Apologies that last week's 50th anniversary blog is a few days late - I was out of the office a lot last week running events and doing radio interviews, but it means you will get two this week :)
If you read my 'Have we sprung a leak?' blog a few weeks ago, or if you have visited us recently, you will know that there is a fair bit of mud exposed around the edge of Lilian's pool. This has drawn in huge numbers of wading birds and the great white egrets are thoroughly enjoying the lower water levels. It also means that many of our visitors have been treated to regular sightings of one of our more secretive residents - water rails.
If you have never seen one at Leighton Moss, now is your chance. There have been up to ten coming out at once on the edges of Lilian's pool, probing around in the mud. I was only down there for 5 minutes yesterday, changing a display and one came out just next to one of the islands in front of the hide - magic.
Long legs come in useful by Mike malpass
There are almost 150 different species in the rail family to which water rails belong. Superficially water rails are similar to moorhens and coots, as they are related, however, they are noticeably smaller than both their cousins. Young water rails are fairly brown all over, but the adult birds have a brown streaky back, blueish-grey underneath, white under the tail and a long, red bill. If you look at a water rail head on, you will notice how narrow they are, as though they have been compressed. This is a clever design feature to give them easy movement through reeds.
Interestingly water rails have been around for a long, long time. Fossil evidence suggests that 2 million years ago, ancestors of water rails were present across most of their current rage which stretches across Europe, Asia and north Africa.
Water rails have been present at Leighton Moss since it became an RSPB nature reserve back in 1964, as they favour wet areas with thick vegetation to live in. Because they are such a secretive bird, water rails are not the easiest birds to census, but there are around 110 pairs at Leighton Moss, which just shows what masters of disguise they are! Usually the best time of year to spot them is in winter. If it is very wet and the paths flood, they are often spotted dashing across or mooching around in the flooded woodland on the path to Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. Alternatively, if it freezes, they come out onto the edges looking for places to fish.
You looking at me? by Richard Cousens
Even if you have never spotted a water rail at Leighton Moss, you are likely to have heard one. They make a loud squealing sound that is described as a 'stuck pig' and are often heard around the reserve, particularly on the causeway. So next time you visit us, keep your eyes and ears open for these fascinating little birds.