Author: Jon C

Beards and Antlers; Autumn at its Best

Once again the week’s headlines have been dominated by those amazing bearded tits. They do seem reluctant to use the grit trays so far this year for some reason and are instead gathering their much-needed grit from the pathways. Hopefully visitors will be able to continue enjoying these stunning little birds as they go about their grit-gathering for a few more weeks yet.

Of course working here I’m very fortunate in that I get to see bearded tits and lots of other really great wildlife all the time but I can clearly remember the first time I ever saw a bearded tit – right here at Leighton Moss over 40 years ago. I recall being absolutely blown away by them. And I love seeing our visitors getting an eyeful of these rare reedlings for the first time – sheer magic! 

 Another big feature of this time of year is the red deer rut; the stags have started roaring in recent days. Generally they’re more vocal in the mornings and again at dusk and may be glimpsed from the Skytower or the Causeway. In most years these huge mammals can be seen from the Grisedale Hide during the rutting season but as this area is closed at the moment you’ll have to take my word for it that they’re not showing much there at the moment. This is more than likely due to the fact that we are having some major engineering work done on that bit of the reserve and the disturbance is shifting them to other parts of the site. The work is part of a massive cell bed project which will result in yet more habitat for bitterns. It’s a really exciting piece of landscape work and we’ll be sharing more with you about this in the coming weeks. Photo of red deer by Mike Malpass

 Back to bird news and recent sightings include the return of the North American ring-necked duck which appeared on Causeway Pool for a couple of days, our first whooper swans dropped in along with goldeneye plus we had our first redwings and brambling of the autumn. There were also a couple of yellow-browed warblers: little gems all the way from Siberia! Photo of brambling by Mike Fraser

Black-tailed godwit numbers have been building up nicely at the Allen and Morecambe Pools while kingfisher & great white egret continue to entertain the crowds there. 

Our shop and café are now open until 5pm every day – so now you have more time to relax with a hot drink and a slice of cake after a busy day’s birdwatching!                

Beardies & Bitterns Bring Joy

 It’s been another busy week or two here at Leighton Moss and as we’d expect at this time of year the main attraction is of course those perennial favourites, bearded tits.

Many visitors are getting great views of these enigmatic birds as they emerge from the dense reedbeds to gather grit and pick up fallen seeds from the paths. They seem to be a bit slow in taking to the grit trays this year; perhaps the mild weather is still making insect food easy to come by and so they are in less of a rush to fill up on grit? 

As always, rather than standing staring at the grit trays I recommend walking slowly along the Causeway listening to that distinctive ‘pinging’ sound the birds make – just a reminder, please don’t play recordings of bearded tits to attract them in. If you’re patient you should get good views. And looking at some of the photos our visitors have ben getting, good views are indeed available!  

Bitterns have also been showing well lately, mainly in flight. In fact as I was opening Lilian’s hide this morning I got great views of a pair chasing each other over the reedbed. And earlier today a family had superb views of one as it flapped its way across the Causeway Pool. Are these newly arrived birds from further afield coming for the winter or residents simply moving around in search of suitable fishing spots? Photo of bittern by Dave Dimmock.  

Marsh harriers are very in evidence too with at least seven different birds around the site in recent days. Meanwhile, such favourites as great white egret and kingfisher continue to please visitors at various spots around the reserve.

 Other bits of interest include the return of last year’s rather distinctive cinnamon teal / shoveler hybrid whicj pitched up on Lilian’s Pool earlier this week. A brief appearance was made by a drake ring-necked duck before it relocated to nearby Pine Lake. This North American vagrant is almost certainly the same bird that was present there last winter – will it stick around again for the next few months?  Yesterday, as I walked back from the Allen Hide I noticed a stonechat in the hawthorns alongside the track – things are still very much on the move. Spotted redshank and greenshanks are also hanging around and may be set to winter with us. Photo of spotted redshank by Mike Malpass.

Don’t forget, the café and shop are open daily from 10am till 4pm while the reserve and car park are open 9.30am – 5pm every day. All hides close at 4.30pm.

See you soon!  

Autumn Gets Going & Bearded Tits Bring Joy

It looks like we’re in for a few decent days so what better way to enjoy them than to get out into nature!

 When I was doing my rounds earlier today it certainly felt like a classic autumn morning. The sun was bright and the air was cool, as I stood there listening on the Causeway I could hear the distinctive pinging calls of bearded tits and the explosive sound of Cetti’s warblers – sheer magic.

The bearded tits have been showing brilliantly this week but as we’d expect they have yet to start using the grit trays, so I’d advise is not to stand there staring at them expecting the birds to appear. Enjoy a walk and listen out for that unique sound – familiarise yourself with it before heading out if you don’t know what bearded tits sound like. You can check out a recording here.  

