Author: Jon C

Signs of Spring

 Love is in the air at Leighton Moss as spring comes into full swing. If you arrive in the morning you will be greeted with a symphony of sound as birds sing to compete and court. Even one of our very special species are joining in. If you head up to the Causeway or Lower Hide just before the sun rises you might be able to hear bitterns booming. We have two booming males on-site, which is amazing since we have only had one male booming here for the last two years! This means we are heading in the right direction with our conservation work. It shows that the reserve is now land that the bitterns want to compete for, and a place where they want to breed. This is one step forward for increasing the bittern populations.

 Speaking of courting, our marsh harriers have started to skydive and food pass. The male passes food to the female during incubation and hatching stages. It’ll be interesting to see how many nests we’ll have on the reserve this year.

 Singing and courting are not the only behaviour changes we have seen for spring. We have had a loved migrant species return for the breeding season. The avocets have settled at the Allen and Eric Morecambe saltmarsh hides. Up to 14 have been counted, and with the flooding having receded from the salt marsh it’s a great time to visit.



However, though it is fine to visit the saltmarsh without wellies, we still recommend that you wear wellies on the main reserve to be able to enjoy it to its fullest. Without wellies you can reach Lillian’s Hide and the Skytower. Which is perfect if you are visiting to see the starlings. They are still performing great mumurations, though they are getting later and later every day. The show starts as the sun begins to set, though the time and length can depend on other factors such as the weather conditions.

For up to date information on the flooded areas of the reserve, the starling mumuration or recent sightings, ask a member of our team when you visit, or call our visitor centre. We also post updates on our Facebook and Twitter.

Continue Reading » Signs of Spring...

Wellies at the ready

Signs of spring are popping up here and there. With Snowdrops (photo by Mike Malpass) blooming and the woodpeckers drumming against the trees in the morning, but along with the foreshadowing of better weather are some rather wet conditio…

Continue Reading » Wellies at the ready...

Recent sightings & #Showthelove

Birdwatching has been great on the reserve with lots to see. From occasional bittern sightings at Lillian’s and Lower hide, great white egret (pic by Martin Kuchczynski) at Lillian’s and Tim Jackson (at least 3 bird…

Recent sightings & Big Garden Birdwatch submissions

 This winter has been amazing for Marsh harriers (copyright Robert Metcalfe), it seems the numbers just keep increasing. We now have 11 of them! This is over double last years number of over wintering individuals which settled at 5. This of course, means there is a great chance of seeing these amazing birds during your visit, usually seem flying around one of our pools whether that be on our main site or at our salt marsh hides.

Our winter wildfowl are also thriving here at Leighton Moss. Especially at our Lillian’s hide. There’s usually a great selection of species to be seen such as pintail, teal, wigeon and shoveler. These species can be found in the UK throughout the year, but their population drastically increases during the winter as they migrate in from further north.

The bittern is no exception. In winter we have a higher number of these rare birds, with approximately 600 wintering individuals compared to the 80 breeding males in breeding season. This means winter is one of the best times of year to catch a glimpse of them. Especially as we have had recent sightings of them from Lower and Lillian’s hide.

Mumurations are still ongoing. Though over the past few days there has not been a stable routine, with resting in different spots around the reserve. For up to date information on the starlings, and their most probable nesting place on the evening of your visit, ask a member of our team when you arrive, or call our visitor centre on the day of your visit.


Did you participate in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch? If so, this is just a little reminder that any online results need to be submitted by 16 February, or 11 February if you are sending your results by post. Thank you to everyone that took part, it would not have been possible without all our wonderful RSPB supporters. Once all the collected data is compiled, we’ll be able to see how our favourite garden birds have been faring compared to years previous and which birds have been visiting your gardens the most this year.


Participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch is only one way you can show support. Being members of the RSPB allows us to protect species and the areas they live in, and 90% of our net income goes back into conservation over all our 200 nature reserves around the UK.

