An Otterly Pingtastic day!

On Sunday 4th December, Me, my Dad and Tony (Dad’s friend) set off to Leighton Moss, RSPB Nature Reserve near Carnforth. On our way there we stopped off at Truck haven for a quick sausage butty and there we met our first species, the ever endearing Bullfinch, but now full with our breakfast it was time to go and see some more birds at the reserve.

After 20 minutes we arrived at the reserve, we got our binoculars out and we were off! Before we even entered the reserve Dad spotted some Redwings and Fieldfares feeding on some berries.

Our first stop was the feeding station, we saw a wide selection of garden birds, mainly finches and tits and even a greater spotted woodpecker. After some very close up views of the birds we headed off to Lillian’s hide. Here we saw lots of ducks ranging from Goldeneye, Teal, Pintail, Wigeon and Herons but there was no sign of anything rare, so we ventured further afar where some rarer sightings had been reported.

We started to head towards the public hide, it took us quite a while to reach but we were entertained by the wonders of beautiful and extremely inquisitive robin red breast. Before reaching the actual hide we saw some grit trays in front of the reedbeds. Then suddenly we heard a bold ‘pinging’ call and a shy little character popped out of the reedbed and onto the grit tray. I couldn’t believe it, it was a female bearded tit and how beautiful she was, her tiny beige body in perfect formation, her buffed head that contrasted against the reeds furiously pecking away at the grit, she was stunning, she stayed just in time for another visitor to take a picture and then flew off into the reedbed to resume her day.

A board below the trays told us some interesting information about the birds. Bearded Tits are very rare; there are only 500 pairs in the whole of the UK. It is related to parrotbills and babblers from Asia. Beardies have a very distinctive ‘pinging’ call that me, Dad and Tony heard before she appeared. In the summer they feed on insects but as it turns to winter insects are in shorter supply, so they adapt their diet and start to eat the seeds that grow on top of the reeds. The seeds are much harder to digest than insects but bearded tits have come up with a unique way to aid them with their digestion; they eat grit, which grinds the seeds up in their stomach and enables them to digest, this is why we saw grit trays at Leighton moss, these trays are very helpful to the tits as they have to find up to 400 pieces of grit per winter! I wondered if swallowing grit would harm the tits but in fact they have come up with another adaptation, the tit changes its stomach and makes its stomach wall grow thicker and stronger to help cope with rough grit.

So after our spectacular encounter with the bearded tit we went to the Public hide. This hide was packed, nearly every bench was full, and we just managed to find a bench at the very end. The weather was very good so the water was calm, until… there was a big SPLASH and there in the distance was a mother otter and her two cubs! They were quite a distance away but we used Tony’s scope which helped us get some closer views. For about 20 minutes the otters played and hunted. They were delightful to watch and this was my first time seeing wild otters so I was so happy that I had been lucky enough to see cubs. After the Otters had gone, we waited to see if we could see anything else apart from the usual waders…

A good few minutes later one of the birdwatchers shouted ‘BITTERN!!!’ The bittern launched from the reedbed and flew across the water and down to the other side of the lake. It was only a brief glimpse then it quickly disappeared into the reedbed again, unfortunately Tony had missed the Bittern and once in the reedbeds it is impossible to spot it again. Could this day get any better?
We stayed in the Public hide for an hour as it seemed to be the perfect place. We also saw a marsh harrier dancing on the top of the reedbeds, Now feeling very chuffed we moved along to the next hide; Lower…

We didn’t see much here apart from another Marsh Harrier but before we left for the next hide Grisedale, a Bittern flew past close to the hide with the sunlight blaring onto the birds magnificent camouflage, this had made Tony’s day! Finally we had all seen one of the rarer species we had travelled to see. On our way back towards the next hide we came to a dyke system that ran off the main lake, we met a man who was very knowledgeable and found us some otter spraints which proved the otters had been down here, he also pointed out a mass cloud of rudd and perch which proved the dyke system was healthy and could support the otters and bitterns. After a good chat with the man I spotted a trap/cage. It was mink trap. The man said they needed to control the mink as they were wiping out the water vole population and this would be the most humane way to deal with the problem…

Finally we got back to the centre and switched paths as now we headed to the Grisedale hide. On our way there I spotted a tiny little ‘wigwam’ house nestled in front of the reedbed, below was an information plaque which told us about the peculiar home. The wigwams were made from reed bundles tied around a broom handle and help protect the birds from rising water levels water levels that can wash their nests away they also did this to help balance out the habitat as the bittern’s like very damp reed and Bearded tits liked very dry reed and by making these home Leighton Moss could provide the ‘best of both worlds’ It told us that this had proved to be very successful as 30 pairs nested here raising about 80 young!
Now at Grisedale I noticed a white cluster on the water’s edge. Tony looked through his scope to get a closer look and saw that it was about 7 little egret’s feeding. They had pure white feather and dark pearly blue beak and massive, bright yellow, clumsy looking feet which spoiled the elegance a little, but were still graceful.

Now we moved to the Tim Jackson hide, which was known for red deer. Unfortunately we didn’t see any deer but we saw a water rail darting around in the rushes and ANOTHER bittern fly really close to the hide. Next Dad suggested a quick peep at the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides before it went dark…

The sea was quite choppy but we managed to see lapwing, curlew, redshank and the usual waders and a Red Breasted Merganser!

Finally our last port of call was to check if the starlings were mumerating but due to the weather being windy they had already gone down to roost without performing.
Now it was time to leave after an AMAZING day! We counted up all of the species we saw, from rare to common and managed to count 50+ species just from memory!

I would really recommend a visit to Leighton Moss as it is a fabulous reserve. If you would like to find out more check out the link below!

http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/l/leightonmoss/

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