Author: Naomi W

Spring arrivals and fond farewells

Hello readers, Leighton Moss has certainly been sun-kissed in recent days and there is a definite feeling of spring in the air. Our resident woodland birds such as song thrushes, great tits, nuthatches and marsh tits have been in full song, you can listen out for them across the reserve.

First on the agenda are the bitterns. We have observed some encouraging bittern activity, with a couple of bitterns chasing each other across the reedbed. No booming as of yet but it is still early days. Last year saw the booming start in March, so we are all eagerly listening for the tell-tale sound. If you have not heard a bittern boom, check out our interactive screens in the visitor centre, you can listen to the distinctive sound there.

Spring is of course the time to welcome new arrivals to Leighton Moss! The first sand martin of the year was seen on Monday 25 February and we can look forward to more incoming sand martins and swallows over the next few weeks. Monday also saw our first chiffchaff in song down on the Causeway path. This is an excellent place to look for other birds such as bearded tits and reed buntings.

Sand martin. Photo credit: Ben Hall rspb-images.com. 

Did you know that male reed buntings have different songs? A single male will have a slightly varied call to a paired male. The paired male will still try his luck at getting more than one mate though!

Causeway Pool has been a hive of activity for the past week. We have two pairs of great crested grebes displaying at the moment and listen out for the trilling calls of the little grebes too. There have been excellent sightings of the otter family from Causeway and Lower hides and both locations are great places to look for snipe. Water rails continue to show well in the right-hand side reed channel of Causeway Hide and also down in the dyke on the way to Tim Jackson Hide and Grisedale Hide.

Great crested grebe courtship. Photo credit: Hazel Rothwell.

In terms of wildfowl, we have had some departures but there is still a good variety at Causeway and on the wider reserve. Look out for wigeon, pintail, teal, shoveler and gadwall. Diving ducks to look for include up to 14 pochard (hopefully we will have some chicks later!) roughly ten goldeneye and a flotilla of tufted duck too.

There are at least three great white egrets still on the reserve, often down by the Tim Jackson and Grisedale Hides. Grisedale Hide is an excellent spot to look for the very active marsh harriers but the Skytower and Lilian’s Hide are prime places too. Other raptors which have been sighted include buzzard, kestrel, sparrowhawk and barn owl. We also had another fly-over from a red kite on Sunday 24 February.

Male marsh harrier. Photo credit: Alan Saunders. 

Down at the Saltmarsh Pools there are currently 9 avocet. Currently, the best place to look for them near is near the edges of the pools or roosting with other waders such as the black-tailed godwits. There are also lapwing, oystercatcher, redshank, knot and greenshank to look for. The walk to the hides is also an excellent place to spot smaller birds such as stonechat so do keep your eyes peeled.

Warden work

It is also worth mentioning the excellent habitat improvement work the warden team have completed over the past week. The dyke which you cross when on the way to Tim Jackson Hide and Grisedale Hide has been opened up. This will allow for better fish movement into these new areas as well as providing a new bittern feeding habitat as the fish can swim into the edges of the reeds. Our resident waterfowl are already taking advantage of the open water and do keep a watchful eye on the reed edges, you never know what bird species you may see perched there!

Farewell Leighton Moss

As the sun sets on my internship I can’t help but leave with a paradoxical sense of being heartbroken but also filled with optimism for the future. I have thoroughly loved my time as Visitor Experience Intern and I will miss the team, reserve and visitors dearly. I was nervous starting my internship at Leighton Moss but I think I have done alright looking back!  I have learned so much about the fantastic work of the RSPB, the effort needed to run a visitor centre and of course I have learned a lot about our birds and conservation efforts. 

I don’t really have a favourite moment as living on a nature reserve is fantastic in itself! Truthfully, the supportive and welcoming team made the internship for me. I will say however, that seeing the Christmas Market do so well and assisting Andy with guided walks have been key highlights. I assisted on the guided walk Birding for Beginners on Sunday 24 February, this was a very fun event with a fantastic group who were keen to learn and ask questions. I would recommend attending an upcoming Birdsong for Beginners if you would like to learn how to distinguish the various warbler calls. 

I have loved meeting people from all walks of life in the visitor centre and assisting with Nature Tots. Inspiring young minds has been wonderful. Our conservationists, scientists and birders of the future, I think it’s our job to inspire a love for wildlife in children. How can we expect a child to want to protect something they know nothing about? Or indeed have a link to? 

I will leave Leighton Moss with a heavy heart, but I am already planning my return visit to catch up with my friends and mentors and continue to discover the wonderful wildlife this fantastic reserve has to offer. 

