Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Autumnal awe and recent sightings

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We are deep into autumn at here at Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay, and so far October has proven as always to be a delightful time for observing wildlife on the reserve. Of course, we are always at the whim of the weather. Episodes of heavy rain might discourage appearances from some species, as well as raise the water levels such that waders and waterfowl are displaced from places on site, moving elsewhere for a brief time. Nevertheless, there has been a wealth of excellent wildlife at Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay recently, and there is always some form of wonderful wildlife to enjoy on the reserve. Check out our facebook page for photo uploads from our many admiring visitors: https://www.facebook.com/groups/leightonmoss/

Many will already know October as ‘beardie season’, but for those of you who don’t here’s a quick introduction: bearded tits or 'reedlings' are colourful, charismatic little birds specially adapted to living in reedbeds like Leighton Moss. They don’t migrate, and so when the insects they feast on the rest of the year become scarce in autumn and winter, bearded tits switch their diet to reed seed. They can’t digest this well naturally, and must swallow grit – known as ‘gritting’ – to help them grind it down into a digestible mulch. Leighton Moss’ wardens have placed grit trays besides the reserve paths for them, which also present opportune locations from which to view them. They are ideally spotted on dry, still autumn mornings between 9-11, with a bit of sun, but can be spotted at any time - listen out for the characteristic metallic 'pinging' sound, perhaps as they dolphin above the reedbed. Our estate worker Richard did an excellent job in creating an accessible bearded tit viewing area on the Causeway, but it is also worth watching the trays close to Grisedale hide, as we have had several reports now of bearded tits – some unringed – visiting them also. Leighton moss' bearded tits seem to have done fairly well this year, with 26 new birds ringed so far, dozens of birds visiting the grit trays for the few weeks. There's no better time than now to enjoy these wonderful birds across the site.

Male bearded tit, by Mike Malpass

Early mornings and late afternoons through to evening in autumn are also ideal times for visitors to witness red deer, Britain’s largest land mammal. Though they are present throughout the year, it is during this period when the stately forms of red deer stags emerge from the reedbed to engage in the annual ‘rut’, or breeding season. In competition for the attentions of females, called hinds, stags let out thunderous bellows to advertise their fitness and supremacy. When stags encounter, they size one another up by strutting and posturing in parallel, and if two equally-matched individuals refuse to back down, antlers lock and combat commences. Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides are the ideal locations to witness this remarkable behaviour, with up to five red deer stags and multiple hinds reported at one time.

Otters have proved to be a real highlight on the reserve in the last few weeks, appearing daily and in the day time across the site. It goes without saying that seeing them is a lottery. The best location to wait for them remains at Causeway hide, though they also find themselves on Grisedale and Lilian’s pools. These charming creatures have offered exceptional sights of their great fishing activity up close, when they ferry a doomed eel or pike to a platform and make a noisy meal of them – visitors have reported being so close they could hear the crunch of bones!

Male marsh harrier, by Mike Malpass

Three marsh harriers – an adult male, adult female, and a juvenile or sub adult female – continue to grace Leighton Moss. As many will know, six juveniles fledged from two successful nests this year, a real triumph. Marsh harriers generally migrate to Africa for the winter, but in recent years some birds have remained to winter with us, and so there’s still every chance to appreciate these impressive raptors, with Causeway, Lilian’s and Grisedale hides proving key watch points.

Birds of prey in general have been showing remarkably well on the reserve. A ringtail harrier (likely a hen harrier, though possibly a pallid harrier) passed over Grisedale on the morning of October 9, on the back of a report of another bird flying over Slyne village towards Leighton Moss a few days earlier. Hen harriers move down from upland to lowland areas in the winter, such as coastal marshes, where there are generous food sources. Sparrowhawks, kestrels and buzzards have frequently been seen above areas of the reserve as well as the neighbouring woodland. A peregrine was seen passing over red deer at Grisedale on the 10th, and in the past couple of days a merlin has been seen from Eric Morecambe hide perched far out on wooden posts on the saltmarsh.

Black-tailed godwits, by Mike Malpass

Hundreds of black-tailed godwits, some days exceeding 2000, remain a compelling spectacle lodged on the islands in front of and opposite Lilian’s Hide. They are very dynamic: at times, when the water levels have risen, they have departed and are more reliably seen on the coastal pools, other areas on coast (such as Jenny Brown’s point, where 20 knot were in amongst them on the afternoon of October 10) or Grisedale and Tim Jackson pools. Sometimes, whether spooked by a larger bird or by sudden impulse, they take to the air in their own rendition of a murmuration, spiralling in tornado motion above Lilian’s pool, hundreds of wings starting like a great engine, before suddenly alighting like a storm of arrows. They are a great privilege and a pleasure to watch.

The coastal hides have proved a very popular spot as well of late. Redshank flocks exceeding 100 individuals are more or less are permanent fixture, with a knot or two sometimes amongst them – smaller flocks occasionally relocate to Grisedale or Tim Jackson pools. Others waders than black-tailed godwits in the past couple of weeks have included over 30 lapwings, up to ten greenshanks, and a couple of spotted redshank. As for waterfowl, over 230 wigeon, 178 greylag geese, 8 goosanders and 6 pintails have been confirmed here. Further off the coast, larger flocks of eider and shelduck, and smaller of red-breasted merganser, have be seen. A lone kingfisher is regularly perched on the posts outside the coastal hides or passes through from time to time – one visitor recorded a kingfisher spending 30 minutes close in front of Allen hide frozen on a post, gazing into the pool.

