While the dry spell continues and the water levels continue to drop, there's very much a hint of autumn in the air. It's getting a little chillier in the mornings and an increase in the number of wildfowl and waders across the reserve is noticeable. Lillian's hide continues to provide excellent views of hundreds of black-tailed godwits along with smaller numbers of redshanks, as well as both great white and little egrets. Bitterns too have been spotted here and also at Causeway Pool. Otters and red deer have been entertaining visitors with regular appearances and the coastal pools are still drawing the crowds as an array of wonderful waders keep the birdwatchers and photographers entertained. Highlights in recent days include little stints (photo by Jarrod Sneyd), spotted redshank, ruff and bar-tailed godwit along with the commoner wading birds. Our 'What's That Wader' event last weekend was something of a challenge with such low water levels but we still managed to see at least ten different species and have a great time discussing how to identify these often tricky birds. If you wish to join us at our next event on September 16, you can find out more and book your place here.
In other news, this weekend we are proud, as always, to be a host as part of the Silverdale and Arnside Art & Craft Trail. Running from Friday through to Sunday we will be providing temporary gallery space for artists Jessica Elleray, Kate Schofield and Leonie Rutter. Do pop into The Holt and see their wonderful work!
Also, this weekend we are holding a Binocular and Telescope Open Weekend so, if you are looking for a new pair of binoculars or a spotting 'scope now's the time to visit! Get hands-on advice from our friendly, impartial team of experts and try out a wide range of high quality optical equipment to find the perfect binos or 'scope to suit your needs and your budget. For details see here.
Many of our visitors will be very familiar with David Mower, our former warden and now dedicated volunteer at the welcome desk here at Leighton Moss. Anyone who has the good fortune to chat to David over the years will be aware of his vast knowledge and expertise. His fellow volunteer Beth recently took it upon herself to delve deeper to find out more about this charismatic character - here she shares her findings!
In 2014, David Mower retired from a spectacular 27 years of warden work at Leighton Moss. If you’ve had a trip to the reserve recently, however, then you’ll know that he wasn't quite ready to roost. David is now a regular volunteer on our welcome desk (when he’s not deep in the reeds, helping out with our habitat management.)
So, what has kept him committed to conservation when he deserves a hard-earned rest? Other than being a self-proclaimed workaholic, David has been an ardent birdwatcher since the age of 12. He describes himself as lucky; growing up on the Suffolk coast meant that an abundance of wildlife surrounded him. From the age of seven, David and his friends roamed free through the countryside. They climbed trees and made dens, and on one memorable adventure, he had a close encounter with a barn owl. This memory is still fresh in David’s mind; it was a moment that ignited his love for wildlife. When he wasn’t up a tree, David was fishing in his local ponds for great crested newts, eels and perch.
In 1962, the coldest winter in a hundred years chilled the UK. Many parts of the country were snowed under, while East Anglia had below-freezing temperatures for around two months straight. The rivers, the estuary and the sea all froze over. It was a devastating time for birds, with enormous mortality rates. While out on his adventures with his friend, a twelve-year-old David Mower tried to save starving waders but most attempts were with little success. Bird carcasses, wings, and skulls littered the local beaches. David and his best friend filled bags full of debris on their weekend walks. Equipped with their bird book, they spent hours studying each skin, attempting to identify each species. To this day, David still has his collection, and it spans an impressive 200 species. He credits this fatal winter as the one that began his birding journey. When temperatures eventually began to warm, the boys started observing birds in flight with their new investment: binoculars. They ventured far and wide on their bicycles (only stopping to add road-killed specimens to their collections).
A regular spot for their weekend escapades was RSPB Minsmere, then managed by conservation hero Bert Axell MBE. Axell was a pioneer for reserve management, and his techniques developed in the sixties are still implemented at sites like Leighton Moss today. He devised artificial habitats; his most famous invention, the Scrape, proved integral for the avocet population’s ongoing success. Herbert Axell was very supportive of local birdwatchers and encouraged the boys to spend more time on the reserve. Within a short space of time, they ceased being hobbyist birders and became volunteer Wardens. David shared Axell’s creative flair for developing new habitats, and Axell nurtured this talent. By the age of 14, David delivered guided bird walks to reserve visitors, using the wealth of knowledge that he had accumulated in the previous two years. When David left school, he embarked on his career with the RSPB. A career in conservation was very different at that time. There were no university degrees to prepare you for this kind of work.
The RSPB was in its infancy and couldn’t afford to be a reliable employer. To succeed, it took determination and discipline - both of which David had in abundance. The charity was rapidly expanding. More people now had cars and were regularly venturing further afield to enjoy their weekends. The RSPB made the most of this opportunity and began opening new reserves around the UK. However, they had very few staff with the experience to manage them. Their strategy was to train up a pool of young wardens, sending them on placements at different existing reserves until they had the expertise to take care of their own. David was amongst these recruits. He travelled extensively, uprooting his life every six months. When he arrived at reserves, the living arrangements were often less than desirable. He recalls one winter in which he was living in a wooden hut so cold that his milk bottles froze. The work was physically demanding, but the regular relocation was what took the greatest toll. He had to sacrifice a normal life of a twenty-something-year-old, unable to sustain friendships or have any relationships. David’s creativity that made him so successful also had to be sidelined; he was a keen flute player but couldn’t commit to any local music groups. But, he persevered. After years of dedication, he was given his own reserve in Lochwinnock. Here, in Scotland, he met Irene, who was to become his wife. It seemed his efforts were finally paying off! But, dishearteningly, the reserve was not as successful as the RSPB had planned, and within months, David was sent back to England. David Mower arrived back at Leighton Moss, his second tour of duty here (the first was in his years as a travelling trainee warden). Thankfully, he thrived and was able to put his creativity into action. He set about reed cutting, managing ditches, and he famously reinvented the bearded tit nestbox. Eventually, he was even reunited with Irene (who is also still a volunteer at Leighton Moss; she can be found monitoring our moth population!) David stayed on the reserve until his retirement.
But what motivates him to continue his volunteering after many years of service to the RSPB? David knows that his nature-rich childhood was the catalyst for his career. When visiting Suffolk in recent years, he saw that the ponds of his childhood were now gone; there was a distinct absence of great crested newts, which are now a critically endangered species. He theorises that there’d be much less roadkill on those long weekend cycles, despite the increase of cars on the road, because of the sharp decline of bird populations. There’s more risk for children outside now, with traffic volume and the increasing awareness of stranger danger. He sees himself as lucky to have grown up in a village of 4,000 people surrounded by the countryside and beaches that nurtured his love of wildlife. He worries that children growing up in urban environments will be deprived of those experiences. David says: “We need as many young people to be as concerned with nature as we possibly can. Just look at me, as one small example, there are thousands of other people with similar experiences to mine. You get your love of nature from experiencing nature. If you don’t experience it then you’re not going to love it, are you?” He then quotes David Attenborough: “No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”
David is now a regular volunteer on our Welcome Desk. Recruiting new RSPB members is what motivates him; he knows that adding more individual voices to the RSPB membership results in a louder collective voice for our advocacy work. He loves to share his knowledge with our visitors and hopes to inspire a connection to nature in everyone he speaks to.
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