Leighton Moss

While on vacation in the UK, we joined the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.  Although we didn’t quite break even on a year’s membership, in terms of saving on admission to sites, we got all these goodies and the satisfaction of supporting a good cause.

RSPB gear
RSPB gear

The only thing I didn’t really like was the slogan “Giving Nature a Home”. As if somehow it’s OK to just carve off a few reserves for “nature” while we pave over the rest.  I don’t blame RSPB, I suppose it works to attract memberships and donations, but it’s sad if true.

The reserve we visited most was Leighton Moss, which is near Silverdale, a bit further round Morecambe Bay than Morecambe itself, where my dad lives, so I could just pop round for a few hours by myself. Other reserves should come in later posts.

As the web site says:

Leighton Moss is the largest reedbed in north-west England, and home to some really special birds such as breeding bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers

Here are a few of the birds I saw.  Unfortunately my binoculars are more powerful than my longest lens, so I got a better view than you will.  Still, good incentive to go yourself.

Here is a coot, with some of its friends.  I found out that these are members of the rail family, thanks to Twitter (@RallidaeRule).

Coot close-up
Coot close-up
Coots
Coots

Coots are the photographer-friendly members of the family.  The moorhens are more elusive.

Moorhen
Moorhen

The water rail, on the other hand, is extremely elusive.  I did see one, thanks to a more observant person who pointed it out, but selfishly I watched it through binoculars for the minute or so before it vanished into the reads, so no picture.

There are several egrets at the Moss (which is northern English for bog, aka wetlands).  I got closer up pictures in the estuary, coming in a later post, but here are some in flight and also perched in a tree (pretending to be blackbirds?).

I didn’t notice until I looked at the pictures today that there is also a large flock of waterfowl taking off at the same time; look at the line of reeds, just above the water.

Egrets in flight

Egrets in tree
Egrets in tree

Our local heron that feeds in my garden pond is blue.  Here are some grey ones.

Gray Heron
Gray Heron
Gray Heron 2
Gray Heron 2
Heron wings
Heron wings

Here is a landscape of a small part of the Moss, you can get a sense of how many birds there are from the little specks on the water.

Leighton Moss flocks
Leighton Moss flocks

Another landscape; there is something that calms the mind about the reflections in calm water. Peace and symmetry both help.

Leighton Moss reflection
Leighton Moss reflection

The next picture shows many kinds of birds living together. The larger white ones are the egrets again, over to the far left you might make out the heron again, and the rest are various ducks (mallard, teal,…).

Many water birds
Many water birds

There are also some resident pheasants.  This one attacked me. I don’t blame it since they are hunted by masses of shotgun-toting humans.  I’ve no objection to hunting as such, but the pheasant slaughter is making too big an impact on the landscape as they are bred in thousands just for the hunting.

Pheasant
Pheasant

These cygnets (young swans) are as big as their parents (the two flanking white ones) but haven’t yet got their adult plumage.

Swans
Swans

Finally a teal, resting between dives for food

Teal
Teal

and stretching its wings.

Teal wings
Teal wings

That concludes this quick look at the birds and landscape around Leighton Moss.  I can’t believe it took me two weeks after returning from the UK to get just a couple of days of pictures posted.  Much more to come, with migrating birds in Scotland, historical buildings and the bright city lights of Blackpool Illuminations. Watch this space.

Welney Wetlands

The other Norfolk wetlands, besides Titchwell Marsh, that we saw on our trip to England (Lancashire wetlands to come later) was Welney.  Welney was more for tourists in that you could go to their large hide and look out, but you couldn’t walk around.  They had a naturalist who would do a “show” every hour or so, explaining what was going on to a crowd of around 100, so although I learned some interesting things, it wasn’t at all as “feet on” as Titchwell.  There are many other places to see birds so I would rather have seen some of them.

Anyway, the main feature for Welney is the swans.  Norfolk is where swans from many parts north, including Scotland and Scandinavia, where swans come to winter over.  They go out to the fields to graze for most of the day and then head back to Welney as it gets dark, to be safe from predators.  We got there an hour or so before dark, to see them arriving.  Here are the pictures.

Swans arriving - Welney
Swans arriving – Welney

Swans look very elegant both when swimming and flying, but they are a little awkward when landing.

More swans - Welney
More swans – Welney

In the next picture, you can see how many birds are arriving; not all swans but also many kinds of ducks.

Swans ducks and arriving flocks - Welney
Swans ducks and arriving flocks – Welney

The brown swan in the next picture is this year’s cygnet – full size already and able to migrate. The mallards are the familiar green-headed ducks, while the brown-headed are pochards.

Swans pochards mallards - Welney
Swans pochards mallards – Welney

There were several other kinds around but many of my pictures turned out a little blurred as the light faded quickly.

In the next picture I did manage to find one trail away from the observation hide, which you can see in the middle left. This also gives you some idea of the density of birds that overnight here, although the sky was still thick with more birds arriving.

Welney sunset
Welney sunset

Two other swan trivia from my past.

When I was in my mid teens, my girlfriend lived in a place called Doffcocker, which had a large pond called Doffcocker Lodge.  It was famous (among naturalists) for having trumpeter swans, so that’s where I saw those for the first time.

All swans in England belong to the Queen.  You can’t kill them without her permission.  However, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are allowed to kill them and roast them for their May Balls.  So I could have had an opportunity to eat swan while I was at Cambridge, but I never got around to it (or indeed the May Ball at all, as they were a bit too fancy for me and they occurred a few weeks after end of term at which point I was hard at work trying to make some money.