Author: Jon C

Swift Departure and Recent Sightings…

 I think it’s fair to say that we’ve had a mixed week weather-wise! Some days have been very pleasant and mild while others have blighted us with persistent rain. In fact the water levels have risen so dramatically that the wardening team have had to postpone some major management work out in the reedbed. Hopefully we’ll get enough dry days in the near future to see the levels drop and we’ll be able to reinstate the postponed jobs. Also, as the pools recede it will provide some enticing muddy edges for waders such as snipe, black-tailed godwit, green sandpiper and redshank to drop onto, often providing a late summer spectacle from the hides. 

Talking of spectacles, the past week has seen significant numbers of swifts feeding around the reserve. On some days flocks of several hundred could be see as they swept over the reedbeds and meres, often at eye-level, feeding on flying insects. Quite a sight!

These birds will likely be departing any day, as they are one of the earliest of our summer migrants to head back to Africa. It would appear that summer is truly coming to an end.

Swift photo by Chris Gomersall

In other news, visitors have been reporting lots of sightings of red and roe deer from various points around the reserve. The 9 meter-high Skytower, does provide spectacular views across the site and deer can often be spotted from there so it’s well worth scanning the reeds for signs of these large animals.

 Otherwise, it’s pretty much business as usual and we are continuing to see a build up in wildfowl. Causeway Hide and Lilian’s Hide are both great places to see a selection of ducks, many of which are in their ‘eclipse’ plumage making identification challenging but fun. Look out for pochard, tufted duck, teal, gadwall, mallard and shoveler – be mindful that other less common species, might just appear at this time too.

Mallard photo by Chris Gomersall

The marsh harriers continue to roam around the reedbed and we have had regular, if erratic, sightings of osprey and hobby in recent days.

There are plenty of butterflies and dragonflies on the wing, especially on warmer days, and if the birding’s a little quiet in the afternoons these provide a fascinating and welcome distraction.

If you’re visiting us, don’t forget to let us know what you’ve seen – it really helps us build up a better picture of what’s around. Thanks!  




Tern Up for the Books

The big news this week (and when I say big, I mean it both literally and figuratively) concerns the all-too brief appearance of a Caspian tern that graced us with its presence yesterday (Thursday). Seen initially from Causeway Hide the rare seabird took off in the direction of Arnside where it was later rediscovered by diligent local birders. Unfortunately its stay there was also short-lived and once again it vanished before other birdwatchers could get out to see the huge tern. A second flying visit to the Causeway was noted late afternoon by the same individual who had earlier relocated it at Arnside, but once again this visit to Leighton Moss was not a lengthy one. Hopes of a reappearance on Friday were not looking good by lunchtime with no further sightings. As I write this, I’m still hopeful that it might drop in during the late afternoon but I won’t be holding my breath!

 Caspian terns are pretty rare birds here in the UK and the last one to wow the crowds at Leighton Moss was back in June 2017. Prior to that one was at the Eric Morecambe Pools in 2005. So, as you can imagine, many local and not-so-local birders would have liked it to stick around a while! Globally, these large distinctive terns are widespread with a cosmopolitan distribution that includes Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Americas. And Leighton Moss.

In other news, the marsh harriers have continued to perform well with the three youngsters spending increasing time exploring the vast reedbeds of the reserve. The adults are still bringing food in for the trio but they will doubtless be learning how to hunt for themselves now too. Ospreys are still be seeing most days; the two chicks from nearby Foulshaw Moss have now fledged and may start making visits to our pools along with other post-breeding ospreys from around Cumbria and further afield. As ever, it’s the warmer days when we may see the occasional hobby here as they swoop in to feast on the plentiful supply of dragonflies on the wing.  

Again, we’d like to say a big thank to you all of our visitors and supporters – the overall response has been very positive and complimentary regarding current access and infrastructure on the reserve during these challenging times. We have continued to welcome back many familiar faces and we have also seen lots of new visitors who have been exploring this wonderful nature reserve for the first time. Many established members have been very generous too with donations and we are delighted to share that we have had many people who have become enthused by the natural world in recent times joining the RSPB and helping us to continue to give nature a home.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for regular news and updates and I hope we’ll see you here at Leighton Moss in the near future!    


Caspian tern photographed at Leighton Moss in 2017 by David Talbot  

Summer Sightings

What a week it’s been!

  We opened up Lilian’s and Causeway hides in time for last weekend and we saw plenty of returning faces, plus lots of new ones, enjoying the many delights of Leighton Moss. The feedback has been terrific so far and we’re really pleased to see that everyone is respecting the social distancing guidelines and being highly considerate to others – of course we’d expect nothing less from our wonderful Leighton Moss visitors!   

The weather has been changeable over the last few days to say the least; we’ve had everything from glorious sunshine to persistent rain but none of it has deterred visitors from exploring the reserve. With more mixed conditions in the forecast it’s best to be prepared for all eventualities!

The newly fledged marsh harriers (pic by David Mower) have continued to entertain. They are best looked for from the Skytower, Lilian’s Hide or the pathway leading to the boardwalk and the boardwalk itself. Ospreys have been sighted most days and as the youngsters from nearby Cumbrian nests start to explore a little we will doubtless see more of these impressive raptors coming to fish at the pools. On sunny days we have seen returning hobbies (pic by Jarrod Sneyd) hawking for dragonflies over the reedbeds and meres – these dashing falcons are fantastic to watch as they target their insect prey in mid-flight. We’re getting occasional reports of bitterns in flight and bearded tits, while typically elusive, are being heard and seen along the Causeway from time to time.   

As we would expect at this time of year, we’re seeing more wildfowl arriving on site. Mallard, gadwall, shoveler and teal are starting to join the resident ducks as they prepare to go into their post-breeding moult. This is known as eclipse plumage, when the birds go through a period of pretty much all looking alike before they grow their immaculate new feathers in time for autumn. Late summer duck identification can be quite a challenge but it’s good fun! 

Here on the reserve the wardening team have been busy catching up with lots of maintenance jobs around the site. We’ve got some pretty exciting projects in the pipeline and we’re hoping to be able to share these soon – watch this space!  

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Hides Re-open!

 We have more good news to share with you this week! We have reopened both Lilian’s and Causeway hides!

There are of course, strict social distancing guidelines in place regarding the use of the hides and there is plenty of information in and around the hides to make things clear. The staff at the Welcome desk will also provide all the relevant detail when visitors arrive on site.

It was great this week to see that three marsh harrier chicks have now fledged from the nest near Lilian’s Pool. The youngsters have been stretching their wings and getting to grips with the very fact that they can fly; watching the frantic flapping activity of the young birds whenever an adult comes in with food is a wonderful sight to see!

The great crested grebes on Causeway have ended up with just one chick but it’s growing at an astonishing rate and all being well is big enough now to avoid capture from the great black-backed gulls or harriers. We have also spotted fledged pochards this week and even some newly hatched broods of tufted duck and mallard – the nesting season isn’t quite over for some birds!

 Family parties of bearded tits continue to be heard and occasionally seen along the Causeway while the scrubby and woodland areas are positively jumping with fledged marsh tits (pic by Mike Malpass), blackcaps, willow warblers and a host of other typical species to be found at Leighton Moss. It’s also worth spending some time at the feeders by The Hideout – we’re seeing lots of bullfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches and, on some days, siskins coming to take advantage of the bounty of easily-accessible food.

As always, we encourage you to follow us on Twitter and Facebook to ensure that you get the most up-to-date information regarding what’s going on at the reserve. We hope to see you soon!  




Continue Reading » Hides Re-open!...

The Sky’s The Limit

 We’re very happy to announce that we re-opened the Skytower this week!

Now, visitors can once again rise above the reedbeds for a fabulous birds-eye view of the reserve and the wider landscape. From this breath-taking vantage point you may be lucky enough to see fishing ospreys, hunting marsh harriers, soaring swifts and grazing red deer amongst a host of other exciting wildlife. We have put some social distancing guidance in place to ensure that everyone feels comfortable while exploring the 9-metre high tower, so do please follow all on-site information.

We’re still busy working on ways to open up some of the hides in the coming weeks – hopefully we’ll have some news to share soon! Of course, we do have an accessible toilet on site too for visitors’ use.

Other great news this week concerned the appearance of our first marsh harrier chicks of the season. On Tuesday morning the adult female from the nest at the back of Lilian’s Pool was observed circling the nest area constantly calling and soon she had enticed two reluctant fledglings to emerge from the reedbeds to exercise their wings. The young pair flapped inexpertly around for several minutes, trying to get the hang of their new skills before disappearing back to the safety of their nest. Hopefully, we’ll see much more of these wonderful birds in the coming weeks as they get to grips with the power of flight. It will be interesting to see if they have any brothers or sisters yet to make that great inaugural leap into the skies!

 Elsewhere on the reserve young birds are very much a feature – ducklings, cygnets, goslings and chicks of multiple species can be seen and heard just about everywhere. Bearded tits are very active at the moment, with family groups being regularly encountered along the Causeway; listen out for their distinctive ‘pinging’ calls coming from the path-side reeds.

 The summer months are not just about birds of course; this is a fabulous time to explore the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and enjoy the profusion of wildflowers and butterflies for which this area is justly renowned. Now is a great time to look out for purple hairstreaks (photo by Jarrod Sneyd) around the visitor centre oaks and when visiting Leighton Moss why not try and make sure your itinerary includes some time spent at nearby Myers Allotment, Gait Barrows, Warton Crag or Arnside Knott for yet more butterfly spotting? 

