Rain and wind have continued to assist the recovery of water onto areas of Leighton Moss and the wider reserve this past week. Myers’ Dyke is running once again, and the Eric Morecambe Pool, which had endured a considerable dearth of water up to the 13 August, was finally somewhat rejuvenated by a high tide and gale that evening. This weather, however, and this general time of year – sandwiched between the breeding season and migratory activity – means visitors should expect a marked inconstancy to the presence of birds. Nevertheless this amplifies what is always true and charming about nature here at Leighton Moss and everywhere: it is unpredictable, and retains a capacity to surprise and astonish us.
Redshank flock, by David Griffin
This is especially true for birds of the bay. Hundreds of redshank and lapwing are usually present on the pools, and a little over 400 black-tailed godwits are often at Barrow Scout (with these species found regularly in smaller numbers on central islands of Leighton Moss meres), but are liable to spontaneous departures and returns - as J. A Baker reflects, to the mind of the wader "there is only the impulse, like the tide drawn out by the moon". Smaller waders are similarly in permanent flux, though visitors have every chance of seeing ringed plover, greenshank, knot, green sandpiper, a lone male ruff and dozens of dunlin. It is also worth anticipating visits from a juvenile peregrine which has taken to scanning this area of late, occasionally flushing up the flocks of lapwings.
This week's highlights on the reserve include: 3 garganey may be spotted from Lilian’s Hide dozing on the central island - being in eclipse plumage, they pose a challenge to birders attempting to single them out from the hundreds of mallard and gadwall in a similar state of moult. These have been rejoined by a small unit of tufted ducks. Little grebes have been abundant, with up to 30 birds, many being juveniles, distributed across Causeway and Lillian’s pools, indicating a very fruitful breeding season. Hobby activity continues to excite our visitors, and up to two birds at varying times may be found hunting or contentedly perching on dead branches at Grisedale, Lilian’s and Causeway hides. Very recently a handful of people have caught sight of the cobalt flash of a kingfisher at Causeway Hide. Well over 100 coot and 30 mute swans remain here. In the evenings, 2 great white egrets (whose massive frames might be noted perching in trees at Causeway through the day) and in excess of 90 little egrets amass onto Island Mere to roost; similarly, over 30 cormorants gather to rest at Grisedale, which remains a prime location for troops of snipe. Vigilance could reward the astute visitor with an otter sighting from Causeway or Lower hides. Though they refuse to be seen most of the time, there are large flocks of warblers moving about the reedbed feeding themselves in preparation for their looming departure. For raptor enthusiasts, Warton Crag is as always an excellent visit, with regular views of the nesting peregrines as well as a high chance of buzzards, kestrels and sparrowhawks.
Great white egret, by Mike Malpass
Turbulent weather gives a vast murmurous voice and undulating form to the reeds of Leighton Moss, which is not merely ample compensation for a quiet day in terms of birds but a reminder of how unique this habitat is. These winds exaggerate the movements of sand martins and swallows to the gestures of a tornado: surging across the waters of the meres, rocketing up, spiralling down. Evenings see these hirundines in a mania of motion before calming to roost, and it is easy to be convinced these birds are filled with the delight of flight.
It was a great weekend for events: Going Batty took place on Saturday, with local bat expert Gail Armstrong giving a comprehensive introduction to these charismatic creatures, looking at global curiosities as well as our precious local species. Despite rain undermining hopes for bat detection Gail gave a thoroughly enjoyable and informative talk, and as always the rescue bats she brought with her were fascinating to all present. There are still a handful of places on the Going Batty events taking place this Saturday 18 and next Sunday 26 August, so if you're mad about bats book now!
A very successful Ringing and Singing event took place on Sunday. Despite uncertain weather a fine walk was concluded with over 60 birds ringed, giving attendees the rare chance of getting close to reed warblers, willow warblers, chiffchaffs and swallows. The next event will take place on Saturday 22 September, and due to its popularity booking as soon as possible is also highly recommended.