This is a blog about the happenings and sightings at RSPB Marshside, a nature reserve on the Ribble estuary near Southport.
It’s been a busy spring and summer season so far – with lots of work being done by our warden team and volunteers to maintain the anti-predator fence around Sutton’s marsh. The fence works by excluding foxes and badgers from the reserve, in order to protect ground nesting birds (such as lapwings and avocets) during the breeding season. We’ve also been doing lots of surveys to see how successful the wildlife is doing, and if there is anything more we can do to help them!
Lapwing nest by Will Fox.
This is a lapwing nest we found earlier in the season. We’ve had a good number of lapwing nests appearing this year, but sadly we aren’t seeing many chicks reaching fledgling stage. Predation is likely to be the biggest factor in this, with gulls, crows and even an otter seen on the marsh taking eggs and chicks. On Rimmer’s marsh (the side without a predator fence), a family of foxes has taken up residence, offering great views of the vixen hunting, but also sadly reducing the number of young birds we’re seeing.
It’s not all bad news though, as we move into the summer we’re beginning to see some of the fruits of all our hard work. Young avocets can occasionally be seen on the saltmarsh and at Hesketh Out Marsh – many are at adult size now but their wings and back still appear more brown and patchy, rather than crisply defined black and white. Great views of some tufted ducklings can be seen from our visitor centre, as well as many young black-headed gull chicks, swallows and starlings.
Over at Hesketh Out Marsh, our tern rafts have been successful with two arctic tern nests successfully hatching chicks, and a further two nests near Karen’s viewpoint. There are also regular groups of black tailed godwits, dunlin and an eider duck frequenting the site. Work is progressing well on the East side, where Environment Agency contractors are creating new ditches and pools that will be flooded in September when we breach the sea wall. This will create a new area of rich saltmarsh habitat, as well as helping with flood alleviation and providing great views of wildlife.
Tern raft (pre-nesting season) by Will Fox – we cover the base with a mixture of sand, stone and shells, which terns like to nest on, as well as little wooden shelters for the chicks to hide under.
Some slightly rarer visitors to Marshside include a male scaup and several adult cattle egrets. It’s a great time of year for moths and butterflies, with hundreds of colourful burnet moths out on the sunnier days. You can identify them by counting the spots on each wing – I’ve spotted lots of six-spot burnet moths, but how many spots have you spotted!?
It’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog and there has been all kinds going on.......the breeding season is now in full swing. Lapwing have been nesting around the reserve, they have been quite early this year so keep your eyes peeled for their downy chicks wandering around the marshes pecking at everything they come across. Avocet have also taken up residence outside of Sandgrounder’s hide, giving possibly the best views around (in my unbiased opinion).
Avocet from Sandgrounder’s by Barry Smith
There was a brief visit by a spoonbill, the cattle egrets have been taking a look at the new influx of cows out on the marsh and last week I was driving home along Marshside Road and spotted a hooded crow sitting on a fence post preening itself, these birds seldom move more than a few kilometres and generally breed in North-west Scotland and Ireland......there have been a number of sightings logged around the reserve so I definitely wasn’t seeing things.
Elsewhere we’ve been treated to plenty of warbler song – whitethroat, cetti’s warbler, blackcap, reed warbler and grasshopper warbler have all been belting out their favourite tunes. It also looks like the cuckoo has arrived back, a few sightings have been reported around the sand plant area.
There have been the usual residents along the golf course by Fairclough’s viewpoint – great tit and blue tit have been busy nesting but we’ve also had redpoll, pied flycatcher and a tree pipit.
Great Tit by Barry Smith
Rimmer’s Marsh has been busy, common sandpiper, ruff (spotted lekking at the weekend) ringed plover, little grebe and a number of pairs of gadwall. Sutton’s marsh is a noisy place with huge numbers of black-headed gulls nesting, we’ve still got a few Mediterranean gulls and a common gull has also been sighted.
The cold weather has been keeping the butterflies at bay but I did see a couple out in the warm sunshine this morning, peacock, small tortoiseshell and speckled wood.
Speckled wood by Barry Smith
Unfortunately my internship has come to an end and future recent sightings blogs will be provided by our next batch of interns. Marshside has been an amazing place to work and six months has flown by......it all started with thousands of whistling wigeon on a cold November and has finished with thousands of screaming black headed gulls on a warm sunny April afternoon.......with plenty of brilliant experiences in between. I hope you’ve found this blog useful and please continue to enjoy the wildlife spectacle that is Marshside.
Our summer visitors are continuing to return in large numbers to Marshside - the last week has seen wheatear, sand martin, house martin and swallow making a comeback along with a few of our favorite warblers......chiffchaff, blackcap and willow warbler have all been seen (or heard) around the reserve.
It was a slightly overcast day when I found the time to see what's been about, once again there were plenty of pink footed geese feeding in flocks around the reserve. Pretty soon they will have moved on northwards to their breeding grounds so enjoy them while you can!!
Pink footed geese in flight by Barry Smith
There are still plenty of wading birds to enjoy, from Sandgrounder’s hide you can expect to see oystercatcher, black-tailed godwit, redshank and lot’s of lapwing. There have been a number of ruff seen around the reserve so keep your eye out for ‘lekking’ males – April is the time for this impressive sight and you may be lucky, Britain is just on the edge of it’s breeding range.
A little ringed plover has been seen at the sand plant, and behind in the outer marshes there have been marsh harrier, merlin and peregrine – further out still we have had a few eider ducks bobbing along the edge of high tide.
Fairclough’s Pool by Barry Smith
Little grebe have been busy around Nel's pool with large numbers of tufted duck and shelduck while out towards the golf course we have seen sparrowhawk, great spotted woodpecker and jay preparing for the breeding season.
And finally this week I'm giving special mention to the collared dove - for no other reason than the fact that it let me get so close to it and I got a great picture....
Collared dove by Barry Smith