Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Nature’s nursery and recent sightings

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As we move deeper into Summer, there’s no better time to witness the charming evidence of Leighton Moss as a grand nursery for nature. It’s pleasing to see this wealth of new life so visible across the reserve, undefeated by early Spring’s disastrous weather. Without falling prey to sentimentality, there’s something to cherish in the sight of these intrepid younglings embarking upon the lives ahead of them.

Mute swan cygnets and greylag goslings are growing up fast, but still paddle after their parents across the pools and along the dykes. Tim Jackson and Grisedale pools are brimming with mallard and gadwall ducklings - on the path between them, a family of treecreepers might be spotted. Despite their diffidence during this season, a family of bearded tits have shown themselves at times skirting the fringes of the Causeway reedbed. On a post close in front of Causeway hide, a pied wagtail has been feeding two voracious young. Fledglings of all varieties abound, and often announce themselves from within the reeds and foliage flanking the paths.

Keeping in line - Mute swan with cygnets by Brian Salisbury

A particular delight is the family of pochards at the Causeway - the hide can offer intimate views of a mother conducting a mini fleet of 9 ducklings. The pochard is currently a red status species and struggling across the UK, so it is uplifting to see this troop doing so well.

The story is the same at the saltmarshes - 22 avocet chicks at last count, growing larger by the day, some still struggling to master their clownish oversized legs. Of the many around, one particular shelduck couple was spotted with 11 young, and of course the black-headed gull colony attend to hundreds of chicks. It is worth mentioning that great white egrets are a possibility here; that a dunlin was spotted amongst the black-tailed godwits earlier in the week, and an occasional Mediterranean gull has been reported.

There is one main exception to this conspicuous display of new life, a scarcity only apprehended as a fleeting apparition by especially fortunate visitors – a mother bittern! We were glad to confirm this week that many years of expert management work had paid off, with these exceptional birds breeding once again at Leighton Moss, almost a decade in the making (be sure to read all about this story in this press release and site manager Jarrod’s blog). The evidence had amassed over the past few weeks, with an increase in sightings from our survey teams in the reeds and from hawk-eyed visitors scanning the reedbed from the Skytower and the Causeway. This established several common flight paths between feeding sites and her nest, which we now know is situated on the south side of the reserve near to the main dyke. Stay alert and who knows - you could be rewarded with a glance at Leighton Moss' most precious resident.

Bittern in flight by John Bridges

Much of the birdlife here has settled into a pleasantly predictable rhythm for the time being. Ospreys conduct their daily fishing ventures at the Causeway, but it can certainly be a lottery to see them. The scaup remains in residence there. Male marsh harriers, bearing the full burden of the hunt to support their brooding mates and recent chicks, are still a regular appearance over the reedbed, effortlessly stylish as ever. Reed, sedge, willow and Cetti’s warblers continue to sing over either side of the reserve - the best places to view them, as well as reed buntings, is the boardwalk, which affords lovely views of their perches on the grey willows (when they are obliging).

As for our non-avian friends: earlier this week there was a mass exodus of froglets and toadlets onto the Causeway. It’s pleasing to think how these tiny beings have struggled through their gradual transformation to terrestrial form, finally amassing themselves to crawl out of the water as a new generation. Despite the perils of their journey (unsuspecting visitors, the unavoidable approach of our reserve range rover etc.) many will make it to the Promised Land and prosper to begin the process anew – so watch your feet!

Foxes with cubs and red deer with fawns are increasingly being seen from Tim Jackson and Grisedales hides and the path connecting the bridleway to Lower hide, navigating through the trees and the reeds at the south side of the reserve. Keep an eye out for otters, which might unexpectedly appear at the pools on either side of the reserve to fish, play and explore.

Red campion by Steven Williams

Beyond birdlife and mammals there is a wider sense of the kaleidoscopic interplay of species across Leighton Moss. The carnivorous bladderwort has emerged at Lillian’s, trapping and feasting on small water-borne prey (keep your fingers inside the hide just in case). Dog rose and elders are blooming, and the thick green reedbed gives off flashes of wildflowers now – on the left before the Causeway hide, a discrete but noble host of common spotted orchids are almost lost beneath the clustered towering foliage; tufted vetch spills blue and violet at edges of the path, and elsewhere red campionforget-me-not and woody nightshade can be discovered. The air vibrates with the masses of common blue, blue tailed and azure damselflies, and all over speckled wood butterflies calmly and briefly alight and depart.

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

To intervene or not to intervene – that is the question?

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

With the incredibly exciting news that we have bitterns breeding again for the first time in a decade, our Site Manager Jarrod Sneyd recalls his lifelong passion for this iconic species here at Leighton Moss, and how we've made the recovery happen

I did not think much about intervening in anything when I was a boy of 8 yrs old. I was just a bit obsessed by all things birds.

My parents ‘landed’ with their little caravan at Fell End Caravan Park, near Beetham, just a handful of minutes as the crow flies to Leighton Moss. My grandparents stayed in a posh hotel at Cartmel and we would come together as a family. As my gran was a life-fellow of the RSPB, and I had become a Young Ornithologist (now Wildlife Explorers), Leighton Moss would be an essential part of the holiday’s itinerary. My grandad and parents would just have to tag along (or sleep in the car as my granddad would often do!)

I remember the little reception hut (like a garden shed) that was located near the start of the path that now runs to our new boardwalk. There was a charismatic chap there with a flash of blonde hair and an energetic personality (which I realised later was John Wilson, the Senior Warden). He handed us our permits and we wandered along the narrow path, completely enclosed by reeds, to the Y.O.C hide (now Lilian's hide). This was not simply a journey through reeds to a hide overlooking water and hopefully lots of birds though, it was full of anticipation, full of mystery..the obsession...the bird of the bog...the elusive, the secretive, the mythical...THE BITTERN!

