Category: Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Recent Sightings and Road Renovations

 In the last few days, after having seen temperatures plummet, we have returned once more to damper, milder conditions. The ice that covered the pools earlier in the week is gone and the ducks that were huddled around the small patches of open water have now spread out across the reserve. A stop in Lilian’s or Causeway hides will reward you with the sight of hundreds of birds busy dabbling or diving for food. Little grebes, goldeneyes, tufted ducks and coots appear frantic in their efforts to find sub-aquatic meals while shovelers, (pic by Hazel Rothwell) pintails, gadwall, wigeon, teal and mallards sift and pick leisurely in their quest for sustenance.

Meanwhile the seemingly ever-present marsh harriers appear to be constantly searching the reedbeds and water edges for prey; a short time spent anywhere on the reserve right now will almost certainly result in a sighting of at least one or two of these impressive raptors. Bitterns too have been something of a feature in recent days with multiple reports of flying birds, primarily from the Causeway area. Bearded tits are still being seen, though as we’d expect by early December their appearances along the paths and grit trays are dwindling significantly.

As anyone who has visited us lately (or looked at our Facebook page!) will be aware of the poor condition of the access track to our Eric Morecambe and Allen pools car park. In the past we have always maintained this stretch of track, even though the RSPB does not own it. I am happy to report that we have now arranged to repair and renovate this track and our wardening team are currently working hard to complete this work by the weekend.

If you’re planning on visiting Leighton Moss before the weekend, please bear in mind that the track will closed to traffic, though there will be pedestrian access for those happy to walk from the visitor centre.

 The starlings are continuing to roost off the main reserve, at Barrow Scout. So, if you wish to observe the thousands of birds descending into the reedbeds, you can do so from the Skytower or even from the Jackson and Grisedale hides. Please note that the birds aren’t really murmurating as such yet – the majority are simply flying in to roost. Once the coastal hides track has been re-opened, visitors may view the starlings by parking in the Allen / Morecambe car park and walking back up along the access track. Please do not park on the track under any circumstances, or stop on the road.

As in previous years the starlings are likely to relocate to the main reserve shortly. The murmurations over Causeway can be spectacular and once this start happening we will post news here, on our Facebook page and on Twitter. Pic by Alistair Grubb.




Problems with Plastic & Recent Sightings

 With autumn firmly giving way to winter, the wildlife at Leighton Moss is very much gearing up for the colder months ahead. Large numbers of fieldfare (pic by Mike Malpass) and redwing have recently joined the blackbirds, song and mistle thrushes in our orchard, taking full advantage of the glut of apples in our orchard. Wildfowl numbers continue to build and the mass of ducks on Lilian’s and Grisedale pools are quite a sight – and sound! Scan through the hundreds of teal, gadwall, shoveler and wigeon to spot handsome pintails and diving ducks such as pochard, goldeneye and tufted duck. A female scaup, regular at Lilian’s in recent weeks, adds a little identification challenge for keener birders. The two very late garganey appear to have moved on; time will tell whether this is a temporary shift in the wake of dropping temperatures or they finally figured out that most of their kind had long-headed to warmer climes!

Bearded tits are still being seeing on the grit trays and along the paths, though far less frequently than they were a month ago. At least five marsh harriers are set to winter on the site and there are regular merlin and peregrine sightings from the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. In excess of 800 black-tailed godwits, large numbers of lapwings, redshanks, dunlin and a few greenshank can also be seen at these coastal pools. Kingfishers may be encountered just about anywhere on the reserve and otters have been making frequent appearances at Causeway and Lower pools. 

Of course, a big feature of the season here is the annual starling murmuration and visitors are keen to know what the birds are doing. The murmurations,as per the last two years, have been slow to get going this winter. We do have c70,000 in total roosting on RSPB properties in the area but they’re not really doing much murmurating yet. The best places to observe the birds coming into roost are the Skytower, Grisedale and Jackson hides or from the track leading to the Allen Pools car park.

