Category: Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Unusual sightings & otters in print!

It’s been another sunny, if a little chilly, week here at Leighton Moss. The expected arrival of summer migrants continues apace with our first reed warblers being heard early in the week and there has been a notable influx of willow warblers; many are singing around the reserve.   

The marsh harriers continue to nest-build while at the same providing visitors with some breath-taking views and at least one bittern is booming regularly at all times of the day. Ospreys are dropping in, or passing through, on a daily basis and a red kite paid a brief visit mid-week. Other scarce incomers included a smart breeding-plumage spoonbill which spent a few days at the back of the Eric Morecambe Pools and a fine drake green-winged teal appeared on the Allen Pools. This American rarity  is quite distinct from our familiar teal, the most obvious difference being the vertical white stripe toward the breast as opposed to a horizontal white tripe along the body. The appearance of this transatlantic globe-trotter attracted plenty of interest from the region’s birders who also enjoyed great views of the female scaup still present on the Causeway Pool along with the tufted ducks and pochards

The avocet colony seems to have peaked at around 60 birds and they can be seen making their nest scrapes on the islands in front of the saltmarsh hides. Good numbers of black-tailed godwits remain on the pools and some birdwatchers have been spotting birds with colour rings on their legs. Each of these godwits is individually identifiable and the data gathered from these sight records helps build a picture of the birds’ often complex migratory habits. Please do forward details of any ringed birds that you may see.

Other recent sightings of interest include kingfishers, a lingering merlin and of course our very obliging otters! Talking of which, today sees the publication of a new book entitled Tails from the Reedbed written by local otter enthusiast Elaine Prince. This book is filled with unique and revealing first-hand accounts of many close and intimate encounters, collected over a decade of almost daily observations at Leighton Moss. This engaging volume, which contributes significantly to our knowledge of otters should delight anyone who loves these aquatic mammals and the natural world in general. Our very own former warden John Wilson says Tails from the Reebed is “a wonderful read for anyone interested in wildlife”.

Copies of the book are available in our shop priced £7.99

Jon Carter

Photos: copyright of Charlotte Cassidy (Spoonbill) and Mike Malpass (Green-winged teal)

    

    

Unusual sightings & otters in print!

It’s been another sunny, if a little chilly, week here at Leighton Moss. The expected arrival of summer migrants continues apace with our first reed warblers being heard early in the week and there has been a notable influx of willow warblers; many are singing around the reserve.   

The marsh harriers continue to nest-build while at the same providing visitors with some breath-taking views and at least one bittern is booming regularly at all times of the day. Ospreys are dropping in, or passing through, on a daily basis and a red kite paid a brief visit mid-week. Other scarce incomers included a smart breeding-plumage spoonbill which spent a few days at the back of the Eric Morecambe Pools and a fine drake green-winged teal appeared on the Allen Pools. This American rarity  is quite distinct from our familiar teal, the most obvious difference being the vertical white stripe toward the breast as opposed to a horizontal white tripe along the body. The appearance of this transatlantic globe-trotter attracted plenty of interest from the region’s birders who also enjoyed great views of the female scaup still present on the Causeway Pool along with the tufted ducks and pochards

The avocet colony seems to have peaked at around 60 birds and they can be seen making their nest scrapes on the islands in front of the saltmarsh hides. Good numbers of black-tailed godwits remain on the pools and some birdwatchers have been spotting birds with colour rings on their legs. Each of these godwits is individually identifiable and the data gathered from these sight records helps build a picture of the birds’ often complex migratory habits. Please do forward details of any ringed birds that you may see.

Other recent sightings of interest include kingfishers, a lingering merlin and of course our very obliging otters! Talking of which, today sees the publication of a new book entitled Tails from the Reedbed written by local otter enthusiast Elaine Prince. This book is filled with unique and revealing first-hand accounts of many close and intimate encounters, collected over a decade of almost daily observations at Leighton Moss. This engaging volume, which contributes significantly to our knowledge of otters should delight anyone who loves these aquatic mammals and the natural world in general. Our very own former warden John Wilson says Tails from the Reebed is “a wonderful read for anyone interested in wildlife”.

