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.
We had a walk along the promenade at Morecambe for a change on Monday. Chosen because it’s level with benches (again, still struggling with post-Covid tiredness) and because the weather wasn’t good enough for anywhere more scenic.
That’s not to say Morecambe isn’t scenic – the views out across Morecambe Bay are stunning, and the town’s powers-that-be have littered the promenade and surrounding streets with sea or coast-related sculptures and artwork. Much of it is really lovely – like my favourite life-like cormorants near the old lifeboat station – but some pieces are utterly bonkers. There are some fat seagulls near the Eric Morecambe statue which always make me smile, and this time we also discovered these cartoon puffins sat on top of some of the bollards in the Festival Market car park. There were similar (but even weirder) seagulls and cormorants in the nearby Morrisons car park. Quite a sight if you’ve just staggered out with a crate of booze!
This time we finally got inside the Old Pier Bookshop which we’ve been meaning to visit for years. I picked up a YA vampire book which looks intriguing, and we explored some of the vast, twisty network of passages inside, all of them lined floor to ceiling with books, some interconnecting, some not. One friend has described it as a TARDIS, and it certainly keeps going… and going… and going… until you lose all sense of direction and wonder if you’ll ever get back out again.
Luckily we emerged, to find the sun was shining – just as we were about to set off for home. Typical. But we enjoyed the stroll, and a mistily scenic drive back up the A6 afterwards.
Birds can be really difficult to take good photographs of – just as you click the shutter they move, squawk, waddle away or fly off. But over the years I’ve been lucky enough to snap a few memorable, and unusual, shots, which I thought I’d share with you here.
This seagull was cheerfully ignoring the local parking regulations at Lakeside, on the shores of Windermere, but flew off before anyone could fine it.
Even the pigeons looked fed up on a recent trip to the (otherwise brilliant) Liverpool waterfront in non-stop pouring rain.
Cormorant, River Thames
These birds perch on anything to dry their wings after a fishing trip…
Sleepy, puffed-up doves braving the promenade on a freezing cold morning in Bowness.
Who needs waiting staff or cleaners when you can just get the pigeons to tidy up for you? Taken at the V&A museum café in London a few years ago.