Goodness me, what a tense show last night's Autumnwatch was!
Right from the word go, there was action from the underwater cam - an eel, a stickleback and then finally, an otter!
From large mammals to tiny ones - I was then gripped by the rodent agility course. We have a good variety of small mammals here and this entertaining experiment really does highlight how flexible and agile they are when it comes to getting food! A thick branch, a spiky hawthorn twig and even a wobbly rope didn't put off the brown rat, bank vole and wood mouse. You can often see bank voles in the woods along the path to Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides.
Bank vole by Richard Cousens
Over the past few shows, Martin Hughes-Games has been on the trail of beautiful Bewick's swans in Estonia. Well, we don't have any here at Leighton Moss, but a couple of whooper swans who have come to spend the winter in the UK have been spotted. We also have resident mute swans - the ones with the distinctive orange beak.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Mute swan by Keith Scovell
Part of our work here at Leighton Moss involves counting wildlife. We regularly count the wading and water birds in the reedbed and out in Morecambe Bay, we monitor butterflies through the summer months, we record moths every morning....it really helps us to know exactly what we have here and how to help make the site best for it. I think therefore, my most exciting bit of the programme was following Martin into the reedbed to show how we are using fascinating new technology - a drone, to help us count the red deer here. By it's very nature, reedbed is low lying with tall reeds (which can grow up to 12 ft!). As Martin showed, all manner of wonderful wildlife such as bearded tits, otters, marsh harriers and water rails live within it, along with our largest residents - the red deer. When they head into the dense reeds, they quickly disappear from view, making it very hard for us to determine just how many we have here. The drone allows us to view the reedbed from the air and means we have been able to establish that we have around 20 red deer on the reserve. If you are hoping to see them when you visit, the best place to head is the Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides.
But the action didn't stop there! The barn owl footage on the night vision camera was simply stunning - seeing the owl swap its prey from its beak to its talons in mid-air was amazing!! Many people know that barn owls eat voles, but during the autumn and winter here, when there are plenty of starlings around, they are a common meal for our barn owls to feed on!
So there we were, happily watching the wonderful wildlife on Autumnwatch, when the screen went black! Had a mouse chewed through the cable? Had our pilot flown the drone into the camera? Had Chris Packham gone for a cake break? Unfortunately the power had gone, but being the absolute professionals they are, our pals at the BBC remained calm and worked like troopers to restore our favourite show to our screens. Well done team!
As always, Autumnwatch not only celebrates nature, but also highlights some of the problems facing our wildlife. The gannets nesting on Grassholm, getting tangled in rubbish was a heart-wrenching piece and shows how important it is to reduce, recycle and re-use our waste to prevent it impacting on our wildlife.
So tonight is the last show :( I can't believe how quickly this series has gone by! So what can we expect from this Halloween finale? Bats? Moths? Martin on a Mission? Will the starlings show up? Tune in at 8 pm, BBC2 to find out!
We are open as normal so please do come and see the action for yourselves. We are running a free park and ride or you could hop on the train to Silverdale station - just 250 m from our front door. If you are coming from further afield, why not stay a little longer to really explore the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Beauty and Morecambe Bay. These great 'Nature on Your Doorstep' Guides will help you discover more.
I bet you were gripped watching last night's action on Autumnwatch, I know I certainly was! What a show - opening with the cheeky heron on the otter cam and then to see all the drama from the barn owls on the night vision camera! The adult barn owls hunt around the reserve early morning and dusk to bring in food for their chicks, which we think are a second brood. Last night's Autumnwatch showed a young barn owl, not from our brood, intruding on our roosting chicks, trying to take the food One of our chicks had a tussle with it and certainly made the point that it was not welcome!
Barn owl by John Markham (rspb-images.com)
It was intriguing to watch the pink-footed geese in the south of Morecambe Bay at Lane Ends in Pilling. 20,000 of them out on the fields tucking in is a sight to behold. As Michaela said, they are a "visual spectacle and a sound sensation". They fly round in V formation, congregate in flocks in fields and have a variety of interesting calls to one another - an all round sensational species.
