Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

American duck drops in and other recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

The good news is, as I write this, the pathways to all hides are now accessible without the need for wellies. Water levels are still very high and it could easily change with the next downpour but if the forecasts are right, we should be okay for a while. Watch this space, check our Twitter and Facebook accounts or call the visitor centre for updates.

Green-winged teal by Mike Malpass

As we anticipated, the recent drop in temperature has brought more wildfowl onto the reserve and the best places to observe good numbers of dabbling ducks are undoubtedly the Grisedale and Jackson Hides. Wigeon, pintail, shoveler, teal and gadwall are among the most numerous species present. On Saturday (2 Dec) morning a fine drake American green-winged teal dropped in and showed reasonably well over the remainder of the weekend. It hasn’t been reported since Sunday but it may well still be around. Diving ducks are still at something of a premium, although goldeneyes have been around in small numbers and are best looked for on the deeper waters.

We still have three cattle egrets coming into the evening roost at the north end of the reserve. This exotic trio can often be seen in the company of the cows grazing in the fields near the path beyond Lower Hide or even from the Sky Tower. One or two great egrets are also being seen out on the saltmarsh and on the reserve while the ever-present little egrets can often be seen stalking around in the shallower areas.

Kingfisher by Mike Malpass 

Kingfishers have been showing very well at the Eric Morecambe and Allen Hides lately, along with good numbers of waders and wildfowl. Occasional forays by hunting peregrines, merlins and marsh harriers over the pools and saltmarsh periodically cause a commotion as hundreds of birds rise into the air in panic – quite a sight!

Water rails continue to be seen, and particularly heard, as the high water levels force them out in to the open to search for food and the odd bearded tits are still visiting the grit trays along the Causeway.

Otters have proven to a big hit with visitors recently with regular sightings from around the reserve; Causeway and Lilian’s Pools are the most reliable spots but these wandering mustelids can pop up just about anywhere.

Starlings by David Mower

The starling murmuration is still a sight to behold – large flocks of birds pile in over the reeds in the late afternoon and can provide a great spectacle from the Sky Tower on calm, bright days. The best place to watch the pre-roost gathering is from the track leading to the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides car park, though please note that parking is not allowed along the track itself.

Before...

Visitors to Leighton Moss may have noticed that the bridge crossing Myer’s Dyke, near the pond-dipping pools, has been completely rebuilt recently. Despite the wardening team taking this task on during the recent downpour that resulted in widespread flooding, they managed to complete the job in just a couple of days. Impressive stuff!

.  During...

  After.

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

American duck drops in and other recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

The good news is, as I write this, the pathways to all hides are now accessible without the need for wellies. Water levels are still very high and it could easily change with the next downpour but if the forecasts are right, we should be okay for a while. Watch this space, check our Twitter and Facebook accounts or call the visitor centre for updates.

Green-winged teal by Mike Malpass

As we anticipated, the recent drop in temperature has brought more wildfowl onto the reserve and the best places to observe good numbers of dabbling ducks are undoubtedly the Grisedale and Jackson Hides. Wigeon, pintail, shoveler, teal and gadwall are among the most numerous species present. On Saturday (2 Dec) morning a fine drake American green-winged teal dropped in and showed reasonably well over the remainder of the weekend. It hasn’t been reported since Sunday but it may well still be around. Diving ducks are still at something of a premium, although goldeneyes have been around in small numbers and are best looked for on the deeper waters.

We still have three cattle egrets coming into the evening roost at the north end of the reserve. This exotic trio can often be seen in the company of the cows grazing in the fields near the path beyond Lower Hide or even from the Sky Tower. One or two great egrets are also being seen out on the saltmarsh and on the reserve while the ever-present little egrets can often be seen stalking around in the shallower areas.

Kingfisher by Mike Malpass

Kingfishers have been showing very well at the Eric Morecambe and Allen Hides lately, along with good numbers of waders and wildfowl. Occasional forays by hunting peregrines, merlins and marsh harriers over the pools and saltmarsh periodically cause a commotion as hundreds of birds rise into the air in panic – quite a sight!