If you would like to join one of our exclusive bearded tit walks in October (numbers are strictly limited so do not delay!) please click HERE for details.    

The last traces of summer were very much in evidence yesterday as we had lots of swallows and house martins feeding over the reserve. I expect that these will be among the last of these southbound migrants for this year. In contrast we’ve had skeins of pink-footed geese passing over on their way to the Lune estuary, the Lancashire mosses and even onto Norfolk for the winter.

 Around the reserve visitors have been enjoying great views of great white egrets, bitterns, marsh harriers and waders including spotted redshank and curlew sandpiper

One last thing to mention – the café will be reopening this weekend! We’ve trimmed the menu down a bit, and reduced the number of tables for everyone’s safety. Access will be at the back of the visitor centre, please follow all on-site info and most importantly enjoy it!

We hope to see you soon

Jon 

Bearded tit photo by Dave Morris

Bearded Bonanza Beckons

 Although the days still feel rather summery just now, we are definitely seeing increased signs of autumn around the reserve. And of course, one of the highlights of the seasonal change is the annual bearded tit grit tray festival! (Note: not an actual festival).
As insect numbers dwindle, the bearded tits prepare to change their diet to one of seeds to help to survive the winter months. It’s difficult not to hear (and with a little patience) see ‘beardies’ at the moment as family groups bounce through the reedbeds ‘pinging’ away.
In anticipation of the birds’ dietary change we provide grit trays; changing a summer diet of insects to a winter one of seeds means that the birds need to gather grit in their crop to help them digest the hard seeds.
By providing a supply of grit we can help them in this process while simultaneously allowing visitors to get the chance to observe these often elusive reedbed dwellers at close quarters. More importantly, we are able to monitor the health and success of the Leighton Moss population thanks to an ongoing colour-ringing scheme.
  This morning the wardens were out cutting the area to allow a clear view of the grit trays from the observation platform that we created so that visitors can see these magical and rare birds.
Ordinarily, people pack onto this platform but with social distancing guidelines in place we are asking birdwatchers to be patient and to give each other plenty of space.
There is enough room for three people to comfortably occupy the platform at any one time and we expect visitors will be mindful of others and allow access to those waiting once the birds have been seen. We thank you all in anticipation of a great experience for all.
For the latest sightings updates, please check in with our welcome team upon arrival.
If you are fortunate enough to see or photograph any bearded tits with colour rings please pass on the colour ring sequence (both legs is preferable) by emailing Leighton.moss@rspb.org.uk or johnwilson711@btinternet.com
We are planning a series of unique guided walks (limited numbers available) to further enhance your experience of these stunning birds – keep an eye on our website, Facebook and Twitter accounts for details coming soon!
Other sightings
Elsewhere on the reserve the garganeys continued to tease birders on the Causeway Pool and the expected build up of waders at the Eric Morecambe and Allen Pools continued apace. Highlights included curlew sandpiper, ruff and greenshank along with huge numbers of little egrets and up to seven great white egrets. Kingfishers also put in frequent appearances as do peregrines but it appears that we may have seen the last of the ospreys for this year.
With easterly winds in the offing, we could be in for something out of the ordinary in the next few days so do keep an eye out for any oddities and do please pass on your sightings to us!

Autumn Gets Underway

 With things becoming decidedly more autumnal of late, we have been noticing a few changes here on the reserve.

Down at the Eric Morecambe and Allen pools wader numbers are picking up, as we’d expect at this time of year. Good numbers of redshank (photo by Brian Salisbury) and lapwing are usually present and on some days the pools play host to lots of roosting black-tailed godwits. Among the commoner birds one can often find a few greenshank, plus the odd ruff and we had a handful of curlew sandpipers and avocets last week. At this time of year it’s well worth scanning through the gathered birds; there’s always the chance that a scarce shorebird or two may well be mixed in with their commoner cousins. Visitors to the coastal hides have also been reporting sightings of peregrine, osprey, great white egret and kingfisher along with goosanders and plenty of little egrets.

Meanwhile, over on the main reserve at least two marsh harriers are being seen regularly. Their lingering implies that they may well be the first of the birds that will spend the winter with us. Bitterns are being seen daily too – often making quite protracted flights over the reedbeds. 

 Wildfowl is building up across the site, as we’d expect, and along with the shoveler (photo by David Mower), gadwall, pochard, teal and tufted duck we’re seeing increasing  numbers of wigeon returning and up to five garganey have been lingering. Meanwhile overhead, the first skeins of pink-footed geese etch their way across the sky heralding the approach of winter. 

