Author: Steven W

Signs of the Times & Recent Sightings

Even as frost leaves its hard edges on our land our snowdrops are once again in flower, many of our birds singing, displaying and mating and spring is approaching with each lengthening day. The pace of nature’s progress follows a complex logic that is of great interest to scientists, some follow the changing day lengths, others react to changing temperatures or perhaps to cues regarding the maturation and or profusion of other organisms on their annual path to abundance.  The science of this study is known as phenology, a word routed on the Latin word for appearance which also forms the word phenomena.  Phenology is central to debates about global warming and the potential changes it may have on the natural world. 

Snowdrops by Mike Malpass

Bird behaviour is known to respond to light levels for birds, in the battle to conserve weight for flight, have only vestigial gonads over winter, but now, enslaved by hormones they entertain us with their display behaviour and jealous conflicts, chasing around the canopy in uneasy threes.  Although day and night follow the more fixed celestial progress of the sun and earth that is immune to human artifice, the prevalence of street lighting is thought to be encouraging birds such as robins and blackbirds to sing earlier than they used to.

By contrast the arrival of plants respond to temperature changes and spring seems to be arriving earlier by the year.   An increase in temperature from minus one to plus one can push the world from a frozen dormancy to a fluid responsiveness, a more significant change than a two degree rise within the profound solidity of winter and so ‘equal’ changes of temperature are far from equal in effect and the importance of each change must be reckoned and weighed by science.  By statistical methods we may try to predict the future although the reason that knots this thread of this logic may be even harder to understand.

As our world changes it is sure that the annual cycles of entwined organisms will be re-ordered or broken and there will be winners and losers. An early flower may die in the frost, an early bird may arrive to find no worm.  Whatever unfathomably complex cocktail of physiology is mixed in the natural world, humanity, as contributor to spring’s progressively early arrival, must try to account for because there is no question that spring is arriving earlier and earlier in our land.  Some of this data comes from the contributions of amateurs who submit their sightings to such “citizen science” projects as the Nature’s Calendar project, whose website and surveys will be sure also to connect people with the nuances and beauty of our seasons.

Whatever the subtleties of these changes many of us love watching the annual cascade of species that play across the land is a pleasure that all of us should enjoy.

Words by Andrew Francis, our residential warden, with his thoughts on the season.

Other Wildlife Highlights this week…

Wildlife around the reserve of late has been responding to the increasing signs of early spring with the first blackbirds starting to sing, the snowdrops in full flower and dunnocks in the hedges beating up their closest rivals. A highlight of the week included 16 avocets that dropped in at the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides for a short time before moving on. 11 avocets were back on the pools on Friday 23 following a few days absence. Many other birds are soon to be arriving back such as sand martins , chiffchaffs and wheatears. Others are currently settling back in, such as the black-headed gulls that have appeared in growing numbers from Causeway Hide and on Lillian’s pool.

Great crested grebe by Richard Cousens

Although still or partially in winter plumage, a pair of great crested grebes were observed practicing their courtship ritual, spotted from the Causeway Hide in the last few days. Similar to last spring, bitterns have been tantalising us this week. Following the occasional sightings by visitors and staff, we would expect any male bittern in the area to start what is often referred to as ‘tuning up’. Bitterns are perhaps best known for their deep booming call that they make when holding territory which is very powerful and resonant. ‘Tuning up’ could perhaps be referred to as a bittern clearing its throat and declaring its intention to other potential bitterns without committing. Rather than the deep boom they make a series of low key but audible deep but short vocalisations during early spring after dusk or indeed at any time of night. If you are so inclined to stand around in the dark, the causeway is the best place to help us listen out for any bittern activity. You will be surprised how different each night can be with some providing a still ambiance gently broken by the sound of wildfowl to nights where the sounds of  teal and wigeon fill the night air, making hearing anything else a little more challenging.

Marsh Harrier by Mike Malpass

Back on daylight hours, there are at least four marsh harriers, including one male and a green wing-tagged juvenile, all becoming increasingly active, particularly to the north of the reserve. We would be grateful to anyone who can tell us the identification markings on the green wing tags so we can find out if this is the same or a different bird reported earlier in the season. The tags indicate that this marsh harrier is one of four young birds that fledged from a nest on the Norfolk/Suffolk border!

Starlings murmurating at Leighton Moss

Superb numbers of shoveler, wigeon, teal and in excess of 50 mute swans have been present on the reserve; the bulk of wildfowl is best observed from the Causeway Hide. The starlings remain on top form with estimates ranging from 30-60,000 murmurating and roosting within close range of the causeway. The best time to see them is from around 5:20pm although they vary with the conditions on the day. With the size of the roost decreasing now is the perfect time to visit before this spectacle is over for another year. Snipe on the reserve have been a highlight for many visitors this week and you may even see them flying around during the day. Red deer have been putting in appearances around the reserve along with daily otter sightings, even the first bats of the year have been active on milder evenings; with so much wildlife activity on offer you are sure of a great visit.

We hope to see you soon.

Steven and Andy

Icy otters and other recent sightings

Boardwalk by Steven Williams

Water rail by Paul Williams

With parts of the country under a blanket of snow the winter temperatures have dropped to freezing and most of the pools, with the exception of the far north of the reserve, became iced over. Otters were observed treading on the ice, ducks have been gingerly sliding around and the frozen conditions have pushed out water rails in search of soft muddy spots to feed. A walk to Grisedale and Tim Jackson Hide usually rewards sightings of them walking bold as brass to the side of the paths.All of the paths are open and the water levels have now subsided. The boardwalk and Sky Tower have thawed out and are open as usual after being temporarily closed for safety reasons. Please be prepared for all conditions and wrap up warm!

Otter on ice by Mike Malpass

A handful of bittern sightings have been reported from Causeway Hide and Lower Hide; these are the best places to chance your luck. After a brief dusting of snow and some icy air temperatures, the good news is that the next few days are forecast to bring milder conditions. Hungry robins are very active and may even pop onto an open hide window, cheekily hoping for handouts.

Pond at Leighton Moss by Steven Williams

Bittern by Alan Saunders

Listen for the ‘ping-ping’ sound of bearded tits, they are being heard often from the boardwalk and causeway. Look out for reed buntings and woodland birds such as marsh tits, treecreepers and nuthatches on your next visit. With the winter conditions moving most of the wildfowl to the north of the reserve, ducks are best observed from Lower Hide where shoveler, gadwall, wigeon and teal are the most numerous. Keep an eye out for goldeneye, pintail and tufted duck amongst them. Pintail in particular are great to see. These very elegant ducks are only here for the winter.

Pintail by Ben Hall

You may have a chance encounter with a peregrine falcon or sparrowhawk anywhere on the reserve. Several reports of peregrines and the occasional merlin are noted in our sightings book. These falcons typically roam widely at this time of year in search of food. Marsh harrier sightings continue to be made around the reserve with at least two birds present. Their habit of cruising over a winter reedbed and spooking the ducks is certainly a fabulous seasonal highlight.

A visit to Grisedale Hide can be good for snipe where the occasional great egret may also be encountered. See if you can spot the pair of stonechats that have taken up temporary residence here too! All three of our increasingly regular egret species are still here including ongoing reports of cattle egret. Starling numbers have increased to around 30,000 although they have chosen to roost away from the reserve for the past few nights. For the latest please refer to Twitter or call the visitor center. With starling activity changing by the day we will bring you the latest news over the coming weeks.

School visit by Lucy Hunt

Before the freeze, we had lots of water on the reserve but that didn’t deter the children from one local school from taking a paddle on the wild side!

Twenty splash-suited and Welly-booted children from the Lancaster Steiner School and Storth Primary School ventured out on the flooded paths of Leighton Moss this week exploring the watery world and seeing wildlife up close. The sun shone on the ice-topped pools and frosty leaves and the children really got to experience nature at this special time of year. Great fun, fresh air and a few soggy socks.

Class teacher, Angela Welbourne, said ‘It couldn’t have been better. We loved it!’

If you and your class would like to visit Leighton Moss at any time of year, please contact Carol Bamber, Learning Officer for a memorable out-of-classroom experience – carol.bamber@rspb.org.uk or 01254 703015

 

Icy otters and other recent sightings

Boardwalk by Steven Williams

Water rail by Paul Williams

With parts of the country under a blanket of snow the winter temperatures have dropped to freezing and most of the pools, with the exception of the far north of the reserve, became iced over. Otters were observed treading on the ice, ducks have been gingerly sliding around and the frozen conditions have pushed out water rails in search of soft muddy spots to feed. A walk to Grisedale and Tim Jackson Hide usually rewards sightings of them walking bold as brass to the side of the paths.All of the paths are open and the water levels have now subsided. The boardwalk and Sky Tower have thawed out and are open as usual after being temporarily closed for safety reasons. Please be prepared for all conditions and wrap up warm!

Otter on ice by Mike Malpass

A handful of bittern sightings have been reported from Causeway Hide and Lower Hide; these are the best places to chance your luck. After a brief dusting of snow and some icy air temperatures, the good news is that the next few days are forecast to bring milder conditions. Hungry robins are very active and may even pop onto an open hide window, cheekily hoping for handouts.

Pond at Leighton Moss by Steven Williams

Bittern by Alan Saunders

Listen for the ‘ping-ping’ sound of bearded tits, they are being heard often from the boardwalk and causeway. Look out for reed buntings and woodland birds such as marsh tits, treecreepers and nuthatches on your next visit. With the winter conditions moving most of the wildfowl to the north of the reserve, ducks are best observed from Lower Hide where shoveler, gadwall, wigeon and teal are the most numerous. Keep an eye out for goldeneye, pintail and tufted duck amongst them. Pintail in particular are great to see. These very elegant ducks are only here for the winter.

Pintail by Ben Hall

You may have a chance encounter with a peregrine falcon or sparrowhawk anywhere on the reserve. Several reports of peregrines and the occasional merlin are noted in our sightings book. These falcons typically roam widely at this time of year in search of food. Marsh harrier sightings continue to be made around the reserve with at least two birds present. Their habit of cruising over a winter reedbed and spooking the ducks is certainly a fabulous seasonal highlight.

A visit to Grisedale Hide can be good for snipe where the occasional great egret may also be encountered. See if you can spot the pair of stonechats that have taken up temporary residence here too! All three of our increasingly regular egret species are still here including ongoing reports of cattle egret. Starling numbers have increased to around 30,000 although they have chosen to roost away from the reserve for the past few nights. For the latest please refer to Twitter or call the visitor center. With starling activity changing by the day we will bring you the latest news over the coming weeks.

School visit by Lucy Hunt

Before the freeze, we had lots of water on the reserve but that didn’t deter the children from one local school from taking a paddle on the wild side!

Twenty splash-suited and Welly-booted children from the Lancaster Steiner School and Storth Primary School ventured out on the flooded paths of Leighton Moss this week exploring the watery world and seeing wildlife up close. The sun shone on the ice-topped pools and frosty leaves and the children really got to experience nature at this special time of year. Great fun, fresh air and a few soggy socks.

Class teacher, Angela Welbourne, said ‘It couldn’t have been better. We loved it!’

If you and your class would like to visit Leighton Moss at any time of year, please contact Carol Bamber, Learning Officer for a memorable out-of-classroom experience – carol.bamber@rspb.org.uk or 01254 703015

 

Super starlings build at Leighton Moss

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Please be aware that since the flooding earlier this week that many of the paths at Leighton Moss are currently under some water. The hides are accessible with wellies – there’s still plenty to see and wading through the water can be great fun!  

The winter scenery at Leighton Moss is well underway with blackbirds and dunnocks searching the wet ground for food and calling from the brush piles surrounded by the earthy brown firmament of rich hummus textures and decaying leaves. Fieldfare and redwing have been foraging in the orchard and hedges around the car park. The water levels were looking good all week, with a drop encouraging great numbers of gadwall, shovelers, teal, wigeon and pintail onto the Causeway Pool. The recent rainfall has put most of the reserve paths back under water to varying degrees with wellies advised for access around most of the reserve including the path to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. Please refer to twitter for the latest updates on accessibility.

Fieldfare by Richard Cousens

During the dry evenings starling murmurations have been building with the best part of 20,000 birds providing an impressive, if often short-lived spectacle. They are currently roosting in the reeds at Barrow Scout, our recently created reedbed site. For the best views of the starlings head down to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides car park and park there (there is strictly NO parking along the access track to the car park). Either walk back along the track towards the road where you can get great views of them going to roosting in the reeds, or stand on the path towards the hides where they will often come overhead!

Starling flock by Jacqui Fereday

Pop in to the visitor centre for a map if you need further assistance and info about the roosting starlings. Always look out for peregrines and sparrowhawks taking the chance of an easy meal. The best time to see the starlings coming to roost is currently about half an hour before dusk. Look for murmurations building from around 3.50pm. The Sky Tower provides a great vantage point from which to watch the flocks streaming across the reserve reed beds. 

Bearded tits seem to have had a record year for numbers recorded on the grit trays; the population on the reserve stands at one of the highest since John Wilson, the former first reserve warden, started recording their numbers. They also continued to be seen on the grit trays later in the season than previous years. The occasional one may still be encountered topping up on grit but this particular reserve highlight is now over for another year.

Three cattle egrets appear to have taken up residence again in the cattle fields adjacent to the reserve, often viewed on the approach to the reserve from Storrs Lane, as they did in spring. Four great egret are in the area with at least two using the reserve down at the Allen Pool and from Grisedale Hide.

Female greenfinch by Mike Malpass

The occasional brambling has complemented the gatherings of chaffinch and greenfinch together with reed buntings, best looked for to the left of the path to the Allen hide where the wardens have opened up the grassland area. On good days this is a really good spot to watch finch flocks, a more understated seasonal spectacle. On the pools themselves are a range of duck including wigeon and shelduck together with a small number of waders.

Back on the reserve a pair of stonechats have been noted on several occasions from Grisedale. Good reports of snipe are another winter wader to look out for. Bittern reports are still infrequent but increasing and the high water levels have pushed water rails out from cover where they have become rather conspicuous.

Don’t forget we have an Optics Open Weekend, 10am-4pm this Saturday and Sunday (25-26 November). Drop-in for free end impartial advice on a range of optics including the opportunity to test our entire optics range for yourself.