The ‘teacher-teacher’ calls of great tits, the drumming of a great spotted woodpecker and the trilling song of a nuthatch can all be heard on your next visit to Leighton Moss. Listen out for the loud repetitive song of song thrushes proclaiming territory. All the birds are tuning up for spring and the delicate white flowers of snowdrops are springing up and now in full flower. In the meadow near the barn moles have been very active, their latest excavations exposing the fresh brown earth. Look out for stonechats in the barn field too, this is one of their favoured spots of late. A barn owl under the cover of night has been taking the opportunity to relax and digest a starling or two in the barn. Starling feathers, skulls and owl pellets litter the floor but other than this the owl will eat every bit of its nightly opportune meal.
Starling murmurations on the reserve have been impressive recently with as many as 50,000 birds some evenings, although numbers may start to tail off now as is typical with the changing season. The best place to see them gathering is the Causeway. Look for them from 4:45pm on a bright dry evening from the hide or from the Causeway track itself.
Starlings at Leighton Moss by Jacqui Fereday
Amongst this week’s most notable highlights was an influx of pochards, following their complete absence on the reserve all winter. Look for them amongst the raft of tufted duck that have been favouring Lillian’s and Causeway pools of late. Their numbers have also increased in recent days with a raft of 47 tufted duck counted on Wednesday (31 January). Lillian’s Hide can also be good for mallards, little egrets, teal and gadwall. Have you seen the two goldeneyes that should be leaving us soon? Lillian’s Hide is the best spot to look for them. Amazing numbers of snipe from Tim Jacksons and Grisedale, including the occasional jack snipe amongst them, are certainly worth looking for on your next visit.
The Eric Morecambe and Allen pools have also been good for impressive numbers of lapwing, with at least 4,000 present. A merlin, that has been hunting on the saltmarsh for the past few weeks has been recorded almost daily by visitors in our sightings book. Look for pink-footed geese grazing on the saltmarsh as they move through the area heading north. Groups of several hundred have been present over the past few days and you never know what might be hidden amongst them!
Redshank by David Mower
In other news duck numbers, particularly shoveler and teal are very good from most hides on the reserve but particularly the Causeway and Lower hides. A kingfisher was reported from Causeway Hide. There are at least three marsh harriers and three great egrets in the area, with the latter being regularly sighted from the Allen Hide, Grisedale and Tim Jackson’s hides.
Water rail are reported less frequently but with so much exposed mud around look carefully for them near the path towards Tim Jackson’s and Grisedale hides. Otters remain as bold as brass, for example keeping the ducks and geese on their toes much to the enjoyment of a full hide of wildlife watchers on a beautiful sunny Friday from Grisedale Hide this week.
Finally, woodland birds such as bullfinches, treecreepers, nuthatches, coal tits, jays, blue tits, marsh tits and great tits as well as our regular and frequently encountered robins have been very active. A walk to Lower Hide or the immediate woodland paths near the visitor centre allow opportunities to encounter and enjoy many smaller birds.
Kevin Kelly with Nick Henderson releasing a rehabilitated short-eared owl
A couple of weeks ago, we released a short-eared owl near the saltmarsh. The bird had been taken into care and rehabilitated by local bird of prey experts Corio Raptor. Our Visitor Operations Manager Kevin Kelly joined Coreo owner, and former seasonal warden at RSPB Minsmere, Nick Henderson to oversee the release of the healthy owl. Corio have been operating for 20 years and recently celebrated the release of their 1000th native raptor!
Short-eared owl before release