Category: Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Wellies Still A Must

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon! 

Charlotte (Visitor Experience Intern)

Lower Hide Closure and Recent Sightings

 IMPORTANT NOTICE:
Please note that we have decided to close Lower Hide for the foreseeable future.
Regular visitors will know that we have made recent repairs to the hide including a new roof. We had also planned to undertake other works to revitalise the hide. However, recently we have identified potentially significant structural issues. These will require us to seek further advice on the seriousness of these issues. We have therefore made your safety a priority and taken the decision to close Lower Hide while we seek that advice and look to remedy any issues.
We will keep you informed of progress and we apologies for any inconvenience that this may cause.
Of course, there are still six hides and the Skytower to enjoy and all the wildlife you can see from Lower hide should be visible from elsewhere at Leighton Moss. Otters and bitterns have been seen at Causeway lately, and the egret roost is a sight to enjoy from that hide at dusk most days.
 The Eric Morecambe and Allen Pools continue to attract multiple species of waders with recent highlights including little stints, curlew sandpipers and spotted redshanks among the black-tailed godwits, redshanks and greenshanks. An astonishing 7 great white egrets have also been counted at these coastal pools this week along with many little egrets.
Raptors too have been on show here with peregrine, marsh harrier, sparrowhawk and merlin all taking it in turns to spook the assembled shorebirds! Merlin photo copyright Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
 As we would expect at this time of year, the bearded tits are starting to use the grit trays along the Causeway and path to Grisedale Hide. Changing their summer diet of insects to a winter one of seeds means that the birds need to gather grit in their crop to help them digest the hard seeds and by providing a supply of grit we can help them in this process. This also means that visitors get the chance to observe these otherwise elusive reedbed dwellers at close quarters and better still we are able to monitor the Leighton Moss population thanks to the ongoing colour-ringing scheme. Bearded tit photo by Keith Kellet
If you are fortunate enough to see or photograph any bearded tits with colour rings please pass on the colour ring sequence (both legs is preferable) by emailing Leighton.moss@rspb.org.uk or johnwilson711@btinternet.com
If you’d like to join one of our special bearded tit guided walks, please click here for details.

Waders Wade In & Other Recent Sightings

Waders are still very much the focus of many visitors’ attentions at the moment and the Allen Pool continues to deliver. Recent sightings have included spotted redshanks, green sandpiper, wood sandpiper, curlew sandpipers, ruff, little stint and greenshanks amongst the expected commoner species. Following some very high tides and some attendant westerly winds the Morecambe Pool has filled up, enticing a regular great white egret and several little egrets. As the water levels drop here, yet more waders should welcome the supply of fresh food and provide birders with great viewing and photography opportunities. (Photo of curlew sandpiper by Richard Cousens)

 As well as the shorebird spectacle, the coastal hides have been great for raptor watching with osprey, marsh harrier, peregrine and merlin making frequent appearances. Kingfishers may also be seen here and a surprisingly prolonged visit by an otter was made on the morning of Thursday 5. (Photo of osprey by Richard Cousens)

 Elsewhere on the reserve, spotted redshank and greenshank have been joining the mass of common redshanks on the stone islands providing quite a challenge for keen-eyed birdwatchers sitting in Causeway Hide. Bitterns too have been spotted from this hide as well as from the Lower Hide. Previous research has shown that young bitterns often disperse from their breeding grounds at this time of year so we may well see a downturn in such regular sightings in the near future. Of course, numbers will go up again as birds from further afield arrive to spend the winter with us.

We have plenty of events going on in the next few weeks, so why not book onto one of our guided walks?             

Birding for Beginners Sunday 22 September

Dusk Discoveries Thursday 26 September

What’s That Wader? Saturday 28 September

     

Wader Tales & Recent Sightings

What a great time we had on our What’s That Wader event today. It was a glorious morning and the birds performed well for the group.

 Our first stop at the Allen Pools was supposed to be a short one as most of the wader activity has been on the Eric Morecambe Pools in recent days. However, while we were enjoying a lone lingering avocet plus a few lapwings and snipe, a peregrine dashed over the pools causing birds to scatter in all directions and a large flock of redshank dropped down in front of the hide. A scan through revealed a smart juvenile ruff and a dunlin. In the distance we could see an osprey perched up on a post and a kingfisher briefly whizzed by. 

We moved on to the Eric Morecambe Hide and settled in to scrutinise the large numbers of birds out on the pools. Soon, black-tailed godwits, greenshanks and curlew were added to the tally of shorebirds on show. Yet another species of raptor appeared – this time a merlin, which sat obligingly on a fence post making short work of whatever hapless small bird it had caught. Before long a juvenile marsh harrier appeared and drifted across the pools causing the dabbling teal to explode into flight. A lucky few in the hide once again caught sight of not one but two kingfishers zipping by in a flash of electric blue and a pair of buzzards attempted to steal our attention away from the waders. 