We’ve really noticed the movement of swallows and martins in recent days and I saw what may well turn out to have been my last swift of the year last week; it’s always a bittersweet moment, knowing that I’m unlikely to see another until they return next spring! 

Don’t forget our shop is open from 10.30 am till 4pm daily. If you’re looking for a new pair of binoculars or a scope, you can now arrange a 1-2-1 appointment with one of our friendly experts – each Saturday through September. A member of our knowledgeable team will be more than happy to answer all your questions and help you to find the perfect optical gear to suit your needs and budget. You can just turn up or if you’d rather you can pre-book by contacting us on 01524 701601 or emailing Leighton.moss@rspb.org.uk

We hope to see you soon – till then, take care and keep safe! 

    

Continue Reading » Autumn Gets Underway...

Return to the Moss – a volunteer’s story

 In this week’s blog we invited volunteer Jennie to share her experiences of how the current Coronavirus pandemic affected her visits to Leighton Moss both before lockdown and again after the reserve re-opened… 

Return to the Moss By Jennie Chapman, RSPB volunteer

A bright and chilly mid-March morning. I dug out my blue polo shirt and navy fleece from the bottom of a drawer, found my name badge in the jacket pocket and pinned it in place opposite the RSPB logo. I had returned from a period of working abroad and was thrilled to be getting back to my volunteer role, welcoming visitors to Leighton Moss. It was fantastic to be back at my ‘home reserve’, and I was looking forward to sharing my passion for the place and for the brilliant birdlife that thrives there; but, beneath the excitement, there was an unease that was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. A new and highly contagious disease – a type of ‘coronavirus’, scientists explained – had spilled over Chinese borders and was ravaging northern Italy and Iran; Spain, where I had been living, had just gone into hard lockdown; and the first UK fatalities were being recorded. Nervous jokes about substituting handshakes for elbow bumps were proffered in exchange for rueful chuckles that were a little too forced. Touch points were assailed with frequent applications of disinfectant. Visitors covered their hands with their coat sleeves to open doors. In the visitor centre loos, conspicuously diligent efforts were applied to the formerly mundane business of handwashing, now elevated to a matter of national import. My first day back was quite unlike any I had experienced previously, but I had returned to the Moss and I couldn’t be happier.

A week later, the country went into lockdown, and Leighton Moss and its 200+ sister reserves across the UK were closed indefinitely. 

Adjusting to the ‘New Normal’

Sixteen long weeks later, and a few weeks after the reserve began the gradual process of reopening to the public, I was among a small number of volunteers to return to duties. The RSPB takes the business of keeping its volunteers safe and happy extremely seriously, and has been scrupulous in ensuring that none is put at risk – meaning that only those volunteers who do not fall into a vulnerable category have returned to visitor-facing roles. I consider myself tremendously lucky to be fit and healthy, and to be able to use that privilege to support Leighton Moss and the RSPB. 

There have certainly been some changes to adapt to. In order to reduce the risk to both staff/volunteers and visitors, the whole welcome operation has been shifted outside. Where we once had at our disposal a hi-tech interactive graphic display to bring our descriptions of habitats and species to life – press this button to hear the boom of the bittern, or that one for the ping of the bearded tit – now we improvised with old-school posters on display boards (my one attempt to mimic bittern vocalisations resulted only in profound embarrassment for all concerned, and a concession that this sort of thing was probably best left to the professionals, i.e. the bitterns themselves). This bit made me laugh! Portable card readers were sourced to replace the tills that we could no longer use, and the distribution of maps was suspended. Our initial offer was limited to selected paths and trails and nothing more; toilet facilities with an enhanced cleaning regime followed. The reopening of two of our wildlife-watching hides and the Skytower viewing platform, fortified with an antiviral armoury of one-way systems, limits on user numbers, social distancing measures, ‘test and trace’ contact slips and hand sanitation points, felt nothing less than momentous. Tentatively and incrementally, we proceeded with caution into a world transformed.   