Water rails continue to be seen, and particularly heard, as the high water levels force them out in to the open to search for food and the odd bearded tits are still visiting the grit trays along the Causeway.

Otters have proven to a big hit with visitors recently with regular sightings from around the reserve; Causeway and Lilian’s Pools are the most reliable spots but these wandering mustelids can pop up just about anywhere.

Starlings by David Mower

The starling murmuration is still a sight to behold – large flocks of birds pile in over the reeds in the late afternoon and can provide a great spectacle from the Sky Tower on calm, bright days. The best place to watch the pre-roost gathering is from the track leading to the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides car park, though please note that parking is not allowed along the track itself.

 Before...

Visitors to Leighton Moss may have noticed that the bridge crossing Myer’s Dyke, near the pond-dipping pools, has been completely rebuilt recently. Despite the wardening team taking this task on during the recent downpour that resulted in widespread flooding, they managed to complete the job in just a couple of days. Impressive stuff!

During...

 After.

Jon Carter

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Super starlings build at Leighton Moss

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Please be aware that since the flooding earlier this week that many of the paths at Leighton Moss are currently under some water. The hides are accessible with wellies - there's still plenty to see and wading through the water can be great fun!  

The winter scenery at Leighton Moss is well underway with blackbirds and dunnocks searching the wet ground for food and calling from the brush piles surrounded by the earthy brown firmament of rich hummus textures and decaying leaves. Fieldfare and redwing have been foraging in the orchard and hedges around the car park. The water levels were looking good all week, with a drop encouraging great numbers of gadwall, shovelers, teal, wigeon and pintail onto the Causeway Pool. The recent rainfall has put most of the reserve paths back under water to varying degrees with wellies advised for access around most of the reserve including the path to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. Please refer to twitter for the latest updates on accessibility.

Fieldfare by Richard Cousens

During the dry evenings starling murmurations have been building with the best part of 20,000 birds providing an impressive, if often short-lived spectacle. They are currently roosting in the reeds at Barrow Scout, our recently created reedbed site. For the best views of the starlings head down to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides car park and park there (there is strictly NO parking along the access track to the car park). Either walk back along the track towards the road where you can get great views of them going to roosting in the reeds, or stand on the path towards the hides where they will often come overhead!

Starling flock by Jacqui Fereday

Pop in to the visitor centre for a map if you need further assistance and info about the roosting starlings. Always look out for peregrines and sparrowhawks taking the chance of an easy meal. The best time to see the starlings coming to roost is currently about half an hour before dusk. Look for murmurations building from around 3.50pm. The Sky Tower provides a great vantage point from which to watch the flocks streaming across the reserve reed beds. 

Bearded tits seem to have had a record year for numbers recorded on the grit trays; the population on the reserve stands at one of the highest since John Wilson, the former first reserve warden, started recording their numbers. They also continued to be seen on the grit trays later in the season than previous years. The occasional one may still be encountered topping up on grit but this particular reserve highlight is now over for another year.

Three cattle egrets appear to have taken up residence again in the cattle fields adjacent to the reserve, often viewed on the approach to the reserve from Storrs Lane, as they did in spring. Four great egret are in the area with at least two using the reserve down at the Allen Pool and from Grisedale Hide.

Female greenfinch by Mike Malpass

The occasional brambling has complemented the gatherings of chaffinch and greenfinch together with reed buntings, best looked for to the left of the path to the Allen hide where the wardens have opened up the grassland area. On good days this is a really good spot to watch finch flocks, a more understated seasonal spectacle. On the pools themselves are a range of duck including wigeon and shelduck together with a small number of waders.

Back on the reserve a pair of stonechats have been noted on several occasions from Grisedale. Good reports of snipe are another winter wader to look out for. Bittern reports are still infrequent but increasing and the high water levels have pushed water rails out from cover where they have become rather conspicuous.