All in all, we saw quite a nice selection of birds and hopefully the group gained a little knowledge and built some confidence around this often tricky gang of highly varied birds.

If you’d like to join us on our next What’s That Wader on September 28 please book your place soon as numbers are strictly limited. For details see here.

 Elsewhere on the reserve the numbers of little egret continue to build and we have had up to two great egrets reported. Bitterns have been showing tremendously well lately and visitors have been getting great views from Lower Hide with occasional sightings from the Causeway Hide too. Wildfowl is building slowly but many birds are still moulting and in eclipse plumage, making identification a challenge. A pair of garganey have been present at the Jackson Pool for several days but thanks to their often elusive nature and cryptic plumage, they are being seen rather  sporadically. Patience, luck and familiarity with the species should yield success!

With water levels quite high across the reserve the forecast dry-spell is music to our collective ears. A few more pool edges and loafing areas should entice more birds in front of the hides. One only has to look at the islands at Causeway to see how packed with birds they are – cormorants, mallards and redshanks are jostling shoulder to shoulder for a nice place to roost!

Whatever the weather brings, there’s still lots to see here as Autumn creeps ever closer – September and October can bring all manner of unexpected sightings as many birds are on the move plus of course our bearded tits start to use the grit trays and the red deer rut will get underway in earnest.  

Photos by Mike Malpass

 

        

Hello Waders, Goodbye Kevin!

While we may not like to concede the fact that summer is coming to an end, much of nature seems committed to telling us that autumn is just around the corner!  

 Many of our residents and summer visitors have pretty much finished breeding and lots of young birds have now fledged and are fending for themselves. A few exceptions include late broods of coot, moorhen, little grebe and mallard. Despite multiple attempts it seems that great crested grebe nests haven’t been as successful this year and just one recently hatched chick has been seen from Lower Hide. Given that this same nest was plundered by hungry otters last week it’s a surprise that even one young grebe made it! Such are the trials of life in the natural world. Pic of great crested grebe copyright rspb-images.com

On a more positive note bitterns continue to be seen at various locations around the reserve and some fabulous photos were posted to our Facebook group of a bird feeding in the open near Lower Hide in recent days. The marsh harriers, having performed so well for many weeks seem to have become somewhat elusive lately. It may be that they are temporarily leaving Leighton Moss to go in search of fresh hunting areas or perhaps some have departed for their wintering grounds already.

The most notable comings and goings right now, as one would expect at this time of year, involves waders. The Eric Morecambe and Allen pools are without question the place to be if you want to witness post-breeding migrants on the move. Heading south from their nesting grounds, adult dunlins, greenshanks, black-tailed godwits and the like are stopping off to take advantage of the smorgasbord to be found in the muddy pools. Amongst the commoner species passing through, bird watchers may get lucky and discover something a little more unusual. A second pectoral sandpiper dropped in briefly last Thursday afternoon while a couple of curlew sandpipers have been pleasing the assembled birders in the hides. If you are intrigued by waders or struggle to get to grips with their identification, why not book onto one of our What’s That Wader events in August and September?

At the coastal pools, spoonbills remain in situ while the number of little egrets continues to climb to levels unimaginable a couple of decades ago.

Talking of migrating… Leighton Moss stalwart Kevin Kelly is heading north to pastures new in early August. A familiar face to many of our regular visitors, Kevin is a top birder and ringer and has been a mainstay here for several years. We will miss his enthusiasm, knowledge, support and friendship enormously at Leighton Moss and I hope that you will join us in wishing him and his family well as they start an exciting new life in the Shetlands. Here are a few words from the man himself…

Heading North

 “As I write this, the sun is shining, and swifts are twisting and stooping against a back drop of blue sky as I glance out of the office window. As I reflect on the incredible journey they have made my mind flits to the northward journey that awaits me. Now I am not comparing myself or my journey to that of a swift of course, as aside from little legs, I think the similarities stop there. However, I have reached that point where it is time to discover new adventures and take my passion and gathered knowledge to pastures new to help wildlife flourish in another part of the UK.

The next chapter in my working life will take me from the stunning, wildlife rich haven that is Leighton Moss, to the breath-taking beauty and incredibly special Shetland. Whilst I will be leaving behind special species such as bearded tits, marsh harriers, bitterns and marsh tits. I will be sharing my life with red-necked phalaropes, puffins, arctic terns and thousands of seabirds.   

