The Ribble Estuary is vast, stretching from Lytham St Annes on the north side, down to Southport on the south side. Between the two, the great expanse of marvellous mudflats and saltmarsh are a vital home for nature. Mud might not sound particularly appetising to us, but it’s crucial for quarter of a million birds that are drawn in by it every year. Ribble mud is a canteen – it is packed full of cockles and shrimps and l ugworms , mussels and more. Tasty morsels to feed a variety of appetites. Curlews , dunlin , black-tailed godwits , redshanks , swirling flocks of knot , and oystercatchers in abundance feed on the estuary. Their differing beak lengths and shapes allow them all to find food within the mud layers. Redshank by Tim Melling In winter, the Ribble Estuary is also synonymous with pink-footed geese . Tens of thousands of them come here every year from their breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland, for the comparatively milder weather here on the saltmarsh and fields. You can spot them flying in V-formation overhead and hear their distinctive “wink-wink” sound. They are joined by a variety of ducks that come to spend the colder months here too. At Marshside wigeons , teals , shovelers , tufted ducks and pintails are a colour palette on the pools, brightening up gloomy north west winter days. Pink-footed geese by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com) It’s not just the wetter months that bring such treasures. In spring elegant avocets arrive to breed at Marshside. As the emblem of the RSPB they represent a remarkable success story . and are a joy to watch, as they raise their young in front of the hide. You can also experience the incredible sight and sound of lapwings as they tumble and swoop overhead, making a noise like a 90s computer game – “peewit, peeeewit” – displaying to a mate and warding off threats to their nest. And when it comes to sound, there’s not much that can beat the glorious, erratic tune of male skylarks as they sing to appeal to the ladies out on the marsh. Avocet by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com) The Ribble Estuary is one of the most important places for birds in Europe and so has been designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) offering high levels of protection. The Ribble Estuary NNR , which includes our Marshside and Hesketh Out Marsh reserves, is England’s third largest NNR and is one of the Top Ten most important wetlands in the UK for the numbers of water birds that live here, which is why it is so important to protect it. That’s not to mention the abundance of brown hares , butterflies, other incredible insects and specialist plants that live here too. We’ve recently purchased Crossens Inner Marsh to take even more wildlife under our wing. But it isn’t all here by magic. Saving Saltmarsh The saltmarsh and wetlands of Marshside are not only home to a range of incredible creatures, from insects, to plants, mammals and birds that thrive in this harsh environment. They also benefit people, by reducing flood risk to homes and businesses and helping to tackle climate change by storing carbon. Sadly though, much of the saltmarsh and wetlands in this country have been lost to human activity such as development and agriculture, and are further threatened by climate change, making this reserve vitally important for wildlife and people. That is why it is so crucial to protect the landscape here at Marshside and the wildlife that lives in it all year round. When visiting the saltmarsh, we ask that visitors stay on the waymarked track (known as ‘Redshank Road’) only, because venturing onto the marsh can cause serious disturbance to both wintering and nesting birds, and can also be hazardous for people and dogs. Many of the birds here have flown thousands of miles from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to spend the autumn and winter months here. Other birds spend the spring and summer months here and use the saltmarsh to raise their families. The over-wintering birds come here to feed or to ‘roost’ (rest and conserve energy). Winter is a particularly stressful time for these birds, some of which may have lost half of their body weight during migration. They need to be able to rest and feed on the marshes undisturbed, to regain condition and put on enough weight to survive the winter and make the migration back to their breeding grounds in the spring. Unfortunately, the birds here are often unintentionally disturbed by human activities such as dog walking, walking, birdwatching, drones, model airplanes and kites. The birds perceive these to be predators and so the effect of this disturbance is great. Disturbing birds does more than simply causing them to fly away; it uses up their energy reserves, decreasing their chances of survival. Once disturbed, birds take a long time to settle and will remain alert for a long time afterwards. This means they cannot rest properly after a disturbance event. In the breeding season, disturbance often causes parents to leave their nests or young, exposing their eggs or chicks to the weather and to predators and reducing their chances of survival. The nesting birds here nest on the ground and because their nests and young are very well camouflaged, it is very easy for visitors to unintentionally disturb or damage them without being aware that they have done so. There isn’t a very long history of the marsh being used by the general public, as up until sand-winning ceased in 2006 , there was big dumper trucks to contend with during the day, putting off all but the keenest of folk. These large vehicles are now gone, but there are still continuing safety implications for people accessing the marsh. Warning signs are up to highlight the hazards of incoming tides, strong winds, soft mud and gullies. However tempting the landscape looks, visitors should stick to the waymarked route and always be mindful of high tide times, to avoid getting stranded or caught out by the sea. We can’t protect the landscape or wildlife of