Our Marsh harriers are just one example of a conservation success story that would not have happened without all of you. There was only 1 female nesting in the UK in 1971, but through conservation work, numbers have risen drastically with 400 pairs now breeding here in the UK. If you would like to join us, you can either come into your visitor centre and talk with our team or join online.


Recent sightings & continued murmurations

At 4pm Monday evening I took a walk up the sky tower, I’d heard that the starlings (copyright David Kjaer had moved into the centre area of the reserve near Lillian’s hide, and I have to say, I was not disapp…

Get Big Garden Birdwatch Ready!

 As we reach the midway point of January, we always have something to look forward to, the annual Big Garden Birdwatch!

As always, we are calling everyone to join in and tell us what they find in their gardens, yards and parks. Each year we have around half a million people take part, but the more people take part, the more information we will have. The Big Garden Birdwatch takes place on Saturday 25, Sunday 26 and Monday 27 January.

An hour of bird watching really makes a difference, whether that be sitting outside, or tucked up inside watching through the window with your binoculars and a cuppa to hand.

In between your bouts of back-yard birding, there’s also plenty of time to pop over and see what’s around here at Leighton Moss. Winter is a great time to see many of our specialities. Wildfowl continues to dominate with Causeway, Lilian’s and Grisedale particularly productive at the moment. Several species of duck, little grebes and both little and great white egrets may be enjoyed from the hides and SkyTower while wanders along the path may reward patient birdwatchers with views of water rail, reed buntings and marsh tits.    

Starlings are still murmurating away, best seen from Causeway or SkyTower. The best murmurations often happen during clearer weather so make sure to check the forecast. The numbers have peaked at around at 70,000, ensuring an amazing spectacle on clear, bright evenings. We suggest being situated at your chosen watching spot at 3:30pm to avoid disappointment as the time of the mumuration can vary from day to day and usually happens anytime between 3:30pm and 4.30pm. We would also like to remind visitors not to park on the road near the Causeway entrance as this creates obstructions for other vehicles, thank you.

Snipe are most often seen in well vegetated wetlands such as our reserve in the winter, especially when they group together foraging for food or snoozing at the pool edges. An impressive 75 snipe were counted from Grisedale hide recently and most days at least 30 may be seen if you look carefully!   

 The number of marsh harriers continue to wow the crowds. It’s not easy to accurately guess the number of harriers hunting around the reserve from one week to the next but we do know that at least ten different individuals have been identified. Given how recently this species has taken to wintering at Leighton Moss it is incredible to see so many birds here and we can only expect the numbers to increase in the coming years! (Photo by David Mower)

 We know January is a time for saving pennies after Christmas, so we have some new deals in our RSPB shop to get you ready for your Big Garden Birdwatch. Our Big Garden Birdwatch starter kit includes three different bird feeders from our Classic easy-clean range for all different picky eaters. One for seeds, one for nuts and nibbles and another for suet. Of course, you need some bird food for these feeders, and you get a great selection with 1.8kg of Premium sunflower hearts, 1kg of Buggy nibbles & 12 super suet balls (sunflower heart variety). All of this would usually come to £41.21, but with our half price deal is only £20.60! A great bargain to get you ready for your Big Garden Birdwatch.


More Murmuration Musings

First of all, on behalf of all the staff and volunteers here at Leighton Moss I would like to wish you all a very happy 2020.

 For many birders, this is the time to start a new year-list and our wonderful reserve is the place to visit if you want to add such key species as marsh harrier, bittern, bearded tit and water rail to your tally early in the season. Of course local birdwatchers will also wish to secure sightings of marsh tit, great white egret, siskin and merlin – and where better to see these otherwise elusive species? Nearby, the drake American ring-necked duck can be seen alongside scaup and pochard at Pine Lake while those wishing to travel a little further may seek out the purple heron just to the south of us (where regional specialities corn bunting and yellowhammer may also be logged).

Of course not everyone is desperate to tick as many birds off on their list as they can and for many, simply being outdoors surrounded by nature is more than enough.

A recent phenomenon is the desire to see a starling murmuration. Despite there having always been murmurations, it seems that we suddenly find ourselves in an era where this has become a ‘bucket list’ item – somewhat akin to swimming with dolphins (is that still a thing?).