The last 7 years at Leighton Moss have been incredible, with memories for life of not only the landscape and the wildlife, but the people I have met through this role, from colleagues to visitors, all have made it very special.

When I started my RSPB life at Leighton Moss, there were no bitterns breeding (an absence of 4 years, 7 years ago). And I am pleased to say I have been here as part of the team, turning back the clock on the habitat to rejuvenate the reed-bed and bring bitterns back as a breeding species for consecutive years. In addition, I have had a host of special wildlife moments. Confirming the breeding of Cetti’s warblers for the first time, when I encountered an adult feeding fledgling (how their population has gone from strength to strength since).

I have enjoyed annual departing bittern in spring, stood in awe, as gull calling bitterns circle and gain height before heading off to their continental breeding grounds.

Another great memory was finding a pied-billed grebe at lower hide (only a second ever county record, and less than 50 records ever in the UK). This American vagrant spent some welcome time onsite with many visitors coming to enjoy the bird.  There are many more memorable moments from what is truly a spectacular place.

My new adventure takes me to the stunning Shetland, with a range of habitats and sites to look after. My new office will be at the breath-taking setting of Sumburgh head lighthouse, at the Southern tip of Shetland. Other sites include, Loch of Spiggie a fantastic site, protected for its important Fen-basin habitat. Heading North, vast swathes of peatland habitat, a home for breeding waders on Yell are protected. With a mosaic of mires special enough to attract and hold breeding waders that include red necked phalaropes on both Unst and Fetlar. The latter being a real strong hold for this unique, diminutive wader. An exciting boat crossing to the island of Mousa may deliver Orca and other cetaceans, before landing on the island to enjoy the incredible spectacle of thousands of storm petrels.

Throw the vast array of spring and autumn migrants as well as the amazing breeding seabirds, and glorious wildflowers, it is easy to see why the temptation was always there to head North. Very North.”   

 

      

Recent Sightings & Funding Boost for Rare Butterflies

 Our recent ‘star bird’, the pectoral sandpiper present at the Allen Pools, went AWOL earlier this week having delighted hundreds of visitors during its short stay. Wader watchers still had plenty to enjoy as the post-breeding season got underway with an increase in the number of black-tailed godwits and greenshank plus dunlin, knot, common sandpiper and little ringed plovers showed well in front of the hides. The unseasonal whooper swan remains on the Eric Morecambe Pools along with a growing number of little egrets and at least 4 spoonbills. Pic of common sandpiper by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

Elsewhere on the reserve crowd-pleasing bitterns, bearded tits, kingfishers and otters have been seen on and off while ospreys continue to make daily appearances. The active young marsh harriers may be seen just about anywhere around the reedbeds as they get to grips with being masterful aerial predators! After a couple of weeks absence, a hobby has been reported in recent days.

While birds are clearly a huge focus of the work we do here at Leighton Moss, we are also involved in many other conservation projects including some fantastic partnership work that has been going on at Challan Hall Allotment, one of our nearby satellite sites. Thanks to generous funding, work can begin later this year to restore this area for some very rare butterflies.

 Historically the Challan Hall site had a wonderful mixture of open limestone pavement and grassland, as well as woodland, all of which are required by a number of declining butterfly species. However, since the 1940s the area has become increasingly overgrown and the open areas that used to benefit a whole host of wildlife have mostly been lost to predominantly woodland. Since 2001, the RSPB have owned the site and their small team of wardens and volunteers have been maintaining it. This restoration has been able to take place thanks to the generous support of the Lancashire Environmental Fund, Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Grants Fund (operated by Arnside & Silverdale AONB and the Arnside/Silverdale Landscape Trust working together), and with assistance from wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation.

The surrounding landscape is home to a number of nationally rare and threatened butterflies such as high brown fritillary and Duke of Burgundy. Initial restoration work over two years has been planned in collaboration with Natural England, who manage nearby Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve. The hope is for the work to provide more wildlife corridors between these existing nature reserves to link populations together, as well as creating new areas to try and help boost the numbers of these rare butterflies. Pic of high brown fritillary by David Mower

Traditional practices using local workers are being restarted in the woodland including coppicing, where trees are cut down in patches over a number of years and then allowed to re-grow. Initially this creates a flush of wild flowers, especially violets for the rare fritillaries to lay their eggs on. A whole range of other wildlife also benefits from having trees at a range of ages, including bats and birds. Some overgrown areas of limestone pavement and grassland will also be opened up, bringing more sunlight into the reserve. 

Jon Carter

Spoonbills and Pectoral Sandpiper Drop In

It’s been an interesting few days here with tons of marsh harrier activity plus a couple of ‘unexpected’ arrivals!  

