Here I am showing my age in quoting Bob Dylan from 1963. I’m off the road for a few days but Thursday and Friday are look hopeful for my first ringing since arriving back from Greece. Meanwhile, here’s a topic tackled previously on Another Bird B…
In this week’s blog we invited volunteer Jennie to share her experiences of how the current Coronavirus pandemic affected her visits to Leighton Moss both before lockdown and again after the reserve re-opened…
Return to the Moss By Jennie Chapman, RSPB volunteer
A bright and chilly mid-March morning. I dug out my blue polo shirt and navy fleece from the bottom of a drawer, found my name badge in the jacket pocket and pinned it in place opposite the RSPB logo. I had returned from a period of working abroad and was thrilled to be getting back to my volunteer role, welcoming visitors to Leighton Moss. It was fantastic to be back at my ‘home reserve’, and I was looking forward to sharing my passion for the place and for the brilliant birdlife that thrives there; but, beneath the excitement, there was an unease that was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. A new and highly contagious disease – a type of ‘coronavirus’, scientists explained – had spilled over Chinese borders and was ravaging northern Italy and Iran; Spain, where I had been living, had just gone into hard lockdown; and the first UK fatalities were being recorded. Nervous jokes about substituting handshakes for elbow bumps were proffered in exchange for rueful chuckles that were a little too forced. Touch points were assailed with frequent applications of disinfectant. Visitors covered their hands with their coat sleeves to open doors. In the visitor centre loos, conspicuously diligent efforts were applied to the formerly mundane business of handwashing, now elevated to a matter of national import. My first day back was quite unlike any I had experienced previously, but I had returned to the Moss and I couldn’t be happier.
A week later, the country went into lockdown, and Leighton Moss and its 200+ sister reserves across the UK were closed indefinitely.
Adjusting to the ‘New Normal’
Sixteen long weeks later, and a few weeks after the reserve began the gradual process of reopening to the public, I was among a small number of volunteers to return to duties. The RSPB takes the business of keeping its volunteers safe and happy extremely seriously, and has been scrupulous in ensuring that none is put at risk – meaning that only those volunteers who do not fall into a vulnerable category have returned to visitor-facing roles. I consider myself tremendously lucky to be fit and healthy, and to be able to use that privilege to support Leighton Moss and the RSPB.
There have certainly been some changes to adapt to. In order to reduce the risk to both staff/volunteers and visitors, the whole welcome operation has been shifted outside. Where we once had at our disposal a hi-tech interactive graphic display to bring our descriptions of habitats and species to life – press this button to hear the boom of the bittern, or that one for the ping of the bearded tit – now we improvised with old-school posters on display boards (my one attempt to mimic bittern vocalisations resulted only in profound embarrassment for all concerned, and a concession that this sort of thing was probably best left to the professionals, i.e. the bitterns themselves). This bit made me laugh! Portable card readers were sourced to replace the tills that we could no longer use, and the distribution of maps was suspended. Our initial offer was limited to selected paths and trails and nothing more; toilet facilities with an enhanced cleaning regime followed. The reopening of two of our wildlife-watching hides and the Skytower viewing platform, fortified with an antiviral armoury of one-way systems, limits on user numbers, social distancing measures, ‘test and trace’ contact slips and hand sanitation points, felt nothing less than momentous. Tentatively and incrementally, we proceeded with caution into a world transformed.
Nature’s New Cheerleaders
In this strangest and, for many people, saddest of summers, it has been uplifting to welcome visitors whose paths might not have crossed ours otherwise. Families who would normally be in Spain, Greece or the Algarve are holidaying in the UK and finding themselves pleasantly surprised at what it has to offer. But our first-time visitors aren’t only holidaymakers. People who live locally but have never visited before, many of whom cite the frenetic pace of normal life by way of explanation, are coming too. I’m always intrigued as to what brings people onto the reserve, and among those new visitors I’ve spoken to on the topic, a fair proportion have described a heightened appreciation for nature and wildlife, instigated by the deprivations of the lockdown. Formerly expansive and complex social worlds have been replaced by the small, safe, self-contained realm of the home. In this shrunken sphere, our balconies, yards and gardens, and the bees, birds and butterflies that visit them, became lifesavers – as did our daily local exercise, prescribed by government edict and undertaken with all the assiduity of a sacred duty. Pubs, cafés, and restaurants; shops and cinemas; gyms and leisure centres; kids’ playgrounds; even others people’s houses: all were now off-limits – but canal towpaths, coastal promenades, city parks and rural woodlands remained, and here we watched spring unfold with a mindful intensity that, owing to our full and hectic lives, many of us hadn’t really had the opportunity to exercise before. We slowed down and literally smelt the flowers. The colours of spring dazzled and popped like never before, its rhythms heard more clearly without the competing noise of road and air traffic. Without other distractions, many of us had the space to really observe, appreciate and find solace in nature in a way we hadn’t previously. Now, as we tiptoe toward something vaguely resembling normality, those who found joy in nature during the long days of lockdown are keen to keep that spark of inspiration alive, and are finding in our reserves a place to kindle that flame. If any positives are to be found amid the indisputable horrors of the pandemic, then this must surely be among them.
It is not only adults who have been bitten by the nature bug this year. From my conversations with families who visit, it seems that many children have spent more time outdoors than normal, and many have become enthusiastic proponents for nature as a result. A pair of eight-year-old twins described in detail the pond and bug hotel they had forged in their garden, and the wildlife that came to visit. A girl of around the same age had had such fun learning to identify the birds on the feeders in her garden that she’d asked for – and received – a field guide for her birthday, which she had proudly brought with her to Leighton Moss. “We were dead surprised,” her dad mused. “She wasn’t really into wildlife at all before this. But all her clubs and dancing classes haven’t been running, so we’ve just had time to be in the garden, together, watching the birds.” It seems the lockdown has cultivated quite a cadre of young enthusiasts in that activity: “you have to be extremely still and extremely quiet,” one young boy explained with emphatic solemnity, “and you should wear clothes that make you look like a tree.” Duly noted. A little girl of around five told me conspiratorially that “grandma has a new friend.” Has she? That’s nice for her! What’s her friend’s name? “We’re not sure” she conceded. “It’s a robin.” It seemed Grandma’s friend had established territory in her garden, and grandmother and granddaughter had spent happy locked-down afternoons watching him patrol the perimeters of his kingdom. She was excited about the prospect of seeing his friends at the reserve. I very much hope she saw at least one of them.
The Reassuring and Restorative Rhythms of Nature
Changes and challenges there have been, and no doubt more will arise as we inch towards a liveable existence in the shadow of a pandemic. Speaking for myself as an RSPB volunteer, there have inevitably been adjustments and adaptations – but ultimately, the fundamentals of the welcome role remain constant. We are there to inform, enthuse and inspire our visitors about the wonderful sanctuary for wildlife that is our reserve, and to bring them with us in fulfilling the RSPB’s mission to give nature a home. I can’t pretend that a brew and a slice of quite exceptional cake in our café, maybe followed by a browse through the gift shop, doesn’t enhance the Leighton Moss experience for many. But even as our world was turned upside down, nature persisted: nests were built, chicks were raised, blossoms and buds bloomed, migratory species made their perilous journeys across oceans and over continents. The rhythms of nature reassured and restored us, and that is worth more than all the cake in the world. Just.
Thanks to Jennie for writing such a heartfelt and insightful post – if you have been inspired by her story and would like to know more about volunteering with us, please drop us a line to: Leighton.email@example.com
Please note that all hides will be closed from close of play on Sunday 22 March.
The visitor centre, shop and café will remain closed. This is to prioritise the health and welfare of our staff, volunteers and visitors.
These are diff…
As we reach the midway point of January, we always have something to look forward to, the annual Big Garden Birdwatch!
As always, we are calling everyone to join in and tell us what they find in their gardens, yards and parks. Each year we have around half a million people take part, but the more people take part, the more information we will have. The Big Garden Birdwatch takes place on Saturday 25, Sunday 26 and Monday 27 January.
An hour of bird watching really makes a difference, whether that be sitting outside, or tucked up inside watching through the window with your binoculars and a cuppa to hand.
In between your bouts of back-yard birding, there’s also plenty of time to pop over and see what’s around here at Leighton Moss. Winter is a great time to see many of our specialities. Wildfowl continues to dominate with Causeway, Lilian’s and Grisedale particularly productive at the moment. Several species of duck, little grebes and both little and great white egrets may be enjoyed from the hides and SkyTower while wanders along the path may reward patient birdwatchers with views of water rail, reed buntings and marsh tits.
Starlings are still murmurating away, best seen from Causeway or SkyTower. The best murmurations often happen during clearer weather so make sure to check the forecast. The numbers have peaked at around at 70,000, ensuring an amazing spectacle on clear, bright evenings. We suggest being situated at your chosen watching spot at 3:30pm to avoid disappointment as the time of the mumuration can vary from day to day and usually happens anytime between 3:30pm and 4.30pm. We would also like to remind visitors not to park on the road near the Causeway entrance as this creates obstructions for other vehicles, thank you.
Snipe are most often seen in well vegetated wetlands such as our reserve in the winter, especially when they group together foraging for food or snoozing at the pool edges. An impressive 75 snipe were counted from Grisedale hide recently and most days at least 30 may be seen if you look carefully!
The number of marsh harriers continue to wow the crowds. It’s not easy to accurately guess the number of harriers hunting around the reserve from one week to the next but we do know that at least ten different individuals have been identified. Given how recently this species has taken to wintering at Leighton Moss it is incredible to see so many birds here and we can only expect the numbers to increase in the coming years! (Photo by David Mower)
We know January is a time for saving pennies after Christmas, so we have some new deals in our RSPB shop to get you ready for your Big Garden Birdwatch. Our Big Garden Birdwatch starter kit includes three different bird feeders from our Classic easy-clean range for all different picky eaters. One for seeds, one for nuts and nibbles and another for suet. Of course, you need some bird food for these feeders, and you get a great selection with 1.8kg of Premium sunflower hearts, 1kg of Buggy nibbles & 12 super suet balls (sunflower heart variety). All of this would usually come to £41.21, but with our half price deal is only £20.60! A great bargain to get you ready for your Big Garden Birdwatch.
Hello readers, Leighton Moss has certainly been sun-kissed in recent days and there is a definite feeling of spring in the air. Our resident woodland birds such as song thrushes, great tits, nuthatches and marsh tits have been in full song, you can listen out for them across the reserve.
First on the agenda are the bitterns. We have observed some encouraging bittern activity, with a couple of bitterns chasing each other across the reedbed. No booming as of yet but it is still early days. Last year saw the booming start in March, so we are all eagerly listening for the tell-tale sound. If you have not heard a bittern boom, check out our interactive screens in the visitor centre, you can listen to the distinctive sound there.
Spring is of course the time to welcome new arrivals to Leighton Moss! The first sand martin of the year was seen on Monday 25 February and we can look forward to more incoming sand martins and swallows over the next few weeks. Monday also saw our first chiffchaff in song down on the Causeway path. This is an excellent place to look for other birds such as bearded tits and reed buntings.
Sand martin. Photo credit: Ben Hall rspb-images.com.
Did you know that male reed buntings have different songs? A single male will have a slightly varied call to a paired male. The paired male will still try his luck at getting more than one mate though!
Causeway Pool has been a hive of activity for the past week. We have two pairs of great crested grebes displaying at the moment and listen out for the trilling calls of the little grebes too. There have been excellent sightings of the otter family from Causeway and Lower hides and both locations are great places to look for snipe. Water rails continue to show well in the right-hand side reed channel of Causeway Hide and also down in the dyke on the way to Tim Jackson Hide and Grisedale Hide.
Great crested grebe courtship. Photo credit: Hazel Rothwell.
In terms of wildfowl, we have had some departures but there is still a good variety at Causeway and on the wider reserve. Look out for wigeon, pintail, teal, shoveler and gadwall. Diving ducks to look for include up to 14 pochard (hopefully we will have some chicks later!) roughly ten goldeneye and a flotilla of tufted duck too.
There are at least three great white egrets still on the reserve, often down by the Tim Jackson and Grisedale Hides. Grisedale Hide is an excellent spot to look for the very active marsh harriers but the Skytower and Lilian’s Hide are prime places too. Other raptors which have been sighted include buzzard, kestrel, sparrowhawk and barn owl. We also had another fly-over from a red kite on Sunday 24 February.
Male marsh harrier. Photo credit: Alan Saunders.
Down at the Saltmarsh Pools there are currently 9 avocet. Currently, the best place to look for them near is near the edges of the pools or roosting with other waders such as the black-tailed godwits. There are also lapwing, oystercatcher, redshank, knot and greenshank to look for. The walk to the hides is also an excellent place to spot smaller birds such as stonechat so do keep your eyes peeled.
It is also worth mentioning the excellent habitat improvement work the warden team have completed over the past week. The dyke which you cross when on the way to Tim Jackson Hide and Grisedale Hide has been opened up. This will allow for better fish movement into these new areas as well as providing a new bittern feeding habitat as the fish can swim into the edges of the reeds. Our resident waterfowl are already taking advantage of the open water and do keep a watchful eye on the reed edges, you never know what bird species you may see perched there!
Farewell Leighton Moss
As the sun sets on my internship I can’t help but leave with a paradoxical sense of being heartbroken but also filled with optimism for the future. I have thoroughly loved my time as Visitor Experience Intern and I will miss the team, reserve and visitors dearly. I was nervous starting my internship at Leighton Moss but I think I have done alright looking back! I have learned so much about the fantastic work of the RSPB, the effort needed to run a visitor centre and of course I have learned a lot about our birds and conservation efforts.
I don’t really have a favourite moment as living on a nature reserve is fantastic in itself! Truthfully, the supportive and welcoming team made the internship for me. I will say however, that seeing the Christmas Market do so well and assisting Andy with guided walks have been key highlights. I assisted on the guided walk Birding for Beginners on Sunday 24 February, this was a very fun event with a fantastic group who were keen to learn and ask questions. I would recommend attending an upcoming Birdsong for Beginners if you would like to learn how to distinguish the various warbler calls.
I have loved meeting people from all walks of life in the visitor centre and assisting with Nature Tots. Inspiring young minds has been wonderful. Our conservationists, scientists and birders of the future, I think it’s our job to inspire a love for wildlife in children. How can we expect a child to want to protect something they know nothing about? Or indeed have a link to?
I will leave Leighton Moss with a heavy heart, but I am already planning my return visit to catch up with my friends and mentors and continue to discover the wonderful wildlife this fantastic reserve has to offer.
I will leave you readers with perhaps my top highlight, holding (and releasing) a juvenile male bearded tit! Thank you for reading my blogs and saying hello in the visitor centre. Perhaps I will see you at Leighton Moss in the future!
UPDATE: Peregrines in the Forest of Bowland finally brought down by prejudice and misguided politics
Update 26-03-2016 : The list gets longer
Based upon information received last night, we are currently investigating claims sent to us by a concerned Bowland raptor worker that our list of sites was missing 3 peregrine territories he believes are also abandoned. We have now checked out one of these sites and the information has proved valid. Any subsequent additional abandoned sites we are able to verify will be added in RED to our existing list. Any sites discovered to have been reoccupied this season will be changed to GREEN.
We would like to think our treatment of wildlife has improved since 1947 when the first recorded pair of breeding Peregrine falcons located in the Forest of Bowland were shot and their clutch of 4 eggs destroyed by estate gamekeepers. The reality is the situation today on England’s moorland uplands where red grouse are shot is now much worse than it was all those years ago. Throughout a majority of these moorland areas, peregrines and hen harriers are becoming more conspicuous each season by their almost total absence from these regions..
In the spring of 2009 seventeen occupied peregrine territories were recorded by licensed members of the North West Raptor Group in the Forest of Bowland. One year later, in 2010 Natural England, (the Government’s Wildlife Advisor on the Natural Environment) with-held licences which they had previously issued permitting the group to monitor and protect peregrines, including several other threatened raptor species for over thirty five years; just 4 years later fifteen of these historic territories had been found abandoned resulting in the disappearance of the adult falcons..
In 2014 taking into account the unprecedented disappearance of so many Peregrines in such a short time frame from one moorland region, Terry Pickford a founder member of the NWRG (1967) appealed Natural England’s decision asking them to reinstate his license, they refused. The 3 reasons provided by Natural England for their decision were as ridiculous as they were illogical, read below..
- Terry was advised other licence holders had been appointed to cover this region. (Terry had worked in Bowland since 1975 protecting peregrines
- Terry’s presence would cause unnecessary disturbance to nests. (What nests, by this time the peregrine was almost extinct in Bowland?
- Issuing Terry with license would cause duplication of nest visits. (How could anyone duplicate visits to nests that no longer existed?
Based upon valid arguments contained in Terry Pickford’s licence reinstatement request, amongst other facts, he highlighted that Peregrines and a high number of their nests were being destroyed at an unprecedented rate on estates in Bowland; who’s interests were Natural England really trying to protect by refusing to reinstate his Bowland licence we might ask?
Putting Natural England’s decision into perspective it is important to point out Terry Pickford has held a BTO class ‘A’ ringing permit since 1986 authorising him to ring nestlings at the nests of the 6 schedule 1 raptor species listed in the table below. He currently holds a scientific disturbance licence for Peregrine (Cumbria Only), Goshawk (Lancashire and Cumbria), Red Kite (South Cumbria & Lancashire), Osprey (Cumbria & Lancashire), Barn Owl, Golden Eagle (Scotland). Natural England for some curious reason refuse to issue a Peregrine licence for use in Bowland to any member of the NWRG where persecution is widespread, but on the other hand are happy to support his licence for use in Cumbria where persecution is very low.
- Hen Harrier
- Red Kite
- Golden Eagle (Scotland)
Taking into account what has taken place in Bowland since 2010, there can no longer be any doubt it was not the Peregrines or their nests Natural England were concerned about saving. Natural England in reaching their decision refusing to reinstate the license of an extremely experienced and conscientious field worker chose instead to ignore the systematic extermination of a protected species taking place in the Forest of Bowland. In our view this was a misguided attempt to prevent the embarrassment of estates by covering up the illegal killing of Peregrines and the destruction of historic nest sites taking place with impunity. Keeping Terry Pickford together with the rest of the membership of the NWRG out of Bowland, would in some people’s warped opinion conveniently keep this important criminal activity from becoming public knowledge.
Just in case you are one of the sceptics, we have added details of twenty one Peregrine territories below, which are known to have been abandoned inside the boundary of the Forest of Bowland since 2010. You may feel these desertions are coincidental, but you would be wrong. An RSPB spokesperson writing in the Lancashire Life in 2014 explained these losses, details which were never published within the annual RSPB Crime Report Figures as even suspicious, were the result of climate change and the lack of suitable prey, plus possibly some persecution. Well the RSPB would know because they are paid to protect raptors inside the Forest of Bowland.
Trough Bank, (3 alternate sites abandoned)
Burn Fell (3 alternate sites abandoned)
Lythe Fell, (3 alternate sites abandoned)
Langden Head, (2 alternate sites abandoned)
Brennand Fell, (3 alternate sites abandoned)
Bleadale, (3 alternate sites abandoned)
Burnslack Fell, (1 site recorded, used once before being abandoned)
- Hareden, (1 site recorded, found abandoned 20th March 2016)
- Grindleton Fell. (1 site recorded containing 2 chicks. 1 chick shot. 2nd chick observed on wing one mile from nest) Shoot closed down. No charges brought following police investigation into actions of tenant gamekeeper.
Threaphaw Fell, (Nesting Ledge Destroyed)
Marshaw Fell, (1 site Nesting Ledge Destroyed, 2 additional sites abandoned)
Hawthornthwaite Fell, (3 additional sites abandoned)
Catshaw Greave, ( site abandoned, traps and grit trays placed close to nests)
Foxdale Beck, (3 alternate sites each abandoned)
Mallowdale Pike, (In 2010, 2 nestlings disappeared, site abandoned ever since)
Tarnbrook Fell, (Nesting Ledge Destroyed prior to 2010)
- Grizedale Fell, (Nesting site on ground burnt out)
- Luddock Fell, (Nesting site on ground burnt out)
- Bleasdale Moor, (Clutch of 3 eggs disappeared within one day of nest being located 2015, site now abandoned)
- Greenbank Fell, (3 additional sites abandoned)(Clutches of Eggs disappeared, 2006, 2007, also in 2013, 14. (Site abandoned since single male peregrine disappeared in 2015.)
- Cloughton Quarry, Nesting ledge destroyed 2015, suspected clutch of eggs disappeared in 2014. ( Site found abandoned March 2016)
- Birket Fell, (Nesting Ledge destroyed in 2010/11 site abandoned)