When I was a kid, the sight of thousands of starlings wheeling spectacularly over the shore before going to roost on the Central Pier was largely, routinely ignored by the good people of Morecambe – many of whom probably thought the birds were a ‘nuisance’. Later, in my adolescence I would witness clouds of starlings above Penny Street Bridge in Lancaster and then later, roosting on the communication aerials on the police station. The implementation of a loudspeaker blasting out the sound of an angry peregrine soon moved those birds along and now, after years of being mostly unloved and having suffered huge population declines, it seems that the humble starling has won the hearts of the general public at last.

 And now everyone wants to see a murmuration! This is great news of course. The more we can do to connect people to the wonders of nature, the better. The natural world has never been in a more imperilled state despite greater awareness of the threats it faces, and our only hope is to enlist greater support from all quarters.

So, if you do fancy seeing the truly awesome spectacle that is the starling murmuration, for whatever reason, just consider why what you’re witnessing is so special. And imagine a world without that amazing sight of 70,000 dazzling birds moving in unison over a stunning reedbed habitat. Then think about what you can do to ensure the future of such sights for generations to come. We all have a part to play.  

Please contact the visitor centre or see our Facebook page or Twitter feed for the latest info on times, location etc of the murmuration. Remember, calm, bright afternoons are best – and please DO NOT park on the road near the Causeway. Park in our main car park and walk along the footpaths to the Causeway or Skytower to view. Better still, come by train and get a discount on a hot drink from our café to take down with you!



Murmuration Gets Under Way

One of the things we get asked about more than anything else at this time of year is, ‘are the starlings murmurating yet?’. From October through to the end of December we usually give the same reply; not yet. In recent years the large numbers of starlings that roost here have been reluctant to really partake in murmurations before the end of December, preferring to appear on the reserve at dusk and going straight into the reedbed. Bang on cue, the first truly impressive murmuration took place on Christmas Eve. The conditions were perfect – calm, bright and dry. Groups of birds came from all directions, and joined the swirling mass over the Barrow Scout fields from around 3.45pm. From my viewpoint on the Skytower, I estimated a count of around 60,000 by the time the flock had peaked. Quite a sight.

 If these birds behave as they have done for the past couple of years, they should relocate to the main reserve soon, giving visitors the chance to witness this amazing spectacle from the comfort of the reserve facilities. Currently, we would advise those wishing to see the murmuration to do so from either the Tim Jackson or Grisedale hides or the Skytower. If you decide to watch them at Barrow Scout itself we recommend parking in the Eric Morecambe / Allen pool car park and walking back along the track toward the road. DO NOT park on the track or on the road – the police have been in touch and will be making regular checks to ensure that people are not stopping here and obstructing traffic on what can be a dangerous stretch of road. For the latest murmuration updates, please call the visitor centre on (01524) 701601.     

Elsewhere on the reserve, bitterns continue to be seen with relative regularity and marsh harriers are just about impossible to miss with several of these dynamic raptors wintering on the reserve. Wildfowl is very much part of the winter scene here at Leighton Moss and hundreds of birds are on show, especially at Lilian’s and Grisedale. Keep an eye out for the smart-looking (if slightly odd!) cinnamon teal x northern shoveler hybrid. With the apple and hawthorn berry stocks depleted, the large gangs of winter thrushes have mostly moved on leaving just a scattering of fieldfares and redwings around the garden but siskins and occasional lesser redpolls are a treat to hear and see near the feeders or along the path to Lower Hide.

As 2019 daws to a close, it’s tempting to ponder what exciting nature spectacles await us in the New Year – if you are already looking ahead to 2020 why not think about booking on one of our great guided walks? Choose from our monthly walks where we will explore the reserve and the specialities of the season, or how about expanding your birdwatching knowledge by joining Andy Chapman on one his Better Birding walks?

And if you’re an avid collector of bird books don’t miss our fabulous Bird and Natural History Book Sale on January 11 – where you will find a large selection of must-have and sought-after titles from publishers including Helm, Poyser and the Collins New Naturalist series, all at excellent prices.