Kingfisher, by Mike Malpass

A word about egrets: Island Mere, visible from Lower hide, has been the site of a huge egret roost through summer and autumn. Numbers peaked in mid-September when up to 176 little egrets and 6 great white egrets were seen flying in to roost! Though numbers have slowly decreased, impressive numbers of both species still move to and from roost at Island Mere before dawn and after dusk, and are active across the AONB area in the day time. Sometimes still seen on Leighton Moss (particularly Tim Jackson and Grisedale pools), both little egrets (up to 20) and great white egrets (2) have tended to favour the coastal pools of late. There was a notable sightings of 3 spoonbill flying over the visitor centre on October 15, so it is worth keeping an eye out for them on the estuary and associated habitats.

A handful of bittern sightings have been reported in the last few weeks. Though it remains a very rare sight, it is worth remembering that these bashful birds are present on site throughout the year, and in the winter we welcome additional birds from the continent, who are sometimes more visible from the edges of the reedbed.

Finally a brief roundup: Causeway stone island remains a fine spot for lapwing and greenshank in small numbers, and snipe have been dropping in to forage on the reed-water interfaces at Grisedale, Tim Jackson and Lilian’s in particular. Little grebes and great-crested grebes appear in small numbers at Causeway, and varying numbers of other ducks – very handsome, freshly-plumaged gadwall, teal, shoveler and mallard mostly, sometimes a seldom-seen pochard – are spread across the site. Water rails and Cetti’s warblers remain very vocal, predominantly along the Causeway and near the boardwalk. Hazelnut-greedy jays have been noticeably active recently; flocks of siskins have been seen above the reserve and visiting the feeders at the Hideout; and a pleasing number of goldcrests sightings have reported.

Any day now we shall see fieldfares and redwings dining in the orchard, and it won't be long until starlings arrive for their grand performance.

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

LVA Alex Bateson bids farewell

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Alex Bateson, one of RSPB Leighton Moss' Learning and Visitor Assistants (LVAs), reflects on her time inspiring children and adults alike to learn and care about nature:

As my 6 month stint as a Learning and Visitor Assistant (LVA) draws to an end I thought I’d write a blog about my fantastic experience with the RSPB at Leighton Moss.

Engaging young people with nature has always been a key belief and passion of mine and has formed the focus of my career for the past 12 years. The current culture of spending more time indoors has led to younger generations becoming increasingly removed from nature. In my previous roles with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and The Bushcraft Co, I witnessed the incredible positive difference which outdoor wildlife based activities provide in terms of stress release, behaviour and attitudes. So, with my motivation to make a difference to the future generations of people and wildlife, I relished the opportunity to work for the RSPB in the role of Learning and Visitor Assistant.

Alex Bateson, Learning and Visitor Assistant (LVA)

I began in March when the busy season had already begun. Spring and Summer continued to be so, with school bookings almost every day during term time and fun family events filling the holidays. There has never been a dull minute here, and as soon as I started I instantly loved everyone’s enthusiasm to inspire people of all ages about wildlife.

As an LVA I‘ve had the opportunity to lead school visits, each one including several curriculum based activities. It is not hard to enthuse about everything from Minibeast hunts, Habitat trails, Pond dipping, to the secondary school Eco-sampling session, when all us staff and volunteers enjoy it so much ourselves. Receiving thank you letters from schools about how much they learnt and enjoyed during their visits is extremely rewarding, and allows you to see the difference you make.Their letters highlight what experiences they remember from their school trip, feelings they had, information they absorbed and messages they took home. Here below are a handful of quotes from thank you letters we received this summer, which convey the rewards of working in this field.

  • I want to say thank you for an amazing day. I had so much fun, when I’m older I want to be as adventurous as you at the RSPB!
  • This was the best school trip ever. All the staff were friendly and helped us learn and have fun at the same time.
  • My favourite thing was being a nature detective. I learnt minibeasts can actually be quite interesting when you take a look. It amazed me that a centipede has 2 sets of jaws!
  • I loved it when we went up the sky tower even though I am scared of heights. I like it because you could see so much of the reserve.

Frog attending one of Alex's Habitat trails

It was also an absolute privilege to deliver family events during school holidays. Birds in the Barn and Butterflies in the Barn involved fun interactive activities such as orienteering and family quizzes, What Lives Beneath gave people a chance to see what lurks under our ponds, and Nature Up Close opened everyone’s eyes (including staff and volunteers) through the use of microscopes.

Engaging toddlers and their families through Nature Tots and Tots Trek was another extremely fulfilling area to get involved in. It is so refreshing to see tots jump from mole hill to mole hill, burrow for minibeasts and collect materials to make bird nests, and reminds me why I entered this line of work.

The factor which has made my time here a complete pleasure, is working with such wonderful RSPB volunteers. They have been supportive, enthusiastic and now, 5 months later, consider them extremely good friends. Working alongside volunteers to engage children, young people and families with nature makes this one of the most fulfilling posts you can imagine. As such I encourage anyone contemplating becoming involved in the learning sector to jump at the opportunity, whether as staff, intern or volunteer.

As for what the future holds for me, I have been invited back to work next year in the same role and obviously leapt at the chance. So in March I will be back for the busy season when schools begin, once more, to migrate to Leighton Moss.

If you have considered entering into this line of work, either as a job or as a volunteer, or if you are thinking of arranging a school trip to Leighton Moss, jump right in and contact our Learning Officer, Carol Bamber at carol.bamber@rspb.org.uk or 01514 703015.