It is essential that visitors DO NOT park or attempt to pull-over on either the road or the access track: you MUST park in the car park and walk back along the track. Please be aware that the condition of this track is currently poor and great care should be taken when driving along it.
As in previous years, we expect the roost and murmuration will move onto the main reserve before too long. This will allow visitors much better views. Watch this space!    
Beach cleans
We are hosting a series of marine litter picks in the local area and are welcoming members of the public to join us. 
Beach cleans will take place on the following dates:

Tuesday 3 December 12pm-2pm – Carnforth Marsh, meet at Cotestones Farm, Sand Lane, Warton, Carnforth LA5 9NH

Thursday 20 February 10am-12pm – Eric Morecambe Pool, meet at saltmarsh car park

Wednesday 4 March 12pm-2pm – Carnforth Marsh, meet at Cotestones Farm, Sand Lane, Warton, Carnforth LA5 9NH

Please wear waterproofs and sturdy boots (wellies recommended) as it can be wet and muddy on the marsh. A small number of wellies will be available. If you have your own gloves please bring them but we can provide gloves if needed.

To give you flavour of what to expect and some insights into our litter-pick in November, read Charlotte’s account below:    

Problems with Plastic

 You might have not heard, but a few of us went down to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides on November 20 to clean litter that had washed up onto the bank.

This is usually done around twice a year, and it is sad to see how much litter there actually is, but you do get some interesting finds. Such as foreign items. You see, ocean currents which travel around the world, can pull in these plastics so end up travelling very long distances. Or, items that have come from the UK but have stayed in British waters for years before washing up on shore. A few regulars include tennis balls, which we found about 10, and 3 singular flip-flops.

We did also find items from further afield. Such as an ‘Aqua’ water bottle. This brand is owned by the same company as Evian and Volvic, but this is sold in Indonesia which is 7517 miles away! Which shows just how far plastics can travel. Another foreign find was another drinks bottle called Calpis. This is a Japanese soft drink which means it travelled around 5807 miles.

Not only do these bottles travel, they also remain in the ocean for a long time. Scientific reports say it will take at least 450 years for the typical plastic bottle to decompose, though this time can be trebled in some cases. It’s not been in the ocean for close to 450 years, but we found an old Lucozade bottle from 2014 which was promoting the 2014 Brazil world cup. This would have been floating around our waters for 5 years, so if we had not picked it up then it would be polluting the ocean for 445 more.                                                                                                                                                                                      Not plastic, but we did find another Lucozade bottle. It was an old glass bottle from 1999 so that’s 20 years, but if we didn’t find it then it would have been swimming about for a whopping 999,980 years!

 The majority of our finds were plastic, and at least half of the plastics we did find were bottles which could have been recycled. This is why it is so important to not only recycle plastic bottles you do buy, but to also buy reusable bottles you can take with you. These will pay for themselves after a few refills and stop plastic from littering beaches and banks around the world for hundreds of years. The average person buys around 150 bottles per year. If you assume they are all water bottles at 60p, then they are spending £90 a year on water bottles. This is around 11 times the amount of a reusable water bottle! The shop here at Leighton Moss sells them these reusable bottles for £7.99 – which not only allows you to cut back on plastic waste but by buying from the RSPB toy can be sure that profit goes back into our conservation and environmental projects and the running of our reserves.

Charlotte Burton

#ThanksToYou Free Entry for Non-Members

 National Lottery players can enjoy a fantastic free day out at the RSPB’s Leighton Moss nature reserve in Silverdale as part of a country-wide ‘thank you’ in celebration of 25 years of the National Lottery.

Over the past 24 years, grants from the National Lottery Heritage Fund have helped to make Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay nature reserve an even better place for wildlife and people by funding several projects including construction of new viewing hides and the spectacular nine-metre high Skytower. That’s why the RSPB is taking part in the #ThanksToYou campaign, which highlights the vital contribution National Lottery players make to supporting good causes.

