When I planned my trip to The Morecambe area I only really thought about bird species, however the weekend was to give me 2 wonderful experiences that had nothing to do with birds at all. I set myself a target of 12 new species for the year. This was a fairly modest number; I’m not the sort of birdwatcher that gets too hung up on numbers, if you were to ask me how many birds were on my life list I couldn’t tell you. I like to try and beat the previous years total but that’s just to make me get off my backside, work harder and visit more places. My trip started with a quick visit to Leighton Moss so I could find my way around, as I was planning to spend most of my time here over the next 3 days.
21st March 2014
I could hear Black-headed gulls (1) squawking from every direction before I had even left the car park. A Blackbird (2) sang from a tree near the visitors centre, this has to be one of the most wonderful songs in the bird world. A Robin (3) landed very close, perhaps wondering if I had a snack. It then sang a little, beautiful as it was, not a patch on the Blackbird. Blue Tit (4) & Great Tit (5) were both busy on the feeders by the door, a wonderful warm welcome was given by the staff in reception, and a helpful lady took out a guide and talked me through what birds had been seen in which areas. I've tried to remember her name but I can't, but a big thank you anyway.
Scaup & Long-tailed Duck sounded interesting so I headed for the Grisedale Hide, Mallard (6), Coot (7), Moorhen (8), Tufted Duck (9), Teal (10), Wigeon (11), Great Crested Grebe (12) and Lesser Black Backed Gull (13) were soon ticked off, now time to start scanning the water for the more difficult birds. My first new bird of the year, Pochard (14), I remember bird watching in my teens during the 70's when Pochard could be found on most water bodies during the winter months. No longer the case, maybe with so many wetland reserves created around the country, particularly along the coast, these ducks don't have to spread so far and wide any more?
I left the Grisedale Hide and headed for the Tim Jackson hide. Here another new bird, the Little Egret (15) shaking its feet in the mud trying to dislodge a meal. Then the sound that I have heard so many times and always means the same bird, fast firing camera shutters tell me a Marsh Harrier (16) has been spotted. Sure enough a Harrier was quartering low over a reed bed, the late afternoon sun highlighting the females golden head feathers, she turned quickly and dropped but came up empty handed. A male the joined her and they both gave a short but impressive aerial display to another rush of 'click click click' as eager photographers trying to capture the event.
The light was fading and I needed to get to the cottage I was staying in and unpack, so I reluctantly left, but looked forward to coming back the following morning.
22nd March 2014
An early start on Saturday, arrived at the reserve at 7 am. I headed straight for the Causeway and the Public Hide first in the hope of seeing Bearded Tit. My first bird of the day was a Great Spotted Woodpecker (17) drumming on an old tree just inside a small bit of woodland near the entrance to the Causeway. As I approached the reedbeds a Wren (18) was singing at the top of its voice, it soon popped out to show itself, these are curious birds that always come to have a look at you. A Song Thrush (19) flew from the bushes and head for the house at the entrance.
A loud squealing noise came from within the reeds right next to the path, then another from the opposite side, unmistakeably the sound of Water Rails defending their patch of the reed bed. I tried desperately to get a look at the birds but without any luck, I did see Reed Bunting (20), Long-tailed Tit (21) & Chaffinch (22) before I reached the Public Hide though. Once inside the hide I settled down, set up my scope and started scanning every inch of water and shoreline. Shoveler (23) was spotted first and then one of the target birds, Scaup (24), I don't see this duck very often so care was taken to I.D correctly. I spotted a Grey Heron (25) feeding along the edge of the far reed bed and a pair of Gadwall (26) among a small group of Mallard. A few Carrion Crow (27) and Jackdaw (28) flew over the water and landed in some trees some distance away, as I followed them I caught a glimpse of 2 Buzzard (29) soaring over woodland. 2 Little Grebe (30) were diving, both birds were almost in full breeding plumage, 1 Great Crested Grebe was still in its winter outfit amongst many more that already had dressed up for the forth coming dance.
Time to move on to the Lower Hide where on my arrival a very kind lady pointed out that she had spotted something very interesting in the water. It took a few minutes to locate but when I spotted this wonderful animal it brought a huge smile to my face. I was looking at my very first wild Otter. I watched it arch its back time after time and then flick its tail, down it went under the surface. After around 4 or 5 attempts the Otter finally came up with a fish, I had an excellent view in the scope. It took maybe a minute for the fish to be consumed and then immediately the Otter was down again. It returned to the surface twice more with eels this time, which were dispatched just as quickly. It swam to within 50 metres of the hide and I had the most amazing views, the best experience of the weekend, I had come to birdwatch but wow, what an event.
