After the promising and much-heralded blip back in February which lulled us into believing that spring was well under way, things have returned defiantly to winter once more! Of course, it may be colder and wetter than it was a couple of weeks ago but on the face of it, it’s more like a normal early-mid March. Though unlike last year’s ‘Beast from the East’ we’re currently on the receiving end of what might be termed the ‘Pest from the West’! The days however are getting longer and a little milder (honest); these are the real cues that signal changes in nature.
Our marsh harriers (photo by Mike Malpass) have been busy sky-dancing, when conditions allow, and some observed behaviour suggests early pairing may have taken place. One couple in particular spend a great deal of time together and look to be prospecting nest sites in the reed bed. The best places from which to view the harriers at the minute are the Skytower and Lilian’s or Grisedale hides.
Other indications of a looming spring include the continued, if sporadic, arrival of sand martins. Ones and twos have been seen primarily over Causeway Pool. These diminutive long-distance migrants are amongst the first of our summer visitors to arrive and here at Leighton Moss we can see gatherings of several hundred feeding over the meres by April. There is always the fear that some of these early pioneers may succumb to poor weather and a lack of flying insects to feed on, but if they get it right and survive it allows them to take the pick of the prime nesting sites before the later birds arrive.
Avocets (photo by David Mower) too continue to gather at the Allen and Eric Morecambe pools having spent the winter further south. The current high water levels are encouraging for these island nesters, assuming they can find a good spot before the black-headed gulls establish their territories. Numbers of these elegant waders often fluctuate quite a bit before the breeding colony gets settled.
So far, we haven’t been able to confirm any bittern booming – despite concerted efforts to listen during optimum conditions. Last year we had a male ‘tuning up’ in the second week of March but it’s still early days and we can hope to hear this distinctive sound as soon as the weather calms down a little! Whether any of our wintering birds departed during the warm spell back in February remains to be seen.
The forecast for the coming week doesn’t exactly inspire us to feel optimistic about more spring arrivals but as soon as we get a little shift to the south in the winds we can expect things to change significantly. Wheatear, osprey, little ringed plover, garganey, chiffchaff and a host of other early migrants will take advantage of a change in wind direction and positively pour in from the continent and beyond.
Meanwhile, visitors can enjoy superb views of many species of wildfowl and waders, along with regular otters and a wealth of woodland birds.
If you are planning to visit us soon, do check out our programme of events and see if there are any guided walks or activities that you may wish to join us on!
Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager