Our very lucky Visitor Services Manager Jacqui was out for a stroll on the reserve yesterday evening and witnessed a rare treat at the bottom of the causeway. She was listening to our male bittern booming and suddenly he flew up out of the reeds along with a second bittern and they proceeded to give an amazing display to each other in mid-air before tumbling back down in to the reedbed! This truly awesome sight certainly makes a romance between them look promising. Other encouraging signs are the regular reports of bittern sightings down at Griesdale hide, an area that has been used for nesting in previous years, so keep all your fingers crossed for a successful season.
In other reedbed romance news, we now have 2 male and 3 female marsh harriers back at the reserve. The females have been putting on tumbling displays and perching in the trees close to the male (who so far doesn't seem to be taking them up on their offers) but there's still plenty of time for them to get aqcuainted.
Up to 30 avocets are now being seen down at our Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. These iconic birds are not to be missed with their distinctive upturned bills and beautiful black and white plummage.
Our new assistant warden Alisdair Grubb, who is just in the middle of his first week here, was out on the reserve at 6.30 this morning and was lucky enough to spot 2 otters! Also around that time, 32 little egrets were spotted leaving the roost at Island Mere, along with the glossy ibis. The ibis was then seen later on at Griesdale hide, an area it seems to be favouring at the moment.
16 whooper swans have been seen on a number of occasions over the last few days, mainly landing in front of public hide, and also flying across the reserve, heading for the saltmarsh. These beautiful winter visitors are not a very common occurance at Leighton Moss, and will soon be heading back north to their breeding grounds in the tundra of Iceland and Scandinavia. Look out for their distinctive beaks which are yellow as opposed to our resident mute swans who have orange beaks.
The warm weather this week has brought with it a flurry of wild flowers and the path between Lilian's and Griesdale hides are lined with bright yellow lesser celandines, a relative of the buttercup, and also beautiful white wood anemones. They certainly add splahes of colour along the way as people head down to Griesdale hide where our red deer have been sunbathing all week.
Male marsh harrier copyright Zul Bhatia
Work is coming along nicely on the main car park. They have finished levelling the middle and have started to put the bays in. Part of it is still cordened off, but there will be plenty of space over the weekend.
From Monday 26 March, Tim jackson hide will be closed for about 2 weeks. We are very excited that it is being replaced. It is the first of 4 hides we are replacing, which also includes Griesdale hide, Eric Morecambe hide and Allen hide, although they will all be later in the year, after the breeding season so as not to cause disturbance.
It's that exciting time of year again when lots of our summer visitors are returning back to the UK to breed. It's always a joy when the first marsh harrier of the year returns, so we are very pleased that the first female arrived yesterday. Our marsh harriers come to breed here every spring. They return from places as far away as South Africa where they spend the winter months. We can get up to 5 females and 3 males returning (they don't stick to one partner). Our record for the number of young produced is 14! Let's hope they have a fantastic season this year!
Those of you who visited over the winter will recall seeing marsh harriers here throughout the colder months. It is not uncommon for marsh harriers to over-winter in the UK, but they usually do this further south. This is actually the first winter we have ever had over-wintering marsh harriers here at Leighton Moss. They weren't the marsh harriers that bred here last summer, they left at the end of the breeding season as they normally would. The over-wintering harriers were likely to have come from elsewhere further north, or even Scandinavia. It is not uncommon for us to get marsh harriers passing through here at the start of the winter, but they have never stayed before! 4 were seen over the winter months.
Elsewhere on the reserve, the bittern has continued to be heard booming at the bottom of the causeway. The best time is generally early mornings and evenings. We have also had sightings of bitterns from Griesdale hide.
Some exciting reports came in this morning of barn owl activity on the reserve. One lucky visitor saw 3 of them early this morning near Lower hide. There was also one seen at Allen hide and one spotted from the bench on the path leading to the causeway. 16 whooper swans briefly popped in early on at Lower hide too.
Another unusual sighting today was the report of a hawfinch on the casueway! These stocky finches reside at Sizergh Castle nearby, but we don't often get them on the reserve! A lovely yellow brimstone butterfly was also seen at the entrance to the causeway - a sign of the fantastic weather we've been having this week.