Exciting news! I was lucky enough to witness our first avocet egg of the year actually being laid on Saturday afternoon. There are now avocet nests in front of both Sandgrounders and Nel's Hides so why not come to have a look!
Avocet with a newly laid egg by Caroline Clay
We will be attempting to finish off the new Sutton's Marsh electric fence tomorrow (Tuesday 14th April) and this includes working in the area around Sandgrounders hide. We will aim to keep disturbance to a minimum and for as short a period as possible but it is inevitable that there will probably be less to see there than usual. We apologise for any disruption caused but in the long term we are confident that we will see a real improvement in the productivity of our various breeding birds thanks to the new fence.
Instead, why not head down to Nels hide where there are more avocets nesting as well as plentiful wildfowl and ruff, golden plover and black tailed godwit all coming in to breeding plumage.
Following the horrible windy weather last week it has felt almost summery here at Marshside this week! And there can be no doubt that much of our wildlife feels the same way as we have seen a mass of activity of both birds and insects. On recent sunny days you could not fail to notice the stunning small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies. Here's a fresh small tortoiseshell looking fantastic - but in only a few weeks after flying around plants like this bramble and being attacked by birds it will no doubt have ripped wings and start to look very sorry for itself.
Small tortoiseshell by Caroline Clay.
It has been all go on the bird migration front. The bad weather last week held back everything trying to migrate northwards so we saw a real influx of many of our early spring migrants as the weather changed for the better. This is a typical feature of spring migration as birds will wait during periods of rain, poor visibility or strong winds to reduce the risk of getting lost. They can then take advantage of nice weather and a favourable tail wind to continue their journey. Sand martins, swallows and wheatears have been seen regularly and there is currently a little gull at Junction Pool. The first week in April usually sees the bulk of migrant ospreys heading north and a few visitors were lucky enough to see one fly over Marshside on Monday.
With spring just around the corner there are noticeable changes all around the reserve, chiefly the arrivals and departures of all sorts of migrating birds. Our first Wheatear was sighted on the saltmarsh a few days ago perching on a fence post; while the returning avocets are making themselves at home outside Sandgrounders Hide - providing excellent photography opportunities as they display!
Wheatear by Ray Kennedy (rspb-images.com)
One of the first signs of spring that I always look for is coltsfoot, a lovely yellow flower not unlike a dandelion to look at. You can now see it in a few places on the grassy banks beside the reserve trails. Also, brown hares have been seen regularly on Suttons Marsh and are best observed from near the housing estate, so it's always well worth taking a longer walk.
Flowering coltsfoot by Guy Rogers (rspb-images.com)
We have been seeing a lot of displaying lapwings making their unmistakable ‘Peewit’ calls, and skylarks are filling the air with their cheerful song. With the winter being a particularly mild one, there has been an obvious exodus of our ducks and geese in recent weeks as they begin to make their journeys back north. I for one will miss the wigeon, whose evocative whistling calls sum up the wild character of winter on the Ribble Estuary perfectly for me.
See you in six months! Pink-footed geese and other wildfowl are now leaving the Ribble Estuary and heading north to their Icelandic breeding grounds. Photo by Steve Round (rspb-images.com)
On Sutton's Marsh we are taking advantage of the dry period to refresh some of the waterways on the marsh. We only have a short window of opportunity for such work between the breeding season and the arrival of the autumn rains and water-birds. Its over 10 years since these ditches had a good clean-out and its remarkable how full they have all got – over 300mm of muck is coming out of most of them!
All this work will leave some ugly scars and heaps of smelly, black mud behind but these will soon heal over once the autumn rains come and the marsh will be in much better health as a result.
Having a periodic clean-out like this is a great way to rejuvenate the marsh. Populations of mini-beasts always soar after such an event so expect to see some exciting wildlife over the coming months.
Over on Rimmer's Marsh the dry period is allowing us to mow some of the taller vegetation on the marsh. Again we only have a short window of opportunity for this work.
Although the cows can deal with most of the tougher vegetation on the marsh, we have seen an increase in the amount of real thugs like the saltmarsh rush over the last10 years. In recent years the marsh has also been invaded by hundreds of baby willow trees.
The cattle will continue to graze the marsh following the mowing until the site fills up again with the autumn rains and thousands of wildfowl.