On my way back to the main reserve, I first heard and quickly picked out Chiffchaff (31), 2 Dunnocks (32) were chasing and displaying in the hedgerow and behind then in an open field were 3 Male Pheasant (33) calling and sticking out there chests as 6 or 7 females looked on.
Back at the Grisedale Hide Cormorant (34) were perched drying off their feathers, Greylag (35) & Canada Geese (36) were out on the water and a large flock of Black-tailed Godwit (37) had been spooked by something but I couldn't see what it was. I then started talking to a chap who had been looking for the Long-tailed Duck (38) that had been spotted the previous day. We joined forces and had it in our scopes within around 15 minutes, not the best views as it was in the distance but easily recognisable. Mute Swan (39) was the last bird of the day, spotted just as I returned to the visitor centre.
Before returning I stopped off at Hest Bank to see the tide move up the bay. As I arrived I could see Little Egret feeding in the grassy edges of the shoreline, around 100 Curlew (40) and a few Oystercatchers (41) busily grabbing a last chance meal of the day. The tide moved in very quickly and forced in c40 Knot (42) very close. The rain and hail was starting to sting a little so I packed up my gear and headed off back to base.
23nd March 2014
6.20am was the start time for my last day at Leighton Moss. A second try for Bearded Tit was made but again ended without seeing this elusive bird. But that was the only disappointment of the day. A Greenfinch (43) was singing from the same area that I had heard the morning before, this time I managed to see it sat proudly at the top of a conifer. A small flock of around 12 House Sparrow (44) flew around the hedgerow as I walked past. I reached the public hide and saw Snipe (45), Redshank (46) & Pied Wagtail (47).
I then made my way back onto the main reserve and stopped for a drink by the bird feeding area. Here I added, Nuthatch (48), Coal tit (49), Goldfinch (50), Collared Dove (51), Magpie (52) & Goldcrest (53). It was still early and there were not many people around so I decided to spend a few hours in the Grisedale Hide. I settled down and waited as the sun came up and turned the water into liquid gold. I looked down and right under the viewing window was a Water Rail (54), it fed for around 5 minutes until it disappeared into the reedbed to the left. I had seen Water Rail before but never as close as this, the early morning sun lit up the bird so that its colours stood out so vividly, truly an amazing sight. Lapwing (55) were displaying 50 feet in front of the hide, a true sound of spring.
Over to the far left of me I could see reeds moving and it was obvious that this was not a bird. My second mammal lifer had just entered the scene, Red Deer.
There were 4 hinds appeared, glowing in the morning sun they stopped on the edge of the reeds and enjoyed the heat. Then from the left 5 stags walked across in front of my position, antlers still in place but the animals didn't have the bulk they would have amassed during the rut. Regardless of this they were still very impressive animals and an absolute pleasure to observe. I watched for around 15 minutes then a Raven (56) flew past cronking as it past by. As I left the hide I walked for a couple of minutes and heard a Cettis Warbler (57) singing vigorously from within the reeds. It took 25 minutes to find the bird and even then it was the quickest of glimpses as it flew away. The last bird of the day was a cracker, as I returned to the car I heard a very familiar sound, I see this bird regularly at The Avenue but hear it even more. A Green Woodpecker (58) flew across the car park and headed into woodland beyond the reserve visitors centre, a lovely end to the day.
Other Birds seen this weekend were, Woodpigeon (59), Magpie (60), Rook (61), Herring Gull (62), Shelduck (63), Redwing (64), Jay (65) & Goldeneye (66).
I had many great sightings this weekend and will remember my trip to Leighton Moss very fondly, 66 species for the weekend, a modest total but one I was happy with for the time of year. I had also seen 12 new species for the year included in that 66 so more to smile about. But for all the great birds my most exciting moment has to be the Otter, I knew you could see them at Leighton Moss because of what I’d seen on Springwatch but had forgotten about them. So to be surprised by them, to get such wonderful views and on top of that observed some fantastic behaviour, what more could I have asked for? Nothing. Thank you Leighton Moss.
(number) = count for trip. (number) = new bird for the year