NATURE NOTES - Hides and seek!

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THIS weekend turned into a real birding weekend with visits to two of the best birding sites in the North West.

Martin Mere was holding its annual Bird Fair and I wanted to see if there were any ideas I could ‘borrow’ for something special I’m planning for next year!

So it would have been a waste not to have a quick look around the hides to see what was about.

To say it was wet and windy would be somewhat of an understatement – it was blowing a ‘hoolie’ and the rain was coming down like stair rods but we were in for a real treat!

Just as the sun started setting the skeins of pink footed geese started to arrive from their various feeding sites around the area.

By the time the sun had set the geese were filling the sky as they arrived in their thousands to spend the night at Martin Mere.

Andy, the site manager, estimated about 16,000 were present and mixed in with them were also a few white-fronted goose and barnacle goose but we didn’t manage to find them – needle and haystack springs to mind!

We were also hoping that a few Bewick swans may have been mixed in with the Whooper swans but none had been recorded yet.

Bewicks breed in the Arctic in the area surrounding the Kara Sea in northern Russia and are subject to a migratory flight of some 2,500 or more miles to and from their wintering grounds.

The autumn migratory route passes the shores of the White Sea, the southern Baltic including the Estonian Archipelago at Matsaalu Bay, the Elbe estuary in northern Germany and the Netherlands.

The adults are white all over and young birds greyish with a pinkish bill.

Compared to the similar whooper swan, these swans have proportionally more black and less yellow on their bill.

They’re also smaller than both mute and whooper swans so are the smallest swan you will find in the UK.

Next stop the following day was the RSPB’s Leighton Moss reserve where we headed for to see if we could find a bittern for Tanith – a very elusive bird to say the least but Leighton provides probably the best chance of seeing one.

We had had a fantastic day even though it was freezing with the wind.

We had seen some good birds including marsh tit, red breasted merganser, marsh harrier and eider duck (we had dropped in at the coast on the way up for some waders and were really pleased to get some good views of these stunning sea ducks).

We had just about given up on seeing a bittern when as I scanned the reed edges I saw a familiar shape just emerging clinging on to the reed stems.

The bittern was so obliging and through my scope we watched him for about 45 minutes doing what bitterns do – not so much - but they are deep thinkers so that makes up for their apparent lack of activity!