It's been all go at the Moss this weekend, when we had the pleasure of a visit from our Board and Council members. It was a great opportunity for us to showcase all that Leighton Moss has to offer and they all seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. We certainly had great fun showing them all round.
As always, on the day, and over the past few days in general, the special wildlife here, really made the visit a memorable one.
We've been getting regular sightings of an osprey over the last few days, including just this morning, down at the Public and Lower hide end of the reserve. The deeper pools there are perfect for them to catch their favourite food - fish.
Speaking of fish, eel season is well under way. Our Warden David monitors their numbers on a daily basis as they come into the reserve through our eel trap. Eels are a really important part of the whole ecosystem here at Leighton Moss. They are a favourite food for species such as bitterns, herons and otters. They have an amazing life cycle whereby the adults spawn out in the Sargasso Sea, off the coast of America, and their young are brought across the Atlantic on the gulf stream. When they reach Morecambe Bay, they are about 40 mm in size and are see-through, giving them the name 'glass eels'. They swim up the main dyke that comes into Leighton Moss. We have a large sluice gate there, which helps us to control the water levels so we can manage the reedbed. This sluice is a barrier to the eels getting into the reserve, so we have eel ramps up the side of it, that they can shimmy up. They then drop down into our eel traps (which are simple holding jars) so we can count how many there are. We then empty them out onto the other side of the sluice, and they swim up into the reserve. Provided they aren't eaten, the eels will live here for 10 years, during which time they grow greatly in size, reaching around a metre in length. They then make the journey back across the Atlantic to the Sargasso Sea, where they spawn and die, and the whole cycle begins again. Fascinating! We have had some days so far, with up to 5000 elvers (young eels) in our eel trap.
Elvers by Ruth Watts
Elsewhere on the reserve, the marsh harriers are very active, with the males bringing food into the nests for the females. On Sunday, one group from the Board and Council visit were treated to the male bringing in a rabbit and handing it over to the female in mid-air (known as a food pass). We have 2 males and 6 females on the reserve, so the males are being kept very busy with 3 wives each.
Otter sightings have been on the up. One came out on Sunday morning at Lilian's hide, to the delight of one of the Board and Council groups (and to the relief of our Regional Reserves Manager who had been promising otter sightings). Otters usually start to become more active as we move into the summer, so head down to Lower hide on a nice evening with a picnic tea, and watch and wait.
The red deer are also becoming more active, being seen daily at Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. They come out round the edges of the pools to graze and snooze. As Britian's largest land mammal they are difficult to miss when they are out, but as soon as they step into the reeds, they instantly disappear.
Bearded tits are pretty difficult to spot at this time of year, as they are nesting right in the heart of the reedbed. However, you can catch up with all the latest goings on at the nests, by watching our live webcam. The parents are regularly going in and out so you only have to wait a few moments to catch a glimpse of them. You can catch them either on our website, on our cafe screen, or in the screen in Lilian's hide. The bearded tit nestboxes (or wigwams as they are known) are made every year by our warden David. The long pole they are mounted on, allows us to raise the nestbox up if we have a wet summer, to avoid the nests being flooded.
Cetti's warblers are very vocal around the site, with particularly good views just before Grisedale hide. They may look like just another little brown bird, but they have a tremendous voice that strikes up as though someone has popped ten pence in a jukebox.
Cetti's Warbler by Liz Cutting (www.lizcuttingphotos.com)
A cuckoo has been spotted a few times over the past couple of days, not actually on the reserve, but just off it, in the fields next to the path to Lower hide. These lovely migrants who say thier own name, are a huge concern at the moment, as their numbers are declining rapidly. The RSPB and the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) are working on a lot of research to find out where the problems lie.
Down on the saltmarsh, the avocets are a delight to see, with their fluffy chicks. They are nesting on the islands right in front of Allen hide, so be sure to get down their to check them out. A kingfisher has also been showing up there, using the fence posts as a fishing perch.