ROCKIN ROBINS @ RSPB LEIGHTON MOSS
On Friday I began my journey home from Scotland but I planned on stopping off at RSPB Leighton Moss which is a superb nature reserve located at Silverdale in Lancashire on the edge of Morecambe Bay. It was opened by the RSPB in 1964 and contains the largest area of reed beds in the north west of England and provides habitats for many species of wildlife such as Bitterns, Bearded Tits, Marsh Harriers and Red Deer.
In 1822 the moss became the possession of Richard Gillow who drained the site for agriculture, but by 1918 the land was flooded again and the area was used for duck shooting. The RSPB initially leased the land and then purchased it from the Leighton Hall estate. There are seven hides and a sky tower which gives spectacular views over the reserve. One of these hides is named after the comedian Eric Morecambe and in 2013 and 2014 Leighton Moss hosted the BBC's Autumnwatch programme.
It rained heavily all the way from Dumfries until I reached Kendal when the rain began to ease and when I arrived at RSPB Leighton Moss it had finally stopped raining. I went upstairs to the cafe at the visitor centre for a quick drink before I headed out onto the reserve. I first walked to the feeders a few yards from the visitor centre where I saw Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinches and a pair of Coal Tits which were squabbling over access to one of the feeders.
I now followed the Garden Trail round to Lilian's Hide which looks out over a large area of water where I could see Tufted Ducks, Teals, Gadwalls, Wigeons, Mute Swans, Black Headed Gulls and a Little Grebe. After a few minutes I spotted a male Pintail around a hundred and fifty yards away constantly dipping its head under water looking for food. I now headed on to the Lower Trail and the grit trays which attract Bearded Tits and as I walked over a bridge a pair of male Mallards were in the stream just next to me.
As I left the boardwalk which takes you onto the Lower Trail I could hear a Cetti's Warbler calling from the reeds next to the path. A little further along I arrived at the grit trays on my right and in the trees either side of the viewing platform were Robins singing away in the trees. Whilst I was waiting to see if the Bearded Tits would show up a Cetti's Warbler flew overhead and landed thirty to forty yards away at the bottom of the reeds. After a few seconds it disappeared into the reeds and I waited a good twenty minutes but there was no sign of the Bearded Tits.
I now walked further along the trail towards the Causeway Hide and about half way to the hide I heard the pinging call of Bearded Tits from the reedbeds to my right. After a few seconds the pinging stopped and I continued onto the hide which was empty when I arrived. Out on the water I could see several Mute Swans, Mallards and Black Headed Gulls as well as a group of Cormorants on a small island in the middle of the water. Over to the right hand side of the water I could see more than thirty Coots and at the far right hand side against the reeds were a pair of male Pintails.
Just before I left the hide a Marsh Harrier flew over the hide and headed across the water and over the reedbeds at the far side. Once the Marsh Harrier had dropped down in the reeds I left the hide and just outside, perched on the top of a fence was a Robin singing away. After watching the Robin for a couple of minutes I headed back along the trail towards the Bearded Tits viewing platform but there was no sign of them so I walked along the boardwalk back towards the visitor centre.
As I approached the trees surrounding the visitor centre I spotted a Robin perched on the top of a wooden post looking right at me. It was now just after midday so I headed to the cafe for lunch and afterwards I headed out along the Family Trail. The trail takes you through a line of trees and after around a hundred yards I spotted several birds swooping down to get at food which had been left out on a soaked tree trunk. I saw Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Great Tits and a lone Nuthatch all coming down regularly to get food.
After a couple of minutes a Marsh Tit appeared picking up some food before flying off across the path to a branch to eat its prize. A hundred yards further on the path turns to the left and heads out into the reedbed and after a short distance I reached a water channel which ran either side of the path and next to the path on my left were a family of Mute Swans. I continued on to where the path splits with the right hand path taking you to the Tim Jackson Hide, but I took the left hand path and headed towards another set of grit trays on the way to the Grisedale Hide.
I arrived at the grit trays but again there was no sign of the Bearded Tits but there were a couple of Robins and a Dunnock in the trees at the side of the path. From here it was only a short distance to the Grisedale Hide and when I sat down in the hide I could see large numbers of Teal and Shovelers on the water just in front of the hide. Most of the Teals and Shovelers were asleep but as a Marsh Harrier flew over the water the ducks rose up as one to get away from the Marsh Harrier. It flew across to the reed bed and began patrolling the reedbed looking for food for several minutes before disappearing from view.
Once the Marsh Harrier had disappeared the ducks settled back down on the water with most of them tucking their beaks in and going to sleep. Ten minutes later not one, not two, but three Marsh Harriers flew in over the reed beds causing all the ducks to fly up into the air again. I watched the Marsh Harriers hunting over the reedbeds for several minutes before leaving the hide and heading back along the path to where it had split in two and this time I took the right hand path to the Tim Jackson Hide.
The water in front of the hide was significantly quieter than the Grisedale Hide with just a few Mallards a long way from the hide. I left and started to make my way back towards the visitor centre and as I reached the edge of the reedbed and the path turned to the right it started to drizzle with rain. The Robins were still out in force along the path through the trees with several perched on the branches and one a wooden sign. I had a quick look at the shop in the visitor centre before I headed across the road to the car and continued my journey home.
I have attached a few photos and a full sightings list from my visit to the always superb RSPB Leighton Moss.