Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Delicious flava & Welsh ospreys

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Now that the weather is a little more settled, for a few days at least, we’re hoping to see an influx of delayed migrants here at Leighton Moss. As I write this an increase in recent sightings of sedge and reed warblers is already evident and several birds are belting it out from the reedbeds around the reserve. Meanwhile the sound of blackcaps, willow warblers, chiffchaffs and Cetti’s warblers is an almost constant feature as one wanders along the trails.

Our foghorn-in-residence, the very vocal male bittern continues to boom away from his patch of reeds to the south of the Causeway. Although most easily heard between dusk and dawn, the song of this particular bird is often heard at random times of the day allowing many visitors the chance to hear this evocative sound.

There was some excitement last week following the surprise discovery a rare race of yellow wagtail near the Allen Pools. On Saturday, Christine and Max Maughan came into the visitor centre asking us to verify a couple of distant record shots of a bird they could only identify from their field guide a black-headed wagtail (Motacilla flava feldegg). A quick look at the back of their camera looked promising but we’d have to see the bird for ourselves!

Black headed wagtail by David Morris

Within a few short minutes a small group of birders and RSPB staff was assembled and the bird was soon relocated feeding alongside meadow pipits and pied wagtails in the field where Christine and Max had seen it earlier. Even through binoculars the wagtail was easy to spot as the bright zesty yellow of its breast dazzled from a considerable distance. Slowly the bird moved closer and through ‘scopes we obtained superb views and quickly confirmed its identity. I was even able to dash off a couple of ‘phone-scope’ pics just in case it decided to fly before ‘proper’ photos were taken.

As it happens the bird stayed around for another couple of days and many birders made the trip to see this rare Balkan / Central Asian vagrant variant of yellow wagtail. Thankfully, others were able to get decent shots so you don't have to suffer my dodgy efforts.

In other news, the slow trickle arrival of common migrants continues with scattered reports of lesser whitethroat, redstart and pied flycatcher coming in while swallows and martins are still notable chiefly by their relative absence.

Ospreys have been good value in the last few weeks with daily sightings at Leighton Moss. They generally tend to prefer fishing at Causeway or Lower pools but do make the occasional trip to Lilian’s Pool, so when you’re visiting keep your eyes peeled skyward!

Welsh osprey at large in Lancashire. Pic by Paul Ellis

We assume that most of the osprey sightings here refer to Foulshaw Moss birds out on fishing forays but visiting birder Paul Ellis photographed this bird at Leighton Moss last Sunday (15). Close inspection reveals that this osprey was ringed as a chick in the nest at Glaslyn, Wales in 2014 and is clearly not a Foulshaw bird. Interestingly, the only other verified sighting of this bird was also at Leighton Moss, in July 2017 so he seems to like this area. How soon before ospreys nest in Lancashire?

A fine drake garganey has been gracing Lilian’s Pool for the last few days, though as is typical of this secretive species it can play hard to get at times. A little patience and bit of luck should ensure a sighting from either Lilian’s Hide or the Skytower. Checking the vegetated water edges at Grisedale and Jackson may also pay off as more of these handsome dabblers are likely to arrive in the coming days.  

As always, you can keep up to date with news by following our Twitter feed @leighton_moss

 

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Spoonbill tops list of recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Another mixed week weather-wise has meant that we’re not really seeing the best that spring can bring. Given the imminent forecast, that looks to change in the next few days. We’re still seeing (and hearing) newly arrived migrants but in rather low numbers. More willow warblers and blackcaps have now joined the many chiffchaffs around the reserve and we have continued to see the occasional swallow in amongst the relatively few sand martins but it definitely still feels like early days. On the periphery of the reserve, single redstarts and sedge warblers have been noted.    

Spoonbill by Charlotte Cassidy

Despite the lack of expected migrants we did have a surprise flying visit from a dapper adult spoonbill last weekend. This one-day-wonder was quite mobile and spent time on Grisedale Pool and at the Eric Morecambe Pools, commuting between the two areas. This cracking photo was taken by Charlotte Cassidy, who had earlier joined us on a Wildlife Explorers’ dawn chorus walk.      

Ospreys continue to stop by daily. In fact one dropped in and caught a fish right in front of Lilian’s Hide this week while a wedding ceremony was taking place in the hide; the happy couple and their guests were treated to this fabulous sight as the vows were being taken! (Yes, you can tie the knot at Leighton Moss).  

Marsh harriers too are wowing the crowds with regular courtship displays and nest building. At least seven of these large, impressive raptors are currently on site. Peregrines frequently drift over from Warton Crag and a fortunate few have spotted red kites over the reserve.