Marshside without your help. From the end of July 2019, we’re making some changes. Car parking charges will be introduced at Marshside for non-members. These will be as follows: Up to 2 hours – £1.50 Over 2 hours – £3 As a charity, we must maximise our opportunities to raise income wherever possible. This allows us to financially support our charitable purpose of conserving wildlife and habitats, while maintaining our visitor facilities and providing excellent, inspiring experiences for our visitors. The income generated through the car parking charges will contribute to the ongoing cost of running the facilities visitors use at Marshside, including reserve entry for all those arriving in that car and use of all visitor facilities (which includes the car park, visitor centre, toilets, trails and hides). It also supports the vital conservation work we carry out here to help wildlife. RSPB members will of course receive free car parking as a thank you for regularly supporting our nature conservation work – why not join the RSPB today and get free entry to all RSPB nature reserves. Additionally, from summer 2019, a gate will be installed at the entrance to the car park at Marshside. It will mean that the car park is locked of an evening, open during the visitor centre opening hours of 8.30am-5pm, 365 days a year. Unfortunately, we have anti-social behaviour taking place in the car park at night, including a large amount of littering, so we hope that by making the car park inaccessible outside of opening hours, we can discourage this. We appreciate that these hours are not always ideal for those wishing to visit the reserve in the early mornings and evenings. In future, we hope to be able to extend these hours if we can get some additional volunteer help in spring and summer, to support with locking up overnight. We are a small team here, so currently staffing this later is not practical. If you would be interested in becoming a car park attendant volunteer, helping on our conservation work parties, or becoming a guide in our hide, then we’d love to hear from you: Ribble.email@example.com Marshside by David Morris
Thanks to funding from Biffa Award , we are taking even more birds under our wing on the Ribble Estuary after recently purchasing Crossens Inner Marsh, a wet grassland area adjacent to Marshside. The marsh, which is already home to over-wintering birds such as wigeons , pink-footed geese , black-tailed godwits and golden plovers , covers an area about the size of 38 football pitches. Over £464,000 funding from Biffa Award enabled us to purchase the land recently and will also fund major improvements to the marsh, which will benefit rare and unusual wildlife including nesting lapwings , redshanks , and avocets – which are the emblem of the RSPB, along with brown hares . The habitat works, which will take place after the breeding season this summer, will also improve the control of water levels on the reserve helping to prevent prolonged flooding of the rare coastal grassland. Avocet by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com) Purchasing Crossens Inner Marsh is the final piece of the jigsaw for us, not only as an extension to our well known Marshside reserve, but also in the completion of the Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve (NNR) . We’re working in partnership here with Natural England who oversee England’s NNRs, which enables us to do more for nature by creating opportunities for bigger, better and more joined-up management of these vital wild spaces. Much of the wider Ribble Estuary is managed as England’s third largest NNR and is one of the Top 10 most important wetlands in the UK for the numbers of water birds that live here. Some have travelled thousands of miles from the north to spend the winter months, others choose the area in spring and summer to raise their families, whilst some live here all year round. Our new site at Crossens Inner Marsh, and indeed the whole of the Ribble Estuary NNR, is home to a range of incredible creatures that thrive in this harsh environment. In addition to sheltering birds and mammals from human disturbance, the site is stuffed with mini-beasts, which provide a feast for wetland birds. The marsh also benefits people, by reducing the flood risk from the sea to homes and businesses. Sadly, much of the coastal grassland in this country has been lost to human developments and it is further threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change, making this place crucial to protect. We’re so thankful to Biffa Award for the funding that has allowed us to purchase and improve Crossens Inner Marsh for nature and for people. Gillian French, Biffa Award Head of Grants, said: “It is really important that we continue to support projects like this which provide and enhance habitats for a wide range of species. We can’t wait to see even more birds using the site following the improvements.” We’re excited to see how this site blossoms for nature over the coming years. Map of Marshside showing the addition of Crossen Inner Marsh highlighted in yellow
The sun is shining and spring is well and truly here. Our marsh harriers (two males and four females) have been performing their sky dancing routines to impress each other for the breeding season. Keep your eyes peeled for them all around the reedbed.
The great crested grebes at Causeway Pool can be spotted weed dancing like they’re in the Strictly Come Dancing final. They’re so lovely to watch as they pass weeds and nesting material to one another.
Most exciting of all is the boom of the bittern which can be heard in the mornings and evenings (and sometimes bits in the day too). If you stand on the Causeway by the ‘Boom goes the bittern’ interpretation panel (very handy), you can hear him in the reeds across the other side of the Causeway Pool at Island Mere. He is distant but his voice is loud and carries well. He often takes three breaths before a sequence of eight-nine booms. It is the strangest, most spectacular sound of spring at Leighton Moss.