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Naomi’s blog: ‘Fowl weather’ and recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Naomi Wadsworth, our new Visitor Experience Intern, provides an update on recent sightings this past week:

Hello bloggers, it’s been a rather blustery week here at Leighton Moss, and whilst this may not have been the best weather for visitors, one man I spoke to described it as “fowl weather”, and indeed there have been multiple species gracing our presence. So without further ado:

At Lilian’s Pool there continues to be a fluctuating number of black-tailed godwits, with redshank, spotted redshank, greenshank, ruff and knot occasionally in the mix. Dabbling ducks to sight include mallard, teal, shoveler, pintail, wigeon and gadwall. You can often spot a grey heron acting as a silent sentry over this pool too.

Black-tailed godwits in flight (Mike Malpass)

The Causeway Pool has also been excellent for birds. A kingfisher continues to be sighted in a dazzling flash of orange and blue (another has frequently been sighted at the Allen Pool). Great white egret numbers have reduced slightly from their peak of six, but birds continue to frequent the area and can be sighted in the wider AONB area. Mute swans continue to be sighted in all their grace, and we have also had some whooper swans drop in. Along with the common terns a juvenile black tern put in a brief appearance for a lucky few sat in Lower Hide. Water rail have been heard around the Causeway and Lower hides so with a little patience (and perhaps some luck) you may sight them. The cormorants continue to provide some great fishing spectacles and the little grebes can be sighted daily. There are also diving ducks here with pochards having been sighted infrequently over the week.

Our otters have been providing some remarkable experiences at both the Lilian’s and Causeway pools. One was sighted hunting on Lilian’s and then proceeded to eat their prey right below the hide, with lucky visitors reporting they were able to hear the otter eating. The same has also occurred at Causeway.

The star species of course has been the grey phalarope (pictured below) which was blown off course during our period of bad weather. This beautiful artic-breeding wader was present at the Allen and Morecambe pools on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 September. This was a lovely encounter to witness as only 200 of these birds are seen on our coasts per year.

Grey phalarope (Phil Boardman)

Our marsh harrier numbers have fluctuated over the past fortnight, with as many as four sighted in one day over the main site and the coastal pools. There is a strong chance that these birds will be wintering here now. I have enjoyed watching them dip and glide with the winds over the undulating reedbed, it is rather beautiful to watch. There has also been frequent sightings of buzzards and a hobby. Another species to look out for are over-flying pink-footed geese, the largest flock we have had so far is 76.

The Morecambe and Allen pools have been visited by goosanders, red breasted mergansers, up to 20 greenshank (which I believe is a record) and there have been frequent sightings of the leucistic greenshank at these pools. There have also been redshank, kingfisher, a curlew sandpiper and many more!

Now is the perfect time to visit the reserve to watch red deer herds as they enter the rutting season. Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides provide the best views, but they can also be found along the path to the Lower Hide.

Our final ‘Singing and Ringing’ event of the year was a success, with participants being given the opportunity to get closer to several lovely birds including a male bearded tit (pictured below), a goldcrest, common redpoll and Cetti’s warbler. This was a great event to attend with visitors learning about the species and the ringing process.

Bearded tit ♂ (Judith Young)

On a final note, our bearded tits have begun using the freshly installed grit trays on the Causeway. The wardens have done a fantastic job of constructing our new viewing platform, I have personally enjoyed watching a male and female on the grit trays from here. Whilst the bearded tits are unreliable (in the sense that some days they are not here) as time marches on and we get into October, this will be a prime place to see them.

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Fresh arrivals and recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

I have the great pleasure of handing this week's blog over to Naomi Wadsworth, a new Visitor Experience Intern at Leighton Moss. Here she is in her own words, introducing herself and updating you on recent sightings:

Hello bloggers! My name is Naomi and I suppose you could say I’m the new kid on the reserve. I am overjoyed to be spending the next 6 months supporting the RSPB Leighton Moss team as your new Visitor Experience Intern, where I will be following in the footsteps of a long line of fantastic interns. I look forward to meeting many of you!

Naomi Wadsworth, new Visitor Experience Intern at Leighton Moss

This summer I graduated from the University of Edinburgh in Sustainable Development with Sociology. Growing up in the Lake District and then the Trossachs fostered a deep appreciation and love for our landscapes and wildlife. As I learned more about the threats nature faces, I resolved to pursue a degree which would aid me in my desire to protect that which I love.

During my time at university I joined the Sustainable Development Association and assisted with the organisation and facilitation of successful events such as sustainability question time and a sustainability conference. I also worked as a student tutor for two years, helping students in younger years in my degree, improve their understanding and course grades. I was also part of a student group who started our own vegetable garden on campus, where different seasonal produce continues to be grown and shared.

Last summer I had the privilege of volunteering at RSPB Loch Garten on Operation Osprey. I fell in love with the magnificent raptors and whilst I never saw EJ, Loch Garten’s star osprey (who has recently turned 21), I was moved by her story and the conservation efforts of the RSPB to bring ospreys back from extinction. Loch Garten offered lots of amazing wildlife encounters with the crested tits, Scottish crossbills, a white-tailed eagle and red squirrels! I also thoroughly enjoyed working in the visitor centre with such a dedicated team. I discovered bringing both adults and children closer to nature and igniting new interests was so personally satisfying that I realised that it was what I wanted to pursue as a career. This led me to apply for an internship with the RSPB and here I am. Admittedly, I have much to learn when it comes to our wildlife, but what better place to learn than that of a leading reserve with a fantastic, knowledgeable team? Already I have been present for some wonderful spectacles and first sightings: the female marsh harrier swept across the reedbed on my first evening at the reserve, and a friendly pair of marsh tits and I were subject to the down-draft of hundreds of black-tailed godwits' wings as they flew to roost.