Finally we would like to wish all our readers and visitors a very Happy New Year!


Recent sightings and a regular visitor’s thoughts…

 Many of our visitors are being wowed by the continued presence of the redwings and fieldfares showing brilliantly in and around the orchard and garden here at Leighton Moss. The photographers seem to have moved seamlessly from bearded tits (still present but now much more difficult to see post-grit gathering) to these dazzling northern thrushes. And who can blame them, when they make such fabulous subjects? Also to be seen feasting on the fallen apples are plenty of starlings, resplendent in their stunning winter finery (photographed here by Mike Malpass), along with plenty of blackbirds – many of which will also have travelled here from northern Europe. 

Wildfowl is still very much a feature and Lilian’s Pool in particular is absolutely heaving with ducks; gadwall, pintail, wigeon, teal, shoveler, tufted duck and goldeneye. Bitterns have been seen all around the reserve and may crop up just about anywhere while marsh harriers are almost impossible to miss as they hunt for prey over the reedbeds and around the mere fringes.  

With so much fabulous wildlife to enjoy it’s a great time of year to visit Leighton Moss and after a few hours exploring the winter wetland landscape there’s nowhere better than our café to relax with a delicious hot lunch and warming drink!    

We are pleased to hand over this remainder of this blog post to one of our regular visitors, Bruce Leyland-Jones. Although he’s only been visiting the reserve on a regular basis for just over a year, Bruce has become a frequent and popular contributor to our Facebook group. In the relatively short time that he has embraced birding and nature photography, he has been sharing his voyage of discovery and so we invited him to tell his story of how he came to rediscover birdwatching and his love of Leighton Moss… 

A Visitor’s Tale

Another morning, up with a crisp and chilly dawn, with clouds of starling swarming overhead, their wings a wild rush of beaten air and with the mournful cry of curlew, echoing in the background.

 I’m warm enough this time out, having donned my secret tights and am soon settled in the Eric Morecambe Hide, quite alone and blissfully happy, gazing at the assorted wildfowl and waders on the misty pool in front of me.

So how did I come to be here?

Long, long ago, back when it truly was all fields around here, I was brought up with a real love of Mother Nature. As a kid, Sundays were often centred around ‘A Ride Out’, or ‘A Trip In The Country’. Just occasionally, these might’ve involved a picnic, but they always, without fail, involved one or more of those I-Spy books and, as time progressed, more ticks were added, with that elusive 50-pointer always just out of reach. One of my favourites was the one on birds and, equipped with the equally much-thumbed Observer’s Book, I slowly worked my way through, blissfully unaware that I was actually ‘twitching’!

Bird-watching was never ‘cool’ and was, allegedly, something old men did. I do remember my first-ever trip to a hide, out on Longton Marsh, with my grandfather and his drinking and shootin’ buddies. The hide itself was a pretty ramshackle affair; breezy and not impervious to the rain, but there was a distinct sense of awe and privilege imposed on my young and impressionable mind, as these serious gents, smelling strongly of old tobacco and brandy, passed around old ex-military binoculars and whispered about the assorted ducks and geese, out on the marsh.

At the time, it didn’t bother me that they were also planning their next shoot, as finding assorted duck and geese, hanging from my Grandpa’s garage, dripping onto his beloved Rover, was commonplace. Besides, I have to admit that, aside from biting the odd lead pellet or three, I found the taste of the meat rather splendid.

 So at school, I followed my heroes of David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell, Joy and George Adamson, Tony Soper and that new lad, Simon King, with the huge afro hair. I thoroughly enjoyed my Scouting, facilitating my experience with the Great Outdoors and Biology was a passion. So, after changing my ambitions from veterinarian to naturalist, I persevered and spent four years in Poly, gaining two allegedly useful, work-related qualifications in the process; a TecHD Applied Biology and an MIBiol. Trudging the peaks of Lyme Park, stalking red deer, was part of that fun, as was grubbing about with mini-beasts in stinky waters and studying bird behaviours.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get any work in the field.

The internships and volunteer opportunities available today weren’t as commonplace back then. I needed working lab experience and no-one would give me that, knowing full-well that I was apparently over-qualified and would soon leave for pastures new. I trained racing greyhounds, ran a petrol station and was warden for a National Scout Camp Site in 400 acres of forest. However, under pressure to find ‘proper’ paying work, I re-trained as a mental health nurse, picking up on service I’d done with Scouts and then spent the next thirty-plus years of my life working in the communities of the Yorkshire Dales and then Cumbria.

That said, working in the field of rehabilitation, I was able to bring my own interests into play and my experiences of the natural world were often used as therapeutic tools. Long before ‘mindfulness’ became the buzz-word it is now, wandering outside, away from other people and learning how to relax with nature was an often cheap and cheerful way to manage ones many issues.

 Time passed and I was given the opportunity of early retirement and, as I’d seen way too many of my colleagues work themselves into the ground, before retiring to a mouldy caravan and a heart attack, I seized the chance with both grasping paws and never looked back.

Of course, with all of this extra time now on my hands and a determination to start to look after me, I began by thoroughly exploring my Cumbrian locale. Playing with photography was fun and my resulting landscapes were fine, but there was something missing….

Then, one night with an old Scouting bud, we reminisced over a rather manky camp we’d had to endure, over in Silverdale. The one highlight of that sodden week was a hike to the old Leighton Moss and we remembered loving the atmosphere of the place, especially early mornings, when mists and bird calls dominated and the rest of the world disappeared.

Next thing, I was visiting the Moss and getting talked into joining up by ex-warden David Mower. I’d previously joined the National Trust, simply to take advantage of the car parking for my walking activities and decided that I could easily visit Leighton Moss enough times to get my monies worth!


If only I knew…

 I spent that first day in a complete awe-struck daze… gazing at the multitude of duck from the Grisedale Hide, being seemingly besieged by small woodland birds on my way to and from said hide and finding my old bird awareness slowly seeping back. I’d brought my camera with me, but soon learned of its inadequacies with regards bird photography. I was also dressed in a bright blue coat and, again, previous experiences and knowledge kicked in and I resolved to address that issue as well. Blessed with a generous retirement lump-sum, I soon had a new coat and camera and a new place to visit. I quickly explored the whole reserve, including the now familiar saltmarsh pools. 

So what is it, exactly, that makes the Moss so special for me? After all, living in South Cumbria, I have plenty of more local beauty spots and wildlife havens, each more readily to hand.

The beauty of the Moss, for me, is its complete variety of habitat, all within a relatively small area. Saltmarshes and brackish roosting and feeding pools, extensive reedbeds with associated freshwater pools and a copious amount of natural woodland. The Moss is also very, very well managed and this is evident by the numbers of species thriving, breeding and visiting and, whilst supplied with ample hides and pathways, that wildlife does appear to come first and foremost.

I’ve been visiting now for just over a full year, becoming acutely aware of the passing of seasons, as bird populations and the surrounding vegetation changes in sight, sound, scent, taste and feel. On arrival, on leaving the car, my ears pick up the various bird calls and, taking a deep, deep breath, I smell and taste the air, feeling it on my skin, be it as chill as this morning, or as warm and humid as it once was, back in the summer.

 During this first year, I have learned so much more about the birds and other wildlife. I’ve enjoyed several excellent courses, run by the reserve, such as the Basic Birding, the Bird Song for Beginners, the Dawn Chorus Walks and Bird Ringing sessions and I’ve also benefitted from the many fellow birders I have met, all of whom have been more than happy to tolerate my initial ignorance and then to further my education.

It’s never really quiet and birds can always be heard singing, pinging, ticking and generally calling out their presence. My attendance of the Birdsong for Beginners, twice, was a great help, because once I’ve identified a bird by its song, I’m halfway there to finding it to look at and maybe even photograph.

In Spring and Summer, the scent on the air is green, although the distinctive sweet scent of decaying leaves announces Autumn and there’s nearly always a salty tang around the saltmarsh pools. It’s rarely completely still and, even on the most static of frosty mornings, there’ll be one of the infamous robins, eyeing you up as a potential provider of scran. 