Bittern by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
The migrants are also rolling in. A huge flock of 200+ sand martins can be seen feeding on insects over the reedbed. You have to be quick to catch a photo as they zoom past but they are a joy to watch. Of an evening they are almost like a starling murmuration as they fly round en mass together, quite high above the reeds, catching insects. A sure sign of spring, we’re hoping they will take an interest in the sand martin bank at Tim Jackson hide that we installed last year.
Our Visitor Operations Manager Kevin was lucky to have the mother otter and her cubs running towards him on the Causeway this week! Always a delight to see, keep an eye out for them on the Causeway and Lower Pools.
Avocet numbers are now topping 50 so head to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides to watch these elegant birds that are the emblem of the RSPB. You will likely discover a huge flock of black-tailed godwits there too – looking fabulous in their rusty-red summer outfits.
With all of this and more to discover, new migrants like ospreys due in any day (and not forgetting it’s Mother’s Day, the perfect opportunity to treat your mum to a day wildlife watching and some cake in the cafe), we hope to see you soon!
With the incredibly exciting news that we have bitterns breeding again for the first time in a decade, our Site Manager Jarrod Sneyd recalls his lifelong passion for this iconic species here at Leighton Moss, and how we’ve made the recovery happen:
I did not think much about intervening in anything when I was a boy of 8 yrs old. I was just a bit obsessed by all things birds.
My parents ‘landed’ with their little caravan at Fell End Caravan Park, near Beetham, just a handful of minutes as the crow flies to Leighton Moss. My grandparents stayed in a posh hotel at Cartmel and we would come together as a family. As my gran was a life-fellow of the RSPB, and I had become a Young Ornithologist (now Wildlife Explorers), Leighton Moss would be an essential part of the holiday’s itinerary. My grandad and parents would just have to tag along (or sleep in the car as my granddad would often do!)
I remember the little reception hut (like a garden shed) that was located near the start of the path that now runs to our new boardwalk. There was a charismatic chap there with a flash of blonde hair and an energetic personality (which I realised later was John Wilson, the Senior Warden). He handed us our permits and we wandered along the narrow path, completely enclosed by reeds, to the Y.O.C hide (now Lilian’s hide). This was not simply a journey through reeds to a hide overlooking water and hopefully lots of birds though, it was full of anticipation, full of mystery..the obsession…the bird of the bog…the elusive, the secretive, the mythical…THE BITTERN!
I spent two hours in that hide with my gran, watching every reed to see if it would move. Despite seeing bitterns in bird books I couldn’t imagine how one would look for real. Then someone pointed one out…oh my goodness – where is it? I still couldn’t see it. I kept looking and looking but only had binoculars, and then a sympathetic ‘expert’ let me peer through his telescope. I couldn’t believe it – it was ‘star-pointing’ – stood with its bill straight up in the air, perfectly camouflaged, just in the reeds not far from the edge of the water – and it didn’t move an inch as I watched. I was so excited and have never forgotten this experience.
Ever since then, I have had a connection with Leighton Moss and bitterns – and the place and bird have had a well-known association for many years. It was the place to see bitterns in northern England and for a period, one of the best places in the country to spot them.
And so it was, with the loss of the reedbeds on which they depend, bitterns sadly declined nationally (at their lowest ebb in the 1990s when the population dropped to 11 males), Leighton remained a stronghold.
It continued to be a stronghold through all the years that I made return visits to Leighton Moss after my first bittern initiation. Then in 1990 I came to live on site for 12 months as a residential volunteer. It was still the place to be for bitterns and I remember doing a bittern boom count in the early hours of the day. My shift was one of many, meaning that as a team we counted the ‘boom sequences’ over a full 24 hour period (when a bittern booms, it does several in one go and that set up of booms is called a ‘boom sequence’). Below is an example of a bittern boom count.
The peak booming is just before it comes light and when I did the count it was similar to this one. Imagine that at 4.30am on a May morning – the place was alive with the sound of bitterns booming, so much so that it would be almost impossible to have time to write down the boom sequences. In this case there were 27 booms in a 15 minute period – that’s a bird booming every 30 seconds!
It was in 1990 that we also caught ‘Phil the bittern’. Glen Tyler, researcher extraordinare (in the image below), banged on the door of the volunteers accommodation one day. He had spent many months figuring out how to catch a bittern and finally, there he was, with a bittern! He needed help to weigh, ring and radio-tag the bird, so in a panic I rushed out to help. The radio-tag meant we could follow it around (we did for many months), working out its favourite places. My relationship with bitterns became even more intimate!
