Author: Jon C

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!

Jon  

                     

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!

Jon                   

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!

Hah!

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.

Jon

           

                   

Problems with Plastic & Recent Sightings

 With autumn firmly giving way to winter, the wildlife at Leighton Moss is very much gearing up for the colder months ahead. Large numbers of fieldfare (pic by Mike Malpass) and redwing have recently joined the blackbirds, song and mistle thrushes in our orchard, taking full advantage of the glut of apples in our orchard. Wildfowl numbers continue to build and the mass of ducks on Lilian’s and Grisedale pools are quite a sight – and sound! Scan through the hundreds of teal, gadwall, shoveler and wigeon to spot handsome pintails and diving ducks such as pochard, goldeneye and tufted duck. A female scaup, regular at Lilian’s in recent weeks, adds a little identification challenge for keener birders. The two very late garganey appear to have moved on; time will tell whether this is a temporary shift in the wake of dropping temperatures or they finally figured out that most of their kind had long-headed to warmer climes!

Bearded tits are still being seeing on the grit trays and along the paths, though far less frequently than they were a month ago. At least five marsh harriers are set to winter on the site and there are regular merlin and peregrine sightings from the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. In excess of 800 black-tailed godwits, large numbers of lapwings, redshanks, dunlin and a few greenshank can also be seen at these coastal pools. Kingfishers may be encountered just about anywhere on the reserve and otters have been making frequent appearances at Causeway and Lower pools. 

Of course, a big feature of the season here is the annual starling murmuration and visitors are keen to know what the birds are doing. The murmurations,as per the last two years, have been slow to get going this winter. We do have c70,000 in total roosting on RSPB properties in the area but they’re not really doing much murmurating yet. The best places to observe the birds coming into roost are the Skytower, Grisedale and Jackson hides or from the track leading to the Allen Pools car park.

It is essential that visitors DO NOT park or attempt to pull-over on either the road or the access track: you MUST park in the car park and walk back along the track. Please be aware that the condition of this track is currently poor and great care should be taken when driving along it.
As in previous years, we expect the roost and murmuration will move onto the main reserve before too long. This will allow visitors much better views. Watch this space!    
Beach cleans
We are hosting a series of marine litter picks in the local area and are welcoming members of the public to join us. 
Beach cleans will take place on the following dates:

Tuesday 3 December 12pm-2pm – Carnforth Marsh, meet at Cotestones Farm, Sand Lane, Warton, Carnforth LA5 9NH

Thursday 20 February 10am-12pm – Eric Morecambe Pool, meet at saltmarsh car park

Wednesday 4 March 12pm-2pm – Carnforth Marsh, meet at Cotestones Farm, Sand Lane, Warton, Carnforth LA5 9NH

Please wear waterproofs and sturdy boots (wellies recommended) as it can be wet and muddy on the marsh. A small number of wellies will be available. If you have your own gloves please bring them but we can provide gloves if needed.

To give you flavour of what to expect and some insights into our litter-pick in November, read Charlotte’s account below:    

Problems with Plastic

 You might have not heard, but a few of us went down to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides on November 20 to clean litter that had washed up onto the bank.

This is usually done around twice a year, and it is sad to see how much litter there actually is, but you do get some interesting finds. Such as foreign items. You see, ocean currents which travel around the world, can pull in these plastics so end up travelling very long distances. Or, items that have come from the UK but have stayed in British waters for years before washing up on shore. A few regulars include tennis balls, which we found about 10, and 3 singular flip-flops.

We did also find items from further afield. Such as an ‘Aqua’ water bottle. This brand is owned by the same company as Evian and Volvic, but this is sold in Indonesia which is 7517 miles away! Which shows just how far plastics can travel. Another foreign find was another drinks bottle called Calpis. This is a Japanese soft drink which means it travelled around 5807 miles.

Not only do these bottles travel, they also remain in the ocean for a long time. Scientific reports say it will take at least 450 years for the typical plastic bottle to decompose, though this time can be trebled in some cases. It’s not been in the ocean for close to 450 years, but we found an old Lucozade bottle from 2014 which was promoting the 2014 Brazil world cup. This would have been floating around our waters for 5 years, so if we had not picked it up then it would be polluting the ocean for 445 more.                                                                                                                                                                                      Not plastic, but we did find another Lucozade bottle. It was an old glass bottle from 1999 so that’s 20 years, but if we didn’t find it then it would have been swimming about for a whopping 999,980 years!