I will leave you readers with perhaps my top highlight, holding (and releasing) a juvenile male bearded tit! Thank you for reading my blogs and saying hello in the visitor centre. Perhaps I will see you at Leighton Moss in the future! 

Naomi. 

This Valentine’s Day, how will you Show The Love?

On the most romantic day of the year, contemplating the state of the planet and the impending effects of climate change probably won’t be at the top of your to-do list.  I’m sure you all know how to show love and appreciation to your loved ones, but what about the places that we ourselves and nature depend on?

2019 marks the fifth year of the Climate Coalition Show the Love Campaign, a campaign which aims to raise awareness about climate change and how it affects local areas while empowering individuals to talk to politicians to protect what we love. The Climate Coalition is comprised of 130 organisations including the RSPB, OXFAM and the National Trust and has the support of over 15 million individuals.

So for this blog, I’m focusing on the effects of climate change in one area in particular: RSPB Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay nature reserve. For Leighton Moss, our climate change story is already underway and while the signs may not be so obvious if you look a little deeper, there is evidence which highlights how climate change is affecting us in the present.

With rising sea levels and a predicted increase in the frequency of tidal surges we can expect to see saltmarsh and reedbed habitats inundated with sea water more frequently. This poses a major problem for wading birds which breed in the habitat such as our avocets as their nests can be washed away in these surges.

Avocet with chick. Photo credit: Chris Gomersall

Avocets are one of the best success stories of the RSPB. These beautiful birds were extinct in the UK for over 100 years but there are now an estimated 1500 breeding pairs in the UK. We manage the brackish lagoons where they breed by building fencing to deter predators and prevent human disturbance. Bankings have also been built to help control the water levels and act as a flood defence against tidal surges. In 2018 we had 29 breeding pairs of avocets and as I write this, we are eagerly awaiting their return.

As a country we are also experiencing, with increasing frequency, extreme weather events. In particular droughts and floods, which can disrupt our reedbed inhabitants. Managing a wetland to provide optimum water levels can prove challenging particularly when our much-adored residents have different needs!

Bearded tits need dry, old reedbed to thrive and will struggle in wet, flooded conditions. To help this charismatic little bird our former warden and now volunteer David (who initially pioneered our famous nestbox ‘wigwams’) makes roughly forty of the artificial nest sites to be placed around the reedbed. The wigwams can be raised during heavy floods to prevent nests from being flooded. I should also mention that having made a reed wigwam under David’s supervision, it’s very, very hard work!

David and his reed ‘wigwams’. Photo by David Mower.

Conversely, otters rely on deep fresh water pools to fish. Leighton Moss has been managed to provide a mosaic water habitat meaning we have areas of deep water (such as Causeway Pool) and areas of shallower pools (Grisedale). This allows ample fish movement in the reedbed and offers suitable habitat for bitterns as well as our diving and dabbling ducks.

With the threat of rising sea levels and the inundation of saltwater to the reedbed habitat, managing our water levels via sluices means we can lessen the impact of saltwater inundation, keeping our pools fresh water habitats where fish, otters, bitterns and waterfowl can thrive.

Birds are also changing their migration patterns or in some cases, choosing not to migrate at all! An obvious example are our six over-wintering marsh harriers who would normally spend the winter months sunning themselves in Africa. We can expect management practices to shift in the coming decades in response to birds which may start wintering or breeding here such as the little and great white egrets.

Let’s not forget our insects! A lesser-known area managed by the RSPB Leighton Moss team in partnership with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Arnside & Silverdale AONB is Warton Crag, a limestone grassland and cliff environment. Warton Crag is home to some extremely rare/on the brink of extinction butterflies. One example is the nationally important high brown fritillary butterfly, pictured below.

High brown fritillary. Photo credit: David Mower.

With the warmer climate, butterflies are flying earlier and this can lead to them being vulnerable in volatile weather. To help this butterfly species (and others as a result) the warden team carry out coppicing to create areas of open space for wildflowers to grow such as Common Dog-violet, a favoured food plant. 

The potential of wetlands in flood prevention

Wetlands such as Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay provide us with lots of benefits, they encourage biodiversity, improve water quality, protect against coastal erosion and they are now being recognised as playing a pivotal role in flood prevention. Wetlands act like sponges; they can absorb huge amounts of water before slowly releasing it. This helps to control floods and prevent water logging in fields.

 We have lost 90% of our wetlands since Roman times but action is being taken to restore these incredibly important, diverse habitats. The RSPB plays a major part in habitat restoration and we have created areas of new wetland here at Leighton Moss; Barrow Scout and Silverdale Moss. Further afield we have also created new reed beds – I’d recommend visiting RSPB Dearne Valley – Old Moor and  RSPB St Aidans across the border in Yorkshire! These are much more “urban” reserves (compared to Leighton Moss anyway) where nature and society are intertwined in a much more visible sense.