Don’t forget we have an Optics Open Weekend, 10am-4pm this Saturday and Sunday (25-26 November). Drop-in for free end impartial advice on a range of optics including the opportunity to test our entire optics range for yourself.


Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Rare heron departs and other recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Autumn continues to make its presence felt as we see trickles of redwings passing through, along with a few fieldfare here and there. Single stonechat, brambling and tree sparrow are being noted regularly in the hedgerows near the Eric Morecambe Pool. Also at the coastal hides we are seeing increasing numbers of wildfowl as flocks of wigeon and teal continue to build. At least 2 great white egrets are favouring that area of the reserve and are best looked for from the Allen and Eric Morecambe Pools. 

 Purple heron by Mike Malpass

Meanwhile, the long-staying purple heron shows little sign of departing for warmer climes and is remaining faithful to the area around Grisedale Hide. Of course, being a rare reedbed dweller it can often be absent for lengthy periods but does put in an appearance most days - much to the delight of the many hopeful birders and photographers sat patiently in the hide. The marsh harriers and red deer that so often show well seem to keep most people happy in the meantime!  UPDATE: the purple heron finally left the reserve on Friday (27 Oct) evening after an astonishing 10 week visit.

Water rail by Martin Kuchczynski

The extensive work that our wardening team have recently put into the area around the Tim Jackson pool is paying dividends as large numbers of dabbling duck and snipe are showing nicely in front of the hide. Water rails may be seen well here as they explore the exposed areas following the reed cutting. 

Bearded tits by Keith Kellet

Bearded tits of course continue to steal the show as they readily use the grit trays along the Causeway. Seen most mornings, these delightful birds never fail to impress. Recently, especially on sunnier days, 'beardies' have been appearing all over the reserve in noisy family parties - listen for their distinctive 'pinging' calls as they make their way through the reeds.

Otter by Trudy Morris

A few lucky visitors to the reserve this week had an unforgettable view of an otter as it wandered nonchalantly through the bird feeding area in the garden. Trudy Morris was sat enjoying a cup of coffee at one of our picnic tables when she noticed the animal strolling along and managed to take this fantastic photo. The otter seemed totally at ease and took no notice whatsoever of the people stood watching in amazement!  Maybe it knew it was national #mammalweek ?        

 Jon Carter   

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

A full circle…

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Read Emily's blog about her role with the Learning Team at Leighton Moss....

It all started quite by accident!  I had been innocently attending a Nature Tots session when an Internship advert poster popped up from behind Carol’s (Learning Office at Leighton Moss) shoulder inviting me to read it.  So I read it.  In my head I had already begun to juggle other commitments; a one year old, a few part-time jobs and some rather tricky training to complete.  Rather than forget about it, I badgered Carol into explaining what it was all about.  Before I knew it, the application form was complete, the form returned and the interview date set.  Armed with a feely box of cold, oily spaghetti I ventured into the Holt.  The interview went well, there were a few tricky questions to navigate but I think my task (involving said spaghetti) drew attention away from what I believed to be a few hesitant answers.  It wasn’t long before Carol called with an invitation to join her team as the Learning Intern for Leighton Moss.  I was delighted.

Image by Andy Hay

The internship began.  I was promptly kitted out in the RSPB outfit, very pleased to find that this included a fluffy fleece as it was still only March.  Over the first few days I was introduced to a staggering amount of staff and volunteers, joined the morning meetings and generally got used to being on a nature reserve.  Within a week I was to join my first group of students, great I thought (“easy” my inner voice said as I’m also a primary school teacher,) but when reality hit I was slightly anxious.  It was a university group coming to learn about habitat management.  Richard, the Warden at Leighton Moss, taught me so much that visit.  I furiously scribbled everything down, including lots of words I’d never heard of before.  But it was brilliant; it was one of the why’s for doing the internship here.  I learnt so much, and so much that would help me when talking to visitors in the future.