The red deer at Minsmere were phenomenal - their large stag known as 'The General' getting into a fight with 'The Captain' was epic to watch. We have a herd of red deer here at Leighton Moss too. They are somewhat more subdued than 'The General' and his challengers, as our main rutting time here is slightly earlier in September and early October. They are being spotted regularly at Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides with the hinds (females).
What about the tawny owls? Weren't they just terrific! Autumn is a great time to listen out for them where you are. We get lots of sightings in the woods around Lower hide. Last night's show highlighted the impressive range of noises they have aside from the stereotypical "twit, two" (which is actually two tawny owls- females call the males a "twit", and the males say "twooo").
As shown last night, one of our most charismatic birds is the bearded tit. I can't wait to see the results of Chris Packham's grit experiment. Bearded tits are insectivores in summer i.e. they eat insects. However, at this time of year when there are much fewer insects available they change to being granivores (grain eaters), more specifically eating reed seed. To help them to grind up the reed seed, they take in grit (yum yum) and this experiment is looking into which size they prefer - course, medium or fine.....we'll find out later tonight, so tune in, BBC 2, 8 pm.
Of course it is not just the wildlife shown on the programmes that is being spotted around the reserve. Down at Public hide, we have been getting lots of views of two of our most secretive residents - bitterns and water rails, so keep an eye out for them there. If you head down the Causeway beyond Public hide to the bridge, stop for a while to look out for one of our most glamorous residents - the kingfisher. The variety and number of fish in the main dyke that runs through the reserve (where Martin was doing his human tadpole impersonation on Tuesday) means that this is a favoured spot for these beautiful birds.
We're open as normal throughout so why not come and see the drama for yourselves? There's loads to see and do in the whole Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and around Morecambe Bay. These 'Nature on your Doorstep Guides' will help you to discover more.
WOW! What a fantastic first day of Autumnwatch yesterday! From an otter live on Autumnwatch Extra, to Nick Baker's hilarious antics on Unsprung, there was never a dull moment throughout the entire day! If you missed the action from the main show, here are the highlights:
Martin Hughes-Games looking like a human tadpole on his mission in a wet suit. Absolutely hilarious! He was uncovering the differences between dabbling ducks, diving ducks and sawbills. Autumn is a cracking time for learning all about the different ducks here at Leighton Moss and around Morecambe Bay. The dabblers are the ones that upend in the water - sticking their bums in the air. They're feeding on water weed on the surface. Look out for mallards, pintails, teal, gadwall and shoveler around the pools here. The divers, as their name suggests, find their food in the mud at the bottom of the pools. They can be difficult to keep an eye on as they are constantly ducking underwater but look out for pochard, tufted ducks and goldeneyes. Sawbills are the ones with serrated beak edges - ideal for catching slippery fish. These include goosanders and red-breasted mergansers. They are less regular on the reserve but keep an eye out for them on Public pool and down at the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides.
The stunning pink-footed geese spectacle out in Morecambe Bay at Lane Ends was fantastic to watch (we were as excited as Michaela!) Around 20,000 of them are out on the mud flats and flying in V formation over the Bay.
How epic was the red deer rut!! This was filmed at our big sister reserve RSPB Minsmere (where Springwatch was filmed this year). Our red deer have their main rut during September and have calmed down a little now. We are getting excellent daily views of them every day from our Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides.
As mentioned on the show last night, due to some westerly winds, starlings haven't arrived in large numbers yet. We have around 6,000 coming in to roost of an evening doing a mini murmuration. Fingers crossed the winds will change and bring in more before the end of the series!
With a bittern already spotted in front of Public hide this morning, what will be featured on this evenings show? Will the bearded tits be hogging the limelight? You'll have to tune in to find out - 8 pm, BBC 2. If you can't wait that long, head to Autumnwatch Extra for action all day on the red button and internet.
Bittern by Craig Linford