A great place for families, especially in the spring when the ducklings are released, or for bird watchers, Martin Mere near Ormskirk, Lancashire is just off the A565 between Southport and Preston. My uncle and I went one afternoon in May hoping to see some ducklings. Although we only saw a few, we did see quite a few unusual waterfowl, an interesting exhibit on European beavers and were in time for feeding the otters. If you are into some serious bird watching, there are trails to the right of the entrance that will take you to ten hides and you can watch the wildlife on the 500 acres of marshes.
We started to the left of the entrance and walked around the exhibits. We went past Swan Lake and the Otter Enclosure to the Oriental Pen, the Beaver Enclosure, South America, Africa and back to the Otter Enclosure for feeding time. The Asian short-clawed otters really do look quite cute using their front paws to hold their food. The very colourful Mandarin Duck was a treat to see as was the Coscoroba Swan, the world’s smallest swan. One of our favourite sections is “Weird and Wonderful.” The birds in this part of the wildlife preserve are enclosed in wire netting and you can get pretty close to them. The Grey-crowned Crane has a very delicate crown and quite distinctive colouring around its head. Half its head is black and half is white and the colour changes halfway through its eye. It also has a nice dash of red above its eye and under its chin. The Hooded Merganser looks like a throwback to the 70s with a flattened tease of hair. Its head is black with a white insert and a bright yellow eye. We even caught a male doing a mating dance on the water. The black swans with red beaks were also striking.
Although we did not see the beavers as they were hiding, we were able to watch a documentary made about them which was very interesting. Living in Canada I am familiar with Canadian beavers but was not aware that there were European beavers. There was also a helpful volunteer on hand to answer questions about the exhibit and the documentary.
When we left the ponds and headed over to the hides we discovered why we had seen so few ducklings – there is a nursery. The eggs are collected from the nests and installed in the duckling nursery so the few we saw were from the eggs that were missed. The ducklings were due to be released the following week. We only managed to get to three of the hides: Raines Observatory Hide, Hale Hide and the Kingfisher Hide. It was a lovely afternoon and we saw rabbits and a stoat in addition to the birds and ducks. We were lucky enough to see a flock of birds worrying a stoat that was getting too close to their nests.
The Mere Side Café overlooking Swan Lake is a good option for lunch or coffee if you have not brought your own picnic.
According to the website, from November to March you can see up to 2,000 whooper swans at Martin Mere. I am not usually there at that time of year but if I were, I would definitely put a stop here in my calendar.
It is open from 9:30 to 6:00 in the summer and we were the last ones out the gate. Admission is £10.73 for adults and £7.91 for seniors. If you want to get even closer to the wildlife, you can rent a canoe for £6 and paddle through the wetlands or pay £3 each for a 40 minute guided boat tour. Check out the website for current activities – there is always something going on for children.
There is a lot of ground to cover and you could easily spend a full day here. Don’t forget your camera and your binoculars!