Happy World Wetlands Day everyone! As an internationally important wetland, Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay nature reserve is home to a great abundance of special and important wetland wildlife. We're pretty excited by the fact that we've had up to three bean geese around over the past few days. The first sighting came from our Membership Manager Kevin on Thursday, with one in among greylag geese and pink-footed geese on the farmland by Barrow Scout Fields. Since Thursday, with lots of eyes on the flock, we have found that there are three bean geese in total. They are moving around a lot so can be difficult to track down, but the fields by the level crossing and also the saltmarsh are the main places to look.
There are two races of bean geese that come to the UK - tundra bean geese and taiga bean geese. This means that they are the same species, but with slightly different variations in their appearance and where they're found. Bean geese are a very unusual sighting for Leighton Moss, but the three that have been spotted are tundra bean geese. They look very similar to pink-footed geese as they are closely related, but essentially tundra bean geese are orange in all the places that pink footed geese are pink - this includes the legs and a band of colour on the beak. By contrast taiga bean geese have a longer, much more orange beak than the tundra race and are larger. In terms of seeing them in winter, you are more likely to see tundra bean geese on this side of the country (though not commonly), and taiga bean geese on the East coast, particularly in Norfolk.
Tundra bean goose by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
Taiga bean goose by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
Both races of bean geese found in the UK come from Siberia and Northern Europe but they differ in where they breed (either on the tundra or in the lakes of the taiga forest). They then migrate south to Western Europe for the winter.
The bean geese are not the only ones that have been drawn to Leighton Moss to escape colder weather elsewhere. We have additional bitterns on the reserve through the winter months as our resident birds are joined by those from the continent. Public hide is the best place to spot them at the moment, particularly when the pools are frozen up like today. You also have a good chance of spotting another of our most elusive birds - the water rails whilst the pools are iced over.
Our otters are also regularly popping out in front of Public and Lower hides. Up to six have been seen at once which is fantastic! In this frozen weather they skate across the ice, and when it thaws, they can be seen rolling around in the water catching eels.
The three musketeers by Richard Cousens
We have had a report of a stoat down towards Grisedale hide, that is in partial ermine. Stoats are chestnut brown for most of the year, but during the winter months they change their coat to white to blend in with snow. The one seen here isn't pure white, but it has a half-changed outfit on, so it looks a little undecided as to what the weather is doing.
Though it is not the main gritting season, bearded tits have been seen and heard in and around the grit trays on the Causeway, so keep an eye and an ear out for these elusive little birds.
The three marsh harriers that have frequented the reserve through the autumn and winter are still here, so look for them around the reedbed. They also sometimes head across to the saltmarsh to hunt too. Down at the saltmarsh, we have been re-building the sluice at Eric Morecambe pool as it was undermined by a strong tide recently. We're holding it back temporarily at the moment, but is will need more work in the summer. The water level on the Eric Morecambe pool has dropped significantly due to the water being able to escape, but this means that the mud is exposed so the birds are enjoying it. If you head down there, look for redshanks, dunlins, lapwings, a spotted redshank and a greenshank.
Please be aware that on Monday 9 February, the track to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides car park will be closed whilst we install a pipe to help us to manage water levels on Barrow Scout Fields.