A COLONY OF AVOCETS @ RSPB LEIGHTON MOSS

On Saturday I paid a visit to RSPB Leighton Moss which is a superb nature reserve located at Silverdale in Lancashire on the edge of MorecambeBay. 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 was a warm sunny day when I arrived at Leighton Moss just before 10am with the journey being around two hours each way. In the courtyard at the back of the visitor centre there were a few Mallards waddling between the tables looking for any scraps of food that had been dropped. Over by the feeders I saw Goldfinches, Great Tits and House Sparrows. There is currently a one way system in operation to access the trails from the courtyard and following this I went first to Lilian's Hide.


From here I could see Mallards, Moorhens and several Black Headed Gulls whilst flying over the reedbeds at the far side of the large lagoon was a Marsh Harrier. Amongst the reeds and Yellow Flag in front of the hide I spotted a Black Headed Gull chick moving about and on the water over to my right were Moorhen chicks. From here I followed the path onto the Lower Trail which takes you along the edge of the reeds and onto the causeway. As I turned onto the causeway I could hear a Reed Warbler calling from the reeds and flying overhead was another Marsh Harrier.


Half way along the causeway with a vast reedbed to my right and a very large lagoon to my left I arrived at the Causeway Hide looking out over the water. On the water were Mallards, Gadwall, Coots, Tufted Ducks and Mute Swans whilst over to my right I could see the head of a Grey Heron poking out from the reeds. On a small island about a hundred yards in front of the hide were Mallards, Cormorants and a lone Great Black Backed Gull. Landing on the Yellow Flag and flying around right in front of the hide were large numbers of Common Blue Damselflies.

Back on the island a second Great Black Backed Gull landed and as it did a chick emerged from a small clump of vegetation, closely followed by two more taking the number of Great Black Backed Gulls to five. I left the hide and continued down towards the end of the causeway where in the trees I briefly saw a Blackcap. Normally I would follow the path to the Lower Hide but this is currently out of action so I retraced my steps back along the causeway. A short distance along I saw a Blue Tit landing on a tree and then disappearing from view.


As I got closer I saw it emerge from a hole in the tree trunk and then fly off and return just a couple of minutes later, whilst moving through the trees were a pair of Wrens. Just before I reached the Causeway Hide again I turned to my left and spotted at the end of a long narrow channel of water through the reedbeds were four Red Deer. I continued on and as I turned towards the visitor centre I could hear the Reed Warbler singing away from the reeds and a short distance further along there were a pair of Bullfinches showing briefly in the trees before flying off.


As I reached the visitor centre there were several House Sparrows moving through the trees and making trips to the feeders. I paid a visit to the cafe for lunch and afterwards I headed out along the Family Trail which leads you along a line of trees before turning ninety degrees to the left and heading out to two hides amongst the reeds. As I was walking through the trees I saw Great Tits, Blue Tits, Robins and a single Wren and when I turned to the left into the reeds I saw another Marsh Harrier and a pair of Crows.

After a short distance the path splits in two with the right hand path taking me to the Tim Jackson Hide where on a previous visit I had seen a Jack Snipe. On this occasion it was relatively quiet with just a pair of Mallards on the water and a couple of Swallows overhead. After a few minutes I returned along the path and this time took the left hand path to Grisedale Hide which was much busier. On the water just in front of me were a pair of Coots feeding two chicks and in the middle of the water was a Mute Swan with five cygnets.


Over to the far right hand side of the water there was another Mute Swan and several Shelducks and in the far distance a large number of Black Headed Gulls. As I was watching the Mute Swan and cygnets the Black Headed Gulls suddenly flew up into the air and after watching for a few seconds I could see they were harassing a Marsh Harrier looking to take one of their chicks. Eventually it flew off and I left the hide heading back along the path and from the reeds I could hear a Reed Warbler calling and I could see two Reed Buntings perched near the tops of the reeds.


I followed the path all the way back to the visitor centre where, close to the feeders, was a Goldfinch perched on a branch close to the path. I now returned to the car and headed the short distance south to the Coastal Trail car park which has two hides looking out over Morecambe Bay. The first hide is the Allen Hide and there were huge numbers of Black Headed Gulls on the islands in the middle of the lagoon. There were also around twenty Avocets on the far side of the water whilst on the edge of one of the islands just in front of the hide was an Oystercatcher probing the mud for food.

The Oystercatcher was moving back and forth along the edge of the water for several minutes before flying off to join other Oystercatchers at the far side of the water. I looked over to my left and through binoculars I spotted a pair of Spoonbills beyond the next hide. I left the Allen Hide and walked round to the final hide which is called the Eric Morecambe Hide with a black silhouette of the famous comedian on the outside next to the door. Once in the hide I could see that the Spoonbills were still quite a long way off and both of them asleep.


In front of the hide were two lagoons with the left hand one having a handful of Black Headed Gulls, the Spoonbills and in the distance a Little Egret. The right hand lagoon was the same one that also spread across in front of the Allen Hide and was still very busy. One of the Avocets was now foraging through the shallow water just in front of the hide moving from left to right. To my right in the near right hand corner of the lagoon were a couple of Mallards, whilst in the mud at the edge of a small island was another Oystercatcher probing the mud for food turning its beak from a bright orange to a muddy brown.

It spent a good ten minutes in that area, briefly being joined by the Avocet before it flew across to the far side where I could see another Oystercatcher with two more on wooden posts beyond the water. Before I left the hide I went back to the left hand side to see if the Spoonbills had moved but they were still fast asleep so I started to make my way back to the car. On the walk back I saw a Long Tailed Tit fly overhead as well as a Swift and another Marsh Harrier and perched briefly at the top of a large bush next to the railway line was a Whitethroat.


On my journey home I took a slight de-tour when I reached Ingleton to see the Ribblehead Viaduct. When I reached it the number of cars parked at the side of the road was immense so I decided not to stop and turned to the right and headed along the road which follows the Settle to Carlisle railway. As I was driving past a field filled with large limestone boulders I stopped the car as I had spotted what looked like a Wheatear. On closer inspection it was in fact a Wheatear and only a few hundred yards further along I had to stop the car again as I had spotted two more Wheatears moving through the field but they flew off before I could get a picture.


I have attached a full sightings list (not including the three Wheatears) and a few photos from my visit to Leighton Moss.


RSPB LEIGHTON MOSS - 05/06/2021


20 AVOCETS 200+ BLACK HEADED GULLS

2 BLACKBIRDS 1 BLACKCAP

5 BLUE TITS 2 BULLFINCHES

2 CHAFFINCHES 1 CHIFFCHAFF

1 COAL TIT 10+ COOTS

2 CORMORANTS 2 CROWS

1 DUNNOCK 2 GADWALLS

4 GOLDFINCHES 5 GREAT BLACK BACKED GULLS

3 GREAT TITS 2 GREY HERONS

8 HOUSE SPARROWS 1 KESTREL

2 LAPWINGS 1 LITTLE EGRET

1 LONG TAILED TIT 2 MAGPIES

10+ MALLARDS 5 MARSH HARRIERS

10+ MOORHENS 10+ MUTE SWANS

6 OYSTERCATCHERS 1 PHEASANT

2 REED BUNTINGS 2 REED WARBLERS

2 ROBINS 6 SHELDUCKS

2 SPOONBILLS 2 SWALLOWS

1 SWIFT 4 TUFTED DUCKS

1 WHITETHROAT 2 WOOD PIGEONS

3 WRENS


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