Winter has given me a whole new set of magical Marshside moments, notably during the cold snaps which have frozen over the birds’ open water.
Ice gives us a whole new perspective on both rare and common birds, plus an extraordinary range of unusual textures and atmospheres in which to place the birds.
So what tactics do birds use to overcome the problems of their waterworld becoming frozen?
Firstly, we have a cloud of Lapwings, a species listed as red in terms of conservation status (excellent conservation status explanation here). These are basically field birds, and it’s amazing to know that they feed in their thousands on the Marshside grassland, which can remain unfrozen well enough for them to feed on small creatures which survive there.
They are however, very twitchy, tending to be the first birds to go up en masse and the last to go down again. This may be the first indication of the huge numbers of birds here.I love the way on this photo that they are all at crazy angles – possibly a way of confusing potential predators.
As with the Lapwings, Wigeon are present in their thousands at this time of year. So how would this drake (which was struggling on thin ice and continually breaking through), and the rest of them be able to feed on ice like this? Well, these birds also feed on grassland and they can still freely graze the grasses that remain unflooded.
This Moorhen has managed to find enough texture on the ice to be able to run across…
…while this Black-tailed Godwit needs to be a lot more careful with every move. One slip could cause a serious injury to those long, delicate legs. This could be one reason why most of the thousands of Godwits disappeared when the marsh was frozen. Presumably they dispersed to find alternative places to feed.
You can see how carefully this Curlew is moving across the ice, using its wings to steady itself, just as we use our arms.
Though now you can see it using its long, curved beak to probe the tufts of grass which stick through the ice – the same tactic used by the remaining Black-tailed Godwits. There must be earthworms and other delicacies still available below the surface.
And what did the Little Grebes do when their world froze and they were unable to dive to catch fish? The answer is that they moved to different parts of the reserve. This bird has caught a fish in a channel on the adjacent golf course, ice-free due to the covering of waterweed.
As with my previous post, the final joy for me at this time of year are the incredible Marshside sunsets, which give a whole new perspective on bird photography. My final photograph shows a group of Curlews flying to the outer marsh against a late afternoon sunset. In the distance (looking south-west) is Southport pier, the wind farm at the mouth of the Mersey Estuary and the North Wales coastline.
All images by Martin Campbell - excluding leading frozen Rimmers landscape from Wes
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