To celebrate and show appreciation the nature reserve, located in the Arnside and Silverdale Are of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is offering National Lottery players free entry between 23 November and 1 December 2019. One National Lottery ticket or scratchcard entitles the holder, plus up to one additional adult and three accompanying children free entry to the reserve on any of the above dates – which includes the fabulous Christmas Market on Sunday December 1.

Travel by train, bus or bike and enjoy a discount in our popular café too!

Recent Sightings & Connecting Young People to Nature

 While there are still a few bearded tits entertaining the crowds as they visit the trays, I think it’s fair to say that ‘gritting season’ is certainly coming to an end. As we’d expect by the beginning of November fewer bearded tits are being seen gathering grit and they become increasingly, typically elusive once more. As always, if you hope to see these dazzling reedbed dwellers, morning is best (as with almost all birds) and avoid coming on days that are windy or very wet.

Should you have missed this year’s gritting activity, don’t despair as these birds will still be present through the winter and can, with patience and luck, often be encountered in the reeds along the Causeway or on the path to Grisedale . Learn their distinctive call and you’ll be in with a good chance of finding your own ‘beardies’! Keep up to date with sightings by checking our Facebook group. Photo of bearded tit by David Mower.

Thanks to all of the photographers and birdwatchers who have passed on their information regarding colour-ringed bearded tits – this information is invaluable in the study of these rare birds and helps us better understand, and consequently conserve, them. There is still plenty of time to email us your observations. Please send ring combination info to

Just as the bearded tit bonanza draws to a close so too does the red deer rut. Once the stags have asserted their authority and gathered their harem, things rapidly quieten down on the reserve. It takes a lot of effort and energy to bellow and challenge other male deer so once the need to do so is over the dominant animals wind down and concentrate on the serious jobs of mating and relaxing. The deer will still be seen from time to time as they stray from the sanctuary of the reed beds so it’s always worth keeping an eye out.

As winter continues to creep ever near, we also see the arrival of two Leighton Moss specialities; bitterns and marsh harriers. As most readers of this blog will know both these species breed here during the summer. Research has shown that young bitterns usually disperse in their first autumn and these birds are replaced by bitterns arriving from further afield. As a consequence, we can have many more bitterns on the reserve in winter giving visiting birders the opportunity to see them at any point on the site – cold, icy conditions can often be ideal for seeing these cryptic herons as they emerge from the reeds.

Following a successful nesting season our breeding marsh harriers and their young departed in late summer; some of these will have migrated to southern Europe or Africa while others stay here in the UK. Last winter we had five marsh harriers spend the winter months with us and already this year eight have turned up; it would be fascinating to know where these individuals spent the summer months!

 Other highlights in recent days include a couple of spoonbills which touched-down on the Eric Morecambe Pools on Wednesday (and are still present at time of writing), continued sporadic reports of hen harrier, a well-watched red kite, the very unseasonal garganey and the pair of scaup at Lilian’s. Added to this of course is the annual arrival of lots of wildfowl with numbers changing on a daily basis. Cetti’s warblers (photo by Mike Malpass) are becoming increasingly vocal and birds may be heard just about anywhere on the reserve.

As many of you will know, Leighton Moss hosts multiple school, college and university visits throughout the year. Engaging with young people is absolutely essential for the future of nature conservation and we are committed to connecting children and young adults to nature through learning. Here our Learning Officer Carol Bamber summarises the year so far… 

End of a busy season with high praise

It’s been another successful summer at Leighton Moss for school, university and youth group visits. Since April the team have delivered outdoor learning sessions to 70 groups, engaging with over 2,250 participants – that’s a lot of pond dipping, minibeast safaris, Living Things and their Habitats trails and sensory walks, as well as discovering brilliant birds, plus lectures and guided walks to degree-level students.

