Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Leighton Moss - Wednesday 29th April 2015

I had a day off work on Wednesday 29th April, which I spent at RSPB Leighton Moss. Not because I had any particular urge for a day out birding there, but to attend a Child Safeguarding course - one of the conditions of my role as a leader of a RSPB kids wildlife explorer group, called Airedale Otters.

Of course, there wasn't anything stopping me checking out the reserve before and after the course, especially as a Pied-billed Grebe was being reported regularly from the Lower Hide. So I arrived nice and early and made my way down to the Lower Hide, being greeted by some of the tamest birds I'd ever met.

Female Mallard, Leighton Moss, Lancashire - Wednesday 29th April, 2015

Female Common Pheasant, Leighton Moss, Lancashire - Wednesday 29th April, 2015

Male Common Pheasant, Leighton Moss, Lancashire - Wednesday 29th April, 2015

I'd visited here a few times as a child, as it was one of the nearest RSPB reserves to where I grew up, and had never been disappointed. As soon as I set foot on the reserve I heard a Cetti's Warbler singing from cover, at the top of the causeway - not a bad start. Unfortunately, a windy hail storm blew up soon after, and so the Goldcrests and Reed and Sedge Warblers were all singing from deep cover too. Most things were. I got some decent views of a Marsh Harrier hunting over the reeds, but the birds were quiet and hidden, and I only had limited time.

I arrived at the Lower Hide, and the only occupant told me the Pied-billed Grebe was showing well just to the right. Only, it had just dived and hadn't yet resurfaced. Ninety minutes later and it still hadn't resurfaced... Ah well.

It wasn't all wasted time: I'd had some great views of hunting Sparrowhawk, more Marsh Harrier action, fantastic displays of hirundines over the water, and plenty of calling warblers (Reed, Sedge, Willow, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, etc). I had to leave for my course, and thought I'd head back down afterwards.

I arrived back at the hide around 16:30 to be told the star bird hadn't show all day. Ho hum. Fortunately, it wasn't a lifer (for that, see my first ever blog post), so I wasn't too downhearted, plus there was an Otter feeding straight out from the hide. I've seen lots in Scotland, but I can't ever recall seeing an Otter in England (I've found plenty of spraints!), so I spent most of the next hour or so watching it.

It was busy diving and hunting for the whole time, putting in so much effort, making very hard to photograph. It was underwater for most of the time. The glossy sheen of its wet fur made it look more like a fish than mammal, as it twisted in the water, only occasionally breaking the surface. Whatever it was catching must have been small. Everything was chewed and gulped down in a couple of seconds. It didn't bringing any prey to the shore, as I've seen in Scottish sea lochs.

European Otter, Leighton Moss, Lancashire - Wednesday 29th April, 2015

As the sun crept lower, I called in at Lillian's Hide. A group of 30 Black-tailed Godwits flew in and started feeding at the back. I checked them for the Hudsonian Godwit that had been in Somerset at the weekend (at this point, with my phone out of juice, I didn't know it had returned). There were a couple of Avocets on the furthest island, and a small party of Ruff were feeding in the shallow water to my right. The highlight was this fantastic male Garganey, dabbling away in the sunshine to the left of the hide. My best and most prolonged views of this species.

Male Garganey, Leighton Moss, Lancashire - Wednesday 29th April, 2015

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