Well, it was slow start to the year with the easing of Covid restrictions.  But the wildlife was ever present, no matter who was watching, or waiting, the cycle of life continued.  These are some of the wildlife highlights from this year. 

Firstly though we must mention the re-opening of our brand new Fairhaven Lake Visitor Centre.  We are proud once again to be serving the people of the Northwest and from further afield.  Bringing wildlife to your doorstep, supplying bird feeders and nature homes to the region and re-starting our vital education delivery of up to 2000 school children per year. 

This year started a little frosty.  The development works to the buildings around the lake were in full flow.  The lake almost totally froze over at one point in January, providing some swan ice skating comedy.  The black and white oystercatchers out on the estuary high tide roost, looked like penguins from a distance too.

Moving into spring, the arrival of stonechat marked the beginning of the breeding season.  In comparison to many other migratory birds they have a relatively short distance to fly, with many coming from Spain, France or even just further south in the UK.  A pair nested on the sand dunes at Fairhaven and produced a very early brood, with four fledglings.  It's more than likely that they went on to produce at least one other brood too.  Watching this little family groups was fantastic and a personal highlight for me.

However, one cannot forget the extraordinary photos of avocets at Hesketh out Marsh either.  This photo taken by Wes at the beginning of April, looks like a painting.  Their monochrome bodies bright against the perfect blue sky and I love the odd one out.  Can you spot the stray bird?  Look at the larger picture in the header.

It was also cuteness overload with our Arctic tern chicks.  Fabulous to see them using the "tern tables", which provide a safe off the ground nesting spot, less accessible to land predators.  Seven pairs were observed to breed at Hesketh out Marsh on the new rafts with three of the pairs successfully fledging two chicks each.  The signs so far look good for the coming years.

 We were treated to a fabulous display one spring morning at high tide.  A large flock of ringed plover and dunlin on a migratory stopover were pushed into Granny's Bay at high tide.  Everyone meandering down the promenade stopped to watch this extraordinary sight.  With the advancing tide, the birds were pushed even closer to the shore, with hundreds of birds dotting around on the sand close into the bay.  Spectators "oooed" and "ahhhed" and were astounded at this spectacle, rarely do we see such a large flock so close in to the seawall.

During the summer swallows swooped and swifts dashed across the lake.  Their numbers felt lower than years gone by, they are facing increasing difficulties along their journey as well as limited spaces for nesting.  Swift boxes must be a priority to put up next year.  

The lake and gardens were alive with busy birds throughout summer, not just the mallards and geese, but the garden, woodland and coastal birds. Linnets busily feeding their families in the gorse bushes on the sand dunes, were wonderful to watch.  There were hosts of newly fledged birds including goldfinch, chiff chaff and willow warbler, as well as the more familiar blackbirds and robins, hopping around the trees.

 Before long the autumn passage begins again and we start to notice wheatears on the saltmarsh once more, stocking up on fuel before undertaking their enormous journey to Africa.  Again, watching wheatears hopping around the saltmarsh is an autumn highlight for me.  Many of these are young birds making their way to warmer climes for the winter.  The particular bird in the photo caught my eye this year as it was a paler bird than the others it was with.

It is vital that these birds are able to utilise this feeding period to full advantage, stocking up on nutrients to last them as their journey progresses.  However, it is all too familiar a sight that dogs disturb them, sending them into panic, using up food stores they are desperately trying to increase. Sadly this is the same for the birds that arrive on our shores for the winter too.  Wader numbers increase by thousands on the estuary for winter.  Once again these birds are constantly feeding, their need to consume calories to see them through the winter is a finely tipped scale.  Dogs off leads allowed to chase feeding birds are a major source of disturbance and in some cases can be the difference in their survival prospects.

Suddenly, the sound of pink footed geese start to fill the air.  Hundreds of thousands of pink footed geese make their way from Iceland and Greenland to our shores to spend the winter.  They are joined by vast numbers of black and bar tailed godwits, wigeon, teal, shelduck and pintail.  All of these birds breed further north, making their way to our shores in autumn.  The Ribble Estuary is the largest and most important single river estuary in the UK for these over wintering wildfowl.  Many flit between Marshside and Lytham, spending their days feeding on the mudflats and wetlands.  On our latest "Wader Watch Walk" large numbers of pintail were observed flying across the estuary and these beautiful ducks can sometimes be seen bobbing on the high tide at Granny's Bay.  Our next walk is our "Christmas Wader Watch Walk" on 23 December 11-2.  If you'd like more information or to book,  please click here.

Of course the "lake cormorants" also return for the winter, little egret and heron are seen on a daily basis around the lake edge.  We are still awaiting the return  of the winter kingfisher and eyes are peeled for the zip of blue.  Scaup, pochard and a female goldeneye were also seen hanging around with the tufted ducks last year. We are awaiting to see who will choose the lake this winter. 

Marshside is of course alive with raptors at this time of year.  Many harrier species are on the move throughout autumn, so ringtail hen harriers can be seen and there's plenty marsh harrier activity too.  Approximately three short eared owls are being regularly observed across the marshes presently.  Short eared owls are diurnal and can therefore be seen hunting in daylight hours too.

There's been excitement recently at Sandgrounders hide with the re-emergence of a water rail.  Whilst they may never have actually been anywhere, it has been some time since a water rail has been observed, so this is a definite positive to look forward to as the year progresses.

Of course the autumn and winter sunsets are unbeatable along our coast too, across the estuary and over the lake, from the sand dunes is a great spot.

As you can see the estuary and area around Fairhaven is alive with wildlife and all the other flora and fauna make up the balance in delicate ecosystem.  The role our wardening team play in maintaining the wetland environment at Marshside and Hesketh out Marsh is of vital importance and their fabulous work enables nature to flourish, doing exactly what our strap line says and "giving nature a home".

What a wonderful place for some fresh air and nature.  There's loads going on around you all the time.  As well as our fabulous #RobinRobin adventure trail at Fairhaven Lake there's plenty for all to see.  Don't be afraid to call in the Visitor Centre to find out more and we hope to see you soon.


Photos from left to right

Juvenile stonechat (Jo), swans on frozen Fairhaven Lake (Jo), avocets (Wes), Arctic tern chick (Wes), ringed plover at Granny's Bay (Jo), wheatear (Jo), single ruff with black tailed godwit at Marshside (Wes), sunset (Jo), short eared owl (Ben Andrew RSPB-images)