After several weeks of anticipation, the moment has arrived, the avocets have returned! Two were seen at the weekend, and they have stuck around with two or three more sightings of the couple over the past few days. We hope to be joined by many more over the next week or so. Here at Leighton Moss we all get very excited about the return of the avocets. Fifty years ago it would have been unthinkable that avocets would ever breed this far up north, but as these birds began to breed more successfully in the south they eventually made their way up to our saltmarshes.
Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
The avocets used to be prevalent, nesting in many areas of the UK, but due to the loss of important wetlands where they lived, they were extinct as a breeding bird by around 1840. However their fate turned as war broke out and the costal marshes of East Anglia were flooded for defence. This created a perfect habitat for them, and a very small number began to return. The RSPB stepped in and protected the birds at Harvergate Island and Minsmere reserves, and numbers eventually began to increase. Bringing the avocet back from brink of extinction is one of the RSPB’s greatest successes, and is why the avocet our logo.
Avocet chick by Richard Cousens
1997 was the year the very first avocet was spotted on our saltmarsh, with only one bird being seen. Luckily this bird wasn’t just blown off course, as the following years lead to an increase in numbers, with 2011 bringing us 9 fledglings. 2012 was a bumper year with 48 young fledging from 19 nests. It was a very exciting time for everyone, and there was much celebration. 2013 was still a pretty good year for them, with 22 fledging.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though and the birds have had plenty to contend with from floods, draughts and predators.
We totted up how many chicks Leighton Moss has produced, and we found that we have added 109 wonderful avocet chicks to the world. I am sure you will all agree that this is a great success, and none of this would have been possible without the dedication of many staff and volunteers. And of course, if you are an RSPB member you know that your monthly contributions are going towards many wonderful projects like this one, and we, and all the wildlife out there thanks you.
You would think that we have had enough excitement for one week, but the otters are still fantastic, with brilliant views everyday from Public and Lower hides. The marsh harriers are still putting on a good show, being seen from almost every hide, they are regularly joined by peregrines and merlin. The pools are still busy with teal and pintail mostly, but the odd gadwall and snipe being seen as well.
As we edge towards spring we look forward to seeing many young chicks out and about, flowers begin to bloom and butterflies start to make an appearance. But whatever the time of year, there is always something fascinating to see, so why not grab a woolly hat and gives us visit?
Huge thanks to Intern Anya for this recent sightings blog.
When I was younger and my best friend's dad used to take us out watching wildlife, there's a particular group of birds that were ever present wherever we went - ducks. As a really young child, I thought that a duck was just a duck and there was only one sort, but as I grew older (and was better at sitting still to watch them) I discovered that there's lots of different kinds of ducks and they are fascinating! Some dive under the water for their food, whilst others simply pop their heads under the water and stick their bums in the air to feed under the surface. The more you look, the more you notice their different habits and the huge variety of colours they have which often shimmer in the light if the sun catches them right.
During the autumn and winter, Leighton Moss has a great variety of ducks. They come to Morecambe Bay from their breeding grounds further north in places like Scandinavia. They are always a welcome sight when they arrive and I am always sad to see them go in spring, but wish them well, hoping they'll return again when the weather gets colder.
If you head to Lilian's hide at the moment, there are dozens of pintails (in my opinion the most elegant of all the ducks we get here). You'll also spot pairs of tufted ducks too. Wigeons, teal, pochards, mallards and gadwalls can also be spotted swimming around. With spring in the air, the ducks are starting to get a bit frisky and none of them put more effort into finding a girlfriend than the male goldeneyes. If you head down to Public hide, you can see just how much showing off they do to attract the ladies. They pull some spectacular moves - swimming along with their head low, then throwing it back,letting out a loud “zeee-zeee” call. It is entertaining to watch and the female goldeneyes certainly seem impressed as you can see from this picture captured recently. If you're visiting with your family, why not have a go at our 'Love Birds Trail' as you walk round - you'll discover all the funny and unusual ways birds will try to attract a mate.
Just look how many girls he's impressing with his moves (image by Richard Cousens)
A lovely pair of tufted ducks by Brian Salisbury
When you're at Public hide watching the goldeneyes strut their stuff, also keep an eye out for our otters which are putting in regular appearances at the moment. Some of our most secretive residents - the bitterns are also popping out a lot to prove they're not mythical creatures.
Down at the saltmarsh, a flock of greylags is hanging out with five white-fronted geese at the moment which is a great sighting for the reserve. They were spotted the other day with a rather unusual creature among them as you can see from this photo
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? by Richard Cousens
When you're down at the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, don't forget to check out the wading birds too - a golden plover has been spotted among the lapwings and a spotted redshank is there among the redshanks and black-tailed godwits, so see if you can pick them out from the crowd.
Golden plover by Richard Cousens
Some people imagine winter is a quiet time on the reserve, but this couldn't be further from the truth. From otters to great spotted woodpeckers and wigeons to woodpigeons the reserve is packed!
A pair of peregrines have been seen for the past couple of days, hunting on the saltmarsh and even being mobbed by a rather plucky merlin! It is likely that they are the pair from Warton Crag, so head up there to see them scoping out their nest site. The ravens are already starting to nest there too.
The marsh harriers have been as regular as ever, with sightings from all the hides on a daily basis. In just over a months time, they will be joined by more coming here to breed - a sure sign of spring!
Some lucky visitors have spotted bearded tits on the Causeway. Bearded tits are some of Leighton Mosses most charming inhabitants and their distinctive "pinging" sound can be heard all year round. They have been seen quite a few times just on the path outside Public hide, so keep a look out when your on your way out of there.
As seems to be their daily routine at the moment, the otters have been absolutely fantastic in front of Public and Lower hides, with visitors sitting for hours on end just watching them catch fish and play. When you're walking down to Lower hide, also look out for a lesser redpoll which has been seen a few times among the trees.
The saltmash has been busy lately with small flocks of black-tailed godwits and redshanks along with a spotted redshank ,a greenshank and a few ruffs. There has also been some lovely views of lapwings, with numbers in their thousands! They swirl around in the air, similar to the patterns that the starlings make here in the autumn. Up to145 dunlin have been seen as well along with up a handful of little egrets.
Thanks to Intern Anya for these sightings.
Our Membership Manager Kevin has been on a goose finding mission again and came up trumps on Saturday with five white-fronted geese in amongst a flock of greylags! This is an unusual sighting for Leighton Moss so we're chuffed to bits. They have put in an appearance on Lilian's pool, but have mainly been spotted in the fields by the level crossing. Like the bean goose Kevin found last week, the white-fronted geese you get in the UK have two races - European white-fronts and Greenland white-fronts. It is more common to get the Greenland race on this side of the country with the European white-fronts generally being found on the East coast (they come down from Northern Russia). However, we have in fact got five of the European race here at the minute so they are extra special!
From the picture you'll notice their distinctive white 'blaze' at the base of their beak. They develop this at the end of their first winter. The adult birds also have the stunning black barring on their chests, which the younger ones lack.
Three white-fronted geese by Kevin Kelly
The picture below also shows you the size comparison between the smaller white-fronted geese and the much chunkier greylag geese (image Kevin Kelly)
With half-term now underway, why not bring the whole family down. There's still a few spaces on our Batbox event on Wednesday, or why not have a go at our Love Birds Trail , running all month, to learn all about the ways in which some of our favourite birds find love.