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.