Hugh Harris: RSPB Marshside SD353205 - Jewel of the Ribble coast and wetlands

Avocet at Marshside (Hugh Harris)

Marshside is located where the sand dunes of the Sefton Coast give way to the salt-marshes, mud-flats and reclaimed land of the Ribble Estuary. The reserve was created when the sea wall at Southport was extended as far as Crossens, to give a sea defence, and extending Marine Drive (‘Coastal Road’) in 1974. It is managed by the RSPB and is reputed to be one of the best places for birdwatching on the internationally important Ribble Estuary, which holds more birds than any other estuary in the UK. Up to 40.000 birds in winter.

The reserve has some of the best lowland wet grassland in the north-west of England, including the habitats of swamp, saltmarsh and scrub. (Migrant hawker dragonflies patrol the ditches on sunny days). It is an important refuge in winter for Pink-footed geese, Wigeons, Black-tailed Godwits and Golden Plovers and in spring provides nesting places for Lapwings, Redshanks, Shovelers and Skylarks.

Possibly the most popular birds on the reserve are the Avocets, best known as the bird on the RSPB's logo. These striking birds, can be seen foraging for food in the shallow waters and aggressively defending their nests and young. Avocets can be seen from early spring until autumn when they migrate to South Africa and Asia.

Marshside is a favourite haunt of Golden Plover, Black-tailed Godwit and small numbers of Ruff. Other typical waders of the area are Snipe and Curlew. Rarer visitors are increasing in numbers - Little & Gt Egret, Spoonbill and Glossy ibis. Marsh Harrier and a variety of waders such as Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint are seen on passage. On the seashore Bar tailed Godwit, Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Ringed and Grey Plover can be seen.

Birds of prey regularly hunt the area such as Peregrine, Merlin, Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl. Flocks of smaller birds which feed on the saltmarsh and scrub along Marine Drive include various finches & buntings, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Whitethroats and occasional Twite.

Hides and screens overlook the marshland, which has been enhanced by the digging of scrapes to help retain water in the summer. It is managed by cattle grazing every summer to keep the grass in good condition for breeding ducks - Garganey, Teal and Shoveler and waders Redshank, Lapwing, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover and the Avocets.

Other wildlife you may see are Hares 'boxing' in the early morning.

Sightings:  11.00 – 13.30, 02/03/2017.

Canada Goose                   Branta canadensis          Black-headed Gull           Larus ridibundus

Bar-tailed Godwit            Limosa lapponica             Coot                                      Fulica atra

Moorhen                             Gallinula chloropus         Wigeon                                                Anas penelope

Lapwing                               Vanellus vanellus             Starling                                 Sturnus vulgaris

Cormorant                          Phalacrocorax carbo      Ruff                                       Philomachus pugnax

Oystercatcher                   Haematopus ostralegus Tufted Duck                      Aythya fuligula

Mallard                                 Anas platyrhynchos        Shelduck                              Tadorna tadorna

Egret                                     Egretta sp.                          Avocet                                  Recurviostra avocetta

Mute Swan                         Cygnus olor

Marshside has 2 hides and 2 viewing screens.
A large hide, which doubles up as a visitors' centre, is manned by local RSPB volunteers who are always pleased to point out 'What's about' and help you to view them at close-quarters through a telescope.
Wheelchair - friendly paths and a rough path round the entire perimeter of the reserve.
Toilet facilities on site.
The reserve is situated on the Marine Drive about one mile north of Southport Pier and admission to the hides is free to all, although a donation from non-members is always welcome.
A car park is available giving direct access to the reserve.