I've just been down to check the varnish and its dry, so I'm very excited to say that the brand, spanking new Tim Jackson hide is now open! It's got larger windows than its predecessor, and a bay window on the front so viewing is much better than before. It's also much lighter inside and feels much more roomy. Whilst I was there I was treated to flybys from lapwings, black headed gulls, and oystercatchers. There was also a pair of greylag geese and a stunning pair of mute swans right in front of the hide. Enjoy!
No, I've not gone all James Bond on you, nor have we had an unusual migrant from the East drop in on us (unfortunately), but we are going to play host to some very important visitors from Russia on Sunday 6 May.
Many of you will be aware of the fact that the RSPB's conservation work stretches far beyond the borders of it's 211 nature reserves, and indeed far beyond the borders of the UK. We are the UK representative for Birdlife International - an umbrella organisation made up of similar conservation charities around the world, with a partner in over 100 countries. Together, the Birdlife International partners tackle global conservation issues that threaten habitats and the wildlife that lives in them.
Birds Russia is another overseas partner we are also working with, outside of Birdlife International. Together we are currently concentrating on an important project to save the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper. These incredible birds are suffering such rapid population declines that if the current trends continue, they will be extinct within 10 years.
Spoon-billed sandpipers are a a small wader with a distinctive spoon-shaped bill. They breed in Arctic Russia before flying down the East Asian coast to over winter in countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh. They are facing a couple of problems which are leading to their declines. The first is that when they reach their over-wintering grounds, they are susceptible to trapping by humans for food. The juveniles are particularly at risk as they don't return to their breeding grounds until they are 2, so have more chance of being caught. This means that juvenile survival rates are poor and they aren't reaching breeding age to increase the population. The second problem facing the spoon-billed sandpiper is the rapid urban development taking place along the East Asian flyway. This is reducing the amount of habitat available for them to stop over on their way to and from their breeding grounds.
So how are these problems going to be solved?
Due to the speed at which the population is declining, there is a fear that they will go extinct, so a captive breeding programme has been set up to safeguard the species. Our friends at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) are experts in captive breeding. They have undertaken a programme at WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, to breed 'spoonies' (as they are affectionately known) in captivity, ready to be released back into Russia, when the habitat is right, in order to supplement the existing population, or replace it if the worst happens and the population goes extinct.
Reducing the number of waders (not just spoonies) killed by trappers is also a priority, Trapping of waders is being tackled through working with a number of local partners. Early work has shown that providing trappers with alternative livelihoods is working to halt wader trapping at local level. We'll be working to expand this work across wintering grounds and into migration routes if necessary to combat the issue.
In the long-term, we need to ensure that a network of key habitat is available along the migration routes, again for all waders that use them, not just spoonies. We'll work with key partners to give sites official protection, as well as possibly creating and managing new areas.
Whilst it is still early days, the results so far are encouraging. The captive breeding programme is well underway, with the first chicks having hatched last year. The work being carried out to encourage trappers to change their livelihoods is also proving to be successful.
This sort of work couldn't happen without the support of the key partners, but also the continued support of our members, so thank you very much!
So how does Leighton Moss in the north of Lancashire fit into all of this?
Well, we are very privileged that tomorrow, Evgeny Syroechkovskiy who is the director of Birds Russia, and his wife Ellena Lappo are going to be visiting the reserve. Birds Russia is a small organisation with no land holdings. They have an opportunity to set up an exhibition in a museum in the Eastern provincial capital Anadyr, in order to engage with the local people about the spoon-billed sandpiper, and they want to take back ideas from RSPB reserves. The spoon-billed sandpiper work will also involve engaging with school children along the flyway (from Russia through to China, Myanmar and Bangladesh), so Evgeny and Ellena will be learning from one of our field teachers on how this can be done. We are very excited to have them here, and I personally am looking forward to meeting them - better go and brush up on my Russian!