During my internship I will be keeping you updated on news, events and activities. Whilst here I hope to advance the great work undertaken at this leading reserve and encourage further charitable support. My personal aim (besides developing my skill set) is to reconnect people with nature and empower them because together we can give nature a home. You’ll most likely find me in the centre where I’ll offer you a warm welcome, or on the reserve assisting with other activities such as guided walks and school visits. I may even organise new activities for you to enjoy – perhaps something sustainability related? My first large project involves organizing the Leighton Moss Christmas market so watch this space! One final key role I have is keeping you updated on sightings and oh my! What a week of action we have had here so hold onto your tail feathers, if the weather forecast is right it’s about to get bumpy!

Stepping into autumn’s cooler embrace we can expect to welcome a multitude of various wader and wildfowl species arriving at Leighton Moss throughout the upcoming weeks. The water levels on the main site have more than recovered after one of the hottest summers on record, and for the previous few weeks the main action has been sighted at Lilian’s and Causeway pools.

At Lilian’s pool is a flock of black-tailed godwits, with the number of birds present altering daily. There are a few individuals who remain in their summer plumage, to the delight of the various raptors who frequent the area. This colony number may very well increase as these Icelandic birds migrate to the UK for the upcoming winter. Amongst this substantial group of waders are a modest number of redshanks (our sightings book suggest 127 so far) with smaller numbers of spotted redshanks, greenshanks and the occasional ruff, knot and dunlin also present. A family of water rails continues to frequent Lilian’s, with a juvenile being sighted almost daily scampering in front of the hide, and many others are present on site, so with a little time and patience you may sight these secretive birds, particularly around Causeway. Garganey, gadwall and shoveler ducks continue to be sighted at Lilian’s, and one female marsh harrier remains at the main site, sighted flying around the main reserve and stirring up trouble at the Allen pool.

Pintail, by Ben Hall

At Causeway, new arrivals and frequent visitors have been treating visitors daily. Kingfisher sightings have been reported with increasing occurrence. The great white egret population has grown to as many as 6 (depending on the day) but have been sighted in the wider AONB. A fantastic territory battle took place last week between a grey heron and great white egret, with the grey heron chasing the great white egret for several minutes. This was an exciting aerial display to witness, as the large bodies of these birds belies their grace and aerial skill, with both birds occasionally skimming the water. Other species include cormorants, teals, pochards and other wildfowl arriving for the winter are also causing a splash. Causeway in particular has been an excellent place to spot numbers of pintails and wigeons.

Over the past week there have been some very exciting unexpected arrivals at Leighton Moss too. For the first time this year, a drake common scoter was found at Causeway. This all-black diving seaduck is an interesting anomaly, but not unheard of, and a consequence of the recent strong westerly winds. Whilst common scoters do breed in-land, they are an infrequent visitor to the reserve. There was also a common tern spotted at Causeway (pictured below) whose aerial skills delighted our visitors. This photogenic bird put on an excellent show, and like the common scoter is not a frequent visitor. Most recently, a guillemot was recorded at Allen pool on 13 September, another blink and you’ll miss it moment unfortunately. There is the potential for more unexpected rare visitors however, as the tail winds of hurricane Florence may very well send some more migrant and sea birds off course.

Common tern, by Mark Wilson

Our resident mammals are also treating visitors to wonderful sightings. With rutting season approaching, increasing numbers of red deer hinds and stags are being sighted from Grisedale hide. I have enjoyed watching these magnificent creatures patrol their land at dusk, with the evening lighting adding to their aesthetic appeal. Otters continue to be spotted from the causeway hide at various times of day, with some remarkable hunting trips being viewed. Stoats have also made brief appearances along the causeway footpath. Such a wonderful variety of wildlife highlights to great and ongoing work undertaken at RSPB Leighton Moss and is a testament to the dedication of the reserve team.

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Autumn’s arrival and recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Autumn has arrived at Leighton Moss, and promises a period of cool transformation following one of the hottest summers on record. In the coming months the intrigue and enticement of migration movements through Morecambe Bay and the main sight itself will be realised in the dramatic increase in wintering waterfowl and wader numbers. There has been an unbroken continuity to much of the wildlife activity on the reserve, outlined in my previous blog, which nevertheless includes some exceptional natural spectacles. Substantial flocks of waders (black-tailed godwits, redshanks, or lapwings) still engage in their cycles of alighting, dwelling, and departing - occasionally prompted by a peregrine - and confront visitors with nature's magnitude. Bird roosts are still a treasure to watch, notably 90 little egrets and now 3 great white egrets at Island Mere, and the evening cormorants in the willow tree at Grisedale (whose dead branches jutting skyward provide perfect parapets for over 30 of them). The cyclone of swallows and sand martins at Lilian's and Causeway, particularly at the close of day, are still entrancing. Visitors can continue to expect a modest gathering of greenshank on the island, and great crested and little grebes in the mere, at Causeway. Generally, Grisedale and Tim Jackson have been quieter of late, but are still an excellent place to anticipate red deer, and green sandpipers have briefly sojourned here in the past couple of weeks.