Nature’s New Cheerleaders

In this strangest and, for many people, saddest of summers, it has been uplifting to welcome visitors whose paths might not have crossed ours otherwise. Families who would normally be in Spain, Greece or the Algarve are holidaying in the UK and finding themselves pleasantly surprised at what it has to offer. But our first-time visitors aren’t only holidaymakers. People who live locally but have never visited before, many of whom cite the frenetic pace of normal life by way of explanation, are coming too. I’m always intrigued as to what brings people onto the reserve, and among those new visitors I’ve spoken to on the topic, a fair proportion have described a heightened appreciation for nature and wildlife, instigated by the deprivations of the lockdown. Formerly expansive and complex social worlds have been replaced by the small, safe, self-contained realm of the home. In this shrunken sphere, our balconies, yards and gardens, and the bees, birds and butterflies that visit them, became lifesavers – as did our daily local exercise, prescribed by government edict and undertaken with all the assiduity of a sacred duty. Pubs, cafés, and restaurants; shops and cinemas; gyms and leisure centres; kids’ playgrounds; even others people’s houses: all were now off-limits – but canal towpaths, coastal promenades, city parks and rural woodlands remained, and here we watched spring unfold with a mindful intensity that, owing to our full and hectic lives, many of us hadn’t really had the opportunity to exercise before. We slowed down and literally smelt the flowers. The colours of spring dazzled and popped like never before, its rhythms heard more clearly without the competing noise of road and air traffic. Without other distractions, many of us had the space to really observe, appreciate and find solace in nature in a way we hadn’t previously. Now, as we tiptoe toward something vaguely resembling normality, those who found joy in nature during the long days of lockdown are keen to keep that spark of inspiration alive, and are finding in our reserves a place to kindle that flame. If any positives are to be found amid the indisputable horrors of the pandemic, then this must surely be among them.

It is not only adults who have been bitten by the nature bug this year. From my conversations with families who visit, it seems that many children have spent more time outdoors than normal, and many have become enthusiastic proponents for nature as a result. A pair of eight-year-old twins described in detail the pond and bug hotel they had forged in their garden, and the wildlife that came to visit. A girl of around the same age had had such fun learning to identify the birds on the feeders in her garden that she’d asked for – and received – a field guide for her birthday, which she had proudly brought with her to Leighton Moss. “We were dead surprised,” her dad mused. “She wasn’t really into wildlife at all before this. But all her clubs and dancing classes haven’t been running, so we’ve just had time to be in the garden, together, watching the birds.” It seems the lockdown has cultivated quite a cadre of young enthusiasts in that activity: “you have to be extremely still and extremely quiet,”  one young boy explained with emphatic solemnity, “and you should wear clothes that make you look like a tree.” Duly noted. A little girl of around five told me conspiratorially that “grandma has a new friend.” Has she? That’s nice for her! What’s her friend’s name? “We’re not sure” she conceded. “It’s a robin.” It seemed Grandma’s friend had established territory in her garden, and grandmother and granddaughter had spent happy locked-down afternoons watching him patrol the perimeters of his kingdom. She was excited about the prospect of seeing his friends at the reserve. I very much hope she saw at least one of them.

The Reassuring and Restorative Rhythms of Nature

Changes and challenges there have been, and no doubt more will arise as we inch towards a liveable existence in the shadow of a pandemic. Speaking for myself as an RSPB volunteer, there have inevitably been adjustments and adaptations – but ultimately, the fundamentals of the welcome role remain constant. We are there to inform, enthuse and inspire our visitors about the wonderful sanctuary for wildlife that is our reserve, and to bring them with us in fulfilling the RSPB’s mission to give nature a home. I can’t pretend that a brew and a slice of quite exceptional cake in our café, maybe followed by a browse through the gift shop, doesn’t enhance the Leighton Moss experience for many. But even as our world was turned upside down, nature persisted: nests were built, chicks were raised, blossoms and buds bloomed, migratory species made their perilous journeys across oceans and over continents. The rhythms of nature reassured and restored us, and that is worth more than all the cake in the world. Just.  

 

Thanks to Jennie for writing such a heartfelt and insightful post – if you have been inspired by her story and would like to know more about volunteering with us, please drop us a line to: Leighton.moss@rspb.org.uk  

More Hides Open at RSPB Leighton Moss!

 I am delighted to report that the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides are now open!

As with our other accessible hides on site, we have put some clear social distancing measures in place and hide occupancy is restricted.

Please consider this when visiting the hides and be mindful of others’ needs. We ask that you do not ‘hog the hide’ when others are waiting to enter – we want everyone to be able to enjoy this wonderful place and its facilities!      

Please note that the hides will be open between 9.30am – 4.30pm and that face coverings are now required to be worn in all hides.

 Here’s a reminder of what is currently available to our guests:

  • Shop open from 10am – 3.30pm daily
    Lilian’s and Causeway hides are both open
    The Eric Morecambe and Allen hides are open
    The Skytower is open
    Garden and Hideout feeding station are open
    Trail from Visitor Centre to Causeway open
    Trail from Causeway toward Lower Hide & beyond open
    Car park and accessible toilet open for visitors to Leighton Moss

    The car park and reserve are currently open from 9.30am – 5pm daily

    We hope to see you soon

Shop re-opens & latest sightings

 We have some very exciting news to share this week.

