Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A(nother) Grand Day Out at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve

The Safari has something different for you today, something we've never done before - a Guest Blog
We are privileged to have been accepted as a mentor for the (relatively) new natural history (in all its guises) network/organisation for young naturalists A Focus on Nature. Recently we have been teamed up with another youngster, much younger than our existing mentoree TP. 
She doesn't have her own blog just yet so we have offered her a post on here. Last week, a few days earlier than our safari, she visited Leighton Moss RSPB reserve with her family because her sister had won the day as a prize in a photographic competition - see below.
Anything in italics is our comments the rest is Alicia's own words - we both hope you enjoy her passion and enthusiasm for the natural world; we certainly need more youngsters like her to get involved with their local (and not so local) and get writing about their fantastic experiences of what nature has to offer all of us...

This week I visited the RSPB Reserve at Leighton Moss in Lancashire, and not only was it beautiful weather, (not the same day the Safari went then!) it was also a wildlife-packed day. We saw so many different sorts of birds and invertebrates and an occasional mammal, it was amazing!

We arrived in good time, and after picking up a map from the Visitor Centre, I headed off with my Dad, around the reserve.  In the first hide; the Tim Jackson Hide, things were relatively quiet on birds and mammals – however there were lots of insects. Large colourful Dragonflies flitted around outside and landed just outside the hide to sun themselves, tantalisingly close yet just out of reach for me to get photos!

The Grisedale hide was the hide that we visited next and we were constantly in the company of a Grey Heron. It was fascinating to watch this pterodactyl-like bird as it went about its daily life hunting. It went down to strike again and again, sometimes catching fish, sometimes not. A family of noisy Mallards then started having a bath behind the reeds but the Heron carried on fishing!
As we headed back through the more wooded area of Leighton Moss, we were surrounded by birdsong. Great Tits, Blue Tits, Robins, House Sparrows, Blackbirds, Nuthatch were only a few. I had recently read about some unusual behaviour in young birds, and was thrilled to witness it here. A young Robin sat on a sign and sang softly to itself with its beak closed. Young birds – especially birds in which their song is very important, sing with their beaks closed in order to practise their singing skills. Apparently, birds are not born with a song or being able to sing, they learn their particular song by listening to their parents sing, and then practise by themselves until it sounds good enough to sing with their beak open wide!  I managed to take a small film of this Robin, practising.
The next hide we went to was a great spot for birds. From the Public Hide, just over the wetland lake there was a dead tree in which a Great White Egret was perched.  We have had a Little Egret which has appeared near home in the last few weeks, so it was good to see the Great White Egret to compare the size.  It sat hunched over like a Grey Heron and simply watched. Near the opposite bank of the wetland, about 20 Coots were swimming and feeding, and closer to our side a Moorhen parent and its chick spent the time going in and out of view in the reeds. Suddenly a Water Rail came out of the reeds and started cleaning itself! It was only a few metres from the hide and was thrilling to see and photograph – my first Water Rail.
Just a little better than our paltry effort a couple of blog-posts back, don't you think
Lilian's hide was next, and we were treated to another Water Rail! Water Rails are quite rare and so it was very lucky to see one never mind two! (Apparently about 14% of the UK breeding population is at LM) Mallards, Moorhens, Coots, a flying Grey Heron and more dragonflies joined the wildlife here. Then we returned to the Grisedale Hide, where a family of Red Deer were feeding on the opposite bank. Two fawns and two females grazed undisturbed by the constant coming and goings of trains on the railway next to them!
We stopped by the Visitor Centre next where a mass of different bees were taking advantage of the flowers which were grown in the special sensory garden. A few butterflies – Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood, all flitted around and I photographed lots of images of bees on the flowers, showing the diversity in bee species. Some were tiny – a bit like 'baby' bumblebees, and then there were White-Tailed, Yellow-Tailed Bumble Bees and Honey Bees too!
Before heading to the coastal hides, we visited the cafe and had drinks and cakes, because we remembered that on BBC Autumnwatch they had said how good the cakes were – and they were right!  Then we went to the final hides, firstly calling at Allen Hide, but  as a Sparrowhawk had just flown through, it had scared away all the birds, so we moved on to the Eric Morecambe hide where there were loads of birds. Lapwing, Redshank, Greenshank, a Cormorant, Coots, Moorhens, a Kingfisher, Dunlins, Little Egrets (about 10) and even a Peregrine Falcon - which passed through and frightened everything! I took hundreds of photos as the light changed into an evening glow catching on the birds' feathers.

Leighton Moss is a beautiful and diverse place, full of wildlife gems. Although I didn't see it, my Mum and sister saw an Otter from Public Hide in the afternoon. However, I saw three wildlife firsts for me; Great White Egret, Greenshank and Water Rail, and saw practically everything I wanted to (the Kingfisher was a bonus). It would have been really great to have seen the elusive Bittern – one of my favourite birds, however hopefully next time I will!  We will definitely be visiting again, maybe in the winter months, to see what else we can spot.

Alicia        Aged 14                                                                                                  August 2014

PS  My sister has just been announced as Highly Commended in the under 12s section of BWPA, with a photo of a White-Tailed Sea Eagle she took on the Isle of Skye last summer.  It is on the British Wildlife Photography Awards website 

A talented family indeed! But just look at the quality of all those images the youngsters have taken - we'd be well happy with any of them even if they only came out half as good.

Where to next? There's a tiny bit of news from Patch 2 that'll have to keep til tomorrow and we may be able to have a quick look somewhere away from Patch 2 in the late afternoon with a bit of luck.
In the meantime let us know what the youngsters are getting out into the wilds and spotting in your outback.


cliff said...

An excellent account of her day out there by Alicia, accompanied by some wonderful photographs too, the Heron shot is beautifully composed - & she has a Water Rail photo at 14, I'd never heard of a Water Rail when I was 14!

I'm taking my granddaughter, who's 10, to Leighton Moss this Friday for her first ever visit. If we see half as much as Alicia & her family got to see I'm sure my granddaughter will love it. I'm looking forward to our day out all the more after reading this blog entry - many thanks!

Heather Wilde said...

Beautifully written and illustrated blogpost. Great work Alicia. A great youngster to be mentoring Dave. And I am sure she will have Frank's approval :)