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In Search of Marsh Harriers

Bike Birding in the North West
2 months ago

Abi-Rose runs a lovely blog called Bikes & Bird Hides.

With our own interests in birding/riding our paths crossed recently and we asked if she would be up for writing a guest Rambling on her local RSPB site and the elusive Marsh Harrier.

Words and images by Abi unless credited otherwise. You can find her on Instagram @bikesandbirdhides

Bike Birding

Combining a love of riding slowly with an amateur level passion for bird watching seemed like an obvious way to add a bit of variety into my local loops. It started off with just catching glimpses of bird life bustling in the hedgerows and along the river bridleways, but I soon started adding specific nature reserves as destinations. One that constantly caught my eye was RSPB Leighton Moss, set in Arnside and Silverdale AONB, a site which promises a chance to spot one of the UK’s rarest raptors - a Marsh Harrier.

In search of Marsh Harriers

Marsh Harriers are one of the UK’s more promising success stories, moving from historical decline to the RSPB’s Amber list a hopeful sign of their increasing numbers. After decades of persecution and habitat loss, dwindling to a mere single breeding pair in 1971, they have recovered to numbers closer to 400, this is thanks to habitat and species protection. Marsh harriers require large reedbeds and marshes to thrive and Leighton Moss plays host to their perfect habitat boasting the largest reedbed in the North West.

So, I made a plan to head from my doorstep in Kendal, weaving through the country lanes that take you into the heart of Arnside and Silverdale. I took the opportunity to fly over the stunning Warton Crag by using the Occupation Road bridleway, it throws you out perfectly by the marshes on the Kent Estuary.

It was here that I brought my bike to a screeching halt along the southern border of Leighton Moss, I’d spotted two incredible marsh harriers exhibiting their avian acrobatics – rising up, wheeling and tumbling around one another, before soaring overhead to land in a tree on the edge of the vast reedbeds of Leighton Moss. I couldn’t believe it, I wasn’t even technically at the site yet, but there they were, performing an incredible courtship display. All their identifying traits had been on display: they are the largest of harriers, create a distinctive ‘v’ shape with their wings, and the males have an almost auburn glow with a pale head and neck, and the females are a deep chocolate-brown with a golden crown and throat.

Genuinely an honour to see and something that is engrained in my memories. Being out in the fresh air and on my bike had allowed me to spot this display – rather than whizzing past in a car and missing out. I knew at this point, for me, getting out on my bike with the binoculars would never not be worthwhile.

Image supplied by RSPB Leighton Moss. Credit: David Mower. This bird is a fresh-air-head for sure.

"I felt content to watch and lose myself in the world of birds."
Abi-Rose

Once in the site, you are pretty much guaranteed front row seats to the marsh harriers, head out to the Grisedale Hide which overlooks the reedbeds, wetland, and the fields on the intake of Warton Crag. From here, I sat and watched as the marsh harriers swooped above, hunting, and diving expertly to catch their pray. Sitting with a brew, bike resting outside, I felt content to watch and lose myself in the world of birds.

Most importantly being able to see these incredible raptors is testament to the hard-work of RSPB Leighton Moss, with their extensive reed cutting in summer and winter, and recent restoration of another 200 hectares of reedbed. The protection of their unique habitat by the RSPB has meant that these raptors have a place to migrate to and breed (hopefully successfully).

Plus, if you do get the chance to head out to Leighton Moss by bike (or even public transport) you get half-price entrance and a discount in the café! Obviously, with COVID restrictions, they are closed at the moment, but head to their website for any announcements and updates.

Here is a the route from Kendal to Leighton Moss created by Abi.

WE NEED YOUR HELP - READ ON

Whilst you are here we want your help protecting another RSPB site, RSPB Minsmere.

EDF energy plan to build a new nuclear power station, Sizewell C, on the edge of the border of RSPB Minsmere. This could have many disastrous impacts on the rare wetland wildlife there including otters, bitterns, and ducks. Increased levels of noise and light pollution may also affect the Marsh Harriers spoken about above by Abi.

Click the orange button below to help protect this fabulous reserve. The petition closes Sunday 14/02/21!

Outdoor Provisions has a 1% for the Planet partnership with the RSPB Raptor Investigation team - all profits from the sale of our Raptor pin badge go ending crimes against birds of prey.

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