Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Leighton Moss

Saturday dawned bright and clear. Probably. Well, it was still bright and clear when we got up anyway. By the time we were on the M6 towards Leighton Moss RSPB reserve, though, the clouds were beginning to gather. At least it wasn't raining.

It's been a long time since I visited this reserve. I have very happy memories of finding my first ever Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries here back in 1995, and hearing my first Bitterns. Today was to yield neither of the above, but it was great nonetheless.

First surprise of the day was an Osprey, flying in from the hills to cross the southern lakes. I have no idea why an Osprey would be here in nearly-June - the nearest breeding birds are up at Bassenthwaite in the Lakes. My best guess is that it's a youngster attempting its first breeding season, or an older bird that was ousted from its regular territory, and it's now wandering around looking for an established nest to disrupt. It caused quite a stir among the gulls and waders. We saw it again later from the public hide, where I took this photo, having switched from the 70-300mm (nice lens but too short) to the Bigmos. It was still pretty tiny in the frame though, and unfortunately Rob was not quite ready with the Sigmonster.

We've discovered that the Sigmonster isn't super-sharp at its long end. Add this to the difficulty of moving birds against a complicated backdrop of leaves and... more practice needed. This shot is blurry as you like, but shows something nice - food pass between a pair of Marsh Harriers. The prey, which looked like a baby Coot or Moorhen, was deftly collected by the female and borne away to her nest while the male went straight back to hunting.

The public hide overlooks a big lake with a few islands, on which noisy gangs of Black-headed Gulls are nesting. Some of the nesting spots are very close to the hide, giving me opportunities to practice flight shots and terrify everyone else in the hide as I swung the Bigmos from side to side.

One pair were building, or attempting to at least, on a little wooden step thing right in front of us. Well, I say 'pair' - in fact only one of them was at work. This industrious bird was busy grappling with sticks of various sizes, while the other just sat there and watched.

 At the seaside pools, there was a Spoonbill, which had moved from right in front of Allen hide to a tiny tucked-away pool just before we arrived. My record shot of Spoonie is too awful to reveal. The pool that it HAD been on still held a trio of Little Egrets plus a selection of ducks, gulls and waders, but the horrible light and distance made for lousy photography conditions. This Chiffchaff was my consolation prize, gathering fat green caterpillars for its chicks in the scrub next to the car park.

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