 The majority of our finds were plastic, and at least half of the plastics we did find were bottles which could have been recycled. This is why it is so important to not only recycle plastic bottles you do buy, but to also buy reusable bottles you can take with you. These will pay for themselves after a few refills and stop plastic from littering beaches and banks around the world for hundreds of years. The average person buys around 150 bottles per year. If you assume they are all water bottles at 60p, then they are spending £90 a year on water bottles. This is around 11 times the amount of a reusable water bottle! The shop here at Leighton Moss sells them these reusable bottles for £7.99 – which not only allows you to cut back on plastic waste but by buying from the RSPB toy can be sure that profit goes back into our conservation and environmental projects and the running of our reserves.

Charlotte Burton

#ThanksToYou Free Entry for Non-Members

 National Lottery players can enjoy a fantastic free day out at the RSPB’s Leighton Moss nature reserve in Silverdale as part of a country-wide ‘thank you’ in celebration of 25 years of the National Lottery.

Over the past 24 years, grants from the National Lottery Heritage Fund have helped to make Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay nature reserve an even better place for wildlife and people by funding several projects including construction of new viewing hides and the spectacular nine-metre high Skytower. That’s why the RSPB is taking part in the #ThanksToYou campaign, which highlights the vital contribution National Lottery players make to supporting good causes.

To celebrate and show appreciation the nature reserve, located in the Arnside and Silverdale Are of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is offering National Lottery players free entry between 23 November and 1 December 2019. One National Lottery ticket or scratchcard entitles the holder, plus up to one additional adult and three accompanying children free entry to the reserve on any of the above dates – which includes the fabulous Christmas Market on Sunday December 1.

Travel by train, bus or bike and enjoy a discount in our popular café too!

Lower Hide Re-Opens & Christmas Market News

The weather is getting a little chilly as we enter November, but there is still much to see.
The good news is that we have made some repairs to the Lower Hide and it is now open again – though in a somewhat reduced state! We intend to keep this slightl…

Recent Sightings & Connecting Young People to Nature

 While there are still a few bearded tits entertaining the crowds as they visit the trays, I think it’s fair to say that ‘gritting season’ is certainly coming to an end. As we’d expect by the beginning of November fewer bearded tits are being seen gathering grit and they become increasingly, typically elusive once more. As always, if you hope to see these dazzling reedbed dwellers, morning is best (as with almost all birds) and avoid coming on days that are windy or very wet.

Should you have missed this year’s gritting activity, don’t despair as these birds will still be present through the winter and can, with patience and luck, often be encountered in the reeds along the Causeway or on the path to Grisedale . Learn their distinctive call and you’ll be in with a good chance of finding your own ‘beardies’! Keep up to date with sightings by checking our Facebook group. Photo of bearded tit by David Mower.

Thanks to all of the photographers and birdwatchers who have passed on their information regarding colour-ringed bearded tits – this information is invaluable in the study of these rare birds and helps us better understand, and consequently conserve, them. There is still plenty of time to email us your observations. Please send ring combination info to johnwilson711@btinternet.com

Just as the bearded tit bonanza draws to a close so too does the red deer rut. Once the stags have asserted their authority and gathered their harem, things rapidly quieten down on the reserve. It takes a lot of effort and energy to bellow and challenge other male deer so once the need to do so is over the dominant animals wind down and concentrate on the serious jobs of mating and relaxing. The deer will still be seen from time to time as they stray from the sanctuary of the reed beds so it’s always worth keeping an eye out.

As winter continues to creep ever near, we also see the arrival of two Leighton Moss specialities; bitterns and marsh harriers. As most readers of this blog will know both these species breed here during the summer. Research has shown that young bitterns usually disperse in their first autumn and these birds are replaced by bitterns arriving from further afield. As a consequence, we can have many more bitterns on the reserve in winter giving visiting birders the opportunity to see them at any point on the site – cold, icy conditions can often be ideal for seeing these cryptic herons as they emerge from the reeds.

Following a successful nesting season our breeding marsh harriers and their young departed in late summer; some of these will have migrated to southern Europe or Africa while others stay here in the UK. Last winter we had five marsh harriers spend the winter months with us and already this year eight have turned up; it would be fascinating to know where these individuals spent the summer months!

 Other highlights in recent days include a couple of spoonbills which touched-down on the Eric Morecambe Pools on Wednesday (and are still present at time of writing), continued sporadic reports of hen harrier, a well-watched red kite, the very unseasonal garganey and the pair of scaup at Lilian’s. Added to this of course is the annual arrival of lots of wildfowl with numbers changing on a daily basis. Cetti’s warblers (photo by Mike Malpass) are becoming increasingly vocal and birds may be heard just about anywhere on the reserve.

As many of you will know, Leighton Moss hosts multiple school, college and university visits throughout the year. Engaging with young people is absolutely essential for the future of nature conservation and we are committed to connecting children and young adults to nature through learning. Here our Learning Officer Carol Bamber summarises the year so far… 

End of a busy season with high praise

It’s been another successful summer at Leighton Moss for school, university and youth group visits. Since April the team have delivered outdoor learning sessions to 70 groups, engaging with over 2,250 participants – that’s a lot of pond dipping, minibeast safaris, Living Things and their Habitats trails and sensory walks, as well as discovering brilliant birds, plus lectures and guided walks to degree-level students.

 Here are some recent quotes from participating group leaders:

‘What a wonderful day we’ve all had! So much learning that could never have happened inside the classroom.’ Reception class teacher

‘This has been an incredible child-led experience. You have ticked so many curriculum objectives in a very hands-on way.’ Year 3 class teacher

‘Thank you so much for the session. It was just right for our first visit.’ Specialist School teacher

‘As always, this was an excellent trip. Lots to see – pupils interested and engaged.’ Year 8 science teacher

‘Brilliant introduction to the RSPB and the wider conservation industry. Related well to the students’ aspirations.’ University lecturer

‘A really good evening and very engaging activities provided for the group.’ Cub Scouts leader

Wow! 99% of respondents on our evaluation forms rated our educational offer as ‘very good’ or ‘outstanding’. It’s a massive team effort, we thoroughly enjoy what we do and we appreciate the urgent need, now more than ever, to connect people of all ages with wildlife and the great outdoors in a fun and interactive way. 

If you are interested in booking an educational visit to Leighton Moss at any time of year, please contact Carol on (01524) 703015 or carol.bamber@rspb.org.uk

Floods recede & sightings surge!

 I’m very happy to report that the water levels have almost returned to normal (whatever that is!) and there is now access to all the hides (except Lower Hide which remains closed to the public) for those visitors who may have forgotten their wellies. Obviously the pools are still holding more water than we’d expect them to at this time of year but that doesn’t seem to be deterring the wildfowl – duck numbers continue to climb with each passing day. Lilian’s Hide is great at the moment with two scaup still present along with pochard, tufted duck and scores of shoveler, teal and gadwall. Little grebes too are easy to see here as are mute swan family flotillas.

Elsewhere, the bearded tits have been entertaining the crowds as they come to gather grit from the trays at Causeway and along the path to Grisedale. With a camera streaming live footage of the trays to the café, visitors can enjoy a spot of lunch or cake and coffee while watching these amazing birds preparing for their winter diet of seeds!

Red deer are another focus of the season and the stags can be heard roaring from deep in the reed beds, particularly in the mornings and again at dusk. Our Facebook group page has been inundated with fabulous photos of impressive males as they display their imposing antlers. Occasionally a couple of the boisterous testosterone-fuelled stags will clash with one another, providing a breath-taking spectacle for those lucky enough to be in the hide.  

 With autumn truly upon us it’s no surprise to see redwings and fieldfares around in recent days. These attractive Nordic thrushes are a real treat to see as they pass over in flocks or descend upon hawthorn hedgerows in search of the plentiful berries. Other highlights this week include a couple of very late swallows and a ring-tailed hen harrier which was photographed jousting with a male marsh harrier at Grisedale on Wednesday morning.   

It really is a magical time of year to visit Leighton Moss, as one of our wonderful Live Interpretation volunteers, Kathleen, knows only too well. Here she shares with us her experience of being on the reserve during the recent floods…   

A walk through the Leighton Moss flood.
Leaving behind tick list, camera and the like, I pulled on my wellies and set off, happy to enjoy the unique experience, using only eyes, ears and nose! As I waded off in the direction of Grisedale Hide, it quickly became clear that normality had been flipped; nature had reclaimed the space and I was the intruder, confined to a narrow path. Progress was very slow through the deep water, and I envied the ease with which the two ducks, whose patch I was entering, swam along the path ahead of me.
Navigating the route needed more thought than usual, and there was more time to observe and to chat to the robin on his usual perch. Was he/she confused by the strange conditions, or didn’t they much affect life in the trees?
I was startled by the call of a water rail from the reeds beside the path – not because this isn’t a regular occurrence, but because it seemed to be much closer than usual.
Emerging out of the trees I was greeted by bright sunlight glinting on the water.  Looking more closely at the path surface beneath I could clearly see pond life which had escaped from its pond-dippable pools – whirligig beetles and pond skaters, amongst other things, busily rushing to and fro. Dragonflies skimmed over the reed tops in the sunshine; nothing had changed for them.
Now I was assailed by the quiet rustle of stems, and an exaggerated, overwhelming wet smell of reedbeds. What a surprise to see a single meadowsweet stem in full flower at the edge of the almost-invisible path!
Looking ahead it was hard not to smile at the sight of one of the benches stranded amongst water – as though it had floated out from its normal position. Adding to the surreal moment were a couple, relaxing on the bench in the sunshine, with lower legs and feet stretched out into the water. The only life visible at the grit trays was a confused dunnock, normally a ground feeder, forced to hop along the wooden fence rail looking for food. Perhaps my hope for bearded tits on the trays was a bit greedy, though…
With a feeling of relief (wading through water certainly flexes a few unused muscles) I reached the hide.
And what a great sight from within:  wigeon, teal, shoveler, mallard, gadwall, a very fine male pintail, tufted ducks. A splendid red deer stag briefly emerged from the edge of the reeds, then quietly vanished from whence he came, followed by a deer hind. A female marsh harrier quartered the reed tops nearby.  She seemed agitated; had the high water level created fewer or more hunting opportunities for her?
After a brief rest it was time to wade back, passing Cetti’s warbler, robins, dunnock, marsh tit, coal tit, great tit, blue it – and not forgetting a stunning nuthatch.
Was the reserve closed by the floods?  Not at all; it simply offered up a truly magical experience.
Kathleen Robertshaw

Wellies Still A Must

 The water has been sticking around since the last blog. It’s definitely wellie weather right now here at Leighton Moss, and if you come prepared you have the chance to see some great seasonal wildlife spectacles.

The bearded tits have been continuing to show very well on the grit trays along the Causeway and the path to Grisedale Hide in recent days. If you don’t have wellies, still do feel free to come and visit our café where we are screening live footage from a camera focused on the grit trays – so you may be able to watch these amazing birds while enjoying a hot drink and a slice of your favourite cake!

One of the big species to spot right now is the red deer. With the rut getting underway they are easier to see because the stags are forming harems and challenging one another for supremacy. The males can be heard bellowing all around the reserve, especially in the mornings and again in the late afternoon. With their magnificent antlers on display, they can provide great photographic opportunities. The best place to catch sight of these impressive beasts is from the Grisedale Hide (maybe after sighting the bearded tits?). Red deer pic by Mike Malpass.

Some of the other sightings around include otters, which are another firm favourite with visitors. These aquatic mammals have been spotted a couple times in the last week from the Causeway Hide. At least three marsh harriers have been seen hunting over the reedbeds in recent weeks. Usually this species migrates to Africa during September and October. However, a growing number of marsh harriers are remaining in the UK all year round due to milder winters rather than leaving and returning for breeding in April.

Other birds of prey being seen regularly include merlin, peregrine, sparrowhawk and kestrel – mainly from the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. Visitors have also been enjoying great views of little and great white egrets, multiple species of waders and kingfishers.

 Wildfowl numbers continue to creep up with shoveler, gadwall, teal and wigeon flocks growing almost daily. Tufted ducks have increased too and have attracted one or two pochard and a pair of juvenile scaup. A rather unseasonal garganey has been present now for several days and tends to favour Lillian’s and Grisedale pools.  

Are you thinking about buying some binoculars or a spotting scope? Well on October 26 and 27 we are hosting a binocular and telescope open weekend. This will give you the chance to try out the optics you have been eyeing outdoors, so you know which are the right products for you. We will have our friendly, impartial  team on hand to help you decide on the perfect equipment for your needs and budget.

So, even though we’re a bit flooded, there is still a lot to around to see. We hope to see you down here soon, but please bring wellies for the next few weeks. We will give an update when the water levels decrease on this blog, the RSPB Leighton Moss Facebook group and Twitter @LeightonMoss.

See you soon! 

Charlotte (Visitor Experience Intern)

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