Apologies for the lack of recent sightings reports and blogs recently. We've been having a few technical issues with the website, but everything is back to normal now. If you've been trying to get on to report your Big Garden Birdwatch results, then thank you for your patience and please try again. You have until 16 February to let us know what you saw in your garden over the weekend of 25 and 26 of January, so plenty of time yet. There is also the Big Schools Birdwatch to take part in-running from 20 January-14 February. It is the world's biggest school wildlife survey with around 75,000 students and teachers from 2,000 schools participating.
Despite the very wet weather we've been having recently, the wildlife has been as wonderful as ever. In fact, certain species seem to enjoy the fact that there is more water around. The otters have been out and about regularly in the day. In fact there was two of them out today when I was in Lilian's hide doing a radio interview with Maria Felix-Vas from Radio Lancashire (listen out for it tomorrow 11 am-12 pm). They seem to enjoy the higher water levels - rolling around, catching eels.
Water presents an interesting challenge for our Wardens here at Leighton Moss. We have a series of sluice gates that allow us to control (to some extent) the water on the reserve, to make it the ideal level for the plants and wildlife within it. However, when we have a series of heavy down pours or prolonged wet weather, this becomes much harder to control. The sluice gates have been open for many weeks now (closed only when we experienced the very high tides to try and prevent salt water surging into the fresh water reedbed). Despite them being open for so long, the water level is still high, due to the sheer amount of rainfall we have experienced, which also increases water running into the site too.
One bird which certainly doesn't mind increased water levels is the scaup. There has been an individual female around at Public Hide for several weeks now.
The mud pumping work is still ongoing at the Public and Lower hide end of the reserve. This essential management is to make the pools the best possible environment for the aquatic plants, fish and water birds. See my previous blog here for details. The wildlife is generally very unfazed by the machinery and bittern sightings have been great from Lower hide in the past week, with many people being lucky enough to spot our most elusive resident.
In the woods around Lilian's hide, and in the garden, there have been several sightings of a firecrest this past week. This tiny little bird is distinguished from the more regularly seen goldcrest by its bright white eye stripe.
Our largest residents, the red deer are not put off by a bit of rain. They are mainly seen from Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides on an almost daily basis. This stunning shot was taken one soggy day recently by Richard Cousens. As you can see from their fur, the deer are a bit damp, but they really don't mind it. In fact, as they live in the reedbed, the deer are used to the wet and are incredibly good swimmers. A number of visitors have seen them swimming across the main dyke this week, which is a good 12 feet deep!
Three damp deer by Richard Cousens
On the main dyke (which runs under the causeway beyond Public hide) there is a very regular visit by a kingfisher. With lots of fish using the area, the kingfisher finds plenty to eat there. If you stand on the bridge that crosses the dyke, it will often use the branches of overhanging trees as a perch to dive off.
Down on the saltmarsh this week, there are two spotted redshanks, a greenshank, up to three ruffs and a merlin as well as huge flocks of lapwings which dance and wheel round in a display that rivals that of the starlings we get in the autumn. Despite the mention of our starling murmuration on BBC Winterwatch recently, they are no longer coming in to roost of an evening. The best time of year to see them here is October, November and December, when they can reach up to 100,000. In very cold years, this number has been known to stay until March, but it has been very mild this winter, and the reserve hasn't frozen up at all, so they headed back to Eastern Europe from the start of January.