Author: Naomi W

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:

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!


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.

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: 

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!