Category: Leighton Moss (RSPB)

The Sky’s The Limit

 We’re very happy to announce that we re-opened the Skytower this week!

Now, visitors can once again rise above the reedbeds for a fabulous birds-eye view of the reserve and the wider landscape. From this breath-taking vantage point you may be lucky enough to see fishing ospreys, hunting marsh harriers, soaring swifts and grazing red deer amongst a host of other exciting wildlife. We have put some social distancing guidance in place to ensure that everyone feels comfortable while exploring the 9-metre high tower, so do please follow all on-site information.

We’re still busy working on ways to open up some of the hides in the coming weeks – hopefully we’ll have some news to share soon! Of course, we do have an accessible toilet on site too for visitors’ use.

Other great news this week concerned the appearance of our first marsh harrier chicks of the season. On Tuesday morning the adult female from the nest at the back of Lilian’s Pool was observed circling the nest area constantly calling and soon she had enticed two reluctant fledglings to emerge from the reedbeds to exercise their wings. The young pair flapped inexpertly around for several minutes, trying to get the hang of their new skills before disappearing back to the safety of their nest. Hopefully, we’ll see much more of these wonderful birds in the coming weeks as they get to grips with the power of flight. It will be interesting to see if they have any brothers or sisters yet to make that great inaugural leap into the skies!

 Elsewhere on the reserve young birds are very much a feature – ducklings, cygnets, goslings and chicks of multiple species can be seen and heard just about everywhere. Bearded tits are very active at the moment, with family groups being regularly encountered along the Causeway; listen out for their distinctive ‘pinging’ calls coming from the path-side reeds.

 The summer months are not just about birds of course; this is a fabulous time to explore the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and enjoy the profusion of wildflowers and butterflies for which this area is justly renowned. Now is a great time to look out for purple hairstreaks (photo by Jarrod Sneyd) around the visitor centre oaks and when visiting Leighton Moss why not try and make sure your itinerary includes some time spent at nearby Myers Allotment, Gait Barrows, Warton Crag or Arnside Knott for yet more butterfly spotting? 

Egrets, We Have A Few

One doesn’t need to spend much time on the reserve at the moment to be made fully aware that we are in the midst of the breeding season. It seems that there are young birds everywhere! As visitors make their way around the pathways they can’t help but be met with the sights and sounds of recently fledged warblers, finches and tits. On the pools, gangs of coot with their almost fully-grown youngsters dot the water’s surface while pontoons of duck dabble in growing numbers.

Make sure you check the adult great-crested grebes for young humbug chicks tucked tight into their backs and while on the Causeway make a point of spending some time watching the rapidly growing great black-backed gull youngsters out on the island. These monster-chicks are already dwarfing the nearby loafing cormorants!

 One intriguing sighting relates to a bird that may well have nested in the area for the first time. Prior to the reserve’s temporary closure back in late March, a couple of adult great white egrets were developing their striking breeding plumage. At least one bird was seen regularly at Barrow Scout throughout the spring but with no staff on the reserve we really had no idea whether any more egrets were still present. 

We have been hoping for signs of nesting activity on the reserve for the past couple of years but unfortunately, no monitoring was carried out this spring due to the lockdown. With a small but growing breeding population now established in the UK (including birds nesting at our RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands reserve in Cheshire), we expect that they will mirror the success of their now widespread and familiar cousin, the little egret.

At least one adult bird was still present when we re-opened in late May and then last week, out of the blue, a further three great white egrets appeared – including one juvenile bird! Given how early this is for a young bird to have wandered far and the fact that it was with, and actively following, adult birds suggests that it may well have been raised locally. How locally, we can only begin to guess at this stage.

Did a pair of egrets nest in amongst one of the heronries within a few miles of the reserve or did they actually breed in our reedbeds, undetected? I suppose we may never know but it does at least seem highly probable that this elegant and striking species has bred for the first time in either Lancashire or Cumbria!

Let’s see what happens next year…  

Pic by Mike Malpass          

Unpredictable June Anticipation!

With some pretty mixed weather, it’s been an unpredictable few days here at Leighton Moss! As yet the thunderstorms haven’t delivered anything unusual and despite there having been some scarce visitors not too far away (rose-coloured starling, hoopoe and hooded crow all at Walney, rose-coloured starlings at Carnforth and Morecambe, Blyth’s reed warbler at Knott End and black stork in the Rusland Valley) we have yet to see anything on the reserve to excite those rarity-seeking birders.