While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s great for getting people who live in urban environments closer to nature and using the land as a flood prevention method. Did you know one of the biggest threats to nature is people, especially children, being disconnected from nature (State of Nature Report, 2016)?

I think these reserves are pretty cool places too, we don’t have to separate people from the natural environment. There are so many benefits to be found in green spaces physically and mentally. So for this month show your love for your favourite natural spaces, start conversations and question the choices of decision makers.

Naomi. VE intern.

Kites, harriers and bitterns

Hello bloggers, we’ve had a busy week here at Leighton Moss with lots of fantastic wildlife sightings to delight visitors old and young. 

I’ll start this blog off with the key wildlife highlight this week – a red kite sighting. The red kite was seen on Saturday 9 February and flew South over the reserve, last seen from Tim Jackson Hide. This was fantastic to see, as red kites are not common in the Lancashire area. Known for its reddish-brown body, deeply forked tail and angled wings, the red kite is another beautiful raptor which we nearly lost to extinction. The red kite has since greatly benefited from reintroduction programmes and now holds a green conservation status in the UK.

Male red kite. Photo credit: Chris Gomersall.

Next on the agenda is our starlings. They have certainly been giving our staff, volunteers and visitors the runabout in terms of where they are going to roost! At the moment their chosen place seems to be Barrow Scout Fields. Sunday 10 February saw an excellent mumuration over Barrow Scout Fields with an estimated 100,000 starlings present. The sound the often-huge flock creates as they come into roost can be likened to sea waves breaking. Add the rolling black waves of the starlings and it makes for a very surreal, impressive spectacle to witness. If you cannot get down to the coastal Pools, the Skytower is also an excellent place to watch the show. 

Moving on, there have been daily otter sightings from Causeway and/or Lower Hide. The mother otter has shown very well and has frequently treated visitors to successful hunting spectacles and all three cubs continue to do well. 

Bittern sightings remain excellent from Causeway and/or Lower Hide. As I have highlighted before, the reedbed channel on the right-hand side of the Causeway Hide has lent itself excellently to sightings of not only bittern but snipe and water rail. Snipe can frequently be seen in front of the other hides on the reserve. In particular Lilian’s Hide, where one visitor counted 30! The water rail down on the path towards Tim Jackson and Grisedale Hide remains in its not-so-elusive state with almost-daily sightings occurring. Listen out for their pig-like squeal calling out from the reedbed, particularly along the Causeway path. 

Bearded tits have also been seen and heard in the reedbed this week. Do keep in mind that the birds are residents of Leighton Moss all year so while not guaranteed, you may get some fantastic sightings out of gritting season. One lucky photographer took some excellent shots of a male bearded tit in the reeds, which he has posted on the Leighton Moss Facebook group. Around this time of year is when the bearded tits are scouting for potential nest sites, so this suggests there are many more sightings to be had in the near future!

With the recent work in front of Lilian’s Hide, a number of wildfowl and waders have taken advantage of the new loafing site. In addition, stonechats (males and females) have been seen searching for food in the freshly-cut area. This was a first for me and wow! What a handsome fellow the male stonechat is! 

Causeway Pool has also been host to a variety of wildfowl including up to ten goldeneye (some of which have been seen breeding) and large flotillas of tufted duck. A less-frequent visitor has been the occasional whooper swan, a beautiful addition to our resident group of mute swans. Look out for little grebes in front of Causeway Hide, their small size and whinnying trill make for a distinctive, albeit compact bird. 

There remains to be a good number of pintail, gadwall, teal, shoveler, wigeon and mallard who can be seen across the reserve.  

Male goldeneye. Photo credit: Zul Bhatia.

Speaking of Grisedale Hide, this has been an excellent location to sight our marsh harriers. There are at least five of these wonderful raptors on-site and they are also very vocal at the moment so do listen and look for them. 

Down on the saltmarsh pools is business as usual. There is an excellent variety wildfowl including goosander, red-breasted merganser, shelduck and hundreds of wigeon. Waders to look out for include lapwing, oystercathcer, redshank, and greenshank. We have also had frequent kingfisher sightings from here (often Allen Hide) and the odd great white egret

That rounds up our recent sightings this week folks. Until next time. 

Naomi. Visitor Experience Intern. 

New arrivals and recent sightings

With the wonderful news of the arrival of three otter cubs here at Leighton Moss, this blog takes a closer look at this charismatic species. 

