Every once in a while a day comes along which stands out not just from the normal run of things, but even amongst the good days. A real jewel. It seems to me that I’ve been very fortunate lately, in that the year just gone was unusually rich in days of that kind, and this day was one of the best.

It was a Monday early in December, a scheduled day off. In September, seeing this date on the calendar is likely to make my hackles rise and have me moaning about the pointless use of a precious holiday in the darkest days of the year, when I would much prefer an extra day in the Spring. But as the date actually approaches, I do begin to look forward to an opportunity to get out. Last year I went to the Lakes and climbed some fells, but this year, full of cold, I decided to restrict myself to a local stroll.

It was a cold morning, with a hard frost and a blanket of mist, although both had substantially cleared by the time I had dropped A and B off at the station and sent Little S off to school.



Burtonwell Wood and Hagg Wood.


Eaves Wood.

Black-headed gulls were lined up along the spine of the roof of Row Hulls, a field barn, probably discussing the blue skies, low sun and the fine morning to come.


But then a Black-backed gull landed amongst them and many of the gossipers fled.



The Golf Course.

We’d had several successive sharp, frosty days and I was heading down to Leighton Moss thinking that the meres might be frozen over. When I arrived at the visitor centre I was greeted by a very helpful volunteer who filled me in on all of the more exciting birds I might see, but also warned me that most of the paths were flooded.


Leighton Moss.

The meres were frozen, aside for a few odd open stretches.




Great Tit.


I waded down to Grizedale and Jackson hides. Apparently there was a Green-winged Teal on show in one of the meres at that end of the reserve, not that I spotted it.






There were lots of common-or-garden Teal and Pintail, Wigeon,  and Shoveler to see. Also geese flying overhead and this solitary Cormorant preening itself…


…and then drying-off in the sunshine.





Blue tit. 





I was heading now for the causeway and the Public Hide and spotted this Heron…


….in a field very close to both the path and the road. My standard procedure with nervous birds like herons is to take a photograph, then move forward a step or two, then take another picture and so on. But this time I didn’t need to. To my astonishment, the Heron slowly and deliberately paced towards and then past me.



The causeway looks dry here, but it wasn’t further down. My shoes proved to be quite waterproof, although not always high enough on my ankle to prevent a little icy dampness creeping into my socks.

When I reached the Public Hide a chap told me that he had been watching two Otters running on the ice, one quite nearby and the other across the far side of the mere. I settled down for a cup of tea from my flask and didn’t have to wait too long before…


…an Otter briefly popped up, trying, it seemed, to jump through a small hole in the ice on to the surface. It tried a few times, but then disappeared again.


I had originally planned to walk right around to Lower Hide, but had been warned that the path was badly flooded and therefore closed. I went a little way in that direction anyway.




Before turning back to the Public Hide. For some reason I decided to have one more look, not from the hide itself but from a small viewing platform alongside it. Rustling in some reeds nearby had me scanning the area just in front of me when…


…an Otter popped up very close by. I had time to take three photos, but then it was gone, only to reappear by a post right in front of the hide. This was by far and away the best sighting of an Otter I’ve had at Leighton Moss and also the best anywhere in many, many years.


I set-off back along the causeway with an added spring in my step.


Long-tailed tit.

I continued my wander through Trowbarrow Quarry and along Moss Lane.


Grey wagtail.


Natural England’s plans for the area around Haweswater have upset some people in the village. A boardwalk will be removed and some Beech trees clear-felled. I think that these trees are the ones ear-marked for removal…


I understand why people don’t like it when trees are felled, but personally I’ve always assumed that this is a plantation in which the trees are too close together and have grown tall and scrawny as a result. Not at all like some of the splendid, huge Beeches which the National Trust chopped down in Eaves Wood a few years ago.


I paused on the apparently condemned boardwalks for another tea stop and watched a couple more Cormorants fishing in the lake.

Incidentally, the post’s title is more Ted Hughes, from his poem ‘The Otter’. You can find it in it’s entirety here.


An Evening in The Lower Hide


‘Get yourself to the Lower Hide at Leighton Moss, a pied-bill grebe has been spotted near the back of the mere, and there are otters regularly showing too.’

This from my friend and colleague the Proper Birder one lunchtime some time ago. I didn’t let on that I didn’t have the foggiest what a pied-bill grebe might be, but I did act on the advice. It’s not entirely surprising that I wasn’t au fait with that species of grebe: it’s an American bird, a rare visitor to these shores and so a real twitcher’s delight.


It was a bit of a gloomy night, I’m afraid and my photos are very disappointing. I couldn’t see any unusual grebes, but there were lots of other birds to watch, in particular a pair of greylag geese with chicks who were hanging around right in front of the hide. I was snapping away at all of the airborne birds which whizzed past. None of the photos came out too well, but one really surprised me…



Since it is pretty clearly of an Osprey and not the high-flying gull I’d thought I was photographing. I’d finally spotted an Osprey at Leighton Moss. Without realising. It’s a good job the camera was paying attention.

A marsh harrier came swooping low over the hide a few times and in better light I might have got some really good photos.


Next time.


Some more Proper Birders arrived, plainly in expectation of seeing the misplaced grebe and within minutes of arriving they had found it. It wasn’t at the back of the mere by the reeds; it was ducked down amongst the mare’s-tails close to the hide. I saw it; another visitor let me peer through his scope. And, as we strained our eyes in the failing light, an otter swam across close by the grebe’s hiding spot. Great evening – shame about the photos!