Glen Tyler, bittern researcher, with ‘Phil’the bittern’
After that year, as I headed off on my career in conservation (Symonds Yat, Highnam Woods, the Farne Islands…) I didn’t imagine that I too would become a bittern researcher. Then in 1997 I came back to Leighton Moss to do just that.I located bittern territories and found a nest.
Below is one of the less than technical maps I produced, showing that even then there were three booming bitterns at Leighton Moss and it remained a stronghold, with only 11 left in the country. I became so obsessed that I stayed put for another seven years. I transitioned into the role of Assistant Warden and my personal journey with Leighton and bitterns was almost complete.
And so, back to the question, to intervene or not intervene? Well, after being a stronghold for so long, bitterns sadly declined at Leighton Moss, to the point that from 2003 onwards, there was just a single bird booming and even then, for many years, it just did a half-hearted boom at the beginning of the season and then just gave up. But thanks to conservation efforts, bitterns were actually starting to do well nationally (166 boomers last year), so what was the problem at Leighton? The reedbed was getting old and drier with the year on year build-up of reed litter. The water bodies were becoming shallower with a build-up of silt and there were issues around water quality.
So, why decide to make some big interventions? Why for just one booming bird? That one bird is the reason that Leighton Moss is a European Designated Special Protection Area ,so we have an obligation to make sure it is in good condition for bitterns and to hopefully keep them breeding. Reedbed is also an extremely scarce habitat in north west England (and indeed throughout the UK). Having bitterns is a great indication that you’ve got a good, healthy reedbed, that’s also home to many other reedbed specialists and a variety of more generalist wildlife too. Some might have argued to just let Leighton do its own thing, let nature take its course. It would have become drier and scrubbed over, becoming wet woodland. In a natural landscape without sea walls, embanked rivers and lots of artificial drainage, reedbeds would come and go – aging here, appearing there. But we live in man-made landscapes, reedbeds can’t come and go, so we need to cherish the jewels that remain!
Maintaining Leighton Moss as a high quality reedbed for bitterns called for radical action! We decided to go on a journey of removing silt from the pools and ditches to take the reedbed back in time. It was getting old and as bitterns like young reedbed, in the earlier stages of development, we needed to dig it out in places. This technique had worked well at Minsmere in Suffolk and had transformed an ailing bittern population (down to just one booming male) to around 10 males there.
Unfortunately, Leighton was an altogether different ball game! Different ground conditions, different reed condition. Though the silt removal from the pools worked well to improve the water quality and restore fish populations, the areas we excavated to revitalise the reedbed just ended up as gloopy mud. Also, though there were some small signs of reedbed spread, it was also clear that a growing red deer population was impacting on any potential recovery as they were also causing considerable damage elsewhere in the reedbed.
And so, we put in an additional water control structure at Leighton Moss so that we could drain down half the reedbed, the idea being that the muddy, gloopy areas would dry out, the surface of the reedbed would be aerated and stabilise, and suitable conditions for plant colonisation would be created in the excavated areas. We also started to manage deer. Leighton Moss being the only place in the Arnside and Silverdale AONB where there was no form of deer management meant it had become a focal point for the red deer of the area, disproportionately increasing the impact of their damage to the reedbed.
It has been a long-winded story – a blog with many branches! But look below and see the recovery of the excavated areas. All the vegetation starting to take hold in the bottom images. Then imagine what it’s like, after all those years of trying new things, trying controversial things (but knowing that if you don’t do anything, bittern demise is near certain), when a bittern starts to boom properly again and for the first time in a decade we have a female bittern nesting (and near the excavated areas and in part of the reedbed we dried out for several years!!!!!)
As a little boy of 8, marveling at this mythical bird, I was able to see one on my first visit. That’s not been the case as I hit my 40s – whilst we have alwas had regu;ar bitterns through the winter, sightings in recent summer months have been few and far between. This summer, there have been many sightings from the Causeway hide as the female flies backwards and forwards on feeding flights – taking food to her chicks. It has been a long road to recovery, but we are making the first steps. We need to keep intervening, we need to keep Leighton Moss dynamic. It wouldn’t be the special place it is without doing it, for bitterns and for all wildlife here. For me the answer to the original question, is without doubt, ‘To intervene’.
What’s your favourite season? In this week’s guest blog, our Visitor Operations Manager Kevin Kelly explains why he loves this time of year…..
Autumn is an incredible time for bird migration. The numbers involved are far greater than spring, due to this year’s young joining in on the arduous journey. That is not the only incredible part though. There is also the sheer wonderment that these juvenile birds, are almost pre-programmed to navigate to their winter home.
Later this week I will also be partly migrating. I will be heading north to a gem of an island on the same latitude as parts of Norway. The island of Fair Isle, out on its own in the sea between mainland Shetland to the North and Orkney to the South. It is for the very reason above that I will be making that journey – bird migration.
Late September and through October is an exciting time of year in the calendar for someone interested in birds. Waves of southbound geese begin their movement, accompanied by thousands of winter thrushes. An almost daily conveyer belt of birds pass over Fair Isle, with many making landfall to refuel and rest before ambling south.
One of my highlights of this autumn spectacle is the change in sounds. The distinctive calls of pink-footed geese as they fly in formation, giving way to the high pitched “Tseeep” of redwings as they make their way to our gardens, parks and nature reserves for the coming winter months. A harsh “chatter” of fieldfare contrasting with the gentle “tssit” of the tiny goldcrests. Nature’s musical in full swing.
Fast forward a few weeks and I will be heading south to the Isles of Scilly to witness more migration in action and witness the contrasts and similarities in species involved. This time of year often brings species caught up in the wrong winds, either sent over the Atlantic by strong westerly winds, or pushed across from the east from places like Siberia to the UK. Bushes and trees can be alive with hundreds of goldcrests, chiffchaffs and small numbers of rarer warblers such as the diminutive yellow-browed warbler with its distinct “Tseeweep” call.
Spot the yellow browed warbler by Kevin Kelly
Autumn has been good so far at Leighton Moss, with the best mix being found on the saltmarsh at the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. The pools have been awash with wading birds. Up to five avocets have been joined by 90 plus little egrets, 26 greenshanks and four spotted redshanks. Other sightings have included little stints, and over one thousand black-tailed godwits too. In the reedbed, otter sightings have been great at the Causeway hide as well as regular calling bearded tits, getting ready to start visiting our grit trays later this month. A single marsh harrier has been keeping an eye on the daily increasing numbers of wintering ducks, with pintails, shovelers and teals starting to grow in numbers. The next few weeks should see a wave of migrants passing through with many stopping here for the winter, the change in sounds will soon become evident as autumn builds through the coming months to its musical crescendo.
If you would like to learn more about the sights and sounds of autumn, why not join us for a Birdwatching for Beginners walk? Details here.
This week, our Site Manager (and Legolas of Leighton Moss) Jarrod Sneyd gives his thoughts on the magic of meadows and an exciting area in development at Leighton Moss….
I can imagine Bilbo Baggins, with his hairy feet, dancing through the meadows of the Shire. What I’m less sure of is whether hobbits kept cows or other livestock. These are, of course, essential for a traditional meadow and clearly for a pasture. So, I suspect there were cows in Middle Earth, but perhaps they were miniature ones?!
Were there cows in the Shire? (Image by J.Sneyd)
In my last blog I asked what a meadow is. Today I start by referring to a wonderful book by George Peterken aptly named – Meadows (British Wildlife Publishing, 2013). Of course, all you social media enthusiasts probably ‘Googled’ it in an instant. We should trust the old naturalists (the wizards of the wild!) more than our computers, though I would say that as I live in a Middle Earth kind of world! So, what does the wise naturalist say?
Well, Peterken says that “Meadows are grasslands that are mown for hay, which means they must be ‘shut up’ in spring and allowed to grow without grazing by animals until they are cut in summer.” It’s only after the grass has been cut for hay that animals are put onto the field and can graze. As they graze the vegetation after it’s been cut – it’s often referred to as a’ftermath grazing’.
A pasture is different in that it can remain available for grazing right through the year. So, a bit of grassland, depending on how you want to manage it, could be termed a ‘meadow’ or a ‘pasture’.
This is a flower rich pasture with common spotted orchids amongst many flowers at Gait Barrows, not far from Leighton Moss. This was being grazed by the cow above (it had some friends to help too) in the period that would normally be ‘closed’ if it was technically to be a meadow. (Image by J.Sneyd)
Really, regardless of whether an area of grassland is a meadow or a lightly grazed pasture, Site Managers and Wardens alike, want to have fields full of flowers and lots of insects.
We have just leased a new field near the visitor centre (alongside the new path to the boardwalk). It hasn’t been managed specifically for wildlife for a while – and now we want make sure it’s got more flowers and insects.
And here’s where the magic that Gandalf would love comes in – though perhaps not with quite the same thunderbolt effect….!
Yellow rattle by D.Mower
If we take a field that’s got more grass (and just a few species of grass at that) and turn it into one with more species and lots of flowers… then the plant I showed in my last blog… yellow rattle (above), can help provide that little bit of magic. Yellow rattle (or hay rattle as it’s often called) parasitizes grasses – it takes nutrients from them – and so can often result in the grass not growing as tall or as densely. This helps to provide the conditions that allow other plants (that are normally ‘fighting’ for space to grow), to compete with the grass…..
