Hot. Hazy. Sultry. Not your typical day in north west England in September. It felt like we had stepped off the train into the Carmargue (not that any off us had been there to validate this comparison). The weather created a perfect atmosphere for a peaceful and relaxed day at Leighton Moss, with most of us travelling by train, and John and Sally G driving to meet us.
Before arriving the thought had been to walk down to the shore hides, but we promptly decided it wouldn’t be worth the effort when we heard that a lack of rain has left the pools dry, so many of the birds had moved to the shore line. (Whilst normally fed by freshwater, the wardens do expect the water levels to rise once there are high tides later in the week). There was one particular bird of interest there so John and Sally nipped down in the car to be our eyes on the leucistic Greenshank, standing out with its white plumage.
We started the day with up climb up the sky tower to take a long view over the reserve, and then settled down in Lilian’s hide for a closer view. There are currently 650 Black-tailed Godwits on site, and most of them seemed to be here. They were split into two main groups; the chilled ones resting in the water, and the chattery group on a spit of mud. Using the scope we were able to see the variation in plumage with some still retaining their rufous summer colours. Individual birds were flying between groups which gave an opportunity to see the wing markings, the black tail and their long trailing legs.
The two Great White Egrets showed their stature compared to the Little Egrets, and it was also clear to see their yellow beaks compared to the black ones of their smaller cousins. Despite the increase in populations of these species, the Grey Herons don’t seem to be adversely affected – they were numerous throughout the reserve. We saw one tackling a very large fish at Lilian’s, and later in the day herons at Grizdale were seen to consume a large Tench, several small items, an enormous eel as well as a smaller one.
The ducks we saw were similar at each hide. Shovelers, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard and a few Wigeon (we think). Many birds are moulting so were in eclipse plumage, and preening was the order of the day with lot of feathers floating on the glassy water. There were Coots, Moorhens, a couple of Little Grebes and the squeal of a Water Rail. A solitary Greenshank was on ‘cormorant island’ from the Causeway hide, as, of course, were several Cormorants. Very hot Cormorants – they were actively panting to help with temperature regulation.
We all enjoyed the numerous dragonflies – mostly Migrant and Brown Hawkers – with particularly good views of them hunting and perching from the hide windows. There were mating Common Darters at the dragonfly pools, where John also spotted a young pike hanging at the surface of the water.
Speckled Wood, Green-veined Whites were flying, and the path edges were spotted with colours of Purple Loosestrife, Meadowsweet, Red Bartsia and Devil’s-bit Scabious.
Our return train wasn’t due until 17.31, so we had time sit quietly during the afternoon, taking time to watch the behaviours of the birds – the jerky gait of the godwits as they pulled their feet out of the mud, the posturing between the Great White Egret and the Heron, the former jutting its beak vertically into the air as the heron circled. Then, right on time, a female Marsh Harrier flew over with predictable results – the Godwits circled and flew down the reserve. It was time to make a move to our rendez-vous at the bird feeding area (Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Tits and Sparrows).
As we dispersed on Shipley station platform (and earlier departure points), everyone agreed we’d had a lovely day.
(It was a bonus that I’d managed to get the train tickets for £2 return, and that I managed to distribute some Apple Day fliers, and recruit some volunteer bakers for the cake stall!!).