 Here are some recent quotes from participating group leaders:

‘What a wonderful day we’ve all had! So much learning that could never have happened inside the classroom.’ Reception class teacher

‘This has been an incredible child-led experience. You have ticked so many curriculum objectives in a very hands-on way.’ Year 3 class teacher

‘Thank you so much for the session. It was just right for our first visit.’ Specialist School teacher

‘As always, this was an excellent trip. Lots to see – pupils interested and engaged.’ Year 8 science teacher

‘Brilliant introduction to the RSPB and the wider conservation industry. Related well to the students’ aspirations.’ University lecturer

‘A really good evening and very engaging activities provided for the group.’ Cub Scouts leader

Wow! 99% of respondents on our evaluation forms rated our educational offer as ‘very good’ or ‘outstanding’. It’s a massive team effort, we thoroughly enjoy what we do and we appreciate the urgent need, now more than ever, to connect people of all ages with wildlife and the great outdoors in a fun and interactive way. 

If you are interested in booking an educational visit to Leighton Moss at any time of year, please contact Carol on (01524) 703015 or

Floods recede & sightings surge!

 I’m very happy to report that the water levels have almost returned to normal (whatever that is!) and there is now access to all the hides (except Lower Hide which remains closed to the public) for those visitors who may have forgotten their wellies. Obviously the pools are still holding more water than we’d expect them to at this time of year but that doesn’t seem to be deterring the wildfowl – duck numbers continue to climb with each passing day. Lilian’s Hide is great at the moment with two scaup still present along with pochard, tufted duck and scores of shoveler, teal and gadwall. Little grebes too are easy to see here as are mute swan family flotillas.

Elsewhere, the bearded tits have been entertaining the crowds as they come to gather grit from the trays at Causeway and along the path to Grisedale. With a camera streaming live footage of the trays to the café, visitors can enjoy a spot of lunch or cake and coffee while watching these amazing birds preparing for their winter diet of seeds!

Red deer are another focus of the season and the stags can be heard roaring from deep in the reed beds, particularly in the mornings and again at dusk. Our Facebook group page has been inundated with fabulous photos of impressive males as they display their imposing antlers. Occasionally a couple of the boisterous testosterone-fuelled stags will clash with one another, providing a breath-taking spectacle for those lucky enough to be in the hide.  

 With autumn truly upon us it’s no surprise to see redwings and fieldfares around in recent days. These attractive Nordic thrushes are a real treat to see as they pass over in flocks or descend upon hawthorn hedgerows in search of the plentiful berries. Other highlights this week include a couple of very late swallows and a ring-tailed hen harrier which was photographed jousting with a male marsh harrier at Grisedale on Wednesday morning.   

It really is a magical time of year to visit Leighton Moss, as one of our wonderful Live Interpretation volunteers, Kathleen, knows only too well. Here she shares with us her experience of being on the reserve during the recent floods…   

