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.
Marshside reserve is getting ready to celebrate 20 years of giving nature a home on the Ribble Estuary. Our 20 years of managing the reserve at Marshside also coincides with the finalisation of a new lease for the reserve, which about trebles its size. Read the full article here.