Brrrr, we’re in the grips of a cold snap here at the Moss so a lot of our pools have been fully or partially frozen. While this may not seem to be great weather for us humans to go exploring on the nature reserve it should lend itself to some excellent wildlife sightings. In particular, otters and bitterns! Our otter cubs were first spotted this weekend (Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 January) with their mum. The cubs will stay with their mum for up to a year while they learn the skills they need to survive, so we can look forward to lots of wonderful sights of the cubs playing together and learning to hunt at the Causeway Pool. So if you take any photos of the lovely family, do share them on the Facebook group for everyone to enjoy! 

Photo credit: Richard Cousens 

For the past few weeks lucky visitors have been offered some wonderful sightings of these charismatic creatures from either the Causeway or Lower hides almost every day. To be able to catch a small glimpse into their world and their behaviours is a real treat and a privilege. As a general rule, mornings are better for otter activity, but we have had great afternoon sightings too.

Young otter cub. Photo credit: Dave Hall 

Their (brief) conservation story…

Otters require clean, freshwater habitats (particularly rivers) to thrive. While they mainly eat fish, otters will eat what is most abundant and have been known to eat amphibians, crayfish, waterfowl and small mammals too. Unfortunately, fresh water habitats do suffer pollution from neighbouring land uses such as agriculture and urban developments. Toxic chemicals used in some pesticides do unfortunately find their way into these habitats. This threatens the whole ecosystem of the habitat as the majority of aquatic plants and invertebrates struggle to survive in polluted waters. This then has a knock-on effect for the fish and other wildlife that rely on this habitat being healthy, and the populations shrink as a result.

By the 1950s otters had suffered a huge population decline due to water pollution by agricultural chemicals. Otters were also historically persecuted, and were hunted with the aid of dogs. Fast forward to the 1970s and the only healthy otter populations left were in Scotland. Here at Leighton Moss, otters could be seen occasionally before disappearing from the site in the 1990s.

Not all doom and gloom…

There has been a concentrated effort from lots of stakeholders to remove the harmful pesticides used in farming practices (such as DDT and agro-chloride), with many being banned to help improve the water quality in our lakes, rivers and ponds. Also, otter hunting came to an end in 1978. Otters have made a remarkable comeback since then, with healthy populations present across much of Britain today.

Otters returned to Leighton Moss in 2006 where they have bred successfully most year since. At Leighton Moss, the warden team carefully monitors the water quality on the reserve to ensure the reedbed (and its inhabitants) remains healthy.

Photo credit: Mike Malpass

Further afield in the rest of Britain, otters have benefited from river habitat restoration schemes which can involve allowing rivers to meander once again, planting new areas of reedbed or removing barriers such as weirs.

A brief recent sightings roundup

Recent sightings include up to six incredibly active marsh harriers hunting across the reedbed. There is a fantastic variety of waterfowl on the reserve but currently our ducks are congregating in the open water bodies on the reserve. The elusive great grey shrike has been true to form and popping up for a few erratic sightings. There are up to four great white egrets on the main reserve (normally Causeway Pool and Lilian’s) and there have been excellent sightings of snipe from all main reserve hides. The supposed-to-be elusive water rail continues to show well along the path towards Tim Jackson and Grisedale Hides and we can’t forget bittern sightings. Bitterns have been sighted almost daily from either Causeway or Lower Hide.

The coastal pools are host to large gatherings of lapwing, oystercatcher, and black-tailed godwit alongside a large variety of waterfowl including wigeon, goosander and pintail. The coastal pools remain the place to go for the starling murmurations, with some fantastic displays occurring over the previous week.

If you want to know what’s being spotted at Leighton Moss on a daily basis, don’t forget to check the Facebook group, Twitter feed or the Lancaster & District Birdwatching Society website. We also encourage all visitors to write their sightings in the recent sightings book.

Until next time,

Naomi. Visitor Experience Intern.   

Bold bitterns, cheerful chiffchaffs and other recent sightings.

Hello bloggers, for this recent sightings blog I thought I would try a new layout and give you a brief rundown of bird and wildlife species to look out for in different locations around Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay reserve.

Firstly, the starlings have been giving the reserve team the run around in terms of where they are murmurating. The past few evenings has seen them murmurating and going to roost at Barrow Scout Fields close to the Allen and Eric Morecambe Hides. There are well over 100,000 starlings and they have been performing brilliantly as of late. Please do be mindful of the volume of traffic during the roost time as there is a much smaller car park here.

Down at Causeway Pool

If you want to sight bitterns, Causeway Hide is certainly the place to go. The reedbed channel to the right of the hide has provided some excellent sights as of late, and you may even see the bittern take flight across the reedbed here too. Sightings have occurred daily for the past week, so it is worth spending some time here. Also, the reedbed channel to the right has provided excellent snipe and water rail sightings, so do take a second look!