Slowly schools began to trickle in, the trickle soon becoming a cascade.  In this time I observed the ‘masters at work’ (being Carol, Jayne and Angela) learning from their teaching techniques as well as absorbing their subject knowledge.  I spent time learning how to facilitate pond dipping sessions, setting up habitat trails, presenting discovering birds and investigating rocks and soils.  Somehow, in between all this, we made resources and I was trained in membership, social media and branding (things I had never even considered before.)  My wealth of knowledge was expanding and at a staggering rate.

But best of all was the opportunity to work with and inspire the minds of little people, middle sized ones and young adults.  All of whom approached being outside and learning about nature in completely different ways.  All of whom wanted, sometimes so desperately, to share their findings with you.  There were times where you could visibly see the connections being made in the minds of the children. There were nursery children with more staying power and concentration levels than I thought were possible.  Children that were so absorbed in identifying whirligig beetles they weren’t even aware of their session ending. 

Tadpoles from the pond at Leighton Moss by Steven Williams

As an Intern I needed to complete a project.  I wondered for a while, what could it be?  After a few weeks of settling in, Carol asked me to take on the expansion of the Nature Tots programme.  We already had a fun, engaging programme but the decision had recently been made to make it a twice monthly event.  So, eagerly, I set about my task.  I decided my starting point would be RSBP focused or about national or international nature awareness days, weeks or months.  With this idea I felt motivated and ready for action.  However, this was a tricky way of starting such a task.  Trying to find a book that was toddler friendly and included the right theme was time consuming and a real challenge.  But, I got there and from this was able to build a 12 session programme each containing a book, at least four activities, a game and a song to sing at the end.  The programme was examined and tweaked and evaluated (and will continue to be) until all seemed just right to give it ago.  So give it ago we did and the feedback was so positive and encouraging that all challenges faded away and was replaced by a sea of grinning toddlers and rather happy parents.

 The Internship turned into a job, just for a few months, but what a result!  Doing a job that is easy to get up for, and in a place that you want to go to.  Only thing is, is that the job is nearly up.  However, I’m back to where it all began, Nature Tots.  No better place to be.          

Emily Johnson

Learning and Visitor Experience Assistant

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Bearded tits on show and other recent sightings

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Red deer. Copyright Mike Malpass 

It seems that autumn is well and truly upon on us and the wildlife here on the reserve is gearing up for the seasonal changes. Red deer stags have been strutting their stuff as the annual rut gets underway and visitors to Grisedale Hide have been getting great views of these massive mammals in recent days. Also at Grisedale the long-staying purple heron continues to attract the crowds. Present since mid-August, this continental wanderer must surely head south soon? Or might we see the first ever wintering purple heron here at Leighton Moss?

Ducks numbers have been slowly increasing and we now have plenty of shovelers, gadwall, teal and mallard on the meres along with newly arriving wigeons and pintails.


Purple heron. Copyright Mike Malpass

Out on the Allen and Eric Morecambe pools huge flocks of lapwings, black-tailed godwits and redshanks have been joined by multiple greenshanks, shelducks and earlier this week a lone, unseasonal avocet!

Autumn of course is also the best tie to see one of our most sought-after residents; the bearded tit.  

This rather comically named bird is something of an enigma. Firstly, it’s not even a member of the tit family. Unlike the blue tits and great tits that we might see in our gardens or in the local park, these characterful birds belong in a family all of their own with no other close relatives. They also go by a couple of other rather intriguing names; bearded parrotbill and, more accurately, bearded reedling.

That last name reflects their habit of living in reeds, something that Leighton Moss famously has lots of! And that’s another reason for their mysterious appeal. Reed beds are often vast, seemingly impenetrable places and small, secretive birds can be very hard to see as they go about their business in the swathes of dense vegetation. They do however give themselves away with their distinctive ‘pinging’ calls, which can admittedly add to the birdwatchers’ frustration as unlike good Victorian children they can often be heard, but not seen.


