Just another member

I was up in t’northwest this week and managed to fit in a visit to the RSPB’s Leighton Moss nature reserve.  I hoped to see a few good birds, remind myself of what a pretty place it is, maybe have a spot of lunch in the cafe and slip out again without being recognised as an ex-employee.  I almost succeeded in getting the set.

The reserve is a pretty place with the reedbeds and open water set in a wooded bowl close to Morecambe Bay.  Even though the weather was a bit drizzly, everything looked good.

There was a good variety of birds from the marsh tit on the feeder to the curlew flying in land, and the teal displaying in small groups right in front of the hides to the water rails making a variety of strange noises in the reedbed.  I didn’t see the glossy ibis that was around nor the otters that are increasingly seen, but never mind – I’m just glad they are there, I had a nice time anyway.

The toasted cheese and onion sandwich was delicious.

However, I didn’t manage to get in and out without being spotted.  It all went wrong right from the start – I’d forgotten my membership card so I had to give my postcode and then my surname to the young man on the desk who checked my credentials on the ‘phone with someone at The Lodge who clearly mentioned the fact that I had until fairly recently worked for the RSPB.  Then as I left one hide I did a double-take with another bloke on the path who did a double-take with me and I ended up chatting to the ex-long-time warden of the reserve, John Wilson.  I hadn’t seen John for years and years so it was nice to have a chat – and good to know he reads my monthly column in Birdwatch! And then over lunch the current warden, Robin Horner came and had a chat.

When I was working for the RSPB I usually made sure the local staff knew I was in the area, even if I was on holiday, because it always seemed to be a bit off to visit a nature reserve and not warn them as it might look like an inspection. Nowadays, I’m just another punter and I don’t want or expect any special treatment or any fuss.  But it was lovely to see John again and to have a long chat with Robin about how things were going.

Leighton Moss in my copy of John Gooders's book - Where to Watch Birds

I first visited Leighton Moss as a kid – about 40 years ago.  I’ve only been back a few times in the interim.  My guide to how to find the reserve and what I might see there back in those days was the 1967 edition of John Gooders’s Where to Watch Birds which I see tells me I might see shoveler, pintail, water rail and redpoll in winter (I missed the redpoll).  I also would, in those days, have had to have written off for a permit in advance to The Lodge before setting off on my visit to the reserve (5s 0d for an unescorted visit and 7s 6d for escorted – hands up who knows what that is in real money!)!

But you still can arrive at the reserve at Silverdale Station which is just around the corner.

I used to worry about Leighton Moss – a bit anyway.  I used to worry that despite a lot of effort we had not found a way to get bitterns to increase at Leighton Moss in the same way that we did in East Anglia, on the south shore of The Humber, in southwest England and elsewhere.  So there is still one booming male bittern at Leighton Moss each spring even though the reserve could accommodate a few more.  But I don’t have to worry about that any more and neither does anyone else because bitterns are booming across the country.  But it’s still interesting, to me, that we didn’t find the right recipe at Leighton Moss.  Perhaps it was because this was a peaty site- that’s what John Wilson suggested to me.  But Robin spoke encouragingly about the return of otters and the greater aquatic vegetation and invertebrate life thanks to the management that might have helped bitterns, so there isn’t anything to regret, it seems. in what we tried here.

So I was just another member enjoying the birds, the scenery and the food but I had a few special conversations with the special people who, over time, have kept Leighton Moss special for wildlife and for visitors like me.

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9 Comments

  1. Redwood

    Leigthton Moss is an interesting place, but so is the whole Silverdale-Arnside area (and misesd by those folk who charge up the M6 to the Lakes). I would recommend a walk on the track across the centre of L.Moss, up to Cringlebarrow Wood (lovely limestone woodland) and then south to Gaitbarrows NNR for its limestone pavement flora (and this area has a controversial past what with limestone removal for garden rockeries c.1980). If you have time and the legs, continue to Arnside Knott, a butterfly hotspot in the summer and superb views over the Kent estuary to the south lakes fells.
    Its a super area - dont worry if the bitterns prefer other places - plenty of rare and special wildlife thrives here.

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    • Mark

      Redwood - I agree. The high brown fritillaries on Arnside Knott are well worth the trip in themselves at the right time of year.

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  2. Dennis Ames

    Think you will always be a bit of a special visitor to RSPB reserves Mark and while I understand you just consider yourself a ordinary visitor I bet those you speak of would have hated it if they had missed you.
    Doubt the peat deters Bitterns as Ham Wall has several Bitterns and all peat area.

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    • Mark

      dennis - thanks. I think maybe our management for bitterns- which was to rejuvenate the reedbed - may not have worked so well in the peaty Leighton Moss as it has at Minsmere and other places. maybe we'll have to wait to see what happens at Ham Wall in 20 years time!

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  3. Bob Philpott

    Interesting how you remember Reserves for what you saw in them (or in my case didn't see). I first visited Leighton Moss about 30 years ago and can recall being in a hide when someone came in and mentioned the Spotted Crake they had just seen, which I didn't believe. I walked back down the path and picked up a glimpse of a water rail. Satisfied with that I walked back to the Visitor Centre and was chatting to the warden. ' So you didn't get the Crake then' he says. To this day I still haven't got that or any other Spotted Crake.

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    • Mark

      Bob - good story!

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  4. John Miles

    Leighton in the 1970s was a wash with Bitterns. I even caught one by hand running into the reed bed during the drought of 76. I walked over to John Wilson with my prize suggesting it had botulism as many gulls were dying on the reserve but after a day in a pony shed it was given a full bill of health and released. The special fish at Leighton was the Rudd which fed so many Bitterns and I even caught some of these but they were not worth eating! There was a spell when even the Otters were rare here having been one of the best places to see Otters in the 1970s but now have come back in force so may be it is a matter of waiting for nature to balance out again.

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  5. Jon

    Revealing myself as a lapsed twitcher - I first visited Leighton Moss back in '93 for a Little Bittern - while waiting for that skulker to give itself up, we were treated to a booming Bittern somewhere nearby. It wasn't *completely* unattractive to Bitterns there!

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