 The first of these showstoppers were four spoonbills which appeared on the Eric Morecambe Pool on Tuesday. Before long the flock had expanded to five individuals and by weekend it was down to three! I must admit, I do wonder where these birds have spent the past few weeks; have they travelled far or are they part of a potential and as yet unknown breeding colony? Time may tell. With spoonbills nesting on our reserves at Fairburn Ings and Burton Mere Wetlands it’s surely only a matter of time before they start breeding somewhere in our region. Spoonbill pic from archive by Mike Malpass.

 The other ‘newsworthy’ avian arrival involved a pectoral sandpiper which was found on the morning of Sunday 14 at the Allen Pools. These scare waders, originating from Siberia and North America, are the most regular of the scarce Nearctic shorebirds to appear in the UK but they’re still a real treat to see on home turf. This is quite an early record so once again I can’t help pondering where it’s come from – has it spent the summer unpaired and alone on some remote Scottish Isle having arrived in Britain last autumn? Who knows – but it does illustrate nicely why ringing can help unravel so many mysteries of migration and vagrancy. Pic of pectoral sandpiper by Jean Roberts

Talking of ringing, the growing post-breeding black-tailed godwit flock included a bird earlier this week that was ringed in Holland, probably as a chick, while a little egret sporting a pair of red rings identified it as an individual hatched near Hartlepool in May 2018.

Elsewhere on the reserve bitterns keep popping up in random places! They have been seen from just about every hide in recent days and you just have to be in the right place at the right time. Not so the case with dragonflies which can be encountered on all parts of the site, especially on still warm and sunny days. Look our emerging common darters, dashing Emperors and brown hawkers as they hunt for small flying insects.    

With the summer holidays approaching fast you might like to know that we have launched self-led pond-dipping here at Leighton Moss recently – families can hire a pond-dipping kit (net, specimen tray, identification charts and magnifying glass) for just £3.50. Come and explore the amazing wildlife that calls our pond home!

Jon Carter     

Funding boosts woodland restoration project for rare butterflies at our Challan Hall Allotment

We’re really pleased to announce an exciting woodland restoration project at our Challan Hall Allotment nature reserve in Silverdale, a satellite site of Leighton Moss. Thanks to generous funding, work can begin later this year to restore the reserve for rare butterflies.

Historically the site had a wonderful mixture of open limestone pavement and grassland, as well as woodland, all of which is required by these butterflies. However, since the 1940s the area has become increasingly overgrown and the open areas that used to benefit a whole host of wildlife have mostly been lost to predominantly woodland.

Since 2001, we have owned the site and our small team of wardens and fantastic volunteers have been maintaining it. Now this larger scale restoration has been able to take place thanks to the generous support of the Lancashire Environmental Fund, Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Grants Fund (operated by Arnside & Silverdale AONB and the Arnside/Silverdale Landscape Trust working together), and with assistance from wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation.

The surrounding landscape is home to a number of nationally rare and threatened butterflies. Initial restoration work over two years has been planned in collaboration with Natural England, who manage nearby Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve. The hope is for the work to provide more wildlife corridors between these existing nature reserves to link populations together, as well as creating new areas to try and help boost the numbers of these rare butterflies.

The AONB is a key location for many of our rarest butterflies such as high brown fritillaries and Duke of Burgundy, which are not found in many places in this country. However, like a lot of the UK’s butterflies, their numbers are worryingly in decline. This means it’s critical to think about corridors and connections for wildlife movement. It’s all about working in partnership, making sure nature reserves aren’t isolated and sit within a bigger, better, more connected landscape.

  High brown fritillary by David Mower

Traditional practices using local workers are being restarted in the woodland including coppicing, where trees are cut down in patches over a number of years and then allowed to re-grow. Initially this creates a flush of wild flowers, especially violets for the rare fritillaries to lay their eggs on. A whole range of other wildlife also benefits from having trees at a range of ages, including bats and birds.

Some overgrown areas of limestone pavement and grassland will also be opened up, bringing more sunlight into the reserve. These habitats provide a home not only to specialised plants but also to other rare species like the distinctive white spotted-sable moth.

We are very excited to be working closely with local coppice workers to deliver this project and we look forward to seeing how wildlife responds in the coming years.

Much of Challan Hall Allotment isn’t publicly accessible, but there is a bridleway running through the middle that also gives you great views over Silverdale Moss, one of Leighton Moss’ sister reedbeds. Check out the map of the ANOB here (the Challan Hall Allotment bridleway is the one that runs right through the middle of the Silverdale Moss label).