My days always begin with a sunrise, although some then have me wandering the reserve, whilst others see me settled as firmly as a tick in the one hide, waiting for the wildlife to come to me. Each hide has its own unique characteristics and there are many I enjoy… suitably attired, with my camera, monocular and a large flask of hot Vimto or Bovril.

 There’s the silent solitude of the Lower Hide, accessed via a windy walk through the woods, with waterfowl, otter and bittern taking advantage of the quieter nature.

There’s the bold and open stroll to the Causeway Hide, often busy, but often well worth sitting a while, as the waterfowl eventually passes by, in their incessant cruising of the pool. Otter and bittern also appear, teasing us with glimpses from across the pool, but, come icy winter, the otters will present themselves, much, much closer, patrolling on the ice.

Then there’s the Grisedale and Tim Jackson Hides, both again reached through paths that take you through wood and alongside reed beds and both with great views of waterfowl and often the red deer. Whilst the other hides will have the marsh harriers showing themselves, I believe that they appear the closest from these hides.

And, just off the main reserve, there are the two saltmarsh hides, Eric Morecambe and Allen, where the constant movement of waders and waterfowl is a real delight, especially when there’s the added spice of a visiting raptor, looking for a meal. The wide, open spaces may necessitate good optics to get the full benefit, but I’ve found other birders more than willing to share their sightings through their rather special long lenses.

Once the Visitor Centre opens, I’m in the habit of returning from my early morning birding, for some breakfast and the wonderfully friendly staff there never disappoint. I’ll review my photos, enjoy a warm drink or two and food and then find that I have the rest of the day to wander. The only difficulty is deciding where to point my feet…

All photos by Bruce Leyland-Jones

Recent Sightings and Road Renovations

 In the last few days, after having seen temperatures plummet, we have returned once more to damper, milder conditions. The ice that covered the pools earlier in the week is gone and the ducks that were huddled around the small patches of open water have now spread out across the reserve. A stop in Lilian’s or Causeway hides will reward you with the sight of hundreds of birds busy dabbling or diving for food. Little grebes, goldeneyes, tufted ducks and coots appear frantic in their efforts to find sub-aquatic meals while shovelers, (pic by Hazel Rothwell) pintails, gadwall, wigeon, teal and mallards sift and pick leisurely in their quest for sustenance.

Meanwhile the seemingly ever-present marsh harriers appear to be constantly searching the reedbeds and water edges for prey; a short time spent anywhere on the reserve right now will almost certainly result in a sighting of at least one or two of these impressive raptors. Bitterns too have been something of a feature in recent days with multiple reports of flying birds, primarily from the Causeway area. Bearded tits are still being seen, though as we’d expect by early December their appearances along the paths and grit trays are dwindling significantly.

As anyone who has visited us lately (or looked at our Facebook page!) will be aware of the poor condition of the access track to our Eric Morecambe and Allen pools car park. In the past we have always maintained this stretch of track, even though the RSPB does not own it. I am happy to report that we have now arranged to repair and renovate this track and our wardening team are currently working hard to complete this work by the weekend.

If you’re planning on visiting Leighton Moss before the weekend, please bear in mind that the track will closed to traffic, though there will be pedestrian access for those happy to walk from the visitor centre.

 The starlings are continuing to roost off the main reserve, at Barrow Scout. So, if you wish to observe the thousands of birds descending into the reedbeds, you can do so from the Skytower or even from the Jackson and Grisedale hides. Please note that the birds aren’t really murmurating as such yet – the majority are simply flying in to roost. Once the coastal hides track has been re-opened, visitors may view the starlings by parking in the Allen / Morecambe car park and walking back up along the access track. Please do not park on the track under any circumstances, or stop on the road.

As in previous years the starlings are likely to relocate to the main reserve shortly. The murmurations over Causeway can be spectacular and once this start happening we will post news here, on our Facebook page and on Twitter. Pic by Alistair Grubb.