Roosting cormorants, by Richard Cousens

There have been noteworthy developments in bird activity witnessed on the reserve in the past couple of weeks. Our beloved marsh harriers appear to have dispersed from the site after a very successful breeding season (with two successful broods totaling 6 fledged juveniles), yet, for the time being, an adult pair remain at Causeway. There are now 3 ruff on Lilian's pool, with 2 spotted redshank seen here at times but also at Grisedale and Tim Jackson, all these birds being in adult winter plumage. There have been good views of a water rail chick at Lilian's too, dabbling and scampering around on the left hand side of the island close to the hide, with parents close by - other water rails can, with patience, be glimpsed outside Causeway and Lower. Up to 5 garganey now reside at Lilian's, a couple drakes in eclipse among other female and juvenile birds; very occasionally a spontaneous, unanticipated outburst from Cetti's warbler happens around the Causeway. Kingfisher sightings have been reported from Lower hide and from the coastal hides, and another solo bird, a lone common tern, has afforded great views of itself circling in front of Lower hide and perching on the wooden posts out in the water, perhaps beside a grey heron, black-headed gull or cormorant. So if you spot a common tern from Lower hide, be assured it's not a plastic one!

Juvenile water rail, by Mike Malpass

On the 27th August, there were four ospreys seen together on the saltmarsh, with one actually venturing into the Eric Morecambe pool. Visitors caught sight of one attempting to deal with a huge seabass that it had landed. One or two ospreys have continued to visit Causeway, and though we can expect a declining frequency in their visits (with the young at Foulshaw Moss having fledged and preparations being made for southward migration) visitors still have every chance of spotting these marvellous raptors, perhaps with a little fortitude. Similarly, otters have made some remarkable appearances at Causeway of late. On the first day of the month, three individuals were spotted moving in the mere between Lower and Causeway hides. The previous Thursday one voracious individual spent an hour or so hunting in front of Causeway hide, and twice, having deftly obtained an eel, proceeded to devour it on the wooden island in full view of a captive audience, prompting a frenzy of elation.

Finally, a handsome anomaly was discovered at Lilian's hide a couple of days ago, and seen again at Causeway the following day - a leucistic greenshank! Leucism is a pigmentation condition in birds which entails an apparent bleaching of plumage. This results in the striking and somewhat ghostly appearance exhibited by birds such as this individual.

Shot of a leucistic greenshank (centre), taken by Matthew Smith 

Since it can never be emphasised enough, I will say that this stunning variety in birds, not to say anything of the other wildlife on the reserve, reiterates the splendid job done by the RSPB Leighton Moss staff and volunteers, to conserve a special place which is vital and thoroughly appealing to wildlife, 

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Wild weather and recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Rain and wind have continued to assist the recovery of water onto areas of Leighton Moss and the larger reserve this past week. Myers’ Dyke is running once again, and the Morecambe pool, which had endured a considerably dearth of water up to the 13th, was finally somewhat rejuvenated by a high tide and gale that evening. This weather, however, and this general time of year – sandwiched between the breeding season and migratory activity – means visitors should expect a marked inconstancy to the presence of birds. Nevertheless this amplifies what is always true and charming about nature here at Leighton Moss and everywhere: it is unpredictable, and retains a capacity to surprise and astonish us.

Redshank flock, by David Griffin

This is especially true of birds for the bay. Hundreds of redshank and lapwing are usually present on the pools, and a little over 400 black-tailed godwits are often at Barrow Scout (with these species found regularly in smaller numbers on central islands of Leighton Moss meres), but are liable to spontaneous departures and returns - as J. A Baker reflects, to the mind of the wader "there is only the impulse, like the tide drawn out by the moon". Smaller waders are similarly in permanent flux, thought visitors have every chance of seeing ringed plover, greenshank, knot, green sandpiper, a lone male ruff and dozens of dunlin. It is also worth anticipating visits from a juvenile peregrine which has taken to scanning this area of late, occasionally flushing up the flocks of lapwings.

This week's highlights on the reserve include: 3 garganey may be spotted from Lilian’s hide dozing on the central island - being in eclipse plumage, they pose a challenge to birders attempting to single them out from  the hundreds of mallard and gadwall in a similar state of moult. These have been rejoined by a small unit of tufted ducks. Little grebes have been abundant, with up to 30 birds, many being juveniles, distributed across Causeway and Lillian’s pools, indicating a very fruitful breeding season. Hobby activity continues to excite our visitors, and up to two birds at varying times may be found hunting or contentedly perching on dead branches at Grisedale, Lilian’s and Causeway hides. Very recently a handful of people have caught sight of the cobalt flash of a kingfisher at Causeway hide. Well over 100 coot and 30 mute swans remain here. In the evenings, 2 great white egrets (whose massive frames might be noted perching in trees at Causeway through the day) and close to 80 little egrets amass onto Island Mere to roost; similarly, over 30 cormorants gather to rest at Grisedale, which remains a prime location for troops of snipe. Vigilance could reward the astute visitor with an otter sighting from Causeway or Lower hides. Though they refuse to be seen most of the time, there are large flocks of warblers moving about the reedbed feeding themselves in preparation for their looming departure. For raptor enthusiasts, Warton Crag is as always an excellent visit, with regular views of the nesting peregrines as well as a high chance of buzzards, kestrels and sparrowhawks.