Spoon-billed sandpiper in summer plummage (copyright rspb-images.com)
Spoon-billed sandpiper in winter plummage (copyright rspb-images.com)
Juvenile spoon-billed sandpiper (copyright rspb-images.com)
Last night was our first Wednesday evening Sunset Stroll of the month, and what a treat it was for the leaders and visitors. The walk set out at 7.30 pm and headed down Lilian's hide where they were treated to views of 3 black terns! These are the first reports we've had here this spring, so it is very exciting. We usually get a few of these lovely birds in the UK each year, although they don't generally breed in this country. They normally turn up in July-September on their way back, but a few pass through in May on the way to their breeding grounds. Black terns spend their winters in Africa and then come to Europe in the summer to breed, from Denmark to Spain and East into Russia and Asia. They are fantastic to watch as they have quite a characteristic way of feeding in that they dip down onto the water to take food delicately from the surface. Black terns mainly feed on insects and their larvae (such as water beetles and flies) in the summer and then fish in winter. As their name suggests, their bodies are black although they have greyer wings, however, they are only like this at this time of year when they are in their smart breeding plummage. In the winter they turn mainly white in their bodies with a grey back and wings, and a black capped head.
Black tern (copyright rspb-images.com)
If you would like to join us for a Sunset Stroll, we are running them every Wednesday evening in May from 7. 30 pm - dusk. The cost is £5 per person, which is discounted to £2.50 for RSPB members. For more information on all the events we run throughout the year, check out the events section on this website, or pick up a monthly events leaflet in our visitor centre.
Well we've been rather excited about the presence of a couple of spoonbills here over the last couple of days. They were at Griesdale hide yesterday and on the saltmarsh today. These strange looking, egret-like birds have one of those fantastic names that describes exactly what they look like. Their bills just look like an enormous spoon! One of them is ringed, so we are in the process of discovering its origin. If you spot it, look our for the rings on both it's legs, it has a red ring over a white ring over a blue ring on its right leg, and a red ring over a yellow ring over a green ring on its left leg. The yellow ring also has what we call a 'flag' which is an extra bit that sticks off the ring and it has the number on it.
This stunning photo of 3 spoonbills (copyright Mike Malpass) was taken here a few years ago, so these aren't the ones that were here this week, but it shows you just how spectacular (or should that be spatular) those incredible bills are!
From time to time you may come across birds on the reserve with colour and/or metal rings on their legs, and if you manage to positively identify the order and colours of the rings, or take a picture of a ringed bird, it is great if you can let us know in the centre, then we can find out where they have come from. Birds of all kinds are rung as youngsters and it helps bird recorders to know where they have come from, where they go, and how long they live. Even if you come across a dead bird that it is ringed, it is really useful for us to know the details of where you found it and when. For any ringed birds you may come across in your garden or when you are generally out and about you can also report them on the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) website - www.bto.org.uk
Elsewhere on the reserve, the marsh harriers are continuing to put on a good display. We have 3 females all being attended to by one male (that'll keep him busy!) and then a very young pair have been seen 'playing' at collecting nesting material, but not really knowing what to do when they've gathered it. The young male is one that has been with us all winter (this is the first winter we've had over-wintering marsh harriers). He's got quite a ragged appearance to his wings. The young female however, has only arrived recently. They have been flying round together like loves young dream!
The garganeys are still showing up very well around the reserve from Lilian's and Lower hides. It's fantastic to see these lovely little ducks, who visit us just for the summer before returning to Africa for the winter. We have also got a number of other visitors from that part of the world. As you walk around the reserve you will notice the cries of the swifts as they zoom overhead and the long streamer-like tails of the swallows as they fly round catching insects.
The warblers are another fanstastic group of birds that visit us at this time of year. Both whitethroat and lesser whitethroat have been heard on the path to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. Although both birds (as their name suggests) have a whitethroat, they are different in the rest of their appearance . The lesser whitethroat has a grey/brown body as opposed to the whitethroat's body which has rusty chestnut edges to it's wings which make it's body look that colour when it's not in flight. They both have a grey head, but the lesser whitethroat has a darker colour to it's cheek.
Also out on the saltmarsh today we have had reports of whinchats which is exciting as they are another stunning summer visitor from central and southern africa that have only just started to arrive.
As the weather has been a bit warmer today, butterflies decided that it was worth a venture out too, with both a bright yellow brimstone and a speckled wood being spotted.
May is the peak time to enjoy the dawn chorus and there are still places available this Sunday, 6 May, on our Dawn Chorus event. Get up with the lark or rather before it to experience nature's symphony. Our event starts at 4:00 am with a guided walk around the reedbed to listen to the birdsong. Afterwards there will be a full English breakfast in our cafe and an opportunity to buy birdsong CDs and DVDs in our shop.
Booking and payment in advance is essential. Call our visitor centre on 01524 701601. The cost is £12 full price or £10 for RSPB members. The cooked breakfast is included in the price. A pre-booked vegetarian option is available.
See you in the morning!