In honour of the golden anniversary of Leighton Moss, the “golden” wildlife has truly put on a spectacular show. At the moment we are hosting golden plover, goldeneyes and goldcrests, which can all be seen from Lilian’s and Tim Jackson hides.
Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
The past week has been brilliant for wildlife at Leighton Moss with the otters in particular granting visitors with wonderful views. The mother otter and her cubs have been showing very well outside Public and Lower hides. I was down at Lower hide the other day and was treated to a good forty-five minutes of the cubs playing-right in front of the hide!
You can get some great views of a variety of ducks from Lilian’s, Tim Jackson and Grisdale hides. The majority of the birds down there are teals, wigeons and shovelers. A goosander has also been spotted at Lilian’s hide.
Our birds of prey have also been impressing with some great views of marsh harrier, peregrine, merlin and sparrowhawk. During the starling murmerations in particular, the sparrowhawk and peregrine can be seen hunting the starlings adding to their great performance of aerial acrobatics. For the opportunity to see this autumnal spectacle, we recommend getting here around 3 pm and the visitor centre team can direct you to the place with the best chance.
Huge thanks to our intern Anya for providing these sightings.
A very busy weekend here meant that there was lots of eyes on our wildlife and we've got some fantastic sightings to report.....
Down at the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides, the wading birds have been brilliant. A golden plover and a grey plover have been spotted there which, even if they are not wearing their most glamorous plumage at this time of year are both great birds to see here. There has also been a spotted redshank, a ruff and some dunlins too amongst the flocks of redshanks and black-tailed godwits. The great white egret seems to be favouring this spot at the moment, so if you haven't seen it yet, this is where to head. Arguably our most attractive resident - a kingfisher has also been a regular visitor in this area.
Grey plover with a snoozy dunlin by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
If you are on the look out for kingfishers, then the main dyke under the Causeway and Public hide are top locations too. Whilst at Public and Lower hides, keep your eyes peeled for otters as there have been up to four fishing and playing in the pools. Some of our shyest residents - bitterns and water rails have been putting on a show at Public hide, particularly in the area known as 'Al's Alley' (a strip cut by one of our wardens Alasdair) to the right from Public hide.
The starlings are putting on a mixed performance at the moment. Saturday evening was great - with a stunning mumuration at Public hide. Sunday night was less spectacular as they came in smaller groups and went straight to bed. They are often kept wheeling round if a peregrine, sparrowhawk or marsh harrier gets in amongst them, so they must have all just been having a quiet night yesterday. It is best to get here for around 3 pm. The visitor centre team can let you know where the starlings were seen the previous night and direct you where to go for the best chance of spotting this fabulous autumn phenomenon.
Whilst watching for the starlings at Public hide, you will also spot the little egrets coming into roost at Island Mere (the clump of trees in the middle of the pool at the back). They look like white handkerchiefs when they all perch together in the trees at night so it is well worth watching out for.
No, I’m not talking about toilets – although they certainly come in handy – the bogs I’m most concerned with are ‘lowland raised peat bogs’. At first glance, peat bogs appear as a barren wasteland, but take a closer look and you’ll discover an amazing hidden world of dragonflies, lizards and insect eating plants.
Cumbria Wildlife Trust's Foulshaw Moss- a raised peat bog. Photo by P. J. Taylor.
This precious habitat, of which 94% has been lost in England, started to form around ten thousand years ago - even before the first episode of Coronation Street was broadcast.
Melting glaciers from the last Ice Age left behind a blanket of clay. Depressions in this natural pond liner soon filled with water and developed vegetation. However, the sheer level of waterlogging resulted in one plucky type of plant dominating: sphagnum moss.
Sphagnum moss – a nonconformist at heart – shuns stems, roots and leaves, and grows as a big spongy pile. The bottom layers partially decompose to form peat – regrettably used today in gardening due to its water retention abilities. Over many thousands of years, the peat builds up to create a squishy dome – a raised peat bog.
Neon green sphagnum moss. Photo by P. J. Taylor.
The peat bog at Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Foulshaw Moss is one such dome: a remnant that avoided the industrial peat cutting that claimed so many others.
A recent Nature Improvement Area (NIA) project sought to inspire local school pupils at Dean Barwick about this incredible habitat on their doorstep. The project kicked off with a workshop introducing the crazy creatures that call the bog their home (or would, if they could speak). Pupils learnt about the lifecycle of dragon and damselflies, re-enacted ten thousand years of history using a piece of string, and built their own peat bogs from yogurt pots, sponges and cress seeds.
Common Darter Dragonfly. Photo by P. J. Taylor.
Next up was a field trip to Foulshaw Moss. The pupils cut down some sneaky saplings encroaching onto the bog. Tree roots act like straws, sucking out water, causing bog-adapted plants to be outcompeted, ultimately destroying the habitat.
They also took peat cores – a marvellously messy task! Peat has been building up at Foulshaw Moss since sphagnum moss came to dominate, around 7000 years ago, at a rate of 1 mm per year. Like a less glamorous version of Doctor Who, we travelled back in time, digging out a metre of peat with every core, each representing a thousand years’ worth of history. Standing beside such a humble reminder of our insignificance in geological time, the children prodded the peat and agreed it looked ‘just like poo!’
Look closer (and downwards) to find this resident of Foulshaw Moss - a Common Lizard. Photo by P. J. Taylor.
Local artist Ro Thomas led guided walks, and encouraged pupils to think of the colours and shapes and creatures they discovered. In a landscape normally dismissed as 'bleak' they discovered a sea of orange cotton grass, neon green moss and deep blue water. Not to mention the last of the summer dragonflies!
Back at school, the children created sculptures based on their experience, including some psychedelic adders – lemon yellow and pastel blue, carved from bendy logs. Ro encouraged pupils to think of textures as they painted a giant warty toad, smooth frog and scaly lizard. A variety of dragonflies, butterflies and moths were crafted from willow frames overlaid with tissue paper and glue, drying to form insects with 'strained glass' wings.
Pupils make an Emperor Moth. Photo by Ro Thomas.
Finally, an osprey landing on its nest was assembled from chicken wire and wood, decorated with painted feathers cut from recycled milk bottles – a celebration of the three chicks that successfully fledged at Foulshaw earlier this year.
Building the Osprey. Photo by P. J. Taylor.
Why not visit and see the results? From Saturday 15 November onward, the sculptures will be on display at Foulshaw Moss – a touch of summer magic in an environment heading firmly into winter. If you're in the area on Saturday itself, why not come to the official launch 1-3 pm. Cumbria Wildlife Trust and RSPB staff - and artistic genius Ro Thomas - will all be present to show off the artwork. Reserve Officer John Dunbavin will also be giving guided walks at 1.15 pm and 2.15 pm. Keep your fingers crossed for a dry day!
Spoilers! A sneak peak at the finished osprey. Photo by P. J. Taylor.