Author: Naomi W

A curious case of the shrike and the bittern

Over the past week here at Leighton Moss we have had a wide array of species for visitors to enjoy. Most notably we have had an influx of wildfowl as our water levels return back to their normal depth. Also, while the majority of our waders remain at the coastal pools, small numbers are returning to the main site, alighting and departing various pools throughout the course of a day.

Starting with key arrivals to the reserve, the most prominent is the arrival of a great grey shrike (pictured below). First recorded on Sunday 4 November at Lilian’s Pool, the bird was also sighted from Causeway Hide on Monday 5 November. More information about this bird can be found at: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/great-grey-shrike. 

Photo by Nichols of the Yard (Flickr Creative Commons).

– There was also a ringtail hen harrier photographed on Monday 5 November, another passage raptor some visitors have been lucky to sight.

– A water pipit was sighted on Tuesday 6 November at the Tim Jackson Hide.

– The most recent recorded sighting of bramblings on the reserve was on Thursday 1 November along the path to the coastal hides.

Another noteworthy sighting is that a bittern has been spotted creeping along the reedbed at the Allen and Eric Morecambe pools on Tuesday 6 November. We speculate that the Hercules military plane that flew low overhead flushed the bird, it has also been suggested that this was a continental bittern and hence not as used to the area. We can expect to have more bitterns arriving in the upcoming weeks to spend winter here so this is something to look forward to. 

Moving onto wildfowl, several species remain conspicuous throughout the main site and coastal pools. Hundreds of teals, mallards and gadwalls along with smaller numbers of shovelers can be sighted at different pools across the site (particularly Lilian’s and Grisedale). There have been 80 pintails sighted on Lilian’s Pool and we can expect numbers to increase as more birds arrive in the upcoming weeks. Wigeon numbers have increased at the main site and on the coastal pools. The flotilla of goldeneyes at Causeway Pool remains and tufted ducks have frequently been sighted at the Lilian’s and Causeway pools, with larger numbers of females accompanied by a drake or two. Visitors can continue to enjoy the antics of the cormorants, little grebes and the more reserved characters of the great crested grebes at Causeway.

Coastal bird activity continues to be excellent at the Eric Morecambe and Allen pools. The kingfisher continues to be a steadfast presence here and has granted visitors some exceptional fishing spectacles over the past week. Small numbers of goosander, red-breasted mergansers and larger numbers of shelduck are present. There are plenty of redshank and black tailed godwits and a smaller number of greenshank (<10). This provides a backdrop for visitors to sight the occasional knot, spotted redshank and dunlin which remain present here. Also look out for little egrets, lapwings, oystercatchers and curlews. Great white egret numbers have fluctuated, with 3 being sighted on November 5, Lilian’s was visited by a great white egret on Tuesday 6 November. Tim Jackson is excellent for snipe, with the occasional jack snipe sighting. In addition. it is worth looking closely at the reed banks at Lilian’s and Grisedale for water rail

Spotted redshank by Mike Malpass.

Grisedale and Causeway grit trays are excellent for bearded tit activity; they remain to prefer Grisedale grit trays in the early morning at the moment

The 5 marsh harriers remain on site along with the merlin. We have several tawny owls roosting on the main reserve. Furthermore barn owl, buzzard and kestrel sightings on the main site highlight the variety of birds of prey Leighton Moss sustains.

Our smaller feathered friends are also fantastic at the moment, the reserve is alive with the calls of Cetti’s warblers, robins, fieldfares and redwings. The tit and finch families are here in strong numbers, with the bullfinches providing lots of appearances in front of our visitor centre. Siskins, nuthatches, treecreepers and goldcrests are showing very well across our woodland habitat. In particular on the path towards Lilian’s and the feeders next to The Hideout. Make sure to listen out for charms of goldfinches in our sensory garden, they are particularly fond of the roof of the visitor centre! Also look out for grey wagtails, who are actually more colourful than their name suggests… 

Finally, while the rut is winding down, visitors can still enjoy the odd clash of red deer  stags and roe deer remain to be sighted on the path to lower hide. The otters are showing spectacularly well, being sighted at Causeway, Lilian’s and Grisedale pools! As always, it is a lottery on where the otters are sighted. We have a variety of small mammals to sight including weasels and stoats too.

Future events to look forward to include Tots Trek on Wednesday 14 November and Nature Tots on Thursday 22 November for our younger visitors. Both events are packed full of enjoyable activities suited to the age range of the children that attend. I often help with the event and it is so enjoyable watching the children interacting amongst one another and enjoying being outdoors and actually seeing how the children who regularly attend develop. There is also our Christmas Market to look forward to on Sunday 2 December which is shaping up nicely. A variety of local businesses and producers are set to attend which will make for an intimate, festive atmosphere for all to enjoy. The reserve will be open as normal, so do have a look at what is on offer, there really are some exceptional products in our local area… I hope to see many of you there! 

Naomi