Two hear a bittern

For a complete change we headed to our nearest RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) nature reserve on Saturday. Leighton Moss is around 20 miles south of us, just over the border into Lancashire, in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty near the Morecambe Bay coast.

I went once with my parents a very long time ago when there was nothing but a handful of paths and some ‘hides’ to watch the birds. Since then the RSPB have gently developed the site, opening up new walks, building a viewing tower, and creating a visitor centre with shop and cafe in some adjacent farm buildings.

On a sunny morning it was a lovely place for a stroll. There’s a wildlife garden and some ponds near the visitor centre, but the surroundings get wilder the further away from that you walk. The site boasts the largest reed bed in N W England which is home to all kinds of rare wildlife including small birds like bearded tits and reed buntings, plus larger (and even rarer) species like bittern and osprey.

My one criticism is that the reeds are so tall that there aren’t many places where people can get close enough to the water’s edge to actually see anything. I’m guessing this is deliberate to cut down on the disturbance to the birds, but it was slightly disappointing to hear cheeps and splashes and not be able to see what was causing them. However, at the end of the longest trail is a large hide overlooking one of the lagoons and here we could get some great views of the surrounding wildlife.

Our highlights were one goose, one grey heron (above) and a coot, but people who’d been in the hide before us had photos of both a marsh harrier and an osprey so it just shows what you can see if you hang around. And the biggest highlight of all was hearing a bittern ‘booming’ in the distance. These birds are incredibly rare and incredibly secretive, pottering about amongst the dense reed stalks, so the only sign they’re even there is often their enigmatic call. I’d heard it on telly, but never in real life before. It sounds very much like a didgeridoo, and was a real bonus on an enjoyable walk.

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