Dabblers to look out for include teal, wigeon, pintail, shoveler, gadwall and mallard. We also have a large flotilla of tufted duck (approximately 30) and a smaller number of goldeneye. Perhaps my favourite resident at Causeway, the little grebe, can often be seen fishing in front of the hide. One rarity to look out for are two drake pochards, who have been absent since the breeding birds of summer. This is a really special visitor, the pochard species is facing a rapid decline; they are red list species so do take the opportunity to see them. 

Drake pochard. Photo credit: David Mower.

The island in front of Causeway Hide will normally host a group of cormorants and lapwings. You do however get the occasional drop-in species at this spot such as greenshank. Grey heron are often spotted hunting here and with there currently being four great white egret (roosting at Causeway) on the reserve, visitors may get the chance to see the grey heron chase off a great white egret or two, it is a brilliant spectacle to watch.

Otter sightings from Causeway Hide have also been excellent, with the otters showing off their fisherman skills and treating visitors to fantastic views on the stone island in front of the Hide. 

At Lower

Much the same as Causeway Hide, otter and bittern sightings have also occurred at Lower Hide. Lower Hide is also great for snipe, jack snipe, little egret and also the same variety of waterfowl as Causeway Hide. It is also worth mentioning the walk to Lower Hide however, as the woodland and willow scrub habitat is home to a huge variety of birds and mammals. Look out for fieldfare in the fields parallel to the reserve and also marsh, blue, coal and great tits, especially in the glade areas. You can also see siskin and lesser redpoll in the tree tops and the past couple of days (January 18 and 19) have also had sightings of brambling and chiffchaff, a lovely olive-brown warbler with a wonderful call.

Chiffchaff. Photo credit: John Bridges

The path to Lower Hide is also the area to go when searching for the great grey shrike, but carry on towards Storrs Lane and look into the fields (especially treetops and hedgerows) to find it. The shrike has been sighted on 18 and 19 January, so keep your eyes peeled.

Lilian’s

Like all of the main reserve, there is a good spread of waterfowl present at Lilian’s Pool. The island in front of Lilian’s is used by a large variety of species which has included in the past week black-tailed godwits and greenshank. Curlew have also been sighted from here as well as sparrowhawk, great-white egret, little egret and snipe

Grisedale Hide:

The main residents at Grisedale Hide are snipe but there is also the occasional great white egret alongside a good number of waterfowl. Grisedale Hide is also a great place to see red deer and marsh harrier. Like any hide however, you never quite know what may unexpectedly appear –chiffchaff’s and reed bunting’s have been sighted at Grisedale Hide as of late. The path to the Grisedale and Tim Jackson Hides is also a prime place to spot water rail scampering across the dyke in the willow scrub habitat.

Reed bunting. Photo credit: Zul Bhatia. 

Down at the Saltmarsh Pools

Allen and Eric Morecambe Hides play host to a huge number and variety of waders. At this time of year, Morecambe Bay plays a vital, life-sustaining role for our wintering and resident guests. Species to look out for include: lapwing, oystercatcher, black-tailed godwit, redshank, spotted redshank, greenshank, knot, dunlin and curlew. Other usual suspects include goosander, red-breasted merganser, greylag geese, shelduck, wigeon and kingfisher (the posts and pipes in front of Allen Hide are good places). The drake American wigeon is still present, just very elusive among the huge wigeon flocks present at the saltmarsh. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a stonechat on the path to these hides. Raptors to look out for include marsh harrier and peregrine

The Garden and Visitor Centre

You never quite know what you will see in the garden. Wednesday 16 January saw a kestrel perched in the treetops in the garden and also the screaming call of a jay. Not the nicest of noises to welcome you to the reserve, but a colourful visitor to look out for. Also look out for bullfinches, goldcrests, treecreepers, nuthatches, house sparrows and greenfinches here.

Another note on our marsh harriers, this lovely species will hunt across the entirety of the reedbed; there is no one fixed position to sight them, it is worth scanning the reedbed from the Skytower to sight them too. Recently, visitors have captured some excellent photographs of some of the marsh harriers with their talons locked in combat; there are some excellent sightings waiting for you!

Big Garden Birdwatch 

We now only have one week to go before the 40th Big Garden Birdwatch so if you have not signed up yet, you can download a digital pack here! This is a really easy activity to take part in, and your input really does make a difference. This is top class citizen science which allows the RSPB to monitor the bird populations in the country, track changes and provide us with information so we can plan and take action to help declining species. 

If you have bought a bird feeder especially for the Big Garden Birdwatch, I would recommend you put it up in the next couple of days so that the birds have time to adjust to it and start using it. 

Until next time!

Naomi. Visitor Experience Intern. 

Recent sightings and a happy New Year

Hello readers, the Leighton Moss team would like to wish you all a happy New Year and another great year of wildlife watching experiences! Speaking of experiences, RSPB Leighton Moss is off to a flying start in terms of bird and other wildlife sightings. So without further ado, here is the first recent sightings roundup of 2019.

Leading the 2019 spectacle charge is our fantastic starling population. There is currently an estimated 100,000 starlings going to roost. For the past couple of evenings the starlings have been favouring the north of the reserve with visitors being able to enjoy the murmuration from the Causeway and Lower hides.

Starling murmuration. Photo credit: David Kjaer

New Year’s Day saw an excellent start to the year with bittern sightings being recorded from the Causeway Hide. The Leighton Moss team have estimated that there are currently six bitterns on the reserve so there will be many opportunities to spot these wonderful, elusive species. There have been daily bittern sightings every day since New Year’s Eve.

Also kicking off New Year’s Day (and people’s lists) were sightings of the great grey shrike. After an absence of sightings, the great grey shrike had excellent timing and made itself visible for visitors once again. This suggests that the bird has remained in the area, but has been exceptionally elusive! Given the large territory of the bird, this is not unexpected.

Another returning rarity is the drake American wigeon who has been sighted from the Eric Morecambe Pool among his European counterparts. Look out for his lovely creamy white crown stripe and green eye mask. 

Marsh harrier sightings have also been spectacular. There are up to six marsh harriers wintering with us and visitors have sighted them from various locations. With their tendency to soar across the reedbed there is a great chance of seeing them on your next visit.

I should also mention a recent sighting of bearded tits on the causeway grit trays on Tuesday 2 January. Whilst we are out of gritting season, the bearded tits do have to top up every now and then so with a bit of luck you may see a pair gritting or flitting between the reedbed stems. 

One other elusive secretive resident we have here is the water rail. Water rails have been sighted from various locations including the path to Lilian’s Hide and the dyke which runs parallel to the path towards Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. In addition a water rail has been sighted in the trees in the willow scrub habitat on the way to Tim Jackson Hide. Often this is a habitat which is overlooked, but willow scrub is an excellent natural flood defense and provides a mature, moss and lichen rich habitat for multiple species.

Water rail. Photo credit: Mike Malpass.

There is an excellent variety of smaller bird species at Leighton Moss to find including: treecreepers, nuthatches, chaffinches, bullfinches, siskins, goldcrests, marsh tits and the occasional Cetti’s warbler. Some of our smaller birds you do not need to find as they will come to you, especially the robins, blue tits and great tits! Two rarer visitors to look out for include the lovely brambling and handsome stonechat.

Wader and waterfowl numbers continue to be excellent across the reserve. There is currently a huge number of lapwings at the saltmarsh pools with smaller numbers of black-tailed godwit. Other waders to look out for at the saltmarsh include: curlew, oystercatcher, redshank, greenshank and little egrets. Waterfowl to spot include wigeon, shelduck, goosander and red-breasted merganser

On the main site, there is a variety of waterfowl species spread across the reserve. Causeway Pool is the favoured spot for the goldeneye and is often the pool where whooper swans will alight when visiting. Causeway Hide is also a great place to see sizeable groups of tufted ducks, teal, pintail, shoveler, gadwall and the humble mallard. These species of waterfowl can also be seen from Lower Hide, Lilian’s Hide and Grisedale Hide too.

Female goldeneye. Photo credit: Ben Hall.

Grisedale Hide and Tim Jackson Hide continue to be excellent places to spot snipe and the occasional great white egret. The cousin of the great white egret, the grey heron, can be seen from multiple locations but Lilian’s Pool is a great place to spot them.

Moving onto mammals, there have been almost daily otter sightings since New Year’s Eve from the Causeway and Lower hides. The otters have provided some wonderful fishing spectacles as of late, with several sightings being pretty close to the hides.

One final note, are you and your family getting ready for the 2019 Big Garden Birdwatch? This year Big Garden Birdwatch will run from from Saturday 26 January to Monday 28 January.  The Big Garden Birdwatch is crucial for us to understand what is happening to our bird and wildlife species and it is so inclusive – people of all abilities can take part! It is one of the best cases of citizen science in the country with everyone’s data contributing. If you have not done so already, you can sign up online here and look forward to a great hour of birding. 

Naomi, visitor experience intern. 

Marvellous marsh harriers and other recent sightings

Hello everyone, it’s been another great week of sightings for our regular wildlife and seasonal specialities here at Leighton Moss.