…….and so begins the Battle for ‘Fieldor’. Wonder what Tolkien would have made of that?
Hopefully, in a future blog we’ll be able to show how school children and hay rattle can start our big adventure and just how together we can make it happen …………
The field at the edge of the reedbed ….. wait and watch (it’ll take a few years) Image by J.Sneyd
Mornings are a magical time to get out and about exploring nature before work. Here, our Membership Recruitment Manager Anya Kuliszewski explains why she loves to do just that…. During my time working and volunteering for the RSPB, I have been lucky enough to visit many of the fantastic nature reserves we have in the north of England. You would think I spend a lot of my time out and about but I can normally be found in the visitor centre. I love to chat to visitors about the important work we do and all the latest wildlife sightings, but I do try and explore as much as I can too – this means I often come down to Leighton Moss in the morning before work. I love the reserve early in the morning. I usually head down to the Causeway and Lower hides. I regularly spot the family of otters hunting for breakfast. At the moment the three young otter cubs have been delighting visitors throughout the whole day. They are often fishing with their mother and it’s great fun to watch them splashing around. As otters can stay under water for over four minutes, it’s always entertaining to see where they are going to pop up next, often sending flocks of ducks into panic! Mornings are also a great time to spot some of the more secretive resident that call Leighton Moss home – water rails and bitterns . Could you get a better spot to have breakfast? The path down to Lower hide is one of my favourite spots on the reserve. At the moment it’s fantastic for a range of small birds with regular sightings of marsh tits and even the elusive bearded tit. We are starting to have regular sightings of our iconic bearded tits. Throughout the whole of October they will be visiting the grit trays on the Causeway. It’s always worth listening out for them when you are walking down our new boardwalk too. Their metallic pinging is really distinctive, if you hear it then just stand still and they may pop across the path in front of you! Over the past few days marsh harriers have once again been seen quartering over the reserve. Lots of these birds will migrate down to Africa but we are lucky and a few usually stick around through the winter – fingers crossed! One of the highlights at Leighton Moss at the moment are definitely the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. At this time of year we get clouds of wading birds over the saltmarsh. My personal favourite is the dunlin . They are small, gorgeous silvery wading birds that flock together on the pools throughout winter. I love watching them move with such synchronicity – merlin often disturb them, sending them swirling up into the air. With the stunning backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the wading birds here are one of the most fantastic wildlife spectacles in the UK. Dunlin flock (rspb-images.com) Starlings are another star species that call Leighton Moss home through the autumn. We are starting to get flocks of local birds creating mini-murmurations above the saltmarsh. Let’s hope we get a big influx of starlings from Europe to create those fantastic displays! Keep an eye on future blogs, we will keep you posted! Starling in the reeds by Ged Gill If you’re new to birdwatching and want to learn more about identifying our feathered friends, why not come along to one of our Birdwatching for Beginners events this autumn – details here
Last weekend was my final one as Visitor Experience Manager at Leighton Moss for a while. I am excited to have taken up a secondment in the role of Communications Manager, based in the RSPB Lancaster office. My new job involves supporting RSPB reserves in the North West (including Leighton Moss) so I will still be here about one day a month. Having been a visitor to the reserve for the past 20 years, and having worked here for the last 7.5 years, Leighton Moss is a place very close to my heart. There are lots of elements that make it such as special place to be, but for me the three key things are the wonderful wildlife, the stunning setting and the amazing people – staff, volunteers and visitors alike. During my time as a member of staff here, I have been privileged to be within five feet of a bittern (I didn’t even breathe, never mind move!), have half a dozen water rails running round my feet, release a swift back into the skies, hold a tiny goldcrest in the palm of my hand and count thousands of small, glass eels (each one only a few centimetres long) as they arrived into Morecambe Bay from their incredible journey across the Atlantic ocean. These and many more unbelievable memories, I will treasure forever. The staff and volunteers I have worked alongside are the most dedicated, enthusiastic bunch of people you could ever wish to meet. Regardless of their role or background, the one thing that they all have in common is a passionate desire to save nature and connect people to it. I have met thousands of visitors during my time here too, and it has been a pleasure to meet you all – to share my enthusiasm for the reserve with you, and to hear all about yours. I will never forget a 10 year old boy who told me the difference between a marsh tit and a willow tit when I first started working here, or the teenager who arrived with a surly face and left absolutely buzzing from seeing an otter. I will not be gone forever, it is just time for a new challenge for a while. I will no doubt see many of you when I visit at weekends (I will need my Leighton Moss fix!) Our fabulous Visitor Experience Intern Sophie will be keeping you updated on all the latest sightings, and when my replacement starts, they will too. Enjoy the coming seasons and the riches of nature that they bring. Don’t forget there’s a whole host of exciting events coming up to help you discover more. See you soon! Annabel
