Waterbirds Over Winter = WOW!

Hesketh Out Marsh

Hesketh Out Marsh
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Hesketh Out Marsh

Waterbirds Over Winter = WOW!

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Winter is one of the most exciting times at Hesketh Out Marsh, and sightings this year have been spectacular as ever! Here at the heart of the Ribble Estuary, one of the UK’s most important locations for wintering wildfowl and waders, the reserve has welcomed thousands and thousands of birds gathering here for their winter holidays.

Just a smidgeon of wigeon at Hesketh Out Marsh

Since October, an impressive 93 bird species have been recorded around the reserve. Waterbirds dominate the marsh, and sightings have included 7 species of geese and swans, 10 species of ducks, 13 species of shorebird, and 12 other waterbird species (comprising gulls, herons, grebes and rails).

As the seasons changed, October brought increasing abundance and high diversity, with the movement of birds into and through the reserve. Noisy calls heralded the arrival of great skeins of pink-footed geese returning to overwinter in the local area. Occasionally other goose species tagged along, like the four barnacle geese seen flying over Hesketh on 23rd October. Migratory swans started to arrive from the second week of October, with flocks of whooper swans joining the handful of resident mute swans on the reserve as well as on surrounding farmland. Scanning carefully through the flocks, swan-scrutinisers spotted the first Bewick’s swans – the whoopers’ rarer cousins – on 23rd November. Several hundred whoopers continue to roam the local area now, with small numbers of Bewick’s among them.

Whooping it up: whooper swans in a field along Dib Road on the way to Hesketh Out Marsh

Can you spot the Bewick's swan among the whoopers?         Image by Ric Else

Spectacular flocks of wintering wigeons still dominate the marshes on the reserve. The largest congregation at Hesketh so far this season was observed on 1st February, with an epic 9,550 wigeons counted. Their numbers have since dropped again as flocks roam around the estuary, but reserve totals remain impressive - typical observations this winter have ranged anywhere between 2,000 and 7,000. Hiding among them like Where’s Wally has been an interesting American wigeon hybrid, seen several times during November, showing that it’s always worth scanning through the flocks for something that looks a little different.

The marshes have provided great conditions for teals, shelducks and mallards, all present in their hundreds. Smaller numbers of other duck species have also been seen through the winter, including shovelers, pintails, gadwalls and goosanders.

Migratory waders have also been spending the winter at Hesketh Out Marsh, with several species present that are rarely seen elsewhere locally. Up to three spotted redshanks have remained on the shallow lagoons throughout the winter, along with a lingering greenshank or two – both species that are more typically seen only during the passage season (like the ruff, little stint and 9 curlew sandpipers observed during October), but these guys clearly liked Hesketh enough to stay! The more numerous redshanks complete a nice Tringa trio. Large flocks of lapwings and golden plovers have also made themselves at home, particularly on the eastern half of the reserve, where their combined totals can easily reach 2,000 birds.

Shank you very much: a redshank poses nicely

More recently, a few oystercatchers have been returning to the reserve after an absence over the last couple of months. Similarly, coots have also suddenly appeared with the first sighting this season occurring on 1st February – perhaps another signal that the seasons are changing and birds will be on the move once again. What will the spring bring? We can't wait to find out!

Comments
  • Great stuff Hazel.....and good work on the puns!!