Red kite (copyright Chris Gomersall rspb-images.com

Duck numbers are still dwindling but it’s nice to see that we still have a few goldeneye out on the Causeway and Lower pools. Pintail, wigeon, gadwall, tufted duck and pochard can be seen on various meres but we still haven’t had any reports of that personal favourite, garganey (early next week?).  

Up to three great white egrets are still parading around in their breeding finery while multiple little egrets add to the continental feel. It still amazes me to think how scarce both of these now familiar white herons were not all that long ago. Our booming bittern is maintaining his position as dominant male on the site and can be heard on and off at all times of day. If you’re really keen to hear this extraordinary sound (and who wouldn't be?) an evening vigil is almost certainly guaranteed to deliver the goods.

Up to 3,000 black-tailed godwits, many decked-out in their fiery copper breeding plumage, can be seen at the Eric Morecambe Pools where birders can also view good numbers of knots and in excess of thirty avocets. The black-headed gull colony is really getting fired up there too.   

Black-tailed godwit (copyright David Mower)

Otters, as always, are a treat to see and we’ve had reports of up to three cavorting in the Lower and Causeway pools in the past few days.

If the weather forecast is right, we can hope for some notable changes here in the next week or so. I know that I’ll be grabbing my binocs and heading out at every available opportunity! And talking of binoculars, we’ll be hosting a Binocular and Telescope Open Weekend this Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 April. So if you’re thinking of buying some new optics, why not come and give them a try in the field before you decide? Our team of friendly staff and volunteers will be on hand to offer impartial advice and expertise.

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Welcomes, farewells and recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

One minute it’s cold and wet, the next it’s sunny and bright. Don’t you just love spring? The good news is that after those bitter easterlies we’ve finally had a bit of weather that has allowed a few migrants through. The past few days have seen more sand martins arriving (more about those later…), a few swallows trickling through, chiffchaffs in song all around the reserve, ospreys performing wonderfully for awestruck visitors and the first of what will presumably be many willow warblers.

Swallow: copyright Chris Gomersall rspb-images.com

Meanwhile, the great white egrets remain on site and are acquiring very flashy breeding garb (the optimists amongst us are hoping for a first nesting attempt this year), bitterns continue to boom and the marsh harriers have been nest building while continuing with their fantastic aerial dances above the reed bed.

Out on the saltmarsh, visitors to the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides have watched the steady increase in the number of avocets and black-tailed godwits. The black-headed gull breeding colony is getting well underway with dozens of the garrulous birds staking claim to a few square centimetres of prime island real estate.

Duck numbers have dwindled a little as birds take the hint and head north though we still have a good selection of species present, even if fewer in number. These include pochard, goldeneye, pintail, shoveler and gadwall. Keen eyed birders will be on the lookout for that scarce annual visitor the garganey, often found at Grisedale Pool at this time of year. These handsome dabblers are always a joy to see and as the only duck that habitually migrates to the UK in summer they have rather special appeal. Their old name of ‘cricket teal’ reputedly reflects their tendency to arrive here at this time of year, ie during the cricket season, but I’m more inclined to believe that this archaic name’s origins are more connected with the sound they make, something akin to a grasshopper or cricket.

Garganey: copyright Richard Cousens

So, back to sand martins! These dainty long-distance travellers can be extremely numerous at Leighton Moss during the spring and again in the late summer. The glut of insect food to be found over the meres is a draw for the hungry birds and on some days we can see many hundreds, if not thousands, sweeping over the water in pursuit of their invertebrate prey. The one thing we have never had here though is breeding sand martins, simply due to the lack of suitable nest sites. They do nest at nearby rivers, such as on the Lune, in good numbers but Leighton Moss lacks the steep earthen banks they require.

Hopefully this is all about to change, with the provision of marvellous new artificial sand martin nesting box. Sited in front of the Tim Jackson hide, this 48-chamber unit was erected last week (as highlighted in our last blogpost), just as the first martins started to be seen locally. Yesterday, we filled the nest holes with sand and are now sitting back waiting for nature to take its course, so to speak.

Filling the sand martin bank with sand by Jon Carter

It’s all very exciting – should the martins discover the bank and decide to nest in it this year it will provide a fabulous spectacle for visitors to the reserve as they watch the darting hirundines whizzing in and out of the nest holes throughout the summer. It will also give our trained ringers the opportunity to monitor the comings and goings of the martins in years to come.

Talking of migration, our Visitor Experience residential volunteer intern Steven has, like much of the Leighton Moss wildfowl, also headed north for the summer. Many of you will have enjoyed reading his blog posts – here he says his farewells and explains the next step in his RSPB career…     

“I would just like to say a big thank you to all the team at Leighton Moss. Following my internship full-time with the RSPB I am moving on up the map for a seasonal role at Loch Garten where I will be welcoming visitors and exciting families about the iconic ospreys that made history. If ospreys were to return anywhere then the forests and lochs at Loch Garten could not have been a better spot to choose. These amazing pine forests are where I will be spending my next six months.

I am following in the footsteps of Alice Hadley who was the Leighton Moss intern before me and went on to work as part the Osprey Team last year, proving that volunteering is a great way to improve your skills, meet new people and driving towards your goals. This is something I would encourage everyone to do.

I am looking forward to a summer spent working and exploring the amazing Caledonian pine forests of the highlands of Scotland. The heather that turns the forest purple during late summer. The moths and wood ants nests, right up to the largest of eagles in the UK are all things I have to look forward to. The Cairngorms National Park is in itself unique with more geological features than anywhere outside the arctic circle, such is the nature of the area that the tallest peaks remain snow clad even as spring progresses.

The team at Leighton Moss have been so supportive and the experience I have gained when I look back at everything I have been involved with is a wonderful achievement. I spent the last of my time at Leighton Moss watching the avocets at the Eric Morecambe and Allan hides. I may be swapping them for red squirrels, ospreys and crested tits but the avocets and all the wild inhabitants of Leighton Moss still feel as much a part of this place as the Scottish denizens do the forest. I’m sure I will be back to swap the landscape of Loch Garten and Abernethy for the wet open reed bed landscape at some point.

The main difference is of course the size but I suppose it’s just a question of scale! I could walk to Silverdale in 30 minutes or see most of Leighton Moss in a day. Abernethy is just shy of the size of Glasgow I’m told. All just a question of scale.

Leighton seems set for a great year ahead where the wildlife never stops. What will you see on your next visit? Don’t forget to visit in every season and don’t go hungry either, although I’m sure the café at Leighton wouldn’t let that happen.

Happy wildlife watching!”

I’m sure you will all join me in wishing all the best in this new exciting adventure and we will look forward to hearing of his tales north of the border!

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Preparing for spring and recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

It’s been a busy few days here at Leighton Moss. Not only are the birds performing extremely well but so are the reserve's human inhabitants (ie staff, volunteers and contractors)!


"Will this do?" Richard punts an island onto Lilian's Pool

The provision of new islands has continued apace. Following on from the rather rustic platforms our team launched onto the Causeway Pool recently, two new islands were floated out onto Lilian’s Pool last week. Richard Smith, our versatile and endlessly energetic Estate Worker, not only built these platforms but also punted them into place, before turfing and graveling the surfaces.


The rescue team arrive.

Fingers crossed we’ll get some birds nesting on here this year, providing superb views for our visitors from the Lilian’s Hide. It's worth noting that Richard has constructed these islands from mostly recycled materials, many beach-combed from our saltmarsh tideline. 


Green Futures Building team get started on the sand martin bank

Elsewhere, also providing a potential breeding site for another type of bird altogether, we have installed our first ever sand martin nesting bank. Each year we see huge numbers of sand martins visit the reserve in spring and again in late summer to feed over the meres yet we do not have any suitable nesting areas for these bank-nesting specialists. So, we decided to have an artificial nest bank installed. After a great deal of heavy lifting (and a fair bit of grunting) we finally got all the component parts out onto a spot in front of the Tim Jackson Hide.


Almost finished...

The unit, pre-built and then constructed in situ by Green Future Building has the potential to house 48 sand martin nests – now all we need to do is wait and see if the newly arrived migrants will find it to their liking! Huge thanks to the team from Green Futures who did such an excellent job of getting the job done so swiftly.

Meanwhile, our highly vocal bittern continues to boom well from the depths of the reed bed. He really is in fine voice and we’re all hopeful that he will attract a mate and remain to breed. Multiple bitterns have been seen and heard around the reserve in the last couple of weeks but we expect that some of these will leave and nest elsewhere.


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

Most years we get to witness the sight of birds migrating away from the site in spring; on calm clear evenings, with a suitable light wind, bitterns will circle the reedbed calling. This particular call is nothing like the boom of a courting male but more like the sound of a gull. Sometimes these ‘gull-calling’ bitterns will circle ever higher disappearing into the inky depths of the gloaming while on other occasions they will drop back down into the reeds. Is this behaviour a pre-migratory call-to-arms, or potential breeding females checking out the lay of the land or simply a ‘let’s see who else is here’? Whatever the reason, it gives us and many of our visitors a fabulous opportunity to witness an extraordinary spectacle.

Talking of extraordinary spectacles, the sky dancing marsh harriers continue to dazzle and delight. The tell-tale call of the males as they tumble from on high is a classic sign of early spring here at Leighton Moss and we have at least six birds present at the moment. We’re sure to see more as migrant harriers arrive from the continent in the coming weeks.

