Signs of new life at RSPB Marshside 

In February, there are still many of the wintering birds (e.g. black-tailed Godwit, golden plover, lapwing, curlew and wigeon), visible in impressive numbers. However, this is the month when the first summer birds begin to appear and some residents begin to show changes to their plumage and behaviour in preparation for courtship and nesting.

Right through February, there are still many thousands of Pink-footed Geese which move around local farmland feeding on fields, and increasingly at the top of the saltmarsh. The saltmarsh also provides safe roosting over night for large numbers. This photograph was taken from the RSPB Marshside car park with a very long lens and shows the geese with Southport pier and the wind farm around the mouth of the Mersey in the distance.

During lockdown, the numbers of starlings at RSPB Marshside seem to have skyrocketed, as their usual hangouts (bins in the back yards of hundreds of restaurants and takeaways in Southport) suddenly became barren. We still don’t quite have full murmurations, but hopefully we can’t be far off!


Among the earliest arrivals in mid-February are the Avocets, which were first reported this year on the 23rd.  .For the moment, having flown up from the warm south, they tend to hang around in huddles looking like they are wondering “whose idea was this?” It will be a while yet before they start to nest, but this is something to really look forward to!


The sweet “seep-seep” call of the meadow pipit has also begun to reappear in the grassland of the reserve and their small flitting forms begun to be seen. Only in close-up do these sparrow-sized birds reveal the beauty of their thrush-like speckled breasts.


Meanwhile, some of the resident birds have transformed into display plumage, such as this cormorant. My Collins Bird Guide calls this “courtship” plumage, as it is lost early in the breeding season. It describes the bronze-tinged wings, white thigh patch, plus white feathers on the crown and hind neck, clearly visible on this photograph.


Also beginning to transform are the black-headed gulls. In winter, they have only a dark spot or smudge behind their eye. The bird in this photo has almost completed its moult, leaving only a few white feathers still to change to complete its dark brown hood. It also clearly shows its deep red legs and beak and is scouting out this small island as a possible nesting site.


The dunnock is one of our quietest garden birds, mostly preferring to feed quietly under the cover of shrubs. At this time of year, however, this bird was using the sunshine as an excuse to find the most prominent branches from which to deliver its sweet, though fairly tuneless little song.

Here is one of a group of greylag geese which kept us royally entertained on a fine, sunny February afternoon. Most water birds will bathe by dipping in the water and throwing it over their backs. This group, however, were flipping themselves completely upside down and waving their feet in the air in the most comical manner and then flinging water around with their wings! They looked as though they were having the most wonderful time.


And finally, this little egret was being buffeted by the wind and every so often would give its feathers a good shake-up revealing the most beautiful, delicate plumes. This looks like an early practice at a courtship display. A true sign of spring!

All images by Martin Campbell @ RSPB Marshside