Absolutely amazing news from the reserve last week, three bittern fledglings were spotted down by Lower Hide. As many of the readers of this blog and regular visitors to the reserve will know a female bittern had built her nest to the right-hand side of the hide. We have all been patiently waiting to see those first sightings of the young feeding. Some very lucky visitors have had that amazing opportunity, with the young feeding in the pool in front of the hide and along the reed edge at the back of Lower and Causeway pools in recent days. So, for those of you interested in our amazing bitterns, there isn’t a better time to visit than now! (Photo by Barbara Anstey)

Our nesting marsh harriers have been exciting visitors over recent weeks, with the amazing food passing displays and long feeding flights. This is only going to become more of an attraction on site, with first flights of the fledglings spotted over recent days. With young birds emerging from four nests we get some great views as they learn how to fly and hunt over the coming days.

Sightings of bearded tit continue on the causeway and Lower Hide, with juveniles being spotted. So its well worth taking your time when walking around the reserve paths. Reports of marsh tits have also started to increase around the Lower path, while a ringing session in that area resulted in the capture and release of a juvenile redstart this morning.

Good numbers of swifts, sand and house martins provide good photographic challenges for those visitors waiting for the otters or osprey down on the Causeway Pool. Sedge and reed warblers continue to provide a great soundtrack to the reserve.

 The saltmarsh pools continue to draw in those interested in waders, with bar-tailed and black-tailed godwits, avocets, lapwing, oystercatchers and knots all seen on site. In addition, occasional little egrets have been coming in periodically to feed. (Pic of black-tailed godwits by Mike Malpass)

The presence of those bittern fledglings on site is a great example of the amazing work of our wardening team and volunteers here at Leighton Moss.

For more information about that vital work and the other benefits for wildlife here’s what our residential warden volunteer Annabel had to say:

“Hello, I’m Annabel, residential warden volunteer coming to the end of my time here at Leighton Moss. The last 12 months have been full of adventure and I’ll be sad to leave. Here’s what the wardens have been up to…

Over winter, we’ve been reed cutting and removing scrub on the reedbed to prevent it from drying out and make it ideal for the birds specialised to this habitat. We’ve increased the structural diversity at one of our woodland sites by creating rides and glades to benefit woodland birds (such as woodcock) and bats, as well as expanding the habitat range for scarce butterflies. We’ve carried out scrub removal and used grazing to increase the floral diversity of Warton Crag to benefit butterfly species. On the saltmarsh we’ve also had cattle grazing to create an ideal sward for nesting redshank and installed an electric fence around the Allen Pool to protect nesting birds on the islands from predators. All this hard work will help to increase the biodiversity value of the area and we’re currently getting stuck into survey work and seeing the fruits of our labour!

 One of my responsibilities as a warden volunteer is taking the boat out and carrying out surveys within the reedbed. I carry out bearded tit nest box checks as part of a long-term ringing study – this involves carefully placing my hand within handmade nest boxes and feeling for eggs that have been laid by bearded tits. It’s a bit of a lucky dip as you’re not sure what you’ll find in there – quite often water shrews plop out from the nest into the water! Playback surveys involve playing recordings of water rails and bearded tits and listening for responses to get an idea of their distribution throughout the reedbed. It’s quite a surreal experience to be surrounded by strange squealing and pinging from the reedbed. With marsh harriers gliding overhead, kingfishers squeaking in the distance and bittern booming pulsating not too far away, it’s always an exciting expedition out on the boat. (Pic of Annabel on the boat by RSPB).

One of the most intricate and key skills I have learnt here at Leighton Moss is to identify bird species by song. When carrying out a Common Birds Census in Challan Hall Woods, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the multitude of songs, but when you tune into and untangle one song at a time - you really appreciate the variety of species are present – treecreepers, goldcrests, nuthatches, blue tits, great tits, song thrush, blackcaps and hawfinches to name a few!

Our work on Warton Crag also seems to have paid off, with small pearl bordered fritillaries and northern brown argus gracing the sun-bathed slopes carpeted in rock rose. We even managed to find the iridescent green cistus forester!

The real reward of all our hard work in the reedbed is the discovery of three bittern fledglings. Those long hours of observing feeding flight patterns of the female on bittern watches have paid off and the sight of three healthy juvenile bitterns is a fantastic sign that the reedbed is healthy and has been well managed by the wardens.

Residential volunteering is a must for people wanting a career in conservation! I’ve gained so many skills (such as species identification, survey work and leading volunteer work parties) and qualifications (chainsaw and brush cutter licences).  I’m in a much better position to apply for jobs than when I finished University and I’m very grateful to the wardens and volunteers who’ve helped me. Leighton Moss will have a special place in my heart and I look forward to returning to visit and keeping up with the stories and dramas of the wildlife that thrive here.”

Lucy Ryan, Visitor Experience residential volunteer and Annabel Mason, Warden residential volunteer 

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