After a great deal of planning and rearranging, we are delighted to share that our shop at the visitor centre has reopened! We will be open daily from 10am to 3.30pm so do please come along and stock up on bird food and feeders, grab a new hedgehog house or treat yourself to a new pair of binoculars!

And while the café remains closed we also have a selection of sandwiches, wraps, cakes and cold drinks for sale in the store. Please note that face coverings should be worn while in the shop and we ask all visitors to follow all other social distancing guidelines posted throughout the store and communicated to you by our retail team.

 We’re also continuing to work towards getting the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides open at some point next week – we had hoped to have them open sooner but a number of issues have slowed us down a little. Not least the weekend’s very high tides and strong westerlies which can often result in the car park and footpaths at this part of the reserve being flooded. Check our social media or ask at the centre for updates.

Despite the rather autumnal feel to the weather, there have still been plenty of birds to see out and about on the reserve. Most days as I walk down the Causeway I have been hearing bearded tits calling from the reedbed adjacent to the path –  a little patience will often be rewarded with good views of these fabulous little birds. Similarly, ospreys have continued to visit on a daily basis though in fairness it’s often a case of being in the right spot at the right time with these magnificent birds.

 As the water levels slowly recede from the pools, the islands are once again offering a little more in the way of refuge and gathering waders on the stone island at Causeway have included redshank, greenshank, lapwing and black-tailed godwit. This morning (Friday) an eclipse plumage garganey was present (photo from archive by Richard Cousens) and the number of gadwall and shoveler seem to be increasing once again.      

Just one last update; face coverings are now a requirement in all hides, so do please ensure that you arrive prepared! Thanks. 

Jon

    

Water, Water Everywhere…

It’s been another rather unusual week here up in North Lancashire. We’ve had everything from glorious sunshine to the most extraordinary thunderstorms that anyone can ever remember witnessing! Of course with the storm came yet more rain – further hindering our reedbed work as water levels remain unusually high for the time of year.

But there’s always a positive! Those secretive bitterns can often be easier to see when there are fewer shallow and dry areas for them to fish in, so as the water gets higher across the reserve they will often feed at the reed edge. Also, they are potentially more likely to be seen in flight over the reedbeds as they seek out those more accessible areas in which to fish.

On the downside, many of the dabbling ducks such as teal and gadwall that were building up nicely have cleared off to find water that isn’t too deep to dabble in… some are lurking in the reeds while others have moved to other areas where they can access food more easily. Similarly, the lack of muddy edges on the pools means that we’re seeing fewer waders on the main reserve than we might expect at this time of year.  

The good news though, is that we are working hard to get the Eric Morecambe & Allen Pools open soon. As many birdwatchers will know, late summer and early autumn is the peak of wader passage with migrating birds stopping off at favoured feeding sites throughout the UK and our coastal pools offer birders the chance to see good numbers of these fabulous birds at close quarters. And of course, there’s always the chance that a scarce or rare shorebird might just drop in to entertain local birders.  

For now, the car park and hides remain closed but do keep checking on Facebook, Twitter and on this blog for updates and news regarding these hides.

In other news, ospreys continue to be seen on the reserve on a daily basis with post-breeders and dispersing youngsters likely to be passing through and hanging around. We usually see an increase in the number of these ace fish-eating migrants around now and they can often be a regular feature of a visit to Leighton Moss from now right through till the end of September.    

 While ambling around, immersing yourself in nature look out for the profusion of dragonflies currently zipping around. Common darters, brown hawkers, common hawkers and emperor dragonflies are amongst those doing the rounds. And don’t forget to look down too – I came across this fine fellow (left) on the boardwalk this morning; it’s the caterpillar of one of our most impressive and attractive insects, the elephant hawk moth. What a fine beast!      

We are preparing to open the shop shortly, so you will all be able to come and stock up on bird food, feeders and whatever else your garden wildlife needs. A selection of sandwiches, snacks and drinks will be available in the shop too (the café will not be re-opening just yet). Again, please check our social media outlets or ask at the centre for updates.   

 If you’re planning on having a family day out at Leighton Moss we’ve put out a few little activities that should appeal to any younger budding naturalists that you might bring along – make sure you check in with the welcome team for details of what’s on offer.

The forecast once again looks a little mixed in the coming week but whatever the weather, you’re bound to have a wonderful time simply being outdoors surrounded by nature in an amazing landscape – see you soon!  

     

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 rspb-images.com

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 rspb-images.com

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!  

Jon