 Despite the traditional migration season being over, summer can turn up some pretty spectacular oddities and some very memorable birds have graced us with their presence in the warmer months. In 2017 we saw both Caspian tern (June) and purple heron (Aug) arrive (photo by Mike Malpass) while back in June 2007 Leighton Moss welcomed one of its rarest ever visitors when a white-tailed plover dropped in. So, it pays to keep an open mind and a keen eye out at all times!

 But of course for many the appeal of a wonderful reserve as Leighton Moss lies not in the lure of rarities but the opportunity to enjoy nature simply at its best. In the last week returning visitors have had memorable sightings of such fabulous site favourites as marsh harriers, bitterns (pic from archive by Mike Malpass), bearded tits, Cetti’s warblers, ospreys, red deer and scores of dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies.

The pathways are a delight to stroll along right now as fledgling blackcaps, marsh tits and robins noisily explore their new worlds while a corridor of stunning wildflowers and fascinating wetland plantlife lines the route.

We are still busy working toward opening more of the site and its facilities but please note that for now we are operating with limited access.

The toilets remain closed as does the visitor centre shop and café. The car park and reserve are open only from 9.30am till 5pm daily.

Don’t forget to check in with one of the team upon arrival (we have a temporary welcome area at the rear of the visitor centre where we will explain the current access routes and provide up-to-date sightings info, etc).

You can also keep informed of what’s going on by checking our Facebook page and Twitter feed.    

Leighton Moss Open!

 It’s been a week since we re-opened parts of the reserve here at Leighton Moss and it’s been great to welcome visitors back to our wonderful site. 

Due to access restrictions based on government guidelines we have had to consider which areas would offer visitors an enjoyable experience while considering their well-being and safety, along with that of RSPB staff. So, one of the first things we did was reduce the number of car parking spaces, ensuring that we don’t get too busy for people for to be able to comfortably make their way around on the paths. With the visitor centre closed, we are welcoming visitors near the garden at the rear of the building. Here members of the team can explain the routes and areas currently accessible to visitors.

It’s been quite a week for sightings too – ospreys, hobbies, marsh harriers, red kite and what was almost certainly a white-tailed eagle have all graced the reserve’s skies with their presence. There have been multiple reports of bitterns, primarily of birds in flight from the Causeway, while one particularly vocal male continues to boom on and off throughout the day! A little gull has been frequenting the reserve for around a week, allowing local birders to add this dainty and unseasonal visitor to their lists.

 On sunny days, dragonflies and damselflies have been out in force while keen eyed plant fans may find common spotted orchids in bloom along the path edges.

We’re operating slightly different hours to usual; the reserve pathways and car park are open from 9.30am-5pm only. Please note that there are currently no public toilet facilities available and all hides remain closed.

We look forward to welcoming visitors both familiar and new to Leighton Moss in the coming days and weeks, though we do urge you to stay close to home and to enjoy the green spaces where you live, wherever possible.  


Continue Reading » Leighton Moss Open!...

Partial re-opening of reserve

We are delighted to announce that this morning (Saturday) we opened some sections of our trails and the car park so that we can welcome visitors back to wonderful Leighton Moss!
Of course visitors will be required to follow on-site guidance which will …

Update to reserve closure

Despite some very slight changes in lockdown restrictions in England, Leighton Moss remains closed to the public for now. Our priority is to ensure that we only re-open when we have everything in place to keep our members, visitors, volunteers and employees safe.

We must also make sure that the wildlife that calls our site home is ready to receive attention after a couple of months completely on its own. You’ll have seen reports from round the UK of birds nesting on and near normally busy paths (as well as some weird and wonderful places), so it’s going to take us some time to check and make sure they are safe too.

We ask that you bear with us in these difficult times and check our reserve website, Facebook and Twitter regularly for the latest information, as well as the RSPB Covid-19 updates here

If you are exercising on public paths around the wider Morecambe Bay area, as well as abiding by social distancing measures, we urge you to be alert for nature and please be extra careful around it –  especially on beaches (where birds such as plovers nest), paths (where plants have emerged, and birds may have nested) and open landscapes such as saltmarsh (ground nesting birds and other wildlife can easily be disturbed by people and dogs off leads). 

Thank you. We look forward to being able to welcome you back when it can be done safely and responsibly for all people and wildlife concerned. 

Bittern by Mike Malpass 

A booming great start to the breeding season

We’re so excited that for the first time since 1999, we’ve got three booming male bitterns here at Leighton Moss!

Bittern populations are monitored by recording the number of ‘booming’ males, so called for their rather unusual birdsong.

The bittern is Britain’s loudest bird, but the noise it makes is far from a typical bird song. Indeed, for such a shy and elusive bird, their call is not exactly discrete. Their ‘booming’ has been described as a deep sound “like blowing over the top of a glass bottle”, or less poetically, “like a giant gulping”. 