Copies of the book are available in our shop priced £7.99

Jon Carter

Photos: copyright of Charlotte Cassidy (Spoonbill) and Mike Malpass (Green-winged teal)

    

    

Spectacular signs of spring

The sun is shining and spring is well and truly here. Our marsh harriers (two males and four females) have been performing their sky dancing routines to impress each other for the breeding season. Keep your eyes peeled for them all around the reedbed.

The great crested grebes at Causeway Pool can be spotted weed dancing like they’re in the Strictly Come Dancing final. They’re so lovely to watch as they pass weeds and nesting material to one another. 

Most exciting of all is the boom of the bittern which can be heard in the mornings and evenings (and sometimes bits in the day too). If you stand on the Causeway by the ‘Boom goes the bittern’ interpretation panel (very handy), you can hear him in the reeds across the other side of the Causeway Pool at Island Mere. He is distant but his voice is loud and carries well. He often takes three breaths before a sequence of eight-nine booms. It is the strangest, most spectacular sound of spring at Leighton Moss. 

  Bittern by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

The migrants are also rolling in. A huge flock of 200+ sand martins can be seen feeding on insects over the reedbed. You have to be quick to catch a photo as they zoom past but they are a joy to watch. Of an evening they are almost like a starling murmuration as they fly round en mass together, quite high above the reeds, catching insects. A sure sign of spring, we’re hoping they will take an interest in the sand martin bank at Tim Jackson hide that we installed last year.

Our Visitor Operations Manager Kevin was lucky to have the mother otter and her cubs running towards him on the Causeway this week! Always a delight to see, keep an eye out for them on the Causeway and Lower Pools. 

Avocet numbers are now topping 50 so head to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides to watch these elegant birds that are the emblem of the RSPB. You will likely discover a huge flock of black-tailed godwits there too – looking fabulous in their rusty-red summer outfits. 

With all of this and more to discover, new migrants like ospreys due in any day (and not forgetting it’s Mother’s Day, the perfect opportunity to treat your mum to a day wildlife watching and some cake in the cafe), we hope to see you soon!

More Hints of Spring & Recent Sightings

After the promising and much-heralded blip back in February which lulled us into believing that spring was well under way, things have returned defiantly to winter once more! Of course, it may be colder and wetter than it was a couple of weeks ago but on the face of it, it’s more like a normal early-mid March. Though unlike last year’s ‘Beast from the East’ we’re currently on the receiving end of what might be termed the ‘Pest from the West’! The days however are getting longer and a little milder (honest); these are the real cues that signal changes in nature.

Marsh harrier by Mike Malpass

Our marsh harriers (photo by Mike Malpass) have been busy sky-dancing, when conditions allow, and some observed behaviour suggests early pairing may have taken place. One couple in particular spend a great deal of time together and look to be prospecting nest sites in the reed bed. The best places from which to view the harriers at the minute are the Skytower and Lilian’s or Grisedale hides.  

Other indications of a looming spring include the continued, if sporadic, arrival of sand martins. Ones and twos have been seen primarily over Causeway Pool. These diminutive long-distance migrants are amongst the first of our summer visitors to arrive and here at Leighton Moss we can see gatherings of several hundred feeding over the meres by April. There is always the fear that some of these early pioneers may succumb to poor weather and a lack of flying insects to feed on, but if they get it right and survive it allows them to take the pick of the prime nesting sites before the later birds arrive.  

Avocets (photo by David Mower) too continue to gather at the Allen and Eric Morecambe pools having spent the winter further south. The current high water levels are encouraging for these island nesters, assuming they can find a good spot before the black-headed gulls establish their territories. Numbers of these elegant waders often fluctuate quite a bit before the breeding colony gets settled.

So far, we haven’t been able to confirm any bittern booming – despite concerted efforts to listen during optimum conditions. Last year we had a male ‘tuning up’ in the second week of March but it’s still early days and we can hope to hear this distinctive sound as soon as the weather calms down a little! Whether any of our wintering birds departed during the warm spell back in February remains to be seen.

The forecast for the coming week doesn’t exactly inspire us to feel optimistic about more spring arrivals but as soon as we get a little shift to the south in the winds we can expect things to change significantly. Wheatear, osprey, little ringed plover, garganey, chiffchaff and a host of other early migrants will take advantage of a change in wind direction and positively pour in from the continent and beyond.

Meanwhile, visitors can enjoy superb views of many species of wildfowl and waders, along with regular otters and a wealth of woodland birds.   

If you are planning to visit us soon, do check out our programme of events and see if there are any guided walks or activities that you may wish to join us on! 

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

             

Spring arrivals and fond farewells

Hello readers, Leighton Moss has certainly been sun-kissed in recent days and there is a definite feeling of spring in the air. Our resident woodland birds such as song thrushes, great tits, nuthatches and marsh tits have been in full song, you can listen out for them across the reserve.

First on the agenda are the bitterns. We have observed some encouraging bittern activity, with a couple of bitterns chasing each other across the reedbed. No booming as of yet but it is still early days. Last year saw the booming start in March, so we are all eagerly listening for the tell-tale sound. If you have not heard a bittern boom, check out our interactive screens in the visitor centre, you can listen to the distinctive sound there.

Spring is of course the time to welcome new arrivals to Leighton Moss! The first sand martin of the year was seen on Monday 25 February and we can look forward to more incoming sand martins and swallows over the next few weeks. Monday also saw our first chiffchaff in song down on the Causeway path. This is an excellent place to look for other birds such as bearded tits and reed buntings.

Sand martin. Photo credit: Ben Hall rspb-images.com. 

Did you know that male reed buntings have different songs? A single male will have a slightly varied call to a paired male. The paired male will still try his luck at getting more than one mate though!

Causeway Pool has been a hive of activity for the past week. We have two pairs of great crested grebes displaying at the moment and listen out for the trilling calls of the little grebes too. There have been excellent sightings of the otter family from Causeway and Lower hides and both locations are great places to look for snipe. Water rails continue to show well in the right-hand side reed channel of Causeway Hide and also down in the dyke on the way to Tim Jackson Hide and Grisedale Hide.

Great crested grebe courtship. Photo credit: Hazel Rothwell.

In terms of wildfowl, we have had some departures but there is still a good variety at Causeway and on the wider reserve. Look out for wigeon, pintail, teal, shoveler and gadwall. Diving ducks to look for include up to 14 pochard (hopefully we will have some chicks later!) roughly ten goldeneye and a flotilla of tufted duck too.

There are at least three great white egrets still on the reserve, often down by the Tim Jackson and Grisedale Hides. Grisedale Hide is an excellent spot to look for the very active marsh harriers but the Skytower and Lilian’s Hide are prime places too. Other raptors which have been sighted include buzzard, kestrel, sparrowhawk and barn owl. We also had another fly-over from a red kite on Sunday 24 February.

Male marsh harrier. Photo credit: Alan Saunders. 

Down at the Saltmarsh Pools there are currently 9 avocet. Currently, the best place to look for them near is near the edges of the pools or roosting with other waders such as the black-tailed godwits. There are also lapwing, oystercatcher, redshank, knot and greenshank to look for. The walk to the hides is also an excellent place to spot smaller birds such as stonechat so do keep your eyes peeled.

Warden work

It is also worth mentioning the excellent habitat improvement work the warden team have completed over the past week. The dyke which you cross when on the way to Tim Jackson Hide and Grisedale Hide has been opened up. This will allow for better fish movement into these new areas as well as providing a new bittern feeding habitat as the fish can swim into the edges of the reeds. Our resident waterfowl are already taking advantage of the open water and do keep a watchful eye on the reed edges, you never know what bird species you may see perched there!

Farewell Leighton Moss

As the sun sets on my internship I can’t help but leave with a paradoxical sense of being heartbroken but also filled with optimism for the future. I have thoroughly loved my time as Visitor Experience Intern and I will miss the team, reserve and visitors dearly. I was nervous starting my internship at Leighton Moss but I think I have done alright looking back!  I have learned so much about the fantastic work of the RSPB, the effort needed to run a visitor centre and of course I have learned a lot about our birds and conservation efforts. 

I don’t really have a favourite moment as living on a nature reserve is fantastic in itself! Truthfully, the supportive and welcoming team made the internship for me. I will say however, that seeing the Christmas Market do so well and assisting Andy with guided walks have been key highlights. I assisted on the guided walk Birding for Beginners on Sunday 24 February, this was a very fun event with a fantastic group who were keen to learn and ask questions. I would recommend attending an upcoming Birdsong for Beginners if you would like to learn how to distinguish the various warbler calls. 

I have loved meeting people from all walks of life in the visitor centre and assisting with Nature Tots. Inspiring young minds has been wonderful. Our conservationists, scientists and birders of the future, I think it’s our job to inspire a love for wildlife in children. How can we expect a child to want to protect something they know nothing about? Or indeed have a link to? 

I will leave Leighton Moss with a heavy heart, but I am already planning my return visit to catch up with my friends and mentors and continue to discover the wonderful wildlife this fantastic reserve has to offer. 

I will leave you readers with perhaps my top highlight, holding (and releasing) a juvenile male bearded tit! Thank you for reading my blogs and saying hello in the visitor centre. Perhaps I will see you at Leighton Moss in the future! 

Naomi. 

Avocets return and other recent sightings

With a not-so subtle change in the weather in recent days, it certainly is starting to feel like spring here at Leighton Moss. Many of the resident woodland birds such as song thrushes, blackbirds, nuthatches and marsh tits are in fine voice and can be heard all around the site. Cetti’s warblers are tuning up nicely in the scrubby areas of the reedbed and our overwintering marsh harriers have even started to display. Look for their stunning skydancing high over the reeds.

Avocet at Leighton MossPic: Avocet by Alan Coe

Avocets have arrived on the Eric Morecambe and Allen Pools in the last week, pretty much as we’d predicted. With the very high tides however, the coastal pools are holding quite a bit of water and so these waders are best looked for on the outer edges of the pools and on the islands, often roosting with black-tailed godwits. As we drop the water levels, more suitable shallower feeding areas will become available – perfect as more avocets arrive to nest in this lovely corner of Morecambe Bay

Despite the rather encouraging conditions of late, our team have yet to hear any bitterns. At this time of year the males will often make a low grunting sound as they tune-up in advance of proper booming, for which they are rightly famous. They were quite late getting going last year, thanks to the much-discussed ‘Beast from the East’ but we expect some vocal activity soon given the calm, mild weather. 

Starlings at Leighton MossThe starlings are still murmurating. thought the numbers have gone down a little. That said, there are still somewhere in the region of 40,000 coming into roost most evenings, providing an impressive spectacle for the assembled crowds of onlookers. In the past few days the birds have been concentrating over the north western section of the main reserve, giving amazing views for visitors on the Sky Tower and particularly on the Causeway. If you are planning a visit to see the starling murmuration before it comes to an end for another season, please check with the staff and volunteers at the visitor centre for the latest information.    

Another lovely feature on the reserve at the moment is the seasonal display of scarlet elf cups. This widespread but uncommon woodland fungus can be looked for along the path to Grisedale and Jackson hides. It chooses damp areas of the woodland floor where it grows in and around decaying branches, twigs and leaves.

If you’re planning a visit to Leighton Moss soon, don’t forget to check our events and activities page. It’s also a good idea to join our Facebook group for regular sightings updates and you can also follow us on Twitter. And please, do share your sightings with us by writing them in the book at the visitor centre or by posting them on our social media platforms.    

This Valentine’s Day, how will you Show The Love?

On the most romantic day of the year, contemplating the state of the planet and the impending effects of climate change probably won’t be at the top of your to-do list.  I’m sure you all know how to show love and appreciation to your loved ones, but what about the places that we ourselves and nature depend on?

2019 marks the fifth year of the Climate Coalition Show the Love Campaign, a campaign which aims to raise awareness about climate change and how it affects local areas while empowering individuals to talk to politicians to protect what we love. The Climate Coalition is comprised of 130 organisations including the RSPB, OXFAM and the National Trust and has the support of over 15 million individuals.

