Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Leighton Moss RSPB

Mark Cain and I had been threatening to go out on a birding trip for a couple of months now, but for one reason and another it had always fallen through - however today we actually managed it and Leighton Moss RSPB was the chosen destination.

The main reason for this was because the Bearded Tits have started to be reported regularly on the grit trays once again, probably because their diet is changing from the insects they eat over the summer months back to seed and grain, for which they need to eat grit to help their digestive processes.  Another target bird was the Water Rail which is seen fairly often here and, if we were really lucky, a Cetti's Warbler might be heard or even seen too.

We set off at 7:30am because most people report the Bearded Tits as being around mainly in the early morning before 10am (although I have also now been told that they can actually appear at any time throughout the day).  The motorway traffic was very slow times and the weather was getting increasingly worse on the journey there, despite the forecast suggesting it would be fine.

Marsh Harrier
First stop was the 'Causeway' at Leighton Moss so that we could head straight for the grit trays and the Bearded Tits - we parked in small lay-by and could soon see a small crowd of people gathered for the same purpose as ours.  On arriving at the trays, there were no birds to be seen for 15 minutes or so, and as the weather was dull and damp, Mark and I decided to head for the Public Hide - this turned out to be an excellent decision as will be seen later.

There was not much to see from the Public Hide: a Grey Heron, lots of Coots and Mallards, a Black-headed Gull as well as a few Gadwall and Teal. But unfortunately the Otters weren't around for us today.

However, there was a lone female Marsh Harrier with a creamy head sitting in a dead tree at the far edge of the water. We watched it for a while in the hope that it might take-off and give up a fly-past but the bad weather seemed to be keeping it down.

Whilst we were watching the Marsh Harrier, both Mark and I heard a distinctive bird call just outside the hide and so we both headed for the door with cameras in hand.  Although I didn't recognise the call, I knew it was something worth looking looking for.

Outside the hide, we had a glimpse of a small brownish bird which flew across the Causeway which we thought it might be a Dunnock - but then we heard it call again and it definitely wasn't. We also heard a slightly different call low down in the bushes which Mark thought could be a Bearded Tit, but not being that familiar with their call, I had to take his word for it.  After unsuccessfully trying to find the bird(s), we returned to the hide where I mentioned that a Cetti's Warbler was often reported down here. That seemed to click with Mark and he said he thought that the first bird was indeed a Cetti's.

We heard it again on the other side of the hide and so went off in search of it.  There was also a very nosey Robin and a noisy Wren in the bushes as we hunted for the Cetti's.  We could hear it moving around and now and then would get a brief glimpse of it.  I took out my phone and played a recording of it's call a few times to confirm that this was what we were hearing and this seemed to attract the bird and keep it fairly close.  We also got a couple of good brief views and both added a new 'lifer' to our lists.

After this bit of excitement, we decided not to go on to the Lower Hide as it was quite a long walk and there was nothing much on the water which it overlooks.  So we headed back to the grit trays for another go at viewing the Beardies.  Another group of people had gathered, but still with no success, so after a quick chat we decided to move on to the hides on the salt marshes.

At Allen Hide we saw Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank, two Little Egrets and a crowd of whistling Wigeon.  We spent a long time debating whether we could see a Spotted Redshank or not, and I told Mark that it definitely was one, only to be told by someone later that it definitely wasn't one!  There were also a couple of Curlew and a Snipe, possibly a Jack Snipe according to another birder.

Red-breasted Merganser (showing sawbill)

At Eric Morecambe Hide we saw three Red-breasted Mergansers, two Grey Herons, a Little Egret, some Shelduck, Lapwing, Mallards and Teal.  Another Marsh Harrier also gave us a long fly-past in the distance.

Both these salt marsh hides have been completely replaced and so they are brand spanking new and smell of fresh wood - lovely!

After this, we decided to go back to the grit trays for a quick look, before eating our sandwiches - what a good decision that was, as two Bearded Tits were now in sight.

Whenever the birds took up a decent pose the photographers fired off a volley of shots in the hope of getting just one decent photograph.  it didn't seem to worry the birds as they didn't fly off and must be quite used to the attention by now.
Female Bearded Tit on a grit tray
Male Bearded Tit in the reeds
First of all there was a single female Bearded Tit which doesn't have the black droopy 'moustache' and later came the very distinctive male.  Both were a beautiful creamy brown and white colour and they stayed on the trays for 15 minutes or so.

It was such a shame that each bird had three rings on it (two on one leg and one on the other) but they are being actively conserved here and we have to accept that ringing is part of the strategy for monitoring their progress.

Male Bearded Tit
Male Bearded Tit showing full 'moustache'

A Robin joining us for lunch
So after our second 'lifer', Mark and I headed back to the car for our sandwiches.  Here we were joined by one of the many tame Robins that are always present at Leighton Moss.

I know they're very common, but they're such a photogenic bird and they come so close that I can't resist taking just another photograph.

After lunch we headed for Lillian's Hide via the feeding station.

The feeding station was quite dark today and full of Coal Tits - I've never seen so many in one place before.  There wasn't too much about, but the Chaffinches are always good for a photo.

There were two very well-concealed Common Snipe in the vegetation to the right of Lillian's Hide, some Pochards and Coots and not too much else on the water.  However the highlight was a very brief glimpse of a Water Rail which moved at lighting fast speed into the reeds to the right of the viewing area.

Can you tell what it is yet?
And finally we went down to  Griesdale Hide and Tim Jackson Hide at the southern end of the reserve. I don't often come down here as the sun is not usually well-placed for photographs but I did get a good shot of a female Teal at Griesdale Hide and we could make out a Red Deer stag and two fawns in the bushes to the right of Tim Jackson Hide.

Female Teal basking in the sunshine

So a total of 33 species which I think is quite a respectable total for the day.

A great day out in very pleasant company and I'm already looking forward to the next time I go out with Mark.

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