Great white egret by Dave Dimmock

Avocet numbers continue to build and are best looked for from the Eric Morecambe Hide where hundreds of black-tailed godwits, many now sporting their dazzling breeding plumage, may also be seen. Snipes have been a popular feature lately, showing brilliantly at Lower, Jackson and Grisedale hides. Great white egrets, no longer the rarity they once were, have remained on site and are can be seen stalking the shallows alongside the relatively dainty little egrets

Other recent sightings include a brief snow bunting at Carnforth Marsh on March 26. Spring migrants overall have been a little slow thanks to the weather conditions but we’ve seen a few of the expected chiffchaffs, wheatears and sand martins plus our first osprey of the year on March 28.

The next few days don’t look too promising as far as migrants from the south are concerned but by the time we get into April proper we could see an arrival of typical summer visitors such as swallows, sedge and willow warblers and hopefully a garganey or two.

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Boom time at the Moss

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Immediately following the much-talked-about 'Beast from the East', things calmed down quite a bit and it seemed that spring was keen to forge ahead. Birdsong on the reserve has certainly ramped up a few notches; chaffinches, reed buntings, nuthatches, marsh tits and the like are all in fine voice, declaring territories and proclaiming their suitability as ideal mates for the breeding season.

Bittern by Mike Malpass

Most excitingly, we have had bitterns booming from two different areas of the reserve. One or two of these secretive herons have been seen regularly throughout the winter, mainly from the Causeway and Lower hides but thanks to their cryptic lifestyle it’s an impossible task trying to figure out just how many we have out there. It’s only in spring when on calm, clear evenings and some of the bitterns prepare to migrate that we can hazard a guess as to the wintering population. When conditions are just right, the bitterns will rise from the dense reed beds at dusk and fly over the reserve calling. This sound is nothing like the famous boom but is more like a gull call. On some evenings, we can witness multiple bitterns circling and ‘gull-calling’ in the fading light – quite magical!   

The potentially thrilling part of hearing this year’s booming birds is the possibility that some bitterns may remain to breed at Leighton Moss. A great deal of work has gone into improving the reed bed for bitterns and it would be a fantastic reward for the ecologists and wardens involved in that extensive management to see young bitterns fledging on site again. We’ll keep listening for the evocative booms and keeping our fingers crossed!

In other news, the marsh harriers have been showing exceptionally well, with up to six birds present at the time of writing. Two dazzling males have been sky dancing and food-carrying in their attempts to impress the females.

Avocet by David Mower

Out on the saltmarsh, avocet numbers have been building up again, though with the forecast cold conditions due over the next few days we may well see them disappearing for a short spell once more before they settle down to breed. A new anti-predator fence was installed at the Allen Pools this week to prevent foxes from raiding the avocet nests later in the season.

Our first sand martins of the year appeared briefly on Wednesday (14) with another present at Causeway for much of the following day. Despite the un-spring-like conditions we should see a few more of these dainty long-distance migrants in the coming days, along with the first chiffchaffs and wheatears if we’re lucky. A subtle and favourable change in wind direction should see an increase in the number of birds arriving and we can hope to add little ringed plover and osprey before the end of March.

Meanwhile, the starling murmuration, while still occurring, is starting to peter out a little. We still have a few thousand birds coming onto the reserve to roost but their display seems less extensive now and their numbers have certainly dwindled. How much longer will they be with us?  

New islands at Causeway Pool by Jon Carter

Visitors to the reserve may have noticed that we have put a few more small islands out on the Causeway Pool. This is primarily to attract nesting birds, though they're pretty useful for roosting on too. We'll be keeping a close eye on them to see which birds find them useful!

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager 

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

The starling blizzard & recent sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Soft lemon red light at the end of the day blended with the hills as little egrets lazily flew up the valley. In the distant egret roost, viewed from Lillian’s Hide, a dozen or more pure white little egrets adorned the bare trees, standing out from the now shadowed scene. Among them stands a solitary great white egret; with at least three still present on the reserve you may see them from Tim Jackson or Grisedale hides, these being their favoured fishing spots.

Great white egret by Mike Malpass

A single pochard sat low in the water on Lillian’s Pool and tufted ducks tucked themselves in small groups at the reed-fringed edges, bobbing around on the water. Two oystercatchers sat on the far bank among the snoozing teal. These pied, orange-billed waders are moving inland as they start to prepare to nest, so sightings around the reserve have increased.

I turn my attention back to the horizon looking towards the causeway where 50,000 starlings are gathering in one large cluster, blotting the sky - still a deep blue above, but a front of snow was moving in to darken the scene behind them. In the last of the evening light over the causeway two brightly coloured male marsh harriers circled, rising higher and higher, twinkling as they turned to face the sun. Half the scene was saturated with colour as the hills behind gradually disappeared.