Great white egret, by Mike Malpass

Turbulent weather gives a vast murmurous voice and undulating form to the reeds of Leighton Moss, which is not merely ample compensation for a quiet day in terms of birds but a reminder of how unique this habitat is. These winds exaggerate the movements of sand martins and swallows to the gestures of a tornado: surging across the waters of the meres, rocketing up, spiralling down. Evenings see these hirundines in a mania of motion before calming to roost, and it is easy to be convinced these birds are filled with the delight of flight.

It was a great weekend for events: Going Batty took place on Saturday, with local bat expert Gail Armstrong giving a comprehensive introduction to these charismatic creatures, looking at global curiosities as well as our precious local species. Despite rain undermining hopes for bat detection Gail gave a thoroughly enjoyable and informative talk, and as always the rescue bats she brought with her were fascinating to all present. There are still a handful of places on the Going Batty events taking place this Saturday 18 and next Sunday 26 August, so if your mad about bats book now!

A very successful Ringing and Singing event took place on Sunday. Despite uncertain weather a fine walk was concluded with over 60 birds ringed, giving attendees the rare chance of getting close to reed warblers, willow warblers, chiffchaffs and a swallow. The next event will take place on Saturday 22 September, and due to its popularity booking as soon as possible is also highly recommended.

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Marsh harrier moments and recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

The wild variation in weather has written itself onto the landscape here at Leighton Moss: from the abundant heat which has scorched the leaves of the sallows and coloured the wooded slopes of the valley with russet-red hues, to recent rainfall which has been a welcome influence in the drier regions but has buffeted the reeds. As Jon mentioned in a blog post a couple of weeks ago, a positive consequence of this heatwave, combined with the rain’s recent input, has been the opening up of areas ripe for foraging. The bared muddy edges of Grisedale pool, for instance, have been providing sustenance for a small troop of 5 needling snipe; 15 pied wagtails, mostly juveniles racing around; varying numbers of lapwings (reliably seen on this southern part of the reserve and the coastal pools), and young black-headed gulls, who use amusing tap dancing motions to coax worms to the surface. At Tim Jackson hide, carrion crows have even taken to picking up exposed freshwater mussels, lifting them to a height and then dropping them, in clever attempts at smashing them open to access the flesh inside.

Marsh harriers remain a reliable delight in the area behind Grisedale and Lillian's pools, offering excellent views of the juveniles practising and gradually improving the skills required to survive on their own. In an attempt to teach them the accuracy and agility they need to hunt, Grisedale's adult male has been gauging the coordination of his offspring by attempting food passes with them, flying high with a rat and releasing it, with one of the youngsters attempting to catch it. They have also been learning to land on branches, a task which might appear simple but for the unsteady juveniles has proven difficult. I have seen one spend a good ten minutes or so coming round to alight in a tree, only for a combination of wind, midday thermals and an immature sense of balance forcing the bird to fly off, circle back and retry over and over again. Such scenes serve to emphasise how deft and accomplished an adult marsh harrier's flight is.

Juvenile marsh harrier, by Mike Malpass

At Lillian’s and Causeway pools the vast numbers of eclipse plumage mallard (over 350) gadwall and coot (over 90) remain, with 25 mute swans and smaller numbers of shoveler, pochard, great crested and little grebes in amongst. Up to 16 greenshank are now set up on the Causeway's central island, on which the juvenile great black-backed gull is stalking about. On early mornings the causeway becomes a corridor of shrieking from numerous water rails immersed within the reeds on either side of the path. The elusive shapes of otters still haunt the banks of the meres, and the Foulshaw Moss ospreys still grace the Silverdale skies, visiting both the main reserve's pools and the coastal areas. Hobby sightings continue to be recorded at the reserve, and their coverage of the site extends from the Causeway to Tim Jackson hide. Those hopeful to spot one should scan the dead trees and branches opposite the hides, which make ideal parapets for these splendid raptors.

Waders on the coast are both gaining in number and fluctuating from week to week, anticipating the arrival of failed and early breeders before the greater migratory parties pass through. Around 100-300 redshank and similar numbers of black-tailed godwits have been recorded at times, with smaller groups of both species regularly visible from Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. Visitors here have a chance of catching glimpses of ruff, knot, dunlin, green and common sandpipers, little-ringed plover and greenshank, usually as individuals but sometimes in pairs or even small groups.

Green sandpipier, by Martin Kuchczynski

As always, walking along the woodland path connecting the Skytower to the reedbed path through to Grisedale and Tim Jackson hides, one is likely to encounter a host of friendly woodland characters: many juvenile robins, blue tits, great tits, dunnocks, marsh tits and nuthatches. They are often very obliging to photographers and families who happen to be in possession of some sunflower seeds.

One will also notice, lining the paths in the wetter woodland areas of Leighton Moss, the ruby clusters of woody nightshade berries; the regal aroma of the ‘Queen-of-the-meadow’, meadowsweet; and discrete white droplets of the enchanter’s nightshade flowers. A splendid array of butterflies are still around in the hotter, sunnier hours – peacocks, speckled woods, commas, holly blue and green-veined white to name a few, who are often found chasing each other in pockets of sunlight.

The recent exodus of swifts out of Silverdale intimates the approaching climax of summer. For another month, however, we can expect to enjoy watching swallows swirling low over the pools and reeds.

Swallow, by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

and recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

We were grateful at Leighton Moss to have been visited by several spates of rainfall over the past week, on the back of the driest June the reserve has ever seen. Whilst areas of the reserve have had to cope with mass evaporation - a huge reduction of water at Grisedale, Tim Jackson and Eric Morecambe pools in particular - these cool, damp episodes have promised rejuvenation, and have even prompted the return of the valiant froglet and toadlet multitudes onto the paths. Perhaps viewed as an impediment by some head-raised birders, they themselves reward a moment of consideration. They have reminded me of George Orwell's observation that the common toad has "about the most beautiful eye of any living creature", like a "golden-coloured semi-precious stone". Veering between stoical pauses and frantic leaping, these charismatic little beings have certainly captivated the many children visiting the reserve, affording them intimate moments with the natural world around them. 

(Froglet posing at a school visit, Joe Fraser-Turner)

This week there have been some exciting developments for our marsh harriers. There had been some concern over the belated departure of the juveniles from their nests, but Monday marked the moment of the first bird seen fledging from the nest behind Lillian's. This was after much inducement from the parents, beating wings above the nest with impatient insistence. Since then three juveniles have been seen departing from Lillian's nest, and at least one from the nest behind Grisedale has also spread their wings. As such, that general region of the reserve - best viewed from the Skytower and Grisedale hides - is ideal for marvelling at these feisty young raptors embarking upon life out of the nest.

Despite the disabling heat, there remains a diverse array of wildlife present on the reserve. Large fleets of waterfowl can be seen from Causeway and Lower hides, with smaller congregations across the remainder of the reserve: several hundreds of mallard, gadwall in significant numbers, and assortments of tufted duck, shoveler, teal, and wigeon, with a 9-strong pochard troop visible at moments. Great numbers coots have also amassed, and great-crested and little grebes, both individuals and small families, bob peacefully in the middle of the pools. Hyperactive antics of young pied wagtails threading across the air in front of the hides remain a source of great amusement - it's worth noting that last week there was the unexpected appearance of a yellow wagtail among them for a couple of days at Causeway pool.

There is also a nascent growing presence of waders of late, as we anticipate the passage of migration parties as the summer matures. Up to 8 greenshank are now regularly ambling on the Causeway's central island. Green and common sandpipers are making brief appearances at the main reserve and at the coastal pools, where redshank and lapwing are a sure sight. Black-tailed godwits continue to rotate between coast and the reedbed in varying numbers; up the Skytower last week a few other birders and I were gifted with the sight of an hundred-strong squadron of them circling over Grisedale and Lillian's with startlingly swift coordinated manoeuvres. All of us were briefly entranced. 

Moving through July, Leighton Moss has been welcoming greater numbers of dragonflies which manically zip across the reserve like miniature helicopters through skyscraper reeds. As such, an ID board in the visitor centre with photos of several species has been put up to help visitors mark out their brown hawker from their four-spotted chaser.  Their abundance has even enticed a sub-adult hobby to the reserve, which has been seen hunting and feasting on them at the Causeway and Grisedale.

(Phonescoped photo of a hobby Joe Fraser-Turner)

Early morning strolls of the reserve have offered me some rare opportunities to catch sight of the more sought-after wildlife on the reserve: bearded tits leaping out of and plunging back into the reeds; Foulshaw Moss ospreys strafing over the Causeway; and red deer pausing to inspect before scampering off through the scrub and reeds. In the early hours of last Wednesday, I even had the pleasure of watching our Visitor Operations Manager Kevin Kelly ringing birds. I was captivated by this gentle, methodical process of ringing, recording details of the bird - age, gender, wing length, weight, notable physical characteristics (such as subcutaneous fat, indicating preparation for migration, and moulting) - and releasing. There are still some spaces on our Singing and Ringing event next month, and I highly recommend it to anyone who would love a close encounter with some of the lovely birds that make their home at Leighton Moss.

(Sedge warbler being ringed, Joe Fraser-Turner)

Finally, we had a very successful Meet the Moths event on Saturday, with a great number of visitors appreciating the impressive variation of over 160 species of moths caught here at Leighton Moss and the local area. It was especially heartening to see so many children intrigued by the many colours, shapes and sizes on show,  Irene Mower, local moth expert and part of the moth team leading the event, was especially glad to have caught a Four-Spotted Footman, a nationally scarce migratory moth which has only been recorded once before at Leighton Moss in 2006. It just goes to show that whatever your age and level of experience, there is always more to discover in the natural world surrounding us. Again, there are only a handful of places left on next weekend's Moths Beginners Workshop, so those who have been enticed should book ASAP.

(Four-spotted footman, Irene Mower)


Joe Fraser-Turner, Visitor Experience Intern

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Dynamic water levels & recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

While we’ve been enjoying this rather lovely weather, the lack of precipitation has certainly had an effect on the reserve. In fact, the total rainfall figure of just 18mm set a new record low for the reserve in June. And after three consecutive weeks with no rain at all, it’s really showing. We have lost 25cm of water from the main reedbed through evaporation alone and Myer's Dyke (which runs into Lilian’s Pool) has, according to former warden John Wilson, never been drier.

Myer's Dyke (Jon Carter)

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; dynamic water level changes are often key to the overall health of a wetland habitat. One of the things that we have been doing here at Leighton Moss in recent years is deliberately drawing down water levels in summer to promote new growth. This, coupled with targeted reed cutting, creates a mosaic of areas that benefit a wide range of wildlife.

