Today we had both a full minibus and a glorious day for our visit to Leighton Moss.
Having checked on the robin population in the lanes of Cononley, we made our way through the Dales and crossed the county border to reach the reserve which is on the edge of Morecambe Bay. The recent winds had subsided and the sun, with its warming rays, made a welcome appearance.
Once we had all got organised at the visitor centre, we split into different parties, dictated by what we wanted to see and how soon we wanted to settle down to our lunch.
At Grizedale Hide the most numerous species was the teal, but there was also a notable number of pintail, wigeon, shoveler and mallard, as well as a few coot, moorhen and pochard. There were three very mobile little egret and two juvenile mute swans which were being encouraged to disperse by their parents. We watched two female marsh harriers flying over the reeds. The numbers of harriers on the reserve this winter is higher than previous years, with nine or more individuals visiting for the winter. And I’m sure there were some snipe hiding in the bright sunshine!
There were more ducks at Causeway Hide, as well as two little grebes ducking and diving in front of the hide. We saw one great crested grebe, hanging out with a pintail, and the island in front of the hide was full of the customary lapwing and cormorant. One of the these had the silvery headdress of its courtship plumage.
More marsh harriers were watched from here and Lower hide. The woodland walk to Lower Hide was full of blue, great, long-tailed and marsh tits, as well as robins. They are evidently very used to being fed and perch expectantly within meters. There were also redpoll, siskin and goldfinches attracted to the alder seed, but we didn’t all manage to see them. However, the starwort (Callitriche spp.) in the channels through the woods was a pleasant sight. Both tree creeper and nuthatch were seen.
We all gathered together at the Sky Tower at the end of the afternoon. The elevation gave us a glorious view of the limestone of Hutton Roof as it turned pink in the sunset. We hoped it would also be a good place to watch the starlings.
The murmuration didn’t match one you would see on Springwatch, or indeed the ones people remember over Bradford City Hall in the 80s, but it’s not surprising as numbers have declined by 66% since mid-70s, which explains why it is red listed and of high conservation concern. But we did have a view of the starlings gathering and coming into roost in the reeds. For me it was interesting how different it was to just a few days ago; tonight the birds roosted in two different places, and quite large groups were still arriving after most had already roosted. So we didn’t see all the birds together in one swirling flock. Perhaps they are sensing Spring in the air and are starting to break into smaller groups.
A late arrival home for a winter trip, but people seemed to have had a nice day, so it seemed to be worth the travelling. Thanks to Stuart for sharing the driving.