheatear arrival I was very keen to spot them on the Fylde coast. I set out one morning convinced that that morning would be the day, I left down hearted as I had failed in my mission. Renewed again the following day, I once again set off. Beginning to once again feel beaten and ready to call it a day, a sudden movement caught my eye. There trotting down the dune was a wheatear, in fact two. Since then there has been a relatively steady stream. A small area of saltmarsh appears to be providing ample food, six wheatear, consisting of four males and two females bobbing around one morning have led me to name it “Wheatear Patch”. Wheatear migration is a staggering feat of endurance, spending the winter in Central Africa, they begin to arrive on our coast in March and April. They re-fuel here, spending a day feeding up after their mammoth flight moving onto breeding grounds on the moors and uplands, returning to Central Africa once again in August. The area these birds are stopping off for re-fuelling after their long treacherous journey is a very popular pathway for walkers, runners and dog walkers. I am pleased to say that I very often see very responsible dog walkers in this area, who walk with their dog on a lead or have exceptionally well trained dogs who do not randomly run into the saltmarsh to chase any movement they may see. This is great news for our migrating birds and our ground nesting birds alike. Unwarranted disturbances can see birds expending energy unnecessarily, which is something they don’t need after a long flight or if they are incubating eggs, such as the meadow pipits may be. Many of our spring breeders are arriving daily, a small influx of goldcrests in the bushes alongside the lake was noted the other week, I’ve recently heard chiffchaff calling their own name and blackcap have also been observed. I’m waiting for the melodious sounds of willow warbler and whitethroat next. The other sight I saw see last week was a memorising flight of sand martins , swallows and house martins streaming over the dunes. How lucky I felt to witness this arrival is difficult to express. Whilst it’s true that one swallow may not make a summer, I’m hoping that the many I saw that day, signify the beginning. Now, we just need to say goodbye to these frosty mornings and cold winds. Jo Male stonechat and male wheatear by Jo Arrivals, Departures, Residents and somewhere in-between at Marshside Up to four garganey have been staying over at Marshside having made the journey back from Africa. This scarce duck breeds in low numbers in the UK, with only up to 100 pairs nesting on a good year. They normally move on else where from Marshside to breed, but as they are secretive there is always a suspicion that a pair has stayed. They are about the same size as a teal, and the drakes have the most amazing eye stripe, pictured below at sandgrounders’ pool. Garganey – Wes Avocet have been building in number almost daily and have now just passed into treble figures. These iconic are also returning from wintering grounds in Africa. Over fifty pairs nested at Marshside last year breaking previous records. Hopefully this year will be even stronger. Avocet at Marshside – Wes We have our first lapwing nests of the year! This key species has seen large declines in living memory, and is one of the key species we manage for on the wet grasslands. Their nests are trixy to find as they are well camouflaged and the parents deploy rather clever diversion tactics to keep would be predators away. To help us understand how well they are doing and fine tune our management throughout the year we have small study plots. Within these plots we keep a careful and keen eye on each nests as the progress to ascertain a productivity figure (how many chicks fledge per pair). Lapwing nest at Marshside – Under licence – Alex Pigott Black tailed godwits are present in two distinct forms in the UK. The birds present at Marshside are limosa icelandic. This race of birds winters in the UK and migrates to Iceland to breed in the summer months. Young or out of condition birds save the energy required for the journey and can be seen at Marshide throughout the year – often starting to support their rusty breeding plumage. A scarcer race is also present on the Ribble, namely limosa limosa . This race is the the focus of a lot of amazing work, see this link. The breeding population is is very low, but the Ribble is lucky enough to hold up to two pairs on a regular basis. The difference between the races is superficially subtle, the limosa having a rounder head and slight plumage variation. Their Latin name is vey apt – limosa – , meaning mud Black tailed godwit (limosa icelandic) at Marshside – Wes Redshank are another of our ‘key species’ at Marshside, both on the fresh and salt water sides of marine drive. These birds are present all year round, but at this time of year their plumage brightens and they separate from their flocking behaviour into pairs. These ‘wardens of the marsh’ let their presence and that of predators known very clearly with their distinctive alarm call. Breeding pairs of this species have declined significantly, and much of our management on the Ribble is aimed at getting the feeding and nesting conditions just right for them. Redshank at Marshside – Wes

