There has been lots to see over the last couple of weeks at Marshside. It is so exciting to see many of our favourite summer visitors back after almost 9 months. For many there is none more exciting than the swift, which arrived back in force about a week ago. Now you can see at least a hundred birds catching insects and making their fantastic screeching calls high over the marshes.
Swift by Richard Brooks (rspb-images.com)
May is always an exciting time for migrant birds and this year has been no different. A real feature of Marshside in spring is the large mixed flocks of dunlin and ringed plover that can be seen from Nel’s Hide. These in turn attract their rarer cousins and we have been lucky enough to host a pectoral sandpiper for a week or so. Up to four curlew sandpipers have added a splash of colour as a couple of them are moulting into their stunning reddish breeding plumage. Finally there have been 3 male and one female garganey – this is a rare breeding bird here so we are keeping our fingers crossed that they decide to stay! Both the curlew sandpipers and garganey are still about so head down to Nel’s Hide if you would like a chance to see them.
Male garganey by Mark Sisson (rspb-images.com)
You don’t have to be in one of the hides to see great wildlife! Several visitors have been lucky enough to see both stoats and weasels while walking along the reserve trails. One of the best places to see them is near Polly’s Bench, where you can also come across a variety of butterflies. It’s amazing what you can see when you sit and wait for the wildlife to come to you!
Weasel by David Tipling (rspb-images.com)
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)