One of the males here in particular has a strong voice. This is the first year for many years, when we’ve had such a good quality boomer. His boom carried over a distance of around 2.5km and was heard by our Site Manager Jarrod in Silverdale! This bodes well for a successful breeding season.

After an absence of breeding here for almost a decade, these elusive birds nested in 2018 as a result of a four-year programme to rejuvenate the wetlands. Since 2018, the birds have continued to thrive, and this year, the three booming males are the highest record in 20 years.

Before 2018, we had one booming male, but he would fail to work up to a full boom or stop early in the season. In 2018 we had our first breeding success, and now, merely two years later, to have three high quality booming males is amazing news. It’s evidence that the hard work and dedication of our staff and volunteers to maintain the reedbed, and create a bittern-friendly habitat, has truly paid off.

Bittern in flight by John Bridges (

As an unusual cousin of the more familiar grey heron, bitterns rely on reedbeds to live in – a now rare habitat in the UK, with Leighton Moss being the largest one in North West England.

Reedbed is very important to conserve as a lot of it has been lost through drainage for agriculture and development. In the late 1990s, bitterns were almost wiped out in this country, due to the loss of the reedbed habitat on which they depend. At that time Leighton Moss was one of only a few sites  in the UK where bitterns were clinging on. Since then, the RSPB and other nature conservation organisations have been working hard to save the species and it has been successful, with 198 booming males recorded in the UK in 2019

As we are still closed, visiting the Leighton Moss bitterns is sadly not possible at this time. However, you can listen to a recent recording here, made by our Site Manager Jarrod, before lockdown. Not only can you hear the brilliant booming bitterns, but a whole host of wonderful wildlife in the reedbed too. Hopefully it will bring you a little piece of Leighton during this strange time.

You might also like to tune into the upcoming BBC Radio 4 Farming Today piece, which will be going out this Friday 8 May. Reporter and presenter Caz Graham came along to Leighton Moss before lockdown, and ventured into the reedbed with Jarrod to record our booming bitterns and chat about the reedbed restoration work for the programme. If you live locally, you may have also seen Caz’s recent article about her adventure here, in Cumbria Life magazine.

Our Site Manager Jarrod Sneyd and Radio Reporter and Presenter Caz Graham, out very early in the morning to record booming bitterns. 

You can of course also keep up with the latest reserve news by following us on Twitter and Facebook. And finally, for the possibility of hearing a live bittern, have a listen to the live mic in the reedbed at our pal’s RSPB Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk. 

Sneaking out to the edge. Bittern at Leighton Moss by Mike Malpass.

When a Warden Isn’t Wardening…

As you can imagine, it’s all a bit strange right now for those of us who ordinarily spend our days working at Leighton Moss – and we certainly share the frustrations of our visitors who love to while away the hours on our wonderful reserve!

As part of our efforts to keep nature-focused while the reserve remains closed, we’ll be continuing to share the experiences of staff and volunteers as they adjust to a, hopefully temporary, Leighton-free life. In the first of this series of blogs, our warden Richard Smith (pictured below in his natural habitat) gives us insights into some daily connections he enjoys with the wildlife in his neighbourhood…

 “Those of you with which I’m acquainted will know I’m an outdoor kind of guy. I wasn’t created to be inside, let alone be in an office. I’m aware that we are all going to find the next few weeks challenging in more ways than one. Working at Leighton Moss meant I was outdoors most of the time.

Not being able to get out on the reserve and do ‘an honest day’s work’ before cycling home and heading out into the fells, running with my wife and friends will be hard for my body to adjust.

Luckily for us we live on the edge of Kendal. Over the next couple of weeks, I thought I would keep you in the loop with what we have been seeing on walk/runs over Cunswick Scar and back across the mono-green lamb-filled fields behind our house.

It might not be bittern booming stuff but actually, it’s just as important to us!

Over the couple of weeks before lock-down commenced we happily noted the return of two pairs of curlews in the fields north of Kendal. At first we could hear their territorial calls during the night and then in early morning and evening.

We have since seen birds from both pairs from the house. My wife from her office window (the box room with an old table masquerading as a desk) and me from my rocking chair that sits by the lounge window. Also, while we have been working in the garden we have seen them patrolling overhead.

The eastern pair are in a great position. They have taken occupation of a small hilltop field with an iconic looking ash tree growing out of the bisecting wall line (incidentally we saw noctual bats around said tree last summer on a number of occasions). We will call this pair the ‘Ashdown’ birds.

