It’s been a busy few days here at Leighton Moss. Not only are the birds performing extremely well but so are the reserve's human inhabitants (ie staff, volunteers and contractors)!
"Will this do?" Richard punts an island onto Lilian's Pool
The provision of new islands has continued apace. Following on from the rather rustic platforms our team launched onto the Causeway Pool recently, two new islands were floated out onto Lilian’s Pool last week. Richard Smith, our versatile and endlessly energetic Estate Worker, not only built these platforms but also punted them into place, before turfing and graveling the surfaces.
The rescue team arrive.
Fingers crossed we’ll get some birds nesting on here this year, providing superb views for our visitors from the Lilian’s Hide. It's worth noting that Richard has constructed these islands from mostly recycled materials, many beach-combed from our saltmarsh tideline.
Green Futures Building team get started on the sand martin bank
Elsewhere, also providing a potential breeding site for another type of bird altogether, we have installed our first ever sand martin nesting bank. Each year we see huge numbers of sand martins visit the reserve in spring and again in late summer to feed over the meres yet we do not have any suitable nesting areas for these bank-nesting specialists. So, we decided to have an artificial nest bank installed. After a great deal of heavy lifting (and a fair bit of grunting) we finally got all the component parts out onto a spot in front of the Tim Jackson Hide.
The unit, pre-built and then constructed in situ by Green Future Building has the potential to house 48 sand martin nests – now all we need to do is wait and see if the newly arrived migrants will find it to their liking! Huge thanks to the team from Green Futures who did such an excellent job of getting the job done so swiftly.
Meanwhile, our highly vocal bittern continues to boom well from the depths of the reed bed. He really is in fine voice and we’re all hopeful that he will attract a mate and remain to breed. Multiple bitterns have been seen and heard around the reserve in the last couple of weeks but we expect that some of these will leave and nest elsewhere.
Bittern in flight by David Tipling (rspb-images.com)
Most years we get to witness the sight of birds migrating away from the site in spring; on calm clear evenings, with a suitable light wind, bitterns will circle the reedbed calling. This particular call is nothing like the boom of a courting male but more like the sound of a gull. Sometimes these ‘gull-calling’ bitterns will circle ever higher disappearing into the inky depths of the gloaming while on other occasions they will drop back down into the reeds. Is this behaviour a pre-migratory call-to-arms, or potential breeding females checking out the lay of the land or simply a ‘let’s see who else is here’? Whatever the reason, it gives us and many of our visitors a fabulous opportunity to witness an extraordinary spectacle.
Talking of extraordinary spectacles, the sky dancing marsh harriers continue to dazzle and delight. The tell-tale call of the males as they tumble from on high is a classic sign of early spring here at Leighton Moss and we have at least six birds present at the moment. We’re sure to see more as migrant harriers arrive from the continent in the coming weeks.
Great white egret by Dave Dimmock
Avocet numbers continue to build and are best looked for from the Eric Morecambe Hide where hundreds of black-tailed godwits, many now sporting their dazzling breeding plumage, may also be seen. Snipes have been a popular feature lately, showing brilliantly at Lower, Jackson and Grisedale hides. Great white egrets, no longer the rarity they once were, have remained on site and are can be seen stalking the shallows alongside the relatively dainty little egrets.
Other recent sightings include a brief snow bunting at Carnforth Marsh on March 26. Spring migrants overall have been a little slow thanks to the weather conditions but we’ve seen a few of the expected chiffchaffs, wheatears and sand martins plus our first osprey of the year on March 28.
The next few days don’t look too promising as far as migrants from the south are concerned but by the time we get into April proper we could see an arrival of typical summer visitors such as swallows, sedge and willow warblers and hopefully a garganey or two.
Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager