Monday, 7 May 2012

Hide and Seek

Leighton Moss
I can't believe I've never been bird watching before.  If you've read previous blogs you'll know I've been trying to get to grips with identifying birds (specifically the "doink doink" bird) as we've hiked around the fells, but today was my very first time at an RSPB reserve with the specific intention of spotting birds, and what an amazing day we had; I'm not sure if it was just beginner's luck of if the birds are always this abundant up here.

Lapwing
We'd spent most of the morning hiking around Hutton Roof Crags (more of those in a future blog) and after a sarnie decided to head across to the RSPB nature reserve at Leighton Moss.  As RSPB members it was free to get in; it only costs us £3 per month for our membership so a very cheap day out.  The lovely lady at reception gave us a quick guide to the reserve and told us what birds had been spotted already today.  I mentioned that we were newbies and that I'd be hard pressed to tell a Pigeon from a Parakeet, but I was armed with my binoculars and my iChirp app and I was keen as mustard.

Black Tailed Godwits (apparently)
We started off at Lilian's Hide where there were dozens of Black Headed Gulls nesting and making a right old racket.  My none bird head wondered what I could possibly see here but I settled down with my binoculars and pretty soon I was engrossed in my own Attenborough style wildlife programme - except this was right in front of me.  I saw territorial battles, the odd spat and what I'm guessing was a demanding female bird beating up her hen pecked partner and demanding fish, which he duly supplied.

Marsh Harriers and Hutton Roof Crags
Leaving the screeching gulls behind we next headed for Tim Jackson hide and hunkered down for a spot more spotting.  I was immediately taken with a rather odd looking bird at the waters edge; large and blackish but with big pointy feathers sticking out of the back of its head.  I took a snap and started comparing it to the list of birds the RSPB had helpfully adorned the hide with and pretty soon it had a name: the Lapwing.  It didn't do much at first but then it began flying around and calling - what a brilliantly bonkers bird! It flies like it's been on the gin all day and sounds like a short wave radio.  In fact I think maybe those large feathers sticking out the back of its head disguise an antennae and it actually is receiving short wave radio.

Marsh Harrier
Whilst the Lapwing may have been relatively easy to identify other birds proved a little trickier, especially to a complete novice.  There were some brown speckledy birds wading around in the shallows and I'd thought they were Snipes, but a very nice man pointed out they were in fact Black Tailed Godwits and he was far more interested in them than he was in my Lapwing, but it was the two large brown birds away in the distance which were causing the most excitement.  When I asked what they were I was told they were Marsh Harriers and they were gamboling around in the air in much the way I might had I suddenly been granted the gift of flight.

Osprey
After a brief visit to Griesdale Hide we walked across the reserve to Lower Hide, which was very lovely and very quiet with nothing unusual to report, but we were in for a treat on our return journey.  As we passed a man gazing into the sky with his binoculars he turned and stopped us and asked if we'd seen the Osprey and pointed towards more large birds in the sky.  Our untrained eyes had thought these were still the Marsh Harriers, but apparently not and, once we got our eye in, we began to spot the differences.  I couldn't believe how lucky were were being on our very first ever bird watching trip and I was beginning to feel ever so slightly hooked on the activity.  I'd already decided that I needed new binoculars and Steve definitely needed upgraded camera equipment if he was to capture these amazing creatures on film.  (Well, OK, not "on film" anymore, but you know what I mean!).

Avocet
Our last stop of the day was over at Allen hide which is just down the road from the main nature reserve and overlooks Morecambe Bay, by now it was getting late (8pm) but we thought we'd pop over see what we could see.  Turns out we got to see Avocets.  These were the only birds of the day that I had never even heard of before.  I've watched nature programmes and heard most of the others mentioned but not these.  To be fair there were no experts around to back up our identification, but they are quite distinctive birds with beaks that curve upwards at the end so we're pretty sure we got it right - though please do let me know if we're wide of the mark.

After all that excitement we decided it was time to head for home.  On top of all the birds above we also saw loads of birds you might find in your garden, spotted a group of Swallows swooping and looping overhead and I think I may possibly have spotted a Bearded Tit in the reed beds, but it was too tiny and too far away to be sure.  And the perfect close to the day?  Being serenaded by the "doink doink" bird (or Nuthatch as he's better known) as we got back to the car.  Perfect.

Sunset over Kent Estuary