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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Leighton Moss and Arnside flying road trip

You can't expect to just drop into one of the premier RSPB reserves in Northern England for a few hours and get lucky .... or can you? Well, although I'd dearly love to be able to build a bit of literary tension and say something like  'no of course not .... unless you're a couple of 'gun ho' birders hell bent on following the sun and the birds', but the reality is of course slightly less colourful, only slightly mind!

By lucky I guess some reportage of a 'twitchable rarity' or a gripper of a view of some local speciality would fit the bill but the truth of it is we (that's myself and Mark P) had a damn fine time without either of those eventualities and still had some magic birding moments .... and that I think bears testimony to the unique charm of birding.

In our window of opportunity we set a course for the Northwest because we knew that it was going to be drab again in Yorkshire but the sun was going to shine in Lancashire .... only one place to head for - Leighton Moss!

A 'murmuration' of Starlings (courtesy of Google Images)
We arrived late afternoon on the 28th Nov and headed straight for the reserve, the sun was already dipping but a walk down towards the public hide provided us with a totally unexpected Cettis Warbler, calling from the reeds, several Water Rails calling and one seen on the path and then a procession of Little Egrets flying overhead as they came into roost (up to 117 have been recorded here at the roost site). Later, as the light faded and we realised that the predictions of -4C were correct,  we bore witness to the regular gathering of thousands of Starlings as they swirled about in the sky before they all settled down into the reeds to roost .... totally awesome sight as they filled the sky above and totally impossible to estimate numbers but these 'murmurations' can top 100,000!

Not a bad start and certainly something to talk about over fish and chips and a pint at  'Ye Olde Fighting Cocks' our hostelry for the night.


Suitably refreshed and much heartened by a good old full English breakfast we headed for Arnside Knott, a local landmark affording excellent views of the Lancashire / Cumbrian coast on one side and some of the high peaks of the Lake District on the other ..... look closely on the first pic and you should be able to make out snow on top of Skiddaw and Helvellyn


As you can probably gather it was a beautiful day, freezing cold but the light was amazing. Good job I had my standby point & shoot camera with me because even though I thought I'd charged it up, somehow, inexplicably the battery pack on my SLR was flat! Real shame because within minutes of finding that out we had one of those magic birding moments. I'd climbed the hill before Mark, found out the battery pack was flat and then double cursed my luck as I came on to 5 Waxwings flying in from across the bay. Having not yet had a Waxwing in the wild moment (as a pose to the more usual suburban sightings) he was understandably a bit disappointed at missing that but moments later 2 Waxwings floated in from somewhere and landed in the top of a tree right in front of us ... to be joined within seconds by a whole group of them (we reckoned about 45). It was an awesome sight. I've seen plenty of these birds over the past few weeks but get such views in such a location and in perfect light made this my best Waxwing experience to date ...... just think how these pics might have turned out with the SLR and big lens!

Sod's law strikes again on the camera front but nothing can take away the memory of these beauties. We watched them for 30 minutes or so taking yew berries from a nearby bush and flying back up into this tree and then we moved reluctantly on.

In the same location we also had Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Fieldfare and Redwing

On then to Leighton Moss again but ah the daylight hours are scant at this time of the year and by the time I'd recharged my camera at the visitor centre it was already 2.00pm and the shadows were lengthening! Again we had the briefest glimpses of Bearded Tit and Water Rail, and at least 2 Marsh Harriers but nothing to really focus on except some reasonably close ducks from one of the hides ..... nice to get a good shot of a male Shoveler (pic left) and both male and female Goldeneye ( below)

A little earlier and taking every opportunity to use my freshly energised camera I captured one of the many tamish Robins along the footpath that some locals feed meal worms to .... this one was particularly confiding. He looks hopeful doesn't he? Well we had no meal worms in our pockets but my word he looks well fed to me!

Before long we were into another spectacular evening display of Starlings coming into roost, better than the night before because they were 'whooshing' right over our heads and at dusk probably one of many Sparrowhawks in the vicinity swooped menacingly over the reeds looking for a stray one ... my guess is that the 'Spars' don't go hungry around here!

Species list for the trip (total 79)
  • Common Pheasant
  • Red Legged Partridge
  • Red Grouse (en route)
  • Greylag Goose
  • Pink Footed Goose
  • Canada Goose
  • Mallard
  • Northern Shoveller
  • Common Teal
  • Goldeneye
  • Gadwall
  • Eurasian Wigeon
  • Tufted Duck
  • Red Breasted Merganser
  • Shelduck
  • Little Grebe
  • Grey Heron
  • Little Egret
  • Cormorant
  • Common Kestrel
  • Red Kite (en route)
  • Eurasian Sparrowhawk
  • Eurasian Buzzard
  • Marsh Harier
  • Water Rail
  • Common Moorhen
  • Common Coot
  • Eurasian Oystercatcher
  • Northern Lapwing
  • Common Redshank
  • Dunlin
  • Turnstone
  • Eurasian Curlew
  • Common Snipe
  • Common Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Black Headed Gull
  • Great Black Backed Gull
  • Lesser Black Backed Gull
  • Feral Pigeon
  • Wood Pigeon
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Common Kingfisher
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker
  • Eurasian Jay
  • Carrion Crow
  • Rook
  • Eurasian Jackdaw
  • Common Magpie
  • Bohemian Waxwing
  • Great Tit
  • Blue Tit
  • Willow Tit
  • Long Tailed Tit
  • Bearded Tit
  • Eurasian Skylark
  • Cetti's Warbler
  • Eurasian Starling
  • Eurasian Blackbird
  • Fieldfare
  • Redwing
  • Song Thrush
  • Mistle Thrush
  • Eurasian Robin
  • Meadow Pipit
  • Pied Wagtail
  • Goldcrest
  • Winter Wren
  • Eurasian Treecreeper
  • Eurasian Nuthatch
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker
  • Dunnock
  • House Sparrow
  • Greenfinch
  • Chaffinch
  • Golfinch
  • Linnet
  • Common Redpoll
  • Eurasian Bullfinch


  1. Thats a great list Tim and fine images given the battery grief. On my ancient and retired Canon 400d the battery pack did that all time. It's the cold it (unless you didn't charge them of course)drains the battery really quick. I used to put one of the batteries in the grip/pack and in camera ready for action, and the spare wrapped up in a sweater in a bag, the one exposed would last 10 minutes in anything below 0c but the wrapped one would always be good for the day.

  2. Ah, my mate did mention that but when you're used to not charging the pack for weeks on end it came as a huge surprise ... should have known that though!

  3. Almost forgot, thanks for the list compliment! On reflection not a bad tally but can you beleve we didn't see or hear a single Reed Bunting at leighton Moss!! Dipped out on a few other 'expecteds' too ... Raven, Siskin, Yellowhammer, Pintail for example. It didn't matter!