Bearded tit. Copyright Mick Walmsley

Bearded tits have been nesting at Leighton Moss since the early 1970s. Their numbers can fluctuate dramatically and they are particularly prone to suffering population crashes as a result of severe weather. Former senior warden John Wilson has been studying the birds since they first arrived at the reserve and is still involved in monitoring the population at Leighton Moss. Each year young and adult birds are caught and fitted with coloured rings which allow researchers to identify individuals. This allows us to assess how many bearded tits live on the reserve as well as discovering how well they’re surviving from one season to the next.      

There are number of ways that we can actively help these attractive birds and one highly inventive method has been the creation of special bearded tit ‘wigwams’. These unique nestboxes are fashioned from woven reeds and provide a safe place for the birds to nest. Former warden at the reserve, David Mower, helped pioneer these unusual structures and they have now been adopted on other RSPB reserves, with great success.

Another way in which we can help bearded tits is perhaps somewhat more surprising. Like many songbirds, beardies (as they affectionately known) eat protein-rich insects throughout the spring and summer months when they are in good supply. But in autumn when this food source starts to diminish, the birds have to look elsewhere for nourishment. This is when they change their diet and focus on the plentiful reed seeds. However, in order to digest the relatively hard seeds they need to break them up. Now, this isn’t easy when you don’t have any teeth and the birds’ bills aren’t quite designed to deal with the problem. So, in late September and through October the birds start to consume grit, which sits in a pouch in their chest known as a crop, and grinds up the seeds as they eat them. And this where the RSPB comes in. We provide platforms which look much like a standard bird table, but rather than scatter sunflower seeds and suet pellets on them we place small piles of grit. And the bearded tits can’t get enough of it. And better still, neither can our human visitors!

Each October the grit trays draw crowds of admirers keen to catch a glimpse of these otherwise elusive reed-dwellers. If you wish to learn more about these wonderful local residents, you can book on the ever-popular ‘Brilliant Bearded Tit’ walks taking place on 17 and 24 October. The cost for these special walks is £7 or £5.50 for RSPB members. Children are half price. Pre-booking is essential for these events and spaces are limited. Details are available on the website at www.rspb.org.uk/events or call the Leighton Moss visitor centre on (01524) 701601 to book your place.

Jon Carter

    

 

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Leighton Moss Wildlife Highlights this week

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

The season is changing and the russet tones of autumn are slowly staining the reedbed crimson and gold with the turning of the season. Wet nights are bringing misty mornings to proceeding warm clear days. Although the unseasonably wet conditions of summer (actually the 4th wettest June-September on record since records began in 1984!) have soaked the reserve, on good days red admirals are still flying around the garden, robins sing and the sun reflects the tonal pallets of the season onto the open water against blue skies.

Movements of smaller birds are certainly one thing to look out for during your next visit. Mixed flocks of tits, goldcrests and warblers are forming bands of foraging parties as they move through the woodland and down the causeway. A slow walk along the path to Lower Hide may reveal coal tits, long-tailed tits, marsh tits, goldfinches, siskins and even the occasional chiffchaff. Among these flocks there is also the chance of something special with scarce warblers passing through the country at this time of year - we've already had a report of a possible yellow-browed warbler.

Teal by Richard Cousens

Wildfowl numbers are building with ducks like wigeon and teal becoming regulars on the Causeway and Tim Jackson pools. Gadwall are looking rather nice at this time of year and can be encountered from most hides on the reserve. The purple heron is still on the reserve with reports daily from several locations including the Causeway and Grisedale. With the time since its arrival increasing we are keeping a watchful eye on its potential departure. Will it be here for several more weeks keeping a low profile?

Red deer stags by Richard Cousens

With the heralding of autumn, red deer activity is increasing as they start the rutting season. Two adult stags were observed running through the reeds recently, with one chasing the other. Your best opportunity to see red deer on the reserve is to head down to Grisedale Hide at the southern end of the reserve. The stags will become increasingly vocal as the season progresses.

The first guided walk of the season to look for bearded tits was a roaring success with all participants having a great morning and gaining extended views of them on the grit trays and along the causeway. Thank you to Mike and Jane Malpass for their excellent guidance. Be sure to check out our events listing, found here, for this popular event which is on during this month only.

Bearded tits on the grit trays at the causeway by Keith Kellet. Our next guided walks to look for them are on Tuesday 10, 17 and 24 October, 9.30-11.30am.

Cetti’s warbler can be heard from the boardwalk and causeway. Pop-in to the Causeway Hide for your best chance to catch up with a marsh harrier or two. We have counted up to five on the reserve, including one with unique lime green wing tags that we know to be a young marsh harrier from Norfolk! The stone island on the Causeway Pool has been good for several types of waders including snipe, greenshank, redshank and a handful of reports of spotted redshank.

Otter sightings, as well as marsh harrier sightings, are two of the most numerous reports in the book over the past few days together with great egret and bearded tits. An otter even featured on this week’s bearded tit walk, with the group enjoying views from Causeway Hide, so you never know your luck.

Otter by Phil Boardman

Other notable highlights include a garganey from Causeway Hide early in the week, ruff, curlew sandpiper, merlin and little stint reports from the Eric Morecambe Hide and little grebes from Lillian’s Hide.

Steven

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Hello to Andy, our new Residential Volunteer Warden

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

We welcome Andy to the team as our new Residential Volunteer Warden. A keen and experienced birdwatcher, Andy will be helping to keep the reserve looking amazing through continuing his life as a warden with us at Leighton Moss. In this blog he tells us a little bit about himself and his experiences so far before arriving here.

Hello! I have just started as a volunteer intern warden at RSPB Leighton Moss and shall be here until late February. I am very happy to continue my 12-month internship, which I began at RSPB Fairburn Ings and St Aidan’s, with a new team of both humans and creatures. Leighton Moss is a splendid place in a fantastic setting. I have been coming here since I was 11. When I was 16 years old, I did my work experience here and got to help with bird surveys and butterfly transects.

As you will see form the distribution map I have spent much of my life in Scotland. I was born in Cumbria, studied Ecology at Aberdeen University and have worked in many places, for much of the last 5 years or so, for consultancies doing bird survey work for environmental impact assessment, particularly for wind turbines, in remote areas.  Highlights include finding hen harriers and red-throated divers (under licence), discovering a singing wood sandpiper in suitable breeding habitat, finding a blue and white phase snow goose whilst counting Greenland White-fronted geese and getting amazing views of golden and white-tailed eagles. The work wasn’t always so glamorous and often there was nothing to see for many hours but vast numbers of midges, which I only escaped  by gluing glasses into a midge net. Much of my job was to map occasional flights of species that are both protected by European law and considered to be of sufficient size to be at risk of collision with wind turbines. This work tends to be secretive, because data belongs to consultancies and their clients, and the hours were often exhausting with much dawn and dusk work.

Since February I have been enjoying the diverse challenges of warden-work, developing practical skills like path creation, painting things blue (the RSPB colour!), participating in other kinds of wildlife surveys, blogging and leading a Dawn Chorus walk.  I have really enjoyed the diversity and the sociability of the work. At Fairburn we were blessed with an amazing brood of 3 beautiful spoonbills, the first to have nested in the north of England for 300 years.  

Spoonbills at Fairburn by Andrew Francis

I was delighted that BBC "Look North" used my photo (left), when reporting on this welcome addition to the breeding birds list onsite.

St Aidan’s re-opened to the public this April and has been home to some incredible and very special species. These two reserves were developed into first rate nature reserves from the legacy of deep and open cast mines respectively.  

The view of Barrow Scout and Morecambe Bay from Queen’s steps, SD 481 734… surely this is one of the RSPB’s most beautiful reserves. Image by Andrew Francis. 

Leighton Moss, with it’s more rural setting amongst top-class limestone pavement habitat and its coastal location is a very different reserve and I look forward to learning from the people here and doing what I can to benefit this beautiful place and the special wildlife that resides here!

Andy Francis

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Where there is water there is wading

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With work to the Eric Morecambe Pool now complete and water flooding the exposed mud, waders are starting to make the most of the newly restored habitat. Large flocks of redshank and lapwing are a rather nice spectacle of late. Amongst them, one may see several greenshank and the occasional spotted redshank and ruff have also stopped by this week.

Group of redshanks by David Griffin 

The Allen pool has been a great place to catch up with kingfishers where two were observed flying and remaining active during the morning early this week. Visitors have also enjoyed great views of little egrets fishing from here. Three little stint have been reported several times from the pools of late. You may even catch up with a ringed plover or two following several sightings in recent days. For numbers and variety this is one of the best times of year to visit the pools for waders. Occasional hobby and merlin sightings this week have been exciting additions to the variety of birds of prey on the reserve. It is worth searching the posts out on the saltmarsh for our resident peregrines during a visit to the hides.

Purple heron at Leighton Moss from Grisedale hide by Mike Malpass

The purple heron is still here! It has been here for approaching a month to fuel up for its long journey to Africa. How long will it stay? 

The commotion caused by the purple heron ceased over the weekend following its disappearance for several days – where previous to this it was last seen flying in to roost on the reserve on Friday evening (15). We thought it had scarpered, taking advantage of a clear night to continue its journey south, only for it to reappear this Thursday (21) morning at Grisedale. Your best chance of seeing this rare visitor is still to head down to this hide - its favorite haunt - and cross your fingers.

The seasons are changing. The longer nights are bringing colder dawns with a chill in the air and the chance of atmospheric mist during the mornings on sharp and crisp days as autumn approaches. Due to the unseasonably wet conditions water levels on the reserve are higher than usual with some standing water covering the paths to Lower Hide and the north of the reserve. All other paths are dry and accessible.

Bearded tits are back on the grit trays! Having filled up the trays our first reports of bearded tits using the grit trays came early this week. Since then activity along the causeway has become frequent with numerous bearded tits ‘pinging’ loudly among the reeds each morning. Several visitors have photographed them on the grit trays already. Pick a bright morning that is not too breezy and head down to the causeway for your best chance of encountering these unique and wonderful reedbed specialists. Please send us your photos of them on the grit trays so we can count their coloured leg rings. This helps us get a better picture of which pairs are using the grit trays. 

Male bearded tit on the grit tray by Mike Malpass

Otters have not disappointed us of late with some truly close encounters. A number of lucky visitors watched one cruising by right in front of Causeway Hide. Lillian’s Hide can also be good for otters and little grebe whilst at Grisedale Hide snipewater rail and a great egret may all be encountered. Marsh harriers can be encountered anywhere on the reserve including reports of them hunting over Barrow Scout. Cetti’s warblers seem rather vocal again with the Causeway and Grisedale areas, plus the path to the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides being regular haunts to listen out for them. Water rail may also be heard anywhere on the reserve. The high water levels are likely to have increased squabbles for territory making them rather vocal.

Otters playing by Phil Boardman

In the woodland and at our bird feeding station in the garden we have lots of visitors from nuthatches and marsh tits to greenfinch, coal tits and bullfinch. Don’t forget at watch their antics on your next visit as they flit through the trees and take advantage of the bird food provided for them.

Finally, sunnier days have been great for dragonflies around the pond and boardwalk with common darters warming up on the wooden boards and southern hawkers hunting over the field. Red admiral butterflies are fairly numerous on the reserve of late and the most likely butterfly to be encountered by visitors on a walk around the garden.  

Red admiral by Andy Hay 

Autumn is a great time of year to visit and there is always something to see.

We look forward to seeing you soon.

Steven, Visitor Experience Volunteer

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

This weeks wildlife highlights: Purple heron and otters…..

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

The purple heron, while increasingly mobile and frustratingly elusive at times is still here, delighting and frustrating visitors in equal measure as it has done all week. Grisedale is still the place to be, where it regularly hunts around the edges of the pool to the left of the hide, although it has been observed flying off towards the direction of Lillian’s hide on a number of occasions. Some visitors have spent several hours waiting for views of the rare heron before reluctantly admitting defeat (and probably cursing it under their breath) whilst others have spent five minutes in the hide and been treated to fabulous views almost immediately! This morning (Saturday 9) the purple heron was initially sighted from the Skytower a good while before those sat in Grisedale Hide were treated to a sighting. Remarkable to think that it has been here for over three weeks!

Two great egrets have been on the reserve this week too, with at least one favouring the Grisedale area. Little grebes in front of Lillian's Hide are fairly numerous at the moment with up to 11 individuals seen on most days.

Purple heron by Martyn Jones

Ospreys have been regular visitors to the reserve all week with sightings almost daily. Other opportunities to look for birds of prey around the reserve include occasional reports of kestrel and merlin and at least two marsh harriers are still being seen regularly. Look for these cruising over the reeds anywhere on the reserve. Peregrine action down at the Eric Morecambe and Allen pools, where they hunt regularly most mornings, is certainly a highlight and typical of this time of year.

Contractors have completed the main task of repair work to the Eric Morecambe Pool. Apart from some landscaping work to build up the islands and create other features, which our fantastic warden team will be working on, the pools are certainly worth a visit. Following the next set of high tides towards the end of this month, which should re-flood the Eric Morecambe pool, it should become a magnet for migrating waders.

Osprey by Mike Roberts

Waders around the reserve include thousands of lapwings and hundreds of redshanks down at the saltmarsh. They can also be spotted on the stone island from Causeway Hide. Talking of spotted, yesterday (Friday 8) a spotted redshank was reported on this island too together with seven greenshank. Curlews are rather nice to look for, being our largest wading bird; four were seen on the Eric Morecambe Pool. A visit to this hide or Allen Hide may be rewarded with a sighting of a kingfisher, where this is as good a place as any for a chance encounter.  

Other wildlife include roe deer in the fields along the edge of the reserve and exceptionally close views of otters from the Causeway Hide. Recent reports suggest that we may have as many as two families of otter on the reserve with one holding territory to the north of the reserve and the other favouring the south and Barrow Scout. Otter sightings have been observed by visitors from Grisedale Hide, which is fabulous considering that the majority of otter sightings come from Lillian's Hide or the more usual haunt at the Causeway and Lower hides.

Greenshank by Mike Malpass

Bitterns continue to tantalise us this week. Our wardens have recently cut some secluded open pools towards the back of Lillian's, which are often favoured places for bitterns to fish. It appears this has been well received following another bittern sighting mid-week, this time flying a loop over Lillian’s Pool before dropping down into an area of cut reed beyond.   

Bittern in flight by David Tipling (rspb-images.com)

It’s approaching that time of year again for a little bearded tit madness. While your chances of seeing a bearded tit amongst the dense and tall summer reed (which is in itself a completely different realm of navigation - what must it be like to be a bearded tit??!!) are pretty slim, you can be lucky at this time of year, as a few visitors this week have been.

As October approaches, bearded tits start to use the grit trays we put out for them. This grit helps them to digest the tough reed seed that they eat during the winter months. If you would like to know more about bearded tits and would like a chance to see them yourself (with a bit of luck and a little know-how) we will be running guided walks every Tuesday in October. Places are limited to 20 people on each day. Find out more about these walks here. To book your place call the visitor centre on 01524 701601. 

Book on a bearded tit walk in October. Bearded tit by Paul Williams

Will you be dropping in for a visit to try and see the purple heron if you haven’t already? Will you throw caution to the wind in search of a bearded tit sighting and be lucky? You could settle for an osprey and a marsh harrier? You could be surprised by the burst of a Cetti's warbler, the sight of a roe deer silently watching passers-by, a very smart male gadwall in his fresh autumn plumage or the striking colours and sound of a nuthatch in the woodlands. Or you could simply settle for a relaxing breath of fresh air and a lovely cup of tea (with a piece of cake thrown in for good measure!).

The choice is yours.

Steven