Blog Post: Spring is most definitely in the air

Spring is most definitely on its way. Walking around the lake is music to the ears, the increase in birdsong recently is very apparent. This melodious of soundtracks most frequently begins with the robins , who are well known to sing under any lights, lamp posts in the evening have been known to set the robin off. Blackbirds are not far behind. The sweet song of the dunnock is truly beautiful and is in my opinion a very much underestimated bird. Not only are they more exquisite to look at than at first noticed they also have a a rather secret and and very much polygamous reproductive life, with multiple matings occurring on both parts. Who’d have thought this little grey and brown bird has such a saucy secret life? These most infamous of songsters are joined by goldfinch sitting high up in the trees, with their unmistakable wheezy calls they cause quite a cacophony screeching overhead, amidst the charms of this delicate golden finch are often the rasps of greenfinch , their larger and bulkier cousin. Once renowned for their more aggressive tactics on garden feeders these finches haven suffered losses in the last 15 or 16 years due to the parasite trichomonosis. it looks as thought the greenfinch may be bouncing back though, which is great news for this most charismatic of garden birds. These two finches are joined by another cousin the smartly dressed chaffinch , again singing high in trees the russet red chest and belly of the male is unmistakable, along with its “pink pink” calls. The soundtrack is by now gaining in volume, suddenly a bewildering song is heard, which sounds unlike anything you’ve heard before, it has an almost imitative quality, as if trying to repeat something that has just been heard. It’s rather alarmist, quite shrill at times and seemingly repeating in sets of 3. This is the song thrush , loud, bold and almost electric. It’s melody adding another layer to the already rich selection of morning song. If there’s another unusual birdsong floating in the air, it’s almost bound to be a great tit , I feel they take great pride in throwing in something off the cuff, and not in the plan. They whistle, they wheeze, they’re tuneful, they’re off key, they’re everything. Don’t let them trick you, I’ve spent way too long listening to and recording great tits because I thought they were something else, only each time to be caught out by their tricks yet again. Blue tits unlike the larger great tits, seem at least to stick to the page a little bit more with their “siiiiih siiiih” type trilling, as is in the script. There’s a rather large flock of linnet here on the edge of the lake, they often flyby and occasionally perch in the trees towards the back edge of the lake. You can hear their melody coming and going as they dart across the sky. Their musical addition is a form of falsetto staccato with a rapid tempo, bouncing notes with pauses in between often accompanying their flight. Being beside the seaside also gives rise to the calls of the sea. The “kleep kleep” of the oystercatcher is a ubiquitous sound of the sea with the plaintive cry of the redshank adding another accompaniment, creating an absolute uniqueness to our “dawn chorus”. As for the gulls and the ducks, they appear to find the whole thing amusing, laughing at will at their own randomly chosen moment. The morning song (dawn chorus) will only ramp up even further as we move through spring and those already prepped and ready will be joined by fresh blood in the coming weeks. Migrant songsters will begin their move to breeding territories very soon. Along the sand dunes in particular the voices of blackcap , whitetrhoa t, chiff chaff and willow warbler will soon be heard. Hot on their tails will be the movement of swallows and martins , leading in April to the screeching swifts , who are always last to arrive and the first to leave. Life is entering a new phase, as we too see our lives moving on and through this pandemic the birds continue their cycle oblivious to it all and for this we must welcome them, nurture and enjoy them, for they bring new life and brighter days. Keep you ears open and your eyes peeled for the new season of life has begun. Jo Robin, blue tit and linnet Jo Taylor

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: Big Garden Birdwatch 2021

Big Garden Birdwatch 2021 We’d been waiting all month and it finally arrived on 29-31 January – The Big Garden Birdwatch. With the countries in lockdown again, the Big Garden Birdwatch provided the perfect excuse to sit down with a brew and some biscuits and stare out of the window for hour. This wasn’t just isn’t wistful staring though, but really important science. The Big Garden Birdwatch is in its 42nd year, which is no mean feat in itself. This perfect citizen science project has mapped trends, increases and declines in the birds that visit our gardens and is a really important indicator as to how local or national these are and the possible contributing factors. The project started in 1979 and was initially a youth project on Blue Peter, but due to its success the project continued and was rolled out wider. Over half a million people took part last year, with the lockdown continuing and many people connecting in a greater way to the nature outside their home we hope there maybe an even greater increase in participants this year. Over the last 42 years over 144 million birds have been counted in the survey, with house sparrows topping the charts for the last 17 years and 2020 was no exception, despite seeing a decrease of 53% in numbers since the project began, placing them on the red list for conservation. Great tits appear to be fairing well as they are up 72% since 1979, this is thought to be due to an increase in nest boxes and supplementary winter feeding and blue tits are up 8% for much the same reason. They were number 7 and number 9 in the charts respectively. The most startling declines have been seen in song thrushes, who are 81% down in numbers since the start of the survey. So, what were the chart positions for our garden birds in 2020? House sparrow photo taken by Jo 1. House Sparrow 2. Starling 3. Blue tit 4. Woodpigeon 5. Blackbird 6. Goldfinch 7. Great tit 8. Robin 9. Long tailed tit (new entry) 10. Magpie. On the office feeder, house sparrows were again top of the pile. In fact, there are nine species frequently seen on the feeder outside the office window, house sparrow, blue tit, dunnock, blackbird, great tit, robin, wood pigeon, jackdaw, song thrush. The robins and the dunnocks seem fairly adept and agile in using the feeder too. Robin, blue tit and house sparrow on the office feeder. Photos taken by Jo In my own garden the birds were magic…most of them disappeared on the day. I regularly see at least 30 house sparrows together, there were 18, there’s always a coal tit or two knocking about, except on Garden Birdwatch day obviously, there was a no show from any robins either, and the two sparrowhawk that regularly peruse my house sparrow buffet swooped in an hour or two too late for the count too. At least a song thrush rocked up, the highlight of the hour. Let us know what you have been seeing in your gardens and on Garden Birdwatch day and don’t forget to submit your results by 19 February. I’m fairly certain that there’s someone out there who had an amazing spot in their birdwatch hour. Jo

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: What’s going on at Fairhaven haven?

Lets look at Fairhaven Fairhaven Lake has a unique history and is the third largest marine lake in the country. The partnership with Fylde council and heritage lottery funding to restore and maintain the historical and natural heritage of the site is t…