Martin Mere used to be the largest body of fresh water in England. The lake formed in a depression left after the retreat of glacial ice at the end of the last Ice Age. The lake has long since been mostly drained but the area remains a large and, from a wildlife point of view, important area of marshland.

Martin Mere is now a Wildfowl and Wetland Trust Reserve, it is situated near Ormskirk on the Lancashire coast in North West England. The reserve is internationally important for overwintering wildfowl especially the spectacular whooper swans but also geese such as the greylag and ducks including shelduck and wigeon.

How To Get Here

Martin Mere is located south west of Preston and east of Southport, off the A59, just north of the village of Burscough. There is free parking at the visitor centre.

Parking

  • Martin Mere Wetland Centre Lat/Long: 53.622771, -2.866600
  • OS map co-ordinate: SD 427 143
  • Nearest Parking Postcode: L40 0TA (90m)

Address: Fish Lane, Burscough, Lancashire Phone: 01704 895181

What to Shoot and Techniques

This is a well-appointed reserve with plenty of facilities. The most important consideration here is timing to make the best of the weather and the birds. There are eleven hides and each offers different opportunities. One of the best hides for sightings of the swans is Raines Observatory. This hide is glass fronted and therefore difficult to get a decent shot especially on a wet day.

The swans spend much of their time feeding out on the mud and swimming in the main lagoon known as the Mere. The Hale Hide further along is good for shots of incoming and outgoing whoopers and the Ron Barker Hide at the end of the trail can be good for barn owl, godwits and kestrels. For the main event though make sure you are in position at feeding time at the Swan Link Hide. From here hundreds of whoopers and other wildfowl gather in close proximity. The number of birds and the interaction between them is a spectacle to see and photograph and is well worth a visit to brighten up any grey winter day.

Whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus)

The whooper is a large swan similar to but larger than the Bewicks. At between 140 to 165 cm (55–65 in) long and with a wing span of 205 to 275 cm (81–108 in), it is considered to be one of the heaviest  flying birds. Whoopers have a more angular head and more yellow than black on their bill (Bewicks have more black than yellow). Like the Bewicks this is a migratory species which, apart from a few northern individuals, only visits in the winter months. Whooper swans are especially spectacular in flight.

Also at Martin Mere

Besides the whooper swans expect to see other wildfowl including geese, shelduck, wigeon and mallard. The common or garden mallard might not be everybody’s choice photographic subject but with so much going on, here is a chance to try different creative techniques. Try using a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of  eld thus focusing on one subject in a crowd. Slow shutter speeds will result in intentional blur to give an impression of motion, this can be very effective when a  flock takes off or whilst tracking birds in flight.

Technique

Allow plenty of time to be at the Swan Link Hide for feeding time (October to March at 3pm).

The angle of the sun is important and it’s worth moving far down the hide to make sure the sun is as far behind you as possible. There is not much room to swing a large telephoto lens so take it off the tripod and rest on a bean bag on the windows. Some windows have a better field of view than others. The feeding moves over to the Raines Observatory at 3:30pm but the glass windows there obscure the view.

The feeding frenzy as hundred of swans and ducks gather on the shore and in the shallows to gobble grain is well worth witnessing and provides plenty of photo opportunities as they squabble amongst themselves.

Accessibility

The Wetland Centre is accessible to all with  at level paths and is fully accessible to wheelchair users. There is a visitor centre and restaurant. Maps and advice from friendly staff are available.

The centre is open all year except 25 December. The car park and visitor centre is open 9:30am to 4:30pm from 4 November to 29 March, and 9:30am to 6:00pm from 30 March to 2 November. There is a public footpath that traverses the wetland.

More information can be found on www.wwt.org.uk.

Best Time of Year/Day

Late autumn and winter is the best time to visit when the reserve is home to many migratory species. Northerly winds help migrating birds to travel south so it’s worth waiting until after the first cold spells.