So for this blog, I’m focusing on the effects of climate change in one area in particular: RSPB Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay nature reserve. For Leighton Moss, our climate change story is already underway and while the signs may not be so obvious if you look a little deeper, there is evidence which highlights how climate change is affecting us in the present.

With rising sea levels and a predicted increase in the frequency of tidal surges we can expect to see saltmarsh and reedbed habitats inundated with sea water more frequently. This poses a major problem for wading birds which breed in the habitat such as our avocets as their nests can be washed away in these surges.

Avocet with chick. Photo credit: Chris Gomersall

Avocets are one of the best success stories of the RSPB. These beautiful birds were extinct in the UK for over 100 years but there are now an estimated 1500 breeding pairs in the UK. We manage the brackish lagoons where they breed by building fencing to deter predators and prevent human disturbance. Bankings have also been built to help control the water levels and act as a flood defence against tidal surges. In 2018 we had 29 breeding pairs of avocets and as I write this, we are eagerly awaiting their return.

As a country we are also experiencing, with increasing frequency, extreme weather events. In particular droughts and floods, which can disrupt our reedbed inhabitants. Managing a wetland to provide optimum water levels can prove challenging particularly when our much-adored residents have different needs!

Bearded tits need dry, old reedbed to thrive and will struggle in wet, flooded conditions. To help this charismatic little bird our former warden and now volunteer David (who initially pioneered our famous nestbox ‘wigwams’) makes roughly forty of the artificial nest sites to be placed around the reedbed. The wigwams can be raised during heavy floods to prevent nests from being flooded. I should also mention that having made a reed wigwam under David’s supervision, it’s very, very hard work!

David and his reed ‘wigwams’. Photo by David Mower.

Conversely, otters rely on deep fresh water pools to fish. Leighton Moss has been managed to provide a mosaic water habitat meaning we have areas of deep water (such as Causeway Pool) and areas of shallower pools (Grisedale). This allows ample fish movement in the reedbed and offers suitable habitat for bitterns as well as our diving and dabbling ducks.

With the threat of rising sea levels and the inundation of saltwater to the reedbed habitat, managing our water levels via sluices means we can lessen the impact of saltwater inundation, keeping our pools fresh water habitats where fish, otters, bitterns and waterfowl can thrive.

Birds are also changing their migration patterns or in some cases, choosing not to migrate at all! An obvious example are our six over-wintering marsh harriers who would normally spend the winter months sunning themselves in Africa. We can expect management practices to shift in the coming decades in response to birds which may start wintering or breeding here such as the little and great white egrets.

Let’s not forget our insects! A lesser-known area managed by the RSPB Leighton Moss team in partnership with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Arnside & Silverdale AONB is Warton Crag, a limestone grassland and cliff environment. Warton Crag is home to some extremely rare/on the brink of extinction butterflies. One example is the nationally important high brown fritillary butterfly, pictured below.

High brown fritillary. Photo credit: David Mower.

With the warmer climate, butterflies are flying earlier and this can lead to them being vulnerable in volatile weather. To help this butterfly species (and others as a result) the warden team carry out coppicing to create areas of open space for wildflowers to grow such as Common Dog-violet, a favoured food plant. 

The potential of wetlands in flood prevention

Wetlands such as Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay provide us with lots of benefits, they encourage biodiversity, improve water quality, protect against coastal erosion and they are now being recognised as playing a pivotal role in flood prevention. Wetlands act like sponges; they can absorb huge amounts of water before slowly releasing it. This helps to control floods and prevent water logging in fields.

 We have lost 90% of our wetlands since Roman times but action is being taken to restore these incredibly important, diverse habitats. The RSPB plays a major part in habitat restoration and we have created areas of new wetland here at Leighton Moss; Barrow Scout and Silverdale Moss. Further afield we have also created new reed beds – I’d recommend visiting RSPB Dearne Valley – Old Moor and  RSPB St Aidans across the border in Yorkshire! These are much more “urban” reserves (compared to Leighton Moss anyway) where nature and society are intertwined in a much more visible sense.

While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s great for getting people who live in urban environments closer to nature and using the land as a flood prevention method. Did you know one of the biggest threats to nature is people, especially children, being disconnected from nature (State of Nature Report, 2016)?

I think these reserves are pretty cool places too, we don’t have to separate people from the natural environment. There are so many benefits to be found in green spaces physically and mentally. So for this month show your love for your favourite natural spaces, start conversations and question the choices of decision makers.

Naomi. VE intern.

Kites, harriers and bitterns

Hello bloggers, we’ve had a busy week here at Leighton Moss with lots of fantastic wildlife sightings to delight visitors old and young. 

I’ll start this blog off with the key wildlife highlight this week – a red kite sighting. The red kite was seen on Saturday 9 February and flew South over the reserve, last seen from Tim Jackson Hide. This was fantastic to see, as red kites are not common in the Lancashire area. Known for its reddish-brown body, deeply forked tail and angled wings, the red kite is another beautiful raptor which we nearly lost to extinction. The red kite has since greatly benefited from reintroduction programmes and now holds a green conservation status in the UK.

Male red kite. Photo credit: Chris Gomersall.

Next on the agenda is our starlings. They have certainly been giving our staff, volunteers and visitors the runabout in terms of where they are going to roost! At the moment their chosen place seems to be Barrow Scout Fields. Sunday 10 February saw an excellent mumuration over Barrow Scout Fields with an estimated 100,000 starlings present. The sound the often-huge flock creates as they come into roost can be likened to sea waves breaking. Add the rolling black waves of the starlings and it makes for a very surreal, impressive spectacle to witness. If you cannot get down to the coastal Pools, the Skytower is also an excellent place to watch the show. 

Moving on, there have been daily otter sightings from Causeway and/or Lower Hide. The mother otter has shown very well and has frequently treated visitors to successful hunting spectacles and all three cubs continue to do well. 

Bittern sightings remain excellent from Causeway and/or Lower Hide. As I have highlighted before, the reedbed channel on the right-hand side of the Causeway Hide has lent itself excellently to sightings of not only bittern but snipe and water rail. Snipe can frequently be seen in front of the other hides on the reserve. In particular Lilian’s Hide, where one visitor counted 30! The water rail down on the path towards Tim Jackson and Grisedale Hide remains in its not-so-elusive state with almost-daily sightings occurring. Listen out for their pig-like squeal calling out from the reedbed, particularly along the Causeway path. 

Bearded tits have also been seen and heard in the reedbed this week. Do keep in mind that the birds are residents of Leighton Moss all year so while not guaranteed, you may get some fantastic sightings out of gritting season. One lucky photographer took some excellent shots of a male bearded tit in the reeds, which he has posted on the Leighton Moss Facebook group. Around this time of year is when the bearded tits are scouting for potential nest sites, so this suggests there are many more sightings to be had in the near future!

With the recent work in front of Lilian’s Hide, a number of wildfowl and waders have taken advantage of the new loafing site. In addition, stonechats (males and females) have been seen searching for food in the freshly-cut area. This was a first for me and wow! What a handsome fellow the male stonechat is! 

Causeway Pool has also been host to a variety of wildfowl including up to ten goldeneye (some of which have been seen breeding) and large flotillas of tufted duck. A less-frequent visitor has been the occasional whooper swan, a beautiful addition to our resident group of mute swans. Look out for little grebes in front of Causeway Hide, their small size and whinnying trill make for a distinctive, albeit compact bird. 

There remains to be a good number of pintail, gadwall, teal, shoveler, wigeon and mallard who can be seen across the reserve.  

Male goldeneye. Photo credit: Zul Bhatia.

Speaking of Grisedale Hide, this has been an excellent location to sight our marsh harriers. There are at least five of these wonderful raptors on-site and they are also very vocal at the moment so do listen and look for them. 

Down on the saltmarsh pools is business as usual. There is an excellent variety wildfowl including goosander, red-breasted merganser, shelduck and hundreds of wigeon. Waders to look out for include lapwing, oystercathcer, redshank, and greenshank. We have also had frequent kingfisher sightings from here (often Allen Hide) and the odd great white egret

That rounds up our recent sightings this week folks. Until next time. 

