Today I went down to Leighton Moss, an RSPB reserve in Lancashire known for its extensive reed bed habitat. Apparently plenty of other people had the same idea, as it took me some time to find a spot in the car park!
I was particularly hoping to see some red deer, Britain’s largest land animal. This time of year is rutting season for red deer, when the stags compete with each other to monopolise and mate with as many hinds as possible. So I spent some time in the Grisedale and Tim Jackson hides, looking out over the reedbeds where the deer were mostly likely to be seen. I was told that at least one had been sighted that morning, but none turned up when I was looking. There were still things to look at, though: in the pool, there was a flock of wading birds – black-winged godwit and redshank, differentiated by the colours of their legs. On a couple of occasions, a male marsh harrier could be seen flying above the reeds in the distance.
I also walked to the other side of the reserve where the Causeway Hide looks over a much larger pool. Here, there were swans, ducks, a heron, and cormorants; most of the latter were drying themselves off on an island in the middle of the pool, but a few were fishing, leaving visible ripples on the surface while underwater so you could track their progress. Most exciting of all, however, was seeing an otter!
I’d only seen an otter once before, in a river in Guatemala, and never a British one. This one was on the other side of the pool, so binoculars were required, and even then you could just see its head – and sometimes a recognisable tail – bobbing above the surface. But it was something, and enough to ensure that I left with the happy feeling only a worthwhile wildlife-watching experience can bring.
I expect I’ll be going back to Leighton Moss later in the year, not just to try and spot red deer, but to see the starling murmuration, once the sunset is coming early enough.