Egrets, We Have A Few

One doesn’t need to spend much time on the reserve at the moment to be made fully aware that we are in the midst of the breeding season. It seems that there are young birds everywhere! As visitors make their way around the pathways they can’t help but be met with the sights and sounds of recently fledged warblers, finches and tits. On the pools, gangs of coot with their almost fully-grown youngsters dot the water’s surface while pontoons of duck dabble in growing numbers.

Make sure you check the adult great-crested grebes for young humbug chicks tucked tight into their backs and while on the Causeway make a point of spending some time watching the rapidly growing great black-backed gull youngsters out on the island. These monster-chicks are already dwarfing the nearby loafing cormorants!

 One intriguing sighting relates to a bird that may well have nested in the area for the first time. Prior to the reserve’s temporary closure back in late March, a couple of adult great white egrets were developing their striking breeding plumage. At least one bird was seen regularly at Barrow Scout throughout the spring but with no staff on the reserve we really had no idea whether any more egrets were still present. 

We have been hoping for signs of nesting activity on the reserve for the past couple of years but unfortunately, no monitoring was carried out this spring due to the lockdown. With a small but growing breeding population now established in the UK (including birds nesting at our RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands reserve in Cheshire), we expect that they will mirror the success of their now widespread and familiar cousin, the little egret.

At least one adult bird was still present when we re-opened in late May and then last week, out of the blue, a further three great white egrets appeared – including one juvenile bird! Given how early this is for a young bird to have wandered far and the fact that it was with, and actively following, adult birds suggests that it may well have been raised locally. How locally, we can only begin to guess at this stage.

Did a pair of egrets nest in amongst one of the heronries within a few miles of the reserve or did they actually breed in our reedbeds, undetected? I suppose we may never know but it does at least seem highly probable that this elegant and striking species has bred for the first time in either Lancashire or Cumbria!

Let’s see what happens next year…  

Pic by Mike Malpass          

Unpredictable June Anticipation!

With some pretty mixed weather, it’s been an unpredictable few days here at Leighton Moss! As yet the thunderstorms haven’t delivered anything unusual and despite there having been some scarce visitors not too far away (rose-coloured starling, hoopoe and hooded crow all at Walney, rose-coloured starlings at Carnforth and Morecambe, Blyth’s reed warbler at Knott End and black stork in the Rusland Valley) we have yet to see anything on the reserve to excite those rarity-seeking birders.

 Despite the traditional migration season being over, summer can turn up some pretty spectacular oddities and some very memorable birds have graced us with their presence in the warmer months. In 2017 we saw both Caspian tern (June) and purple heron (Aug) arrive (photo by Mike Malpass) while back in June 2007 Leighton Moss welcomed one of its rarest ever visitors when a white-tailed plover dropped in. So, it pays to keep an open mind and a keen eye out at all times!

 But of course for many the appeal of a wonderful reserve as Leighton Moss lies not in the lure of rarities but the opportunity to enjoy nature simply at its best. In the last week returning visitors have had memorable sightings of such fabulous site favourites as marsh harriers, bitterns (pic from archive by Mike Malpass), bearded tits, Cetti’s warblers, ospreys, red deer and scores of dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies.

The pathways are a delight to stroll along right now as fledgling blackcaps, marsh tits and robins noisily explore their new worlds while a corridor of stunning wildflowers and fascinating wetland plantlife lines the route.

We are still busy working toward opening more of the site and its facilities but please note that for now we are operating with limited access.

The toilets remain closed as does the visitor centre shop and café. The car park and reserve are open only from 9.30am till 5pm daily.

Don’t forget to check in with one of the team upon arrival (we have a temporary welcome area at the rear of the visitor centre where we will explain the current access routes and provide up-to-date sightings info, etc).

You can also keep informed of what’s going on by checking our Facebook page and Twitter feed.    

Leighton Moss Open!

 It’s been a week since we re-opened parts of the reserve here at Leighton Moss and it’s been great to welcome visitors back to our wonderful site. 

Due to access restrictions based on government guidelines we have had to consider which areas would offer visitors an enjoyable experience while considering their well-being and safety, along with that of RSPB staff. So, one of the first things we did was reduce the number of car parking spaces, ensuring that we don’t get too busy for people for to be able to comfortably make their way around on the paths. With the visitor centre closed, we are welcoming visitors near the garden at the rear of the building. Here members of the team can explain the routes and areas currently accessible to visitors.

It’s been quite a week for sightings too – ospreys, hobbies, marsh harriers, red kite and what was almost certainly a white-tailed eagle have all graced the reserve’s skies with their presence. There have been multiple reports of bitterns, primarily of birds in flight from the Causeway, while one particularly vocal male continues to boom on and off throughout the day! A little gull has been frequenting the reserve for around a week, allowing local birders to add this dainty and unseasonal visitor to their lists.

 On sunny days, dragonflies and damselflies have been out in force while keen eyed plant fans may find common spotted orchids in bloom along the path edges.

We’re operating slightly different hours to usual; the reserve pathways and car park are open from 9.30am-5pm only. Please note that there are currently no public toilet facilities available and all hides remain closed.

We look forward to welcoming visitors both familiar and new to Leighton Moss in the coming days and weeks, though we do urge you to stay close to home and to enjoy the green spaces where you live, wherever possible.  


Continue Reading » Leighton Moss Open!...

Partial re-opening of reserve

We are delighted to announce that this morning (Saturday) we opened some sections of our trails and the car park so that we can welcome visitors back to wonderful Leighton Moss!
Of course visitors will be required to follow on-site guidance which will …

When a Warden Isn’t Wardening…

As you can imagine, it’s all a bit strange right now for those of us who ordinarily spend our days working at Leighton Moss – and we certainly share the frustrations of our visitors who love to while away the hours on our wonderful reserve!

As part of our efforts to keep nature-focused while the reserve remains closed, we’ll be continuing to share the experiences of staff and volunteers as they adjust to a, hopefully temporary, Leighton-free life. In the first of this series of blogs, our warden Richard Smith (pictured below in his natural habitat) gives us insights into some daily connections he enjoys with the wildlife in his neighbourhood…

 “Those of you with which I’m acquainted will know I’m an outdoor kind of guy. I wasn’t created to be inside, let alone be in an office. I’m aware that we are all going to find the next few weeks challenging in more ways than one. Working at Leighton Moss meant I was outdoors most of the time.

Not being able to get out on the reserve and do ‘an honest day’s work’ before cycling home and heading out into the fells, running with my wife and friends will be hard for my body to adjust.

Luckily for us we live on the edge of Kendal. Over the next couple of weeks, I thought I would keep you in the loop with what we have been seeing on walk/runs over Cunswick Scar and back across the mono-green lamb-filled fields behind our house.

It might not be bittern booming stuff but actually, it’s just as important to us!

Over the couple of weeks before lock-down commenced we happily noted the return of two pairs of curlews in the fields north of Kendal. At first we could hear their territorial calls during the night and then in early morning and evening.

We have since seen birds from both pairs from the house. My wife from her office window (the box room with an old table masquerading as a desk) and me from my rocking chair that sits by the lounge window. Also, while we have been working in the garden we have seen them patrolling overhead.

The eastern pair are in a great position. They have taken occupation of a small hilltop field with an iconic looking ash tree growing out of the bisecting wall line (incidentally we saw noctual bats around said tree last summer on a number of occasions). We will call this pair the ‘Ashdown’ birds.

The western pair are using fields that we can see from our upstairs windows, again they are using the advantage of high slopping ground that boarder the Windermere road. These birds we have named the ‘Toadpool’ pair after a farm at the Plumgarth’s roundabout.

Between us we ran out along the footpath that crosses these fields three times last week, the loop takes in both areas at a distance of more than 500m let alone the 2m prescribed distance of isolation. On all three occasions we saw territorial flights from one or both locations on fast stuttering wing beats accompanied by haunting calls.

 On our Thursday run out we caught the tail end of a fluttering copulation attempt by the Ashdown pair followed by the male scampering around the female, wings out, giving it large so everyone knew – and why not, the sun was out, the weight of winters cloak was falling away, the birds and the bees… sorry I digress!

Yesterday after spending all day smashing up concrete and finally planting the guelder rose and rowan saplings into the garden that I’ve been growing on for years, I took my day’s allotted exercise. With a gluten-free beer in hand and about an hour’s daylight left I wandered up over the first field. It provides a good vantage point over the valley looking up towards Kentmere and out over the two territories.

Over on Ashdown I could see one bird feeding on the crest surrounded by a couple of lesser black-backed gulls, a murder of crows and a swarm of jackdaw; ‘Goodluck’ I said to myself. A noisy commotion drew my attention to the west. Three curlew, one bird being fussed over by two more. One of the fussers took exception the other fusser and showed them the door, and out it went. Looks like the Toadpool male has a bit of work to do!

We can also hear and have seen a pair of oystercatcher cruising around the housing estate. We haven’t been able to pin down a location for these guys as yet but think it’s over towards the River Kent next to the golf course. We will work on it.”

Richard Smith, Warden

Curlew photo: Ian Francis (