An Evening in The Lower Hide

An Otter, Bearded Tits and a Sunny Weekend

Causeway Robin

We’ve had some pretty wet weather this autumn, but the weekends have often coincided with sunny spells. Back in early October we had just such a weekend. I didn’t head off for a long walk at any point, but instead I was out several times, in various company, for a number of short walks, which, taken together, added up to a very memorable weekend.

My friend and colleague the Proper Birder had alerted me to the fact that otters and bearded tits had both recently been spotted from the public footpath across Leighton Moss, so on the Saturday morning I took A and B for a stroll there. We discovered that the causeway path was flooded, and without wellies, had to curtail our walk rather sooner than anticipated. We did converse with a friendly robin however, and admired a particularly large inkcap.


That afternoon I was operating a Dad’s Taxi Service, dropping A with some friends for a sleepover. Our friends live in a wonderful spot at the head of the Lyth valley. The sun was shining and butterflies were fluttering around their garden. We decided to take a stroll, going ‘off-piste’ and taking a direct route up onto Lord’s Lot. Perhaps not one of the Lake District’s biggest or most frequented hills, but a cracking viewpoint all the same.


We stopped a little short of the top on a gratifyingly rocky little knoll…

A rocky knoll 

…with expansive views of Scout Scar, and the  Lyth Valley…

The Lyth Valley 

…and also a view across the actual summit to some more famous and recognisable Lakeland fells…

Langdale Pikes seen across Lord's Lot 

On the way home I stopped off to buy myself some wellies so that early the next morning B and I could take a pre-breakfast trip back to Leighton Moss…

Early morning preening 

We settled down in the public hide, watched a late marsh harrier gliding over the reed beds, and then B tugged excitedly on my sleeve, “Did you see it Dad? The otter?”

I didn’t. It was right in front of the hide apparently. I managed to miss it the next time too. But then I was looking in the right direction when something large and sleek fluidly cleared the surface and then duck-dived beneath it again. It was a very fleeting glimpse. “Maybe it was a fish,” I suggested. “Bit big for a fish,” B snorted derisively.

When we saw it again it was heading away from us. Then it swam across the back of the mere, either close enough to the surface for us to follow its wake, or with its head above water….

An otter! 

Not a great picture of an otter I know, but I don’t really care, I’ve been waiting to see the local otters for years. Magic.

By the grit trays there was a fair collection of Very Serious Men and their Extremely Expensive Optical Equipment. No bearded tits though.

Proper birders 

Home for breakfast, B and I found that TBH and S had not, as we’d thought, been asleep when we left, but had heard us set-off and were a bit miffed to have been left behind. We mollified them with a promise of an immediate return to the Moss, just as soon as we polished off our fry-up.

Here’s S in his bird-watching outfit…


You can see that he’s well wrapped up – it wasn’t as warm as the day before had been. Never-the-less, butterflies were out sunning themselves again….

Red Admiral 


Back by the grit trays, S wasn’t intimidated by the Serious Birders penis substitutes expensive tackle*, he pushed right-in to get a peek at….

S takes on the proper birders 

…the bearded tits…

Pair of bearded tits 

TBH was disappointed that the ‘beards’ weren’t full-on flowing ZZ-Top style thatch. Very lovely birds though, and something else I’ve waited many years to see. Switching over from a summer diet of insects, the tits are picking up grit which will help them to digest the hard seeds which they eat in the winter months.

Guelder Rose leaf 

The boys….

Taking a rest 

…were very taken with the flooded paths and so we wandered a little farther, past the public hide and round to lower hide were we watched a heron fishing right in front of the hide.

Bramble leaves 

Peeling, back-lit birch bark 

Flooded paths 

The paths were clearly already beginning to drain, but the water was still quite deep in places…

Even more flooded paths 

Tiny clouds 

Joy of sticks 


New boots and... 

I was chuffed with my new boots, even if they are green.

As we wended our way back to the car, we were treated to some quite close views of a circling buzzard.

Leighton Moss Buzzard I 

A buzzard at Leighton Moss? That would be a Leighton Buzzard then? (Sorry)

Leighton Moss Buzzard II 

Preening swan

*Yes, yes – I have camera envy.

An Otter, Bearded Tits and a Sunny Weekend

The Almost Otter

My colleague, the Proper Birdwatcher, told me that if I could be at the Lower Hide at Leighton Moss at around 8 am then I would have a fair chance of seeing an otter and its two cubs. I made an early morning visit, knowing that I would have to be away well before eight in order to get to work on time, but forgetting just how far the walk to the Lower Hide is, with the result that I was only at the hide for a couple of minutes before I had to set off back for my car.

As I approached the small bridge on the causeway footpath I heard splashing and caught a glimpse of movement – something slipped into the water. When I have been here recently I have consistently seen a few fish leaping from the water, presumably after flies, but now an entire shoal leapt clear, arced and splashed back into the water – perhaps twenty to thirty fish. There were never as many again, but I was able to follow the progress of something under the water apparently terrifying the fish which leapt clear singly and in small groups in different areas around the pool. Had I just missed the otter?

Behind me in the reedbeds I could hear the eerie bellowing cries of rutting red deer stags. A fine start to a day.

The Almost Otter