LITTLE OWL THE STAR @ RESPLENDENT RODLEY
On Saturday we went to Rodley Nature Reserve, somewhere that we had not been to before. To
get to the reserve, you need to head round the Outer Ring Road (A6120) through Horsforth to the roundabout with the A657. Take the A657 eastbound, signposted Leeds & Rodley (there is also a signpost for the reserve), and follow it past the Rodley Barge & Owl Inn pubs until you come to a factory building. Turn left down Moss Bridge Road just before it (signposted Rodley Nature Reserve), take the narrow bridge over the canal, turn left and then immediately right where there is a green sign marking the entrance to the reserve. Follow the road down the hill and the bridge over the River Aire and the car park is on the left. Alternatively there is another area to park next to the visitor centre.
On the day we visited there also happened to be Leeds Bird Fair at the reserve with stands from RSPB, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and others taking part. We left our car in the main car park and walked down the access road to the visitor centre with several Swifts flying overhead. Swifts are sometimes known by the nickname "Devils Arrow". After a quick look round the bird fair, we picked up a reserve map and headed north on the grass track to the Managers Garden Hide - where the Little Owl had been seen in recent days.
This hide has several feeders stationed 10-15 metres in front of the hide and at that time there was very little about. Then I spotted a male Bullfinch sitting on a steel frame holding the feeders over to the left side, this Bullfinch kept dropping onto the feeders and flying back to the top of the steel frame. A Robin then appeared on the bird table to the right, with a few Great Tits visiting the feeders behind the bird table. Just before we left the hide the Bullfinch flew across and landed on the ground beneath the bird table and I was able to get a couple of better photos.
We made our way back down the grass track past the visitor centre and dipping pools to the River Path. We decided to do the loop round the Dragonfly Ponds, at the picnic benches halfway round we just missed seeing a mink swimming in the River Aire, although I did see a Jay flying into the trees at the other side. After waiting to see if the Mink would reappear we made our way back and 2 or 3 times I almost got a good picture of a Goldfinch, but it kept flying off just as I took the picture!
After completing the loop we ventured along the path with the main hides, viewpoints and lagoons visible from them. The first hide you reach is the Wet Grassland Hide, from here we were able to see a few Coots swimming about in the foreground with a lone Cormorant flying past at the back of the Wet Grassland. As there was not much else about we moved onto the next hide.
As we approached the Reedbed Hide, somewhere hidden amongst the trees we heard the loud call of the male Pheasant but could not see it. At the Reedbed Hide, which is an old shipping container converted into a hide, you are able to see in 3 different directions. One side looks back over the Wet Grassland and the other over the Near Reedbed with the view from the end looking between the two towards the River Aire.
Looking over the Wet Grassland, walking through the pools between the long grass a Grey Heron was slowing stalking its prey with Coots swimming through the pools. Looking the other way over the Near & Far Reedbeds, where the Kingfisher is sometimes seen (but not today!), there were a few ducks dabbling about and a pair of Cormorants flying about before they perched on an electricity pylon. After 10 minutes we left and moved onto the next hide with a Jay flying across the path during our journey.
The next hide is called the Willow Path Hide and overlooks the Duck Marsh where the Kingfisher is also seen, but again no appearance. In the near pool just in front of the hide were Moorhens wading along in front of the reeds and one juvenile & one adult Little Grebe diving for food. In the second pool, partially hidden by the reeds and tall grass another Grey Heron was searching for food amongst some Black Headed Gulls.
Over to the left in the distance another Grey Heron was sat in the tall grass with Jackdaws perched in the trees behind it. From here we moved on to the Duck Marsh hide which overlooks both the Duck Marsh and the Lagoon. Looking out over the Duck Marsh we were able to see that amongst the Black Headed Gulls was a juvenile Lesser Black Backed Gull. But the main focus of attention was from the view over the Lagoon where there was a pair of Little Grebe's finishing off the building of a nest just 20 to 30 feet in front of us.
From here, after a brief stop at the Michael Sheldon hide, we arrived at the last hide called the Lagoon Hide. This is the biggest pool and is more like a small lake and there was a pair of Great Crested Grebes feeding their young, a Gadwall with 7 or 8 chicks in tow, a lone Mute Swan and plenty of Sand Martins flying low over the water. In the floating pontoons there was a single Oystercatcher on one and on the other a pair of Black Headed Gulls with a lone chick.
I then noticed a lone male Blackbird in the trees to the left of the hide, I tried to get a picture but there was a branch in the way. I moved closer and as I started to take pictures the Blackbird started to sing, making for some good pictures. We decided to make our way back up the access road to the visitor centre for a drink and a slice of cake.
Once we had finished we decided to make our way back up the grass track to the Managers Garden Hide for one last attempt to see the Little Owl. Upon reaching the hide there wasn't a single bird about, but after a few minutes Magpies and Stock Doves flew between the trees again and again chasing each other. However there was no sign of the Little Owl, the Bullfinch made another appearance under the bird table, tweeting at invading Dunnock every time it came near.
As we were making our way back to the Visitor Centre, disappointed not to have seen the Little Owl, I decided to try looking along the path in Poplar Field. I had gone a fair way down when my Dad called me back motioning that he had spotted something. When I reached him he pointed out a bird sat within the bottom left hand part of the roof gable of a building within the Yorkshire Water Pumping Station which is within the reserve. What was this bird?
It was the Little Owl! Hooray! The bird was about 100 yards away and very well hidden, but I was still able to get a couple of half decent photos of it. A few years ago we were very lucky to have a Little Owl resident in our back garden for a couple of weeks and to be honest I didn't think I'd see one again. It was well worth visiting Rodley Nature Reserve just for the Little Owl, especially as it is one of my Mums favourite birds.
Later on in the evening whilst watering the garden back home, there was another rare gem visiting our garden feeding on the Red Valerian flower in our front garden - the Hummingbird Hawk Moth - which is quite rare in the UK. I have attached my full sightings list and a few more pics from our visit.