Wild Day Out
I drove the 50 miles or so from the Lake District to Leighton Moss through waves of rain and wind. Once at the RSPB car park the rain was easing a little, easing but not stopped!
Some of the five competition winners were already there and the others soon joined including Bev and Martin who have travelled with me before, many years ago, to Shetland. It was lovely to meet new folk and catch up with friends.
Even from the car park we were able to listen to birdsong; goldfinch, dunnock, wren and the master songster, a blackbird. The soft rain gave his voice an even more ethereal quality - lovely!
Once we were all sorted with binoculars and waterproofs we made our way to the visitor centre and on through to the reserve beyond.
Even before we left the garden area behind the centre we heard our first bittern, the bassoon booming carrying over the reedbeds. It was a sound that would accompany us throughout most of the day, though we never did set eyes on one.
Through the woodland walk toward Lillian's hide we saw and heard a good selection of woodland birds including chaffinch, blue and great tit, song thrush, mistle thrush, nuthatch and more.
The clamour from the other side of Lilian's Hide made it clear that the black headed gulls were back in residence and sure enough once we were safely ensconced, the conversation and industry of these garrulous birds gave us plenty to watch as they squabbled over nesting spots, mated and courted on the small islets just in front of us. A male marsh harrier perched on a post in the reed bed, waiting out the light drizzle and we also watched shoveler, mallard, tufted, pochard gadwall and teal from here. Big flocks of sand martin were hawking low over the water with the odd swallow in the mix - a taste of spring despite the drizzle.
As we made our way from Lilian's to the Tim Jackson hide we heard sedge and cetti's warbler and caught a glimpse of the latter as it fluttered from one patch of brash wood to another.
There was more black headed gull action at the TJ hide as well as redshank, snipe, and lapwing which were displaying both here and near Lilian's.
A curious duck gave me a bit of a puzzle - shaped like a shoveler but with the plumage of a mix of blue winged and cinnamon teal. Clearly a hybrid!
We had great views of a male marsh harrier hunting here too.
With the rain now stopped, we made our way towards the Grisedale Hide, but along the way paused by the reedbed clearing which hosts some grit trays in hope of a glimpse of a Leighton speciality. After a few minutes we were rewarded with views of both male and female bearded tits, or reedlings, flitting low over and amongst the reeds. A real treat!
I had planned to meet with Beth Fox, the RSPB visitor experience officer at Leighton at 11.30 on the sky tower so we never did reach the Grisedale hide.
Beth gave us a lovely overview of the history and ambitions of the reserve, including the recent introduction of the osprey nest platform which was introduced by her counterpart, Jon Carter, in late 2021 and which has already been visited by young prospecting ospreys! Currently, it is hosting lesser black backed gulls but once an osprey pair decide to take up residence (which they almost certainly shall in the coming years) the gulls will have to find a new home!
We saw a small flock of bar tailed godwit flying over the pools to the east from here and a lone green sandpiper flitted across the reeds.
From the tower it was on to the cafe for a cuppa and cake then back on the reserve to the Causeway Hide. I had picked up my camera by this point since the rain had eased and the light was improving.
It was fairly quiet at the hide, the usual suspects in the form of mute swans, a variety of ducks and flocks of swallows were present, but it was the great crested grebes that stole the show. One pair was vociferously defending its territory, swimming to and fro directly in front of the hide. We spotted harrier and heron from here before making the decision to walk down the road a mile or so to the salt marshes.
On the way back along the boardwalk to the visitor centre, one of the guests spotted a couple of roe deer, both young bucks, creeping through the wet woodland close to the pathway.
Once at the coast we stopped at the Allen Hide to be greeted by many more black headed gulls all noisily nesting on the islets. Their raucous calls were accompanied by the soft piping of courting avocets, two or three pairs of which were busy preparing nest scrapes on the islet directly on front of the hide. In amongst the B H gulls on the south end of the pool, a pair of Mediterranean gulls were well settled on their nest.
We went on to the Eric Morecambe hide and were rewarded with great and little egret, bar and black tailed godwits, knot, redshank, distant pintail, merganser and teal.
With that we made our way back to the car park at the visitor centre and said our farewells. It was such a pleasure to be joined by such enthusiastic people and I'm so glad we had such a rich day together. In total we saw 67 species of bird and 2 wild mammal species (grey squirrel being the second). Leighton is a magical place and is going from strength to strength with the RSPBs management plans for the future.
I look forward to my next visit in the near future.