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.
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…
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.
Autumn lockdown With the introduction of a second lockdown, the RSPB resurrected #BreakfastBirdwatch 8-9am weekday mornings where we can post sightings of the birds we see from our windows and share them with the online community. It didn’t matter where you live or how big or small your garden was, the #BreakfastBirdwatch community has been a source of great solace for all involved. Getting involved with a time specific Twitter hashtag means that you are safe in the knowledge that like minded people are also active, engaged and interested. It’s a great way to share, knowing that people with the same interest will see it and be engaged to ‘like’, chat and share experiences too. Great tits on feeder Jo Taylor One of the more positive things to emerge from the first lockdown earlier this year was the increased interest in nature. Restrictions on travel and instructions to stay at home, led to many people discovering, possibly for the first time, places close to home, where they became more engaged with the world around them. For some, bird song was so much more apparent and wonderous, while others simply spent more time in their gardens or local parks and noticed the beauty of the spring buds as they blossomed. Autumn is no less a wondrous season, and being near the coast means that migrations are visible. The arrival and daily movements of pink footed geese are noticeable, as are movements of the flocks of wading birds on the estuary with the changing of the tide. In our gardens the bird visitors may change too. Whilst we may not always notice the other birds will. Many of “our” blackbirds will move further south for the winter, often to Spain, they will be replaced in our gardens by birds from Scandanavia and Continental Europe. Whilst many will remain faithful. As we have recently moved office I decided to put a feeder in the hedge just outside of the window. This attracted a few birds to check it out the very same day, with a hedge sparrow being the very first to use it, who would have thought? Now 6 weeks on this feeder requires filling at least 3 times a week and attracts house sparrow (quite a number), hedge sparrow , robin , blackbird, great tit , blue tit , coal tit , wood pigeon (for the crumbs) and jackdaw (who knock it off the branch). All of this in a privet hedge at Fairhaven Lake. Our faithful juvenile blackbird visiting the feeder outside the office Jo Taylor One of the most rewarding things we can do is to feed the birds. Whether you have a garden, a backyard or a balcony in a block of flats there’s almost always somewhere to hang a feeder or a fat-ball! And if you’re spending more time indoors, this at least allows a little bit of nature to come to you. There’s nothing better than sitting with a nice hot brew watching the local birds coming and going and taking advantage of the easy food source. As well as the birds previously mentioned there’s a good chance of seeing chaffinch , goldfinch , long tailed tits and the occasional nuthatch or greenfinch maybe. So whilst #BreakfastBirdwatch may have run its course with the ending of the lockdown, winter is a time more than ever that the birds appreciate that extra bit of easy food, especially as the days become colder and shorter. Both in my small garden at home and the feeder outside the office window suet is a very popular choice, however our Twitter surveys suggest that sunflower hearts are also a popular choice. Whilst the Discovery Centre shop is still closed bird food and feeders can be purchased online at the RSPB shop or at our other Lancashire store at Leighton Moss when the shop will re-open on 2 December. It’s great to enjoy nature from your own home, so happy feeding, you never know you may spot something rather more unusual and if you do then please do let us know. Jo
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
Due to circumstances I’m currently spending a lot of time at Hesketh Out Marsh and Marshside. The progress of booth reserves is fantastic. Please keep up the good work
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, so with that in mind we have a bit of a duck challenge for you this week… Fairhaven Lake Scaup and tufted duck For visitors to Fairhaven in winter the sight of bobbing black and white ducks upon the lake will be a familiar one. These birds are tufted ducks and each year we see sizeable flocks arrive to spend the colder months with us here at Lytham. Tufted ducks ate relatively common birds and can be found on lakes and large ponds across the country but if you look a little more closely you may spot something unusual among the flotilla of ‘tufties’… This last two weeks has seen a small number of scaup mingling with the tufted duck flock. Scaup are scarce visitors here and, like their more familiar cousins, they are a diving duck and they do look very similar to the tufties. So how can you tell the difference between these handsome birds? Both of these ducks are referred to as “aythya” ducks, derived from the Greek word “aithuia” which is a term for sea-dwelling ducks. Scaup are a truer sea duck than the tufted duck, breeding on Scandanavian coasts and mountain lakes, whereas the tufties take it a little gentler and are more commonly seen on lakes and ponds albeit fairly near the coast. Tufted ducks form larger flocks in winter and it is generally around this time that the scaup make their migrations southward from Scandanavia and Iceland and some join these wintering flocks on inland lakes. Scaup are generally a slightly larger duck and have a much rounder head and a somewhat longer neck. As the name suggests tufted duck have a tufted crest on their head which the scaup lack. Both ducks are similarly coloured. The females of both are brown; scaup females lack the tuft on the back of their heads and have a large white patch at the base of their bill. Female tufted duck can also have a similar white patch but it is much more pronounced in scaup. The males of each may look similar to one another at first glance too. Again, scaup lack the crest and have a greener gloss to their head whereas tufted ducks are much more purple, though this is often difficult to see. The drakes of both ducks have white flanks (sides) but the most easily seen difference is in the colour of their backs – tufted ducks have a black back whereas male scaups have a pale grey back. Both scaup and tufted duck can be seen at Fairhaven Lake and Marshside at the moment. There may well be more scaup dotted amongst tufted duck groups in other local parks and lakes – next time you go out why not see if you can spot one? If you do, then let us know where and when! Female scaup on Fairhaven Lake Jo Taylor Female tufted duck Ben Hall RSPB-images Male tufted duck Grahame Madge RSPB-images Male scaup Mike Malpass NEWSFLASH: There’s also been a “new recruit” spotted in the form of a male pochard . This little guy is un-mistakable as he has a red head. Again pochard are diving ducks which is the likely reason why he has joined this group. There was a male pochard on the lake this time last year too, so it’s plausible that this is the same bird. If you see any other types of ducks on the lake then please do let us know, we do get the occasional rarity, I think that this year could be our year? Mallard, pochard and tufted duck Jo Taylor Ribble Discovery Centre Work continues in the Ribble Discovery Centre, with the building now ready for some internal re-construction. Please bear with us the moment as we do not currently have a telephone number. For all bird and other wildlife enquiries please ring our wildlife enquiries hotline on 01767 693690 (9:30-16:30, Monday to Friday) For all shop related matters please click here A sneaky look in the centre! Jo Taylor 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. 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. Jo
Thanks for the heads up. I’ll certainly have a look there next time and if I get as close as your lovely photo I’ll be more than happy.
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…