A walk through the Leighton Moss flood.
Leaving behind tick list, camera and the like, I pulled on my wellies and set off, happy to enjoy the unique experience, using only eyes, ears and nose! As I waded off in the direction of Grisedale Hide, it quickly became clear that normality had been flipped; nature had reclaimed the space and I was the intruder, confined to a narrow path. Progress was very slow through the deep water, and I envied the ease with which the two ducks, whose patch I was entering, swam along the path ahead of me.
Navigating the route needed more thought than usual, and there was more time to observe and to chat to the robin on his usual perch. Was he/she confused by the strange conditions, or didn’t they much affect life in the trees?
I was startled by the call of a water rail from the reeds beside the path – not because this isn’t a regular occurrence, but because it seemed to be much closer than usual.
Emerging out of the trees I was greeted by bright sunlight glinting on the water.  Looking more closely at the path surface beneath I could clearly see pond life which had escaped from its pond-dippable pools – whirligig beetles and pond skaters, amongst other things, busily rushing to and fro. Dragonflies skimmed over the reed tops in the sunshine; nothing had changed for them.
Now I was assailed by the quiet rustle of stems, and an exaggerated, overwhelming wet smell of reedbeds. What a surprise to see a single meadowsweet stem in full flower at the edge of the almost-invisible path!
Looking ahead it was hard not to smile at the sight of one of the benches stranded amongst water – as though it had floated out from its normal position. Adding to the surreal moment were a couple, relaxing on the bench in the sunshine, with lower legs and feet stretched out into the water. The only life visible at the grit trays was a confused dunnock, normally a ground feeder, forced to hop along the wooden fence rail looking for food. Perhaps my hope for bearded tits on the trays was a bit greedy, though…
With a feeling of relief (wading through water certainly flexes a few unused muscles) I reached the hide.
And what a great sight from within:  wigeon, teal, shoveler, mallard, gadwall, a very fine male pintail, tufted ducks. A splendid red deer stag briefly emerged from the edge of the reeds, then quietly vanished from whence he came, followed by a deer hind. A female marsh harrier quartered the reed tops nearby.  She seemed agitated; had the high water level created fewer or more hunting opportunities for her?
After a brief rest it was time to wade back, passing Cetti’s warbler, robins, dunnock, marsh tit, coal tit, great tit, blue it – and not forgetting a stunning nuthatch.
Was the reserve closed by the floods?  Not at all; it simply offered up a truly magical experience.
Kathleen Robertshaw

Wellies Still A Must

 The water has been sticking around since the last blog. It’s definitely wellie weather right now here at Leighton Moss, and if you come prepared you have the chance to see some great seasonal wildlife spectacles.

The bearded tits have been continuing to show very well on the grit trays along the Causeway and the path to Grisedale Hide in recent days. If you don’t have wellies, still do feel free to come and visit our café where we are screening live footage from a camera focused on the grit trays – so you may be able to watch these amazing birds while enjoying a hot drink and a slice of your favourite cake!

One of the big species to spot right now is the red deer. With the rut getting underway they are easier to see because the stags are forming harems and challenging one another for supremacy. The males can be heard bellowing all around the reserve, especially in the mornings and again in the late afternoon. With their magnificent antlers on display, they can provide great photographic opportunities. The best place to catch sight of these impressive beasts is from the Grisedale Hide (maybe after sighting the bearded tits?). Red deer pic by Mike Malpass.

Some of the other sightings around include otters, which are another firm favourite with visitors. These aquatic mammals have been spotted a couple times in the last week from the Causeway Hide. At least three marsh harriers have been seen hunting over the reedbeds in recent weeks. Usually this species migrates to Africa during September and October. However, a growing number of marsh harriers are remaining in the UK all year round due to milder winters rather than leaving and returning for breeding in April.

Other birds of prey being seen regularly include merlin, peregrine, sparrowhawk and kestrel – mainly from the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. Visitors have also been enjoying great views of little and great white egrets, multiple species of waders and kingfishers.

 Wildfowl numbers continue to creep up with shoveler, gadwall, teal and wigeon flocks growing almost daily. Tufted ducks have increased too and have attracted one or two pochard and a pair of juvenile scaup. A rather unseasonal garganey has been present now for several days and tends to favour Lillian’s and Grisedale pools.  

Are you thinking about buying some binoculars or a spotting scope? Well on October 26 and 27 we are hosting a binocular and telescope open weekend. This will give you the chance to try out the optics you have been eyeing outdoors, so you know which are the right products for you. We will have our friendly, impartial  team on hand to help you decide on the perfect equipment for your needs and budget.

So, even though we’re a bit flooded, there is still a lot to around to see. We hope to see you down here soon, but please bring wellies for the next few weeks. We will give an update when the water levels decrease on this blog, the RSPB Leighton Moss Facebook group and Twitter @LeightonMoss.

See you soon! 

Charlotte (Visitor Experience Intern)