The western pair are using fields that we can see from our upstairs windows, again they are using the advantage of high slopping ground that boarder the Windermere road. These birds we have named the ‘Toadpool’ pair after a farm at the Plumgarth’s roundabout.

Between us we ran out along the footpath that crosses these fields three times last week, the loop takes in both areas at a distance of more than 500m let alone the 2m prescribed distance of isolation. On all three occasions we saw territorial flights from one or both locations on fast stuttering wing beats accompanied by haunting calls.

 On our Thursday run out we caught the tail end of a fluttering copulation attempt by the Ashdown pair followed by the male scampering around the female, wings out, giving it large so everyone knew – and why not, the sun was out, the weight of winters cloak was falling away, the birds and the bees… sorry I digress!

Yesterday after spending all day smashing up concrete and finally planting the guelder rose and rowan saplings into the garden that I’ve been growing on for years, I took my day’s allotted exercise. With a gluten-free beer in hand and about an hour’s daylight left I wandered up over the first field. It provides a good vantage point over the valley looking up towards Kentmere and out over the two territories.

Over on Ashdown I could see one bird feeding on the crest surrounded by a couple of lesser black-backed gulls, a murder of crows and a swarm of jackdaw; ‘Goodluck’ I said to myself. A noisy commotion drew my attention to the west. Three curlew, one bird being fussed over by two more. One of the fussers took exception the other fusser and showed them the door, and out it went. Looks like the Toadpool male has a bit of work to do!

We can also hear and have seen a pair of oystercatcher cruising around the housing estate. We haven’t been able to pin down a location for these guys as yet but think it’s over towards the River Kent next to the golf course. We will work on it.”

Richard Smith, Warden

Curlew photo: Ian Francis ( 


Get Set for a Wild Challenge!

While the reserve remains closed and most of us are staying at home, let’s not forget that there is still lots of potential to enjoy nature where we live!

Personally, I’ve been keeping an eye on the skies above my house in Lancaster looking out for passing birds and enjoying the noisy antics of the local house sparrows in my neighbourhood. In recent days I’ve also spotted peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies plus bumblebees and ladybirds exploring my small garden area.

If you are looking for nature-themed activities to keep any youngsters occupied and engaged, make sure to check out the RSPB’s Wild Challenge web page. There are loads of great ideas and projects to keep the family busy while helping to give nature a home! 

Below, Leighton Moss Learning and Visitor Assistant Jayne joins her daughter in the garden to create a little piece of wild space for wildlife!        

Let it grow, let it grow…

So spring has sprung and whilst we are at home trying to find things to keep ourselves and our children occupied, it’s a great opportunity to give RSPB Wild Challenge activities a try. Sign up now at Don’t feel that just because you don’t have children that this blog and the activities aren’t for you; whatever your age you can experience and help nature in your own garden, from your window or whilst out on your daily exercise walk (whilst observing social distancing guidance). There are many studies that show that time spent in nature can improve our mental and physical wellbeing, which we all need right now.

Over the coming weeks we will be sharing activities you can have a go at, giving you some top tips about Giving Nature a Home at home and generally helping to lift your spirits.

 Last night I saw a message from my local council in South Lakeland that our green bin collections would cease for the moment to allow them to concentrate on refuse and recycling. Therefore the first Wild Challenge activity my daughter and I are going to do is probably the easiest of all…Let it grow. The clue is in the title, let a small part or all of your lawn grow and let it go wild! 

The long grass will be great for insect life and you can keep a weekly photo diary to show how long and wild your very own mini jungle gets. If you decide to go for it and let your whole lawn grow then maybe you could mow a path through it, or create a maze, the possibilities are only limited by your creativity! 

So what can you do now to prepare to let it grow…

Decide on the area of lawn that you are going to let go wild. 

 Make signs and maybe put up a string fence or similar to let other family members know what you’re doing and remind them not to mow it whilst it’s growing.

Take the first picture for your diary, measure the length of the grass today on day 1 and decide when you are going to take the next picture and measure it again, weekly is probably best

Then let it grow!

Hopefully this sunny spring weather continues and you can have a go at this or other wild challenges. There will be more from us over the coming weeks so watch out, we will try and include challenges that can be done indoors too or adapted for a window sill or yard.

To finish a quote from Rachel Carson the author of the book Silent Spring: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

Jayne Buchanan


Reserve hide closures update 22/03/20

Please note that all hides will be closed from close of play on Sunday 22 March.
The visitor centre, shop and café will remain closed. This is to prioritise the health and welfare of our staff, volunteers and visitors.  
These are diff…