The big news this week involves the appearance of our first fledging marsh harrier!
This is always a rather tense time for us here on the reserve; how many youngsters will have survived to leave the nests? Each year we watch with anticipation, knowing roughly when the first birds should emerge from the reedbed. Of course there are many factors that can influence the success, or otherwise, of any nesting bird; weather conditions, predation and food availability all play a part. At this stage just one young bird has been seen (it made its maiden flight on Wednesday morning) but fingers crossed more will make their awkward first flight forays in the coming days. Since first breeding at Leighton Moss in 1989 marsh harriers have nested successfully every year since.
Similarly, we are always eager to see when the first young bitterns start to appear around the reserve. These secretive reed-dwellers can be very difficult to monitor accurately and while we have an idea of how many nests there probably are, we're never 100% sure! Hopefully in the wake of the six booming males this spring we can hope for a bumper crop (relatively speaking) of baby boomers!
In other news, exotic-looking spoonbills continue to please visitors to the Eric Morecambe hide. Numbers vary daily, though up to five birds have been seen pretty regularly. Great white egret numbers have increased with between four and five being spotted alongside the more numerous little egrets, again primarily at the coastal hides. Avocets can still be seen here though it does look like they've had a poor breeding season on the Allen Pools this year. As July approaches we should see an increase in the variety of waders moving through these pools as post-breeders start to head south from their northern nesting grounds. Spotted redshank, greenshank and green sandpipers are all likely candidates in the coming weeks.
Barn owls have been putting on a show both alongside the path to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides and around the visitor centre lately. These traditionally nocturnal birds will often hunt in daylight when feeding hungry youngsters or in years when prey is hard to find. Let's hope it's the former.
Hopefully the weather will improve a little in the next couple of weeks and we will see more dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies on the wing. Of course, as these larger insects become more active so too do the things that feed on them and we may get regular sightings of hobbies as they pursue their invertebrate prey.
This is also a wonderful time of year to enjoy the vast array of amazing plants that can be found around the reserve. Yellow-flag iris, common spotted orchid, woody nightshade (aka bittersweet) and meadowsweet are all in bloom and easy to see from the footpaths and trails at the moment.
If you're planning to visit with young ones, do ask about our great new Big Wild Summer activity packs (just £3.50) upon arrival. These include a Plant Detectives trail, nature activity booklet, pencil, certificate and discount voucher to use in our shop. Let your Big Wild Summer adventure begin at RSPB Leighton Moss!
Marsh harrier photo by Mike Malpass
Woody nightshade photo by Adam Grayson
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