We were grateful at Leighton Moss to have been visited by several spates of rainfall over the past week, on the back of the driest June the reserve has ever seen. Whilst areas of the reserve have had to cope with mass evaporation - a huge reduction of water at Grisedale, Tim Jackson and Eric Morecambe pools in particular - these cool, damp episodes have promised rejuvenation, and have even prompted the return of the valiant froglet and toadlet multitudes onto the paths. Perhaps viewed as an impediment by some head-raised birders, they themselves reward a moment of consideration. They have reminded me of George Orwell's observation that the common toad has "about the most beautiful eye of any living creature", like a "golden-coloured semi-precious stone". Alternating between stoical pauses and frantic leaping, these charismatic little beings have certainly captivated the many children visiting the reserve, affording them intimate moments with the natural world around them.
(Froglet posing at a school visit, Joe Fraser-Turner)
This week there have been some exciting developments for our marsh harriers. There had been some concern over the belated departure of the juveniles from their nests, but Monday marked the moment of the first bird seen fledging from the nest behind Lillian's. This was after much inducement from the parents, beating wings above the nest with impatient insistence. Since then three juveniles have been seen departing from Lillian's nest, and at least one from the nest behind Grisedale has also spread their wings. As such, that general region of the reserve - best viewed from the Skytower and Grisedale hides - is ideal for marvelling at these feisty young raptors embarking upon life out of the nest.
Despite the disabling heat, there remains a diverse array of wildlife present on the reserve. Large fleets of waterfowl can be seen from Causeway and Lower hides, with smaller congregations across the remainder of the reserve: several hundreds of mallard, gadwall in significant numbers, and assortments of tufted duck, shoveler, teal, and wigeon, with a 9-strong pochard troop visible at moments. Great numbers coots have also amassed, and great-crested and little grebes, both individuals and small families, bob peacefully in the middle of the pools. Hyperactive antics of young pied wagtails threading across the air in front of the hides remain a source of great amusement - it's worth noting that last week there was the unexpected appearance of a yellow wagtail among them for a couple of days at Causeway pool.
There is also a nascent growing presence of waders of late, as we anticipate the passage of migration parties as the summer matures. Up to 8 greenshank are now regularly ambling on the Causeway's central island. Green and common sandpipers are making brief appearances at the main reserve and at the coastal pools, where redshank and lapwing are a sure sight. Black-tailed godwits continue to rotate between coast and the reedbed in varying numbers; up the Skytower last week a few other birders and I were gifted with the sight of an hundred-strong squadron of them circling over Grisedale and Lillian's with startlingly swift coordinated manoeuvres. All of us were briefly entranced.
Moving through July, Leighton Moss has been welcoming greater numbers of dragonflies which manically zip across the reserve like miniature helicopters through skyscraper reeds. As such, an ID board in the visitor centre with photos of several species has been put up to help visitors mark out their brown hawker from their four-spotted chaser. Their abundance may even have played a part in enticing a sub-adult hobby to the reserve, which has been seen hunting and feasting on them at the Causeway and Grisedale.
(Phonescoped photo of a hobby Joe Fraser-Turner)
Early morning strolls of the reserve have offered me some rare opportunities to catch sight of the more sought-after wildlife on the reserve: bearded tits leaping out of and plunging back into the reeds; Foulshaw Moss ospreys strafing over the Causeway; and red deer pausing to inspect before scampering off through the scrub and reeds. In the early hours of last Wednesday, I even had the pleasure of watching our Visitor Operations Manager Kevin Kelly ringing birds. I was captivated by this gentle, methodical process of ringing, recording details of the bird - age, gender, wing length, weight, notable physical characteristics (such as subcutaneous fat, indicating preparation for migration, and moulting) - and releasing. There are still some spaces on our Singing and Ringing event next month, and I highly recommend it to anyone who would love a close encounter with some of the lovely birds that make their home at Leighton Moss.
(Sedge warbler being ringed, Joe Fraser-Turner)
Finally, we had a very successful Meet the Moths event on Saturday, with a great number of visitors appreciating the impressive variation of over 160 species of moths caught here at Leighton Moss and the local area. It was especially heartening to see so many children intrigued by the many colours, shapes and sizes on show, Irene Mower, local moth expert and part of the moth team leading the event, was especially glad to have caught a Four-Spotted Footman, a nationally scarce migratory moth which has only been recorded once before at Leighton Moss in 2006. It just goes to show that whatever your age and level of experience, there is always more to discover in the natural world surrounding us. Again, there are only a handful of places left on next weekend's Moths Beginners Workshop, so those who have had their interests piqued should book ASAP.
(Four-spotted footman, Irene Mower)
Joe Fraser-Turner, Visitor Experience Intern