Like a sand storm the snow front poured over the north of the reserve as I watched from Lillian’s Hide. 50,000 starlings and the harriers became lost in the blizzard. They were enveloped into it. The flecks of snow reached Lillian’s Pool and the mood changed to a scene of deep blue. As the flurry of snow settled on the open window I saw my breath in the cold air and felt a chill wind blustering into the space in front of me. Outside I watched a cormorant flying into the scene above, hurling itself through the feathery thick falling flakes. A group of fieldfare flew from the trees to the left of the hide as they passed through, as they have been for several days now. Their dark shapes in the decreasing light stood out as they scattered in rough formation.

Cormorant by Andy Hay

I admired a pair of shovelers that appeared close to the hide with their bills, as their name suggests, looking like large shovels making them distinct given how thick set they are. No doubt they were warm thanks to their excellent feathers. I thought about the starlings. If we did not call their fabulous evening displays murmurations I think a blizzard of starlings may be an equally apt name, including the blizzard they create if you are foolish enough to stand underneath them! This evening was quite unique but the starling murmurations generally remain spectacular on the reserve each evening. They start gathering at about 5:30pm and eventually descend into the reeds at 6:10pm on good days. Providing it stays clear now is a perfect time to watch them before they disperse.

Starling flock by Jacqui Fereday

In other news look out for displaying marsh harriers with lots of activity, particularly from the Causeway but also Grisedale Hide. We now have at least 6 on the reserve including a recently arrived adult male. On an evening you may see several coming into roost from Grisedale. Great crested grebes are a highlight from the Causeway with a pair seen from this hide almost daily.

Even on cold days most of the pools have retained areas of open water so appreciating the range and amount of ducks still on the reserve remains a rather nice highlight of the season. What with the temperatures predicted to drop we expect visitors may arrive to look for otters on the ice. During the time the Causeway Pool became iced over a few weeks back a dog otter was seen eating a fish on the ice surface whist at the same time a female with an older pup skirted the edge of the reeds. Look out for our famous otters on your next visit.

Steven Williams, Visitor Experience Intern

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Signs of the Times & Recent Sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Even as frost leaves its hard edges on our land our snowdrops are once again in flower, many of our birds singing, displaying and mating and spring is approaching with each lengthening day. The pace of nature’s progress follows a complex logic that is of great interest to scientists, some follow the changing day lengths, others react to changing temperatures or perhaps to cues regarding the maturation and or profusion of other organisms on their annual path to abundance.  The science of this study is known as phenology, a word routed on the Latin word for appearance which also forms the word phenomena.  Phenology is central to debates about global warming and the potential changes it may have on the natural world. 

Snowdrops by Mike Malpass

Bird behaviour is known to respond to light levels for birds, in the battle to conserve weight for flight, have only vestigial gonads over winter, but now, enslaved by hormones they entertain us with their display behaviour and jealous conflicts, chasing around the canopy in uneasy threes.  Although day and night follow the more fixed celestial progress of the sun and earth that is immune to human artifice, the prevalence of street lighting is thought to be encouraging birds such as robins and blackbirds to sing earlier than they used to.

By contrast the arrival of plants respond to temperature changes and spring seems to be arriving earlier by the year.   An increase in temperature from minus one to plus one can push the world from a frozen dormancy to a fluid responsiveness, a more significant change than a two degree rise within the profound solidity of winter and so ‘equal’ changes of temperature are far from equal in effect and the importance of each change must be reckoned and weighed by science.  By statistical methods we may try to predict the future although the reason that knots this thread of this logic may be even harder to understand.

As our world changes it is sure that the annual cycles of entwined organisms will be re-ordered or broken and there will be winners and losers. An early flower may die in the frost, an early bird may arrive to find no worm.  Whatever unfathomably complex cocktail of physiology is mixed in the natural world, humanity, as contributor to spring’s progressively early arrival, must try to account for because there is no question that spring is arriving earlier and earlier in our land.  Some of this data comes from the contributions of amateurs who submit their sightings to such “citizen science” projects as the Nature’s Calendar project, whose website and surveys will be sure also to connect people with the nuances and beauty of our seasons.

Whatever the subtleties of these changes many of us love watching the annual cascade of species that play across the land is a pleasure that all of us should enjoy.

Words by Andrew Francis, our residential warden, with his thoughts on the season.

Other Wildlife Highlights this week...

Wildlife around the reserve of late has been responding to the increasing signs of early spring with the first blackbirds starting to sing, the snowdrops in full flower and dunnocks in the hedges beating up their closest rivals. A highlight of the week included 16 avocets that dropped in at the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides for a short time before moving on. 11 avocets were back on the pools on Friday 23 following a few days absence. Many other birds are soon to be arriving back such as sand martins , chiffchaffs and wheatears. Others are currently settling back in, such as the black-headed gulls that have appeared in growing numbers from Causeway Hide and on Lillian's pool.

Great crested grebe by Richard Cousens

Although still or partially in winter plumage, a pair of great crested grebes were observed practicing their courtship ritual, spotted from the Causeway Hide in the last few days. Similar to last spring, bitterns have been tantalising us this week. Following the occasional sightings by visitors and staff, we would expect any male bittern in the area to start what is often referred to as 'tuning up'. Bitterns are perhaps best known for their deep booming call that they make when holding territory which is very powerful and resonant. 'Tuning up' could perhaps be referred to as a bittern clearing its throat and declaring its intention to other potential bitterns without committing. Rather than the deep boom they make a series of low key but audible deep but short vocalisations during early spring after dusk or indeed at any time of night. If you are so inclined to stand around in the dark, the causeway is the best place to help us listen out for any bittern activity. You will be surprised how different each night can be with some providing a still ambiance gently broken by the sound of wildfowl to nights where the sounds of  teal and wigeon fill the night air, making hearing anything else a little more challenging.

Marsh Harrier by Mike Malpass

Back on daylight hours, there are at least four marsh harriers, including one male and a green wing-tagged juvenile, all becoming increasingly active, particularly to the north of the reserve. We would be grateful to anyone who can tell us the identification markings on the green wing tags so we can find out if this is the same or a different bird reported earlier in the season. The tags indicate that this marsh harrier is one of four young birds that fledged from a nest on the Norfolk/Suffolk border!

Starlings murmurating at Leighton Moss

Superb numbers of shoveler, wigeon, teal and in excess of 50 mute swans have been present on the reserve; the bulk of wildfowl is best observed from the Causeway Hide. The starlings remain on top form with estimates ranging from 30-60,000 murmurating and roosting within close range of the causeway. The best time to see them is from around 5:20pm although they vary with the conditions on the day. With the size of the roost decreasing now is the perfect time to visit before this spectacle is over for another year. Snipe on the reserve have been a highlight for many visitors this week and you may even see them flying around during the day. Red deer have been putting in appearances around the reserve along with daily otter sightings, even the first bats of the year have been active on milder evenings; with so much wildlife activity on offer you are sure of a great visit.

We hope to see you soon.

Steven and Andy

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Short-eared owl release at Leighton Moss

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

The ‘teacher-teacher’ calls of great tits, the drumming of a great spotted woodpecker and the trilling song of a nuthatch can all be heard on your next visit to Leighton Moss. Listen out for the loud repetitive song of song thrushes proclaiming territory. All the birds are tuning up for spring and the delicate white flowers of snowdrops are springing up and now in full flower. In the meadow near the barn moles have been very active, their latest excavations exposing the fresh brown earth. Look out for stonechats in the barn field too, this is one of their favoured spots of late. A barn owl under the cover of night has been taking the opportunity to relax and digest a starling or two in the barn. Starling feathers, skulls and owl pellets litter the floor but other than this the owl will eat every bit of its nightly opportune meal.

Starling murmurations on the reserve have been impressive recently with as many as 50,000 birds some evenings, although numbers may start to tail off now as is typical with the changing season. The best place to see them gathering is the Causeway. Look for them from 4:45pm on a bright dry evening from the hide or from the Causeway track itself.

Starlings at Leighton Moss by Jacqui Fereday

Amongst this week’s most notable highlights was an influx of pochards, following their complete absence on the reserve all winter. Look for them amongst the raft of tufted duck that have been favouring Lillian’s and Causeway pools of late. Their numbers have also increased in recent days with a raft of 47 tufted duck counted on Wednesday (31 January). Lillian’s Hide can also be good for mallards, little egrets, teal and gadwall. Have you seen the two goldeneyes that should be leaving us soon? Lillian’s Hide is the best spot to look for them. Amazing numbers of snipe from Tim Jacksons and Grisedale, including the occasional jack snipe amongst them, are certainly worth looking for on your next visit.

The Eric Morecambe and Allen pools have also been good for impressive numbers of lapwing, with at least 4,000 present. A merlin, that has been hunting on the saltmarsh for the past few weeks has been recorded almost daily by visitors in our sightings book. Look for pink-footed geese grazing on the saltmarsh as they move through the area heading north. Groups of several hundred have been present over the past few days and you never know what might be hidden amongst them!

Four whooper swans dropped in at the shore pools on Sunday (28 January) but didn’t stay for long. Also look out for greenshank, redshank, snipe, curlew and shellduck from the coastal hides.

Redshank by David Mower

In other news duck numbers, particularly shoveler and teal are very good from most hides on the reserve but particularly the Causeway and Lower hides. A kingfisher was reported from Causeway Hide. There are at least three marsh harriers and three great egrets in the area, with the latter being regularly sighted from the Allen Hide, Grisedale and Tim Jackson’s hides.

Water rail are reported less frequently but with so much exposed mud around look carefully for them near the path towards Tim Jackson’s and Grisedale hides. Otters remain as bold as brass, for example keeping the ducks and geese on their toes much to the enjoyment of a full hide of wildlife watchers on a beautiful sunny Friday from Grisedale Hide this week.

Finally, woodland birds such as bullfinches, treecreepers, nuthatches, coal tits, jays, blue tits, marsh tits and great tits as well as our regular and frequently encountered robins have been very active. A walk to Lower Hide or the immediate woodland paths near the visitor centre allow opportunities to encounter and enjoy many smaller birds.

Kevin Kelly with Nick Henderson releasing a rehabilitated short-eared owl

A couple of weeks ago, we released a short-eared owl near the saltmarsh. The bird had been taken into care and rehabilitated by local bird of prey experts Corio Raptor. Our Visitor Operations Manager Kevin Kelly joined Coreo owner, and former seasonal warden at RSPB Minsmere, Nick Henderson to oversee the release of the healthy owl. Corio have been operating for 20 years and recently celebrated the release of their 1000th native raptor! 

Short-eared owl before release

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Marsh tits, Lapwings, Starlings and other wildlife sightings

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Friday 26 January

 A late morning walk to Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides on a glorious winter’s day exploded in the vivid fawn coloured pallet of reeds contrasting a deep blue sky. In channels and ditches thin layers of ice slowly melted as a warm winter sun mingled its heat with the cool water’s surface. Steam rose from the damp reeds and wet wood that remained slightly frosty from the night before. All around me warmth met the damp watery surroundings, with the gentle rising of moisture into the crisp atmosphere.

Confiding marsh tits near the Tim Jackson Hide flew onto the centre of the path from the nearby trees to collect spilt seed and I stopped to admire them at close range. The ferns on the trees at this spot on the reserve have to be one of my favourite examples of the term epiphytes, a posh term for a plant that grows on a tree using it as a little habitat all of its own. Think of rainforests; this being a tiny slice of the UK equivalent, found here at Leighton Moss.

 

Marsh tit  by Richard Cousens

Entering Tim Jackson Hide, the gently rising steam from the wet window frames and timber exposed to the full force of the sun, the scene was quiet. Teal and mallard rested at the waters edge, the size difference between them standing out for obvious comparison as they dozed side by side. A mute swan flew in to affectionately greet another. Gently they moved together wings raised but neck postured in a smooth curve and briefly gestured in a way that reminded me of great crested grebes with their head movements facing each other before serenely gliding apart and searching beneath the water for submerged vegetation.

 

Three great egrets have been quite prominent and visible from here, Grisedale and the Allen hides of late. Three marsh harriers can be spotted anywhere on the reserve with Grisedale Hide being as good a place as any to see them. A sighting of an otter eating a duck was reported for the second time in recent weeks from Grisedale, with their activity being exceedingly frequent of late from here.  Two cattle egrets remain present in the fields just beyond the reserve. Flocks of hundreds of lapwings are worth looking for with the Causeway Hide being a great place to see them on the stone island. They are even using our newly created floating islands!

 

Lapwing by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com) 

Entering Grisedale Hide the scene was similarly quiet although the light was fantastic. It raked shadows across the fields to the back and created amazing reflections in the water. A little egret was looking for something to eat, kicking up the sediment with its black legs in the hope of disturbing a fish, moved along the edge of the pool. Gadwall and teal leisurely swam on the water’s surface. Earlier this week John Wilson, our retired original warden at Leighton Moss, counted the number of water birds he could see in one visit to the reserve. Ducks at Leighton Moss do use an expanse of wetlands including the coastal pools and Barrow Scout so numbers naturally fluctuate. Look for great numbers of wigeon from the Eric Morecambe Hide.

Here are the counts John had on Tuesday of last week (23 January): ducks included 55 wigeon, 28 pintail, 205 gadwall, 105 shovelers, 420 teal, 85 mallards, 20 tufted duck and 2 goldeneyes plus 75 coot. Not forgetting three marsh harriers, which, although not ducks, were counted for good measure.

There were 3 great egrets leaving the roost from Island Mere, which is the group of trees beyond the island from Causeway Hide.

 

Great egret in flight by Richard Cousens

Look out for water rails and snipe on your next visit, both of which are great to look for at this time of year. Bittern reports in the last few days remain principally from the Causeway Hide. Cetti’s warbler have been seen from the causeway, Grisedale Hide and Skytower. With the reed being so thin at this time of year your chances of getting a great view of this chestnut coloured warbler will be improved.