We birders too can benefit from a reduction of water on the meres as the increased muddy edges and shallower pools can encourage normally elusive red bed dwellers such as bitterns and water rails to come out into the open. And as late July sees a notable rise in the numbers of migrating waders on the move we can hope that this prime feeding habitat attracts a good selection. Already, in recent days we have seen an influx of black-tailed godwits and little egrets onto the Grisedale Pool while snipe numbers have increased across the reserve. Up to six greenshanks are being seen regularly on the island in front of the Causeway Hide and both common and green sandpipers have been spotted at various locations on the reserve. The Eric Morecambe and Allen Pools are practically bone dry at the moment but that should change with the predicted high tides over the next couple of days or so.

Greenshank (Mike Malpass)

The rather baffling lack of sightings of marsh harrier fledglings is somewhat frustrating – there appears to be plenty of food going into the nests and the adult birds can be seen and heard flying around calling, trying to entice the youngsters to stretch their wings but so far the chicks seem immune to the charms of exploration.

The wardening team have been busy, as always, with various jobs around the site. One of the most exciting for me is the creation of a new bearded tit viewing area along the Causeway. Anyone familiar with the grit trays will be aware of the limited space that is available when watching out for these enigmatic reedbed residents. In an effort to make viewing more comfortable, and safer too given the occasional farm vehicle that passes by, we are building a platform which will take visitors off the road. By starting the work now, we can ensure that it will be ready in plenty of time for autumn when the ‘beardies’ start to visit the trays. And with new grit trays in other areas of the reserve we hope to improve our visitors’ chances of seeing these wonderful birds.

New bearded tit viewing area under construction (Jon Carter) 

As well as all the dazzling dragonflies around at the moment the reserve is also a great home for moths. The problem is, of course, that we rarely get chance to observe these nocturnal insects. Like many nature reserves, we run a moth trap at Leighton Moss which allows us to gather an amazing amount of information about which species both reside and visit here. Over 600 types of moth have been recorded on the reserve and our band of dedicated moth enthusiasts are discovering new ones each year.

Elephant hawk moth (Jon Carter)

This month we offer two opportunities for visitors to learn more about moths – our Meet The Moths at the Moss event is a short introductory drop-in session that takes place on Sunday 22 July while our more detailed Moths - Beginners Workshop on Saturday 28 July will appeal to those really wanting to know more about these fascinating insects and wish to get to grips with moth identification.  

To see all the events and activities taking place at Leighton Moss visitor our events page.     

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

 

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Recent summer sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

As the unprecedented heatwave continues, the wildlife at Leighton Moss finds itself having to adjust to the changing conditions. Water levels are dropping rapidly, both on the saltmarsh pools and on the main reserve. This of course, presents nature with challenges. For many songbirds drinking water is becoming a little more difficult to find and so we are regularly checking the fresh water around the feeders to ensure a constant supply. This is something we would definitely recommend everyone does in their garden during this dry spell - a lack of water can spell disaster for recently fledged young birds.

Starlings bathing and drinking (copyright Jodie Randall rspb-images.com)

The warm sunny days have been fantastic for observing dragonflies and damselflies. Impressive brown hawkers, common hawkers and broad-bodied chasers are among the most visible of the larger dragonflies while dainty blue-tailed damselflies dazzle the senses with their sheer brilliance. As bird activity inevitably slows down in the heat of the day, these dynamic insects are providing visitors with amazing views as they fly acrobatically from one spot to another.

Blue-tailed damselfly (Mike Malpass)

Mammals have been performing well with otters the stars of the show, as usual. Red deer too are delighting visitors, chiefly at Grisedale and at the end of the Causeway while a young fox has been seen regularly from Tim Jackson Hide.   

For many species of birds the breeding season is well and truly at an end. Our avocets have all but departed having had a highly successful season; in excess of of 20 youngsters were raised at the Allen and Eric Morecambe Pools. The bitterns have gone back to being extremely elusive now that the female has stopped conducting frequent feeding flights. We cam assume that the young bitterns have now left the nest and are fully independent. Recent sightings have come from all parts of the reserve further suggesting that they are now out and about and all doing their own thing. As water levels drop, we may see hunting bitterns emerging from the reed beds to forage at the water's edge.

As I write this, the marsh harriers have yet to fledge any broods from the three nests on the reserve. We have been expecting to see some signs but they do seem to be holding tight for now. I'm sure all will be revealed imminently! Ospreys have continued to show superbly, mainly from Causeway and Lower hides while hobbies dash through from time to time for the lucky few who happen to be in the right place at the right time. 

Green sandpiper (Martin Kuchczynski)

Summer sees the start of wader migration as the first returning birds start to head south from their northern breeding grounds. We have already seen the first snipe back in the last week or so and a few interesting bits and pieces have been trickling through. Greenshank, curlew sandpiper, green sandpiper and little ringed plover have all been spotted in recent days while a few bar-tailed godwits can still be found among the black-tailed godwits at the Allen Pools. With the increasing amount of mud on the edges of the pools on the main reserve, we should see more waders dropping in. We'll be keeping our eyes peeled for such goodies as wood sandpiper, or perhaps something a little rarer. With areas of fresh water at a premium, Leighton Moss will hopefully act like a magnet for migrating wading birds.

If you're a keen nature photographer, you may be interested in the Digital Darkroom photographic workshop taking place on July 14. Join experienced and published wildlife photographer Mike Malpass for a workshop on how to give your photographs that extra professional touch. You will look at how to process your images on your computer using lighting, cropping, sharpening and composition techniques. Booking and payment in advance essential - please call our visitor centre on 01524 701601 to secure your place! 

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager