Summer is an amazing time to visit Leighton Moss at any time of day. We are open dawn to dusk so visitors can experience the reserve "out of hours" even when the visitor centre is closed. During August we are also running a series of guided walks at dusk and here's why I can't wait for them...
Last week I wrote about how much I love to wander the reserve early in the morning before I head into work. I am a bit of an early bird so dawn at Leighton Moss is definitely my favourite time of day, but every now and again I might spend an evening out that takes me by surprise. Early mornings are often full of sound, but the still quiet of an evening brings a lovely peace that can be rarely matched.I have been lucky enough to experience some of my favourite wildlife moments at this time of day. One in particular stands out.
It was an evening last August and the weather was so glorious I could not resist a stroll down to lower hide after I had finished my shift in the visitor centre. The sun was low and cast a golden glow over the reedbed, creating warms shafts of light that spilled out on the causeway as I ventured along it. It is easy to rush along the trails without appreciating the sounds and smells, but that evening I remember taking my time as I examined the wild flowers twinkling away in the deep green reeds.
A relaxing twenty minutes later I was creeping into lower hide. Setting out on my walk I had not planned to look out for anything in particular, so it was with great delight that the first thing I caught in my binoculars was an otter! I watched it for around fifteen minutes as it bobbed up and down, eventually catching and eating a huge eel. What a result!
Otter at causeway hide by Richard Cousens
If that wasn’t nearly enough just a few minutes after losing sight of the otter, a bird of prey flashed past the hide window. It was so quick I barely got my binoculars on it, but I managed to see just enough of it's red underside to see that it was a hobby! Having worked on sites where hobbys are common I have been privileged enough to see many of these beautiful little predators in the past, but never at Leighton Moss. Until now! I couldn't believe my luck.
Hobby by Mike Malpass
After the thrill of seeing my first Leighton Moss hobby, there wasn’t much else to do than sit back and relax whilst I watched a great white egret fishing on the edge of the reeds. Tufted ducks popped up and down and the first few bats emerged, dipping low over the water, catching insects.
Sunset from lower hide by Fran Currie
Like I said, early mornings will always be my favourite, but that evening was hard to beat!
If you fancy experiencing Leighton Moss at this special time of day, “Wildlife watch at dusk” takes place Monday 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29 August (7 pm-dusk). Join one of our knowledgeable guides for a relaxing evening walk to try and spot bats, red deer and other special summer wildlife. Cost: Adults £7 (RSPB members £5.50). Booking and payment in advance essential. Meet in The Holt next to the garden.
You may remember a particularly bad period of stormy weather back in early spring. Here at Leighton Moss we felt the affects of this weather first hand when a massive tide devastated our water control system on the salt marsh area of the reserve. After a summer of short term patch up jobs, we now have a small window of opportunity to repair the damage and head warden Richard Miller explains how...
Life is always challenging on the reserve. Constant bombardment from the weather and tides can play havoc with our best laid plans. It was around this time last year, we were involved in a desperate bid to hold back the forces of nature, and keep one of our prime areas of nesting and feeding habitat from becoming un-manageable.
I am, of course, talking about our Allen pool which is one of a series of saline lagoons situated to the landward side of a rather large area of inter-tidal grassland known as saltmarsh. Inter-tidal is the key word here, as the vast majority of the area to the West of the Carnforth to Silverdale railway line is at the mercy of the Morecambe Bay tides. These tides can be, as many people will have witnessed, ferocious.
Ariel view of saltmarsh David Wootton rspb-images.com
The Allen pool stared its life back in 1983, when an exceptionally dry summer gave the reserve staff perfect conditions to lovingly craft a haven for wildlife. The aim being to both increase food abundance for migrating waders and wildfowl; and to provide opportunity for other species, specific to this habitat, to colonise the area and nest.
One such bird did turn up; the avocet. Spring 2001 was the first year this special little wader bred on the west coast of England since before the war. This was a very proud moment for staff at Leighton Moss to witness, particularly given their hard work in creating an ideal home for them. Since then, avocets have continued to nest on the islands and marsh edges of the saline lagoons, with the Allen pool islands being particularly favoured.
Avocets in flock by Andy Hay rspb-images.com
So this spring, when the tides raged and punched a hole through the bank that holds water inside the Allen pool, we knew we were going to have problems. Earlier in the year avocets did attempt to nest, but the lack of water was making conditions for them difficult. Unfortunately because of this, no avocets managed to nest successfully. We made attempts to hold water in the pool through the course of the year, but these have been temporary patch-ups while we waited for a better time to bring in heavy machinery to try a permanent fix. We now have a window of opportunity with a gap between high tides up until 20 August. Repairing the bank now gives it time to settle and allow a layer of vegetation to develop on top which should prevent any more tidal erosion.
Devastation at the Allen pool by Jarrod Snyed.
Enter Dinsdale Moorland Specialists Ltd. This contractor is a really experienced and knowledgeable team of people who specialise in doing large scale conservation work in difficult ground conditions. We have used them before at Leighton Moss to help dramatically improve one of our satellite reedbed creation sites nearby.
Dinsdales will be working on the Allen pool from Monday 25 July and will be on site for around ten days. They are completely reinstating the broken bank, and at the same time installing three big pipes as a water control system. These will effectively let the tide in and out of the pool, giving us control over the levels, providing food for birds that feed in all water depths.
I am also going to be out on the Allen pool in our own excavator “The Beaver” next week, creating islands and depressions as well as carrying out some vegetation cutting. This will mean I will be blogging about the work as it happens and keeping you up to date with pictures of the work through the week.
Keep an eye on our blog page for updates from Richard on the work as it happens through the week.
An insight into one of my early morning walks around the reserve...
One of my favourite things about summer is the opportunity to get up early and explore the reserve before work. Dawn really is a magical time at Leighton Moss when the reedbed explodes to life as sunlight creeps across the landscape, interrupting the peaceful slumber of each creature that calls Leighton Moss home.
Magical dawn. View from causeway hide by David Mower
Walking down the causeway, reed warblers tune up, often joined by the sporadic call of the Cetti’s warbler. The piercing squeal of a water rail stabs through the still morning air with enough vigor to suggest it has been awake for hours. In contrast, the delicate “peep peep” of a flock of goldfinches breaks over head and the occasional hoot of a coot adds to the chorus.
Hanging around. Reed warbler by Brian Salisbury
Popping into causeway hide at this time of day always brings with it a great sense of anticipation. Otters are often more active early in the morning and I have been lucky enough to have some incredible views of them from here. It’s always a good way to wake the senses, spending a few concentrated moments scanning the still water for a ripple, a tail flick or pair of nostrils breaking the surface, snorting in the fresh morning air.
A walk farther into the reserve brings with it the hypnotic fragrance of the meadow sweet as it floats across the air along the path to lower hide. Common spotted orchids stand proud as bees buzz around them in an early morning feeding frenzy. I always find this spot peaceful, particularly at this time of day as willow branches sway in the gentle breeze and dappled light breaks through the canopy.
Early morning feeding frenzy. Common spotted orchid and bee by Fran Currie
Continuing towards lower hide, crossing the spring often brings with it an unexpected surprise. Be it a family of greylag geese with a gaggle of fluffy goslings feeding in the shallows, or the fluorescent blue flash of a kingfisher shooting off into the reed cover. I have even been lucky enough to have an occasional chance encounter with red deer at the spring which often results in comical startled reactions from both the deer and myself!
On reaching Lower hide, a quiet moment to take in the landscape is always first on the agenda. At this time of year everything is so gloriously green. Bright new reeds shoot up in the foreground framed by the emerald shade of the water and deep forest colours of the distant trees. I love watching the swifts, martins and swallows dip and dive over the pools on the hunt for the first of the day’s insects. Tufted ducks bob up and down with amusing buoyancy and dragonflies zip around the reed edges. Magic.
Dappled light and meadow sweet by Jenni Thornley
If you are visiting Leighton Moss this week look out for kingfisher at Eric Morecambe and Allen hides as well as an increasing number of wading birds like redshanks, avocets and lapwings. Otters have been showing well from causeway hide during the day and marsh harriers continue to perform, with six juveniles now fledged. Sightings of osprey are still a daily occurrence and are likely to become more frequent once the chicks from Foulshaw Moss start to explore the wider landscape.