The little egrets roosting at Island Mere on the reserve each evening can provide quiet a spectacle. The starlings have been roosting at this end of the reserve, tending to steal the show as they display over the pool and reflected in the water’s surface. Can you spot the white starling amongst them?!

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Winter wildfowl and a Happy New Year.

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

With water levels gradually dropping, wildfowl on the reserve are back in excellent numbers. Particularly shovelers and pintails, with Causeway hide overlooking a view that is absolutely fantastic for gadwalls, wigeons, teals and tufted ducks that are rafting on the waters surface. Sometimes they will be spooked by an otter or marsh harrier and erupt in spectacular formation before returning and settling again shortly after.

Snowdrops (previous spring) by Mike Malpass

Spring is already showing signs, with the first snow drops starting to bloom on the reserve already. Birds are singing more frequently with the sound of great tits, coal tits, robins and dunnocks filling the air on a morning as the daylight hours grow longer. Although rather early the mild conditions and increased day length is changing the activity of the wildlife. Can you notice the subtle changes to the wildlife at Leighton Moss on your next visit?   

A fantastic addition to the reserves year list was a common crossbill photographed by one of our lucky visitors which was a real treat to see. Whilst crossbills are resident in the UK all year round they are a scarce visitor to Leighton Moss, and their habits mean they often spend much of their time at the tops of trees and dense conifer plantations or other pine forests, making them difficult to see. This one was just passing through, seen in the tops of a stand of trees near the junction to Grisedale and Tim Jackson hide, after the wooden bridge. Crossbills will begin nesting as early of mid-February depending on the availability of seed cones. They use their special crossed bills to prize open the cones and access the seeds inside.

Female crossbill by Mike Owen

A rather excellent sighting of two otters accidentally flushing a bittern was reported earlier this week. Bittern sightings have been regular but infrequent so far this month. Spend your time watching the channel of cut reed viewable to the right of Causeway Hide as the most reliable spot on the reserve where a secretive bittern might venture out in search of food.

Looking back at a time when otters were absent from Leighton Moss, and even much of Northern England, to now is remarkable. The boldness of their character hasn’t come much better than a few days ago when an otter bounded out of the water barely more than a few meters away from the hide window at Tim Jackson’s hide, much to the amazement of the small team of Leighton Moss staff that had headed down to the hide early that morning. It happily stayed for a few minutes in full view before swimming away. You may recall several weeks ago the amazed fortunate visitors that saw on otter walking casually during the middle of the day through the bird feeding station in the garden next to the visitor centre! It is good to see them doing so well.

Otter by Ben Andrew

Other sightings on the reserve include regular reports of great white egrets and snipe from Tim Jackson’s hide. At least four Cetti’s warblers have been heard on the reserve with one being particularly visible from the corner at the boardwalk to the Causeway on occasion. Being so far North Cetti’s warblers tend to suffer winter conditions more than their southern counterparts, with sites like Leighton Moss in the North of England currently representing one of their most northerly sites.

This weekend we had a tawny owl that had found its way into Grisedale hide. After careful examination by a trained member of staff, and a few cuts and scrapes from the owl objecting to its rescue, it was released in the garden where it found a patch of ivy to roost. From its roosting spot visitors had sneak peek views of a few feathers through the foliage on the decidedly damp day of its release, providing a tantalising glimpse of a rather nice owl.

Starlings are still one of the reserves winter wildlife spectacles this week providing the forecast stays dry during your visit. Whilst never doing quite the same thing each night the numbers coming into roost are without a doubt spectacular. They are currently roosting at the edge of the reserve overlooked from Tim Jackson hide. The sky tower still offers the best vantage point to look for them and with the evenings opening up they are roosting progressively later with a current time of going into the reeds at just after 4.30pm. Get their 20 minutes before hand and watch the skies. With so many coming into roost the audible woosh of wings is very clear, or indeed come and make a day of it and round it off with the ultimate crescendo.

Starlings

We would like to wish all our blog readers another great year of wildlife watching experiences. No doubt some have made New Years resolutions to make a year list. Even if you decide not to take your ‘listing’ too seriously, keeping a record of the wildlife you have seen can be a great way to learn and improve your knowledge and wildlife watching skills as well as maintaining the motivation to get out and enjoy the natural world.

The reserve team are very excited by the promising signs of 2018 being a great year for wildlife at Leighton Moss. With improvements to the reserve, most notably the repair of the Eric Morecambe pool, offering new opportunities for wildlife such as breeding waders on the newly formed islands and better habitat for migrating waders too in spring and autumn, 2018, fingers crossed looks set to be a quality year for wildlife down at the shore pools, and with the addition of new islands on the main reserve too, come and enjoy the new changes and let us know your thoughts.

Steven, Intern at Leighton Moss