Thanks to Visitor Experience Intern Sophie for this week’s recent sightings blog….. With the days getting lighter, brighter and longer we’ve had all sorts of signs of springtime activity here at Leighton moss, including butterflies on the boardwalk! Both peacock and brimstone butterflies have been spotted this week. You might not know but the RSPB helps give butterflies a home all across the surrounding area. A great site to stretch your legs and test your identification skills is Warton Crag , home to rare species such as the Northern brown argus and high brown fritillary . Warton Crag is also home to nesting peregrines as well as willow warblers and blackcaps which will all be returning there over the coming few weeks. We work in partnership with other organisations – Lancashire Wildlife Trust , Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty , Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council to ensure this special place for nature is looked after. Come and find us in the visitor centre at Leighton moss if you’d like to find out more about what we do in the wider area and where you can go butterfly spotting – there’s lots of fantastic sites in this area of outstanding natural beauty! Brimstone butterfly by Mike Malpass If you peer over the edge of the boardwalk in the next few weeks you might find some frog spawn in the water. It’s breeding season for frogs , toads and newts and our pools have been alive with action. If you go out after dark you might find them wandering the streets in the night looking for potential mates – be careful not to squish them, you may need to give them a helping hand to get safely across. Sadly some amphibians and butterflies are part of the 60% of British species found in the State of Nature report to be in decline in the UK, but fortunately there’s lots of ways you can help them in your back garden. If you would like ideas of how you can attract wildlife such as butterflies and frogs to your backyard, then come and explore our sensory garden, a haven for wildlife, full of ideas of how you can give nature a home. You can also check out our website and order your free guide to giving nature a home. In the garden this week we’ve had fantastic views of a tiny goldcrest flitting about amongst the branches in the treetops. The bird feeders never fail to disappoint, with regular visits from birds such as nuthatches , great spotted woodpeckers , bullfinches , marsh tits and jays . As the days start to warm, expect to see bees visiting the flower patches – why not see how many different species you can find . The signs of spring continue with the arrival of one of our first migrants – a sand martin has been spotted from Grisedale hide. This small and beautiful bird will have migrated here from its wintering grounds in Africa in order to breed here in the UK. The numbers will build up over the coming weeks and you’ll see large flocks of them catching insects above the reeds in the evenings. The marvellous marsh harriers are keeping up their wonderful aerial displays as they continue to skydance this week. They have also been spotted collecting nesting materials, a really positive sign that we’ll have them breeding here at Leighton moss again this year! Joining the spring action, the lapwings have been seen doing courtship displays. The males fly up into the sky performing dramatic swoops and dives, making their characteristic mating calls. The Tim Jackson hide has been a great spot to see and hear these wonderful rituals. Lapwing by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com) A green sandpiper has been spotted on the small island which you can see directly in front of the Causeway hide. After spending the winter in warmer climes, it’s most likely this charismatic little bird is on its way to breeding grounds in the subarctic. An amazing fact about the green sandpiper is that unlike other wading birds which nest on the ground, it actually nests in trees, re-using the old nests of other species such as woodpigeons and thrushes. As some of you may be aware, last week we had sightings of two bitterns . I was fortunate to see them on Friday evening at 6.30 pm along the Causeway – a fantastic end of my first week volunteering here at Leighton Moss! Just as the sun was setting, two bitterns took to the skies, circling high above the reedbed. As the pair circled the reserve they were doing what is called ‘gull-calling’, where they make a sound similar to that of a gull whilst in flight. This is thought to be a pre-migratory behaviour, so it could be that this pair is getting ready to make a move and leave the Moss. On Tuesday they were heard but not seen!. Flying much later than the week before, at approximately 7.10 pm, when the reserve was in total darkness and even the most patient of wildlife watchers had given up hope, a bittern was heard gull-calling as it circled the reedbed. On Thursday night this week, not one, not two, not three, but FOUR gull-calling bitterns were seen and heard on the Causeway. If you are planning to make a trip to hear the bittern gull-calling (we predict tonight will be a good night), keep your ears open for the calls of woodcock and the squealing of water rails . You might even see a barn owl swooping over the reeds. We’re all on tenterhooks to see what the bitterns will do next, will they stay or will they go, keep an eye on our recent sightings blog or pop down to the reserve to stay updated. With Easter weekend coming up we hope to see you on the reserve, come and enjoy this magical time of year at Leighton Moss. Over the holidays we have lots of events both for adults and families, so click here to find fun activities for you. And finally just a reminder of some important information: Due to essential work to improve the paths to Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, the saltmarsh car park, paths and hides themselves are closed from Monday 14-Thursday 24 March. The work will be completed in time for the Easter bank holiday weekend. The rest of the reserve, visitor centre and main car park are open as normal. The footpath to Jenny Brown’s point is still accessible. Also, the shop will be closed for our end of year stocktake from 3 pm onwards on Wednesday 23 March. Visitors can still collect maps and reserve passes from the welcome desk and access the reserve. The cafe is open as normal. The shop will re-open Thursday 24 March as normal at 9.30 am. We apologise for the inconvenience.