The marsh harriers continue to delight and they can be seen from all areas of the main reserve site and occasionally from the coastal pools too. Isn’t it amazing to think that we have 5 of these beautiful raptors here when in 1971, there was only one pair left in the UK? Our marsh harriers are very active, you can often see them gliding across the reedbed and scouting for prey.

Male marsh harrier. Photo credit: Alan Saunders

Bittern sightings have also been regular with all reported sightings this week being from the Causeway or Lower hides. Some of the recorded sightings have been of the bitterns in flight; they often appear seemingly out of nowhere and their striking silhouette certainly adds to the spectacle. Seeing a bird so closely connected to Leighton Moss is wonderful and the hushed reverence that falls in the hide when a bittern is present surely adds to it’s magic.

Causeway and Lower hides remain excellent places to sight a variety of wildlife such as great white egrets, grey herons, snipe, goldeneye ducks, tufted ducks and regular flotillas of teal, gadwall and shoveler with handsome pintails present too.

Grisedale hide has been an excellent place for waterfowl sightings. Listen out for the lovely wigeon whistle and keep an eye on the drake teals who are starting to demonstrate courting behaviour. A male and female stonechat were sighted from Grisedale hide on Monday 17 December. Grisedale remains one of the best hides to watch marsh harriers. Tim Jackson and Lilian’s hides are both good places to spot snipe among the reed cuttings and waterfowl loafing on the small islands in the pools.

Curlews, oystercatchers and a black-tailed godwit. Photo credit: David Mower.

The Allen and Eric Morecambe pools remain excellent for waders and waterfowl. There are good numbers of redshank, oystercatcher and lapwing with a sparser number of greenshank, curlew and the occasional black tailed godwit. Waterfowl present here include shelduck, wigeon, goosanders and red-breased mergansers. As always, the kingfisher continues to show well in a dazzling flash of turquoise and orange.

Our smaller passerine birds are also showing brilliantly across the reserve. I am often followed by curious blue, coal and great tits and even some marsh tits have came for a closer look! I should also mention our brilliant robins continue to delight visitors old and young. As always, the Hideout is a great place to spot a variety of smaller birds (maybe some larger ones too). However the surrounding woodland and mature willow scrub make for great places to spot a variety of species including goldcrestsiskin, greenfinch, treecreepers and nuthatches. The boardwalk to Causeway is also a great place to hear and see redwing and the occasional fieldfare also.

Marsh tit. Photo credit: Richard Cousens

Non avian-activity has also been fantastic. We have had otter sightings on the ice on our cooler days and in our milder, wetter days otters have been sighted fishing from Causeway and Lower hide. The most recent sighting has been today (Wednesday 19 December). There have also been irregular stoat, red and roe deer sightings for some lucky visitors.

One final note is to highlight one BIG event that the RSPB is running next month which we have recently launched. That’s right folks, its time for the 2019 Big Garden Birdwatch! Why not bring your friends and family along to RSPB Leighton Moss (or your nearest reserve) and get your bird identification skills into top shape ready for 26 – 28 January 2019. If you would like to learn more about the Big Garden Birdwatch check out our website here: https://tinyurl.com/yav9a6y4.

Until next time. 

Naomi, Visitor Experience Intern. 

Winter wildlife and recent sightings

Evening everyone, the reserve continues to be in the midst of cold snaps and milder, wetter weather but sightings of wildlife have remained excellent over the past week. So without further ado…

A festive bittern. Photo credit: Andy Hay

With the wetter weather, bittern sightings have become a little less frequent in recent days. Sightings have reduced due to deeper water levels on the reserve meaning there are more places within the reedbed for bitterns to fish; they do not have to prowl across the reedbed edge as much as they have been. Lower and Causeway hide remain the best place to sight bitterns and this pool has lots to offer in terms of other wildlife such as otters, waders and wildfowl. The island opposite Causeway Hide is currently a good spot to see the elegant greenshank and there is often a little grebe fishing in this area too.

Photo credit: Mike Malpass

Lower hide has been the prime location to spot fishing otters. The pool has also been excellent for:

Currently the Grisedale and Tim Jackson hides are a prime area for wildfowl. Look and listen for wigeon here too and if you have a keen eye, you should be able to spot some snipe hunkered down in the grass and reed cuttings in front of the hides.  

Foraging water rail are continuing to show well in a variety of locations including Causeway, Grisedale and Lilian’s hides. I would also recommend checking out the dyke that runs parallel to the path towards Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides and the Skytower as places to spot these often elusive birds. Great white egret continue to be sighted fairly frequently in different locations including the coastal pools.

Water rail. Photo credit: Mike Malpass

Our marsh harriers are currently very active and have been sighted daily (including today) across the reserve. The Skytower is a favourite place of mine to spot them. The juveniles are often seen flying and sparring together and the male can normally be seen around the Grisedale Pool area. I watched him from Grisedale Hide on Wednesday 12 December as he flushed the wildfowl from the pool, he looked to be scoping them out to find a potential dinner and it was interesting to see the juveniles watching him. Perhaps it won’t be too long until I see them purposefully flushing the birds too!

Allen and Eric Morecambe pools have been fantastic for waders, wildfowl and raptors for the past week. Wednesday 12 saw a marsh harrier and peregrine stir up trouble on the Eric Morecambe Pool and there have also been frequent sightings of merlin here too. There are excellent numbers of wigeon across the saltmarsh, there have been no recent sightings of the drake American wigeon, it could still be there but perhaps it has moved into a new area… Other wildfowl to look out for include:

Waders to spot include:

Of course, our kingfisher remains present here too. A top tip for visitors – visit the coastal pools in the morning as the lighting is much more productive to sighting and identifying birds.

Our other rarity, the great grey shrike has also not been sighted recently but again we are unsure on whether the bird has moved on or remains in the area.

One final note is that starling murmurations have yet to start. There are over 80,000 starlings roosting in the local area (not on the reserve) but they are just going to roost at this moment in time. We will of course send word out when the starlings begin murmurating. Until next time folks!

Naomi. 

Bold bitterns and dapper dabblers

Despite a mix of weather, from cold snaps to milder, wetter conditions here at Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay. wildlife sightings of some of our specialties remain excellent. The chilly snaps often freeze the edges of the reedbed, so we can expect (and hope) for great sightings from otters, water rails and bitterns.

Firstly, after a few days of absence, the great grey shrike reappeared in its favoured spot close to the Lower Hide on Tuesday 4 December. Perhaps my current favourite bird, the aptly-nicknamed ‘butcher bird’ is a rare visitor and arguably, worth the cold and rain to see! Just keep in mind that this bird does like to move and can be absent for long periods of time, it is a lucky dip (not to be confused with a birder’s dip!) when spotting this particular species.

The bitterns continue to show brilliantly, for the past week we have had daily sightings. These are predominantly from the Causeway (some lucky visitors had four sightings in a day!) and Lower hides but there have also been irregular sightings of bittern from Lilian’s Hide. It is a delight to watch the bitterns foraging the edges of the reedbed and also to see them in flight, their wing shape is unmistakable.

Bittern in flight. Photo credit: John Bridges

Visitors have also been treated to great sights of foraging water rail from Causeway, Grisedale and Lilian’s hide. With another forecast cold snap, perhaps we shall see slightly bolder behaviour from this otherwise often elusive species. A great white egret has also been present on the reserve, often seen from Lower, Lilian’s and Grisedale hides. 

The marsh harriers have continued to provide excellent sightings, coasting over the reedbed with all the confidence a bird of prey of their calibre should exude. Marsh harriers often stir up trouble at the Causeway Pool (the panicked waterfowl are still a great spectacle when alighting the water) but sightings have been equally good from Lilian’s and Grisedale hides. Look out for a pristine male, two juveniles and two females.

Male Marsh Harrier. Photo credit: Alan Saunders.

Speaking of harriers, on Thursday 29 November we had a hen harrier (ringtail) hunting around the reserve. Interestingly, this raptor remained on the reserve for a couple of days before moving on, often we are only lucky enough to get brief visits of hen harriers at Leighton Moss.

There are good numbers of wildfowl on the reserve, most notably, a pochard was reported from Lower Hide on Tuesday 27 November and this pool is home to small numbers of goldeneye and tufted ducks that can be sighted daily. The drakes are in their best plumage right now, with lovely sights of pintail, wigeon, teal, shoveler and gadwall

The Allen and Eric Morecambe pools are also worth visiting with a variety of waders such as redshank, greenshank, lapwings, black tailed godwits,and ‘sawbills’ on show; goosanders and red-breasted mergansers. The kingfisher is also showing very well, often with a dazzling flash of teal and orange skimming the pool surface before sitting on their regular posts.

Our smaller feathered friends are showing equally well, the bird feeder to the entrance of the centre is a prime place to watch bullfinches and marsh tits as well as nuthatches, chaffinches and great, blue and coal tits.

Non-avian activity includes regular sightings of our resident otters down at the Causeway Pool and our largest mammal, the red deer can be sighted from the Grisedale Hide and the Skytower. 

We are always at the whim of the weather, so if you plan on visiting Leighton Moss do wrap up warm as it can get chilly in the hides. Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who attended our Christmas Market on Sunday 2 December and supported our local businesses. Despite the weather, the event was hailed a success with visitors and vendors alike enjoying themselves.

Until next time! Naomi.
Visitor Experience Intern.