Naomi. Visitor Experience Intern. 

New arrivals and recent sightings

With the wonderful news of the arrival of three otter cubs here at Leighton Moss, this blog takes a closer look at this charismatic species. 

Brrrr, we’re in the grips of a cold snap here at the Moss so a lot of our pools have been fully or partially frozen. While this may not seem to be great weather for us humans to go exploring on the nature reserve it should lend itself to some excellent wildlife sightings. In particular, otters and bitterns! Our otter cubs were first spotted this weekend (Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 January) with their mum. The cubs will stay with their mum for up to a year while they learn the skills they need to survive, so we can look forward to lots of wonderful sights of the cubs playing together and learning to hunt at the Causeway Pool. So if you take any photos of the lovely family, do share them on the Facebook group for everyone to enjoy! 

Photo credit: Richard Cousens 

For the past few weeks lucky visitors have been offered some wonderful sightings of these charismatic creatures from either the Causeway or Lower hides almost every day. To be able to catch a small glimpse into their world and their behaviours is a real treat and a privilege. As a general rule, mornings are better for otter activity, but we have had great afternoon sightings too.

Young otter cub. Photo credit: Dave Hall 

Their (brief) conservation story…

Otters require clean, freshwater habitats (particularly rivers) to thrive. While they mainly eat fish, otters will eat what is most abundant and have been known to eat amphibians, crayfish, waterfowl and small mammals too. Unfortunately, fresh water habitats do suffer pollution from neighbouring land uses such as agriculture and urban developments. Toxic chemicals used in some pesticides do unfortunately find their way into these habitats. This threatens the whole ecosystem of the habitat as the majority of aquatic plants and invertebrates struggle to survive in polluted waters. This then has a knock-on effect for the fish and other wildlife that rely on this habitat being healthy, and the populations shrink as a result.

By the 1950s otters had suffered a huge population decline due to water pollution by agricultural chemicals. Otters were also historically persecuted, and were hunted with the aid of dogs. Fast forward to the 1970s and the only healthy otter populations left were in Scotland. Here at Leighton Moss, otters could be seen occasionally before disappearing from the site in the 1990s.

Not all doom and gloom…

There has been a concentrated effort from lots of stakeholders to remove the harmful pesticides used in farming practices (such as DDT and agro-chloride), with many being banned to help improve the water quality in our lakes, rivers and ponds. Also, otter hunting came to an end in 1978. Otters have made a remarkable comeback since then, with healthy populations present across much of Britain today.

Otters returned to Leighton Moss in 2006 where they have bred successfully most year since. At Leighton Moss, the warden team carefully monitors the water quality on the reserve to ensure the reedbed (and its inhabitants) remains healthy.

Photo credit: Mike Malpass

Further afield in the rest of Britain, otters have benefited from river habitat restoration schemes which can involve allowing rivers to meander once again, planting new areas of reedbed or removing barriers such as weirs.

A brief recent sightings roundup

Recent sightings include up to six incredibly active marsh harriers hunting across the reedbed. There is a fantastic variety of waterfowl on the reserve but currently our ducks are congregating in the open water bodies on the reserve. The elusive great grey shrike has been true to form and popping up for a few erratic sightings. There are up to four great white egrets on the main reserve (normally Causeway Pool and Lilian’s) and there have been excellent sightings of snipe from all main reserve hides. The supposed-to-be elusive water rail continues to show well along the path towards Tim Jackson and Grisedale Hides and we can’t forget bittern sightings. Bitterns have been sighted almost daily from either Causeway or Lower Hide.

The coastal pools are host to large gatherings of lapwing, oystercatcher, and black-tailed godwit alongside a large variety of waterfowl including wigeon, goosander and pintail. The coastal pools remain the place to go for the starling murmurations, with some fantastic displays occurring over the previous week.

If you want to know what’s being spotted at Leighton Moss on a daily basis, don’t forget to check the Facebook group, Twitter feed or the Lancaster & District Birdwatching Society website. We also encourage all visitors to write their sightings in the recent sightings book.

Until next time,

Naomi. Visitor Experience Intern.