Last week we said a fond farewell to Lizzy, our Visitor Experience Intern. So that means it is time to say a big welcome to our new one! Introducing Sophie King and her first blog…………………….. There’s been a new sighting here at Leighton Moss – and it’s me! I am the new Visitor Experience Intern replacing the wonderful Lizzy who is just starting her new job on the RSPB Manchester Peregrine Project . I’m not that new to Leighton Moss, many of you may recognise me from my previous role at the Welcome Desk, where I volunteered while studying for my MSc in Conservation and Ecology at nearby Lancaster University. However, I have just taken on the new challenge in this full-time role. Sophie has arrived by Annabel Rushton Prior to starting at Leighton Moss I took some time out for a little jaunt in Asia. You may not know but the RSPB is one of the leading partners involved in SAVE ; Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction. Fifteen years ago there were millions and now they’re nowhere to be found. Three species of South Asia’s vultures have decline by 97% and one the species by 99.9% which are unprecedented levels of decline. This shocking decline is down to the veterinary drug diclofenac , toxic to any vulture that feeds on the carcass of cattle that have recently been treated with it. Despite being banned for veterinary use it continues to be sold and used illegally today. The RSPB and partners are working in a number of ways to save Asia’s vultures, including the creation of captive breeding centres to maintain the population. Safe feeding zones or ‘vulture restaurants’ have also been established, where there is a regular supply of diclofenac -free carcasses for the hungry vultures! And perhaps most importantly the formation of education programmes to help stop the use of the vulture killing chemical. Here at Leighton Moss we may not have vultures, but we do have a large bird of prey and conservation success story – the marsh harrier ! In 1971 the marsh harrier’s numbers were at an all time low, with only one breeding pair in Britain. Their numbers declined due to drainage of reedbeds which are their breeding habitat, and unfortunately as with many other birds of prey, they suffered from persecution. However, due to the fantastic work of charities such as the RSPB creating new areas of reedbed there are now around 400 breeding females in Britain. This is just one of the many success stories of the RSPB which would not have been possible without the support of our members. We have had marsh harriers successfully breeding with us here at Leighton Moss since 1987. Nesting is due to start in April, and over the past few weeks the males have been observed skydancing above the pools! This is an incredible spring spectacle where the male marsh harriers produce dramatic flight displays in the hopes of attracting a female. If you want to see this magical moment then come down to the reserve before early April when the displays tend to cool off and nesting begins. With 3 nests in 2015 and 6 successfully fledged young, 2016 promises to be another good year for the marsh harriers here at Leighton Moss. Marsh harriers high by Ben a (rspb-images.com) The next couple of months here at Leighton Moss will be just as glorious as we come out of the winter months and into spring. Already we have heard the bittern booming and the avocets are arriving down at the saltmarshes. I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of 12 avocets from the Eric Morecambe hide just yesterday as the sun was setting across Morecambe Bay. If you would like to find out more about our spring visitors then why not join us for an Avocet Amble , a series of guided walks in April to our hides down at Morecambe Bay. The reedbed is ready to spring into life and change from a beautiful sea of golden reed into a green forest ,with the reeds towering overhead reaching an astonishing 7-8ft over water level! I for one am excited to see the reeds flourishing around our new boardwalk, a path which winds through the reedbed, home to Cetti’s warblers and reed buntings , soon to be joined by reed and sedge warblers . In the next couple of weeks I’ll have two more interns joining me, but while I’ll be focussed on all things visitor experience, they’ll be joining the wardening team and getting involved in the practical habitat management which is so important on our reserves. One of the real treats of our roles is that we get to live here, on-site at the reserve. Who else can say that they have Leighton moss as their back garden? If you are interested in the RSPB’s internships either here at Leighton Moss or at any of our other reserves, as well as lots of other volunteering opportunities, more information can be found on our website . See you soon – Sophie IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Due to essential work to improve the paths to Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, the saltmarsh car park, paths and hides themselves will be closed from Monday 14-Thursday 24 March. The work will be completed in time for the Easter bank holiday weekend. The rest of the reserve, visitor centre and main car park are open as normal. The footpath to Jenny Brown’s point is still accessible.