I spent two hours in that hide with my gran, watching every reed to see if it would move. Despite seeing bitterns in bird books I couldn’t imagine how one would look for real. Then someone pointed one out...oh my goodness – where is it? I still couldn’t see it. I kept looking and looking but only had binoculars, and then a sympathetic ‘expert’ let me peer through his telescope. I couldn’t believe it – it was ‘star-pointing’ - stood with its bill straight up in the air, perfectly camouflaged, just in the reeds not far from the edge of the water – and it didn’t move an inch as I watched. I was so excited and have never forgotten this experience.

Ever since then, I have had a connection with Leighton Moss and bitterns – and the place and bird have had a well-known association for many years. It was the place to see bitterns in northern England and for a period, one of the best places in the country to spot them.

And so it was, with the loss of the reedbeds on which they depend, bitterns sadly declined nationally (at their lowest ebb in the 1990s when the population dropped to 11 males), Leighton remained a stronghold.

It continued to be a stronghold through all the years that I made return visits to Leighton Moss after my first bittern initiation. Then in 1990 I came to live on site for 12 months as a residential volunteer. It was still the place to be for bitterns and I remember doing a bittern boom count in the early hours of the day. My shift was one of many, meaning that as a team we counted the ‘boom sequences’ over a full 24 hour period (when a bittern booms, it does several in one go and that set up of booms is called a 'boom sequence'). Below is an example of a bittern boom count.

The peak booming is just before it comes light and when I did the count it was similar to this one. Imagine that at 4.30am on a May morning - the place was alive with the sound of bitterns booming, so much so that it would be almost impossible to have time to write down the boom sequences. In this case there were 27 booms in a 15 minute period – that’s a bird booming every 30 seconds!

It was in 1990 that we also caught 'Phil the bittern'. Glen Tyler, researcher extraordinare (in the image below), banged on the door of the volunteers accommodation one day. He had spent many months figuring out how to catch a bittern and finally, there he was, with a bittern! He needed help to weigh, ring and radio-tag the bird, so in a panic I rushed out to help. The radio-tag meant we could follow it around (we did for many months), working out its favourite places. My relationship with bitterns became even more intimate!

   Glen Tyler, bittern researcher, with 'Phil'the bittern'

After that year, as I headed off on my career in conservation (Symonds Yat, Highnam Woods, the Farne Islands…) I didn't imagine that I too would become a bittern researcher. Then in 1997 I came back to Leighton Moss to do just that.I located bittern territories and found a nest.

Below is one of the less than technical maps I produced, showing that even then there were three booming bitterns at Leighton Moss and it remained a stronghold, with only 11 left in the country. I became so obsessed that I stayed put for another seven years. I transitioned into the role of Assistant Warden and my personal journey with Leighton and bitterns was almost complete.


And so, back to the question, to intervene or not intervene? Well, after being a stronghold for so long, bitterns sadly declined at Leighton Moss, to the point that from 2003 onwards, there was just a single bird booming and even then, for many years, it just did a half-hearted boom at the beginning of the season and then just gave up. But thanks to conservation efforts, bitterns were actually starting to do well nationally (166 boomers last year), so what was the problem at Leighton? The reedbed was getting old and drier with the year on year build-up of reed litter. The water bodies were becoming shallower with a build-up of silt and there were issues around water quality.

So, why decide to make some big interventions? Why for just one booming bird? That one bird is the reason that Leighton Moss is a European Designated Special Protection Area ,so we have an obligation to make sure it is in good condition for bitterns and to hopefully keep them breeding. Reedbed is also an extremely scarce habitat in north west England (and indeed throughout the UK). Having bitterns is a great indication that you’ve got a good, healthy reedbed, that’s also home to many other reedbed specialists and a variety of more generalist wildlife too. Some might have argued to just let Leighton do its own thing, let nature take its course. It would have become drier and scrubbed over, becoming wet woodland. In a natural landscape without sea walls, embanked rivers and lots of artificial drainage, reedbeds would come and go – aging here, appearing there. But we live in man-made landscapes, reedbeds can’t come and go, so we need to cherish the jewels that remain!  

Maintaining Leighton Moss as a high quality reedbed for bitterns called for radical action! We decided to go on a journey of removing silt from the pools and ditches to take the reedbed back in time. It was getting old and as bitterns like young reedbed, in the earlier stages of development, we needed to dig it out in places. This technique had worked well at Minsmere in Suffolk and had transformed an ailing bittern population (down to just one booming male) to around 10 males there.

  The Kori excavator used to clear the silt from the pools and ditches and dig ‘holes’ in the reedbed

Unfortunately, Leighton was an altogether different ball game! Different ground conditions, different reed condition. Though the silt removal from the pools worked well to improve the water quality and restore fish populations, the areas we excavated to revitalise the reedbed just ended up as gloopy mud. Also, though there were some small signs of reedbed spread, it was also clear that a growing red deer population was impacting on any potential recovery as they were also causing considerable damage elsewhere in the reedbed.

And so, we put in an additional water control structure at Leighton Moss so that we could drain down half the reedbed, the idea being that the muddy, gloopy areas would dry out, the surface of the reedbed would be aerated and stabilise, and suitable conditions for plant colonisation would be created in the excavated areas. We also started to manage deer. Leighton Moss being the only place in the Arnside and Silverdale AONB where there was no form of deer management meant it had become a focal point for the red deer of the area, disproportionately increasing the impact of their damage to the reedbed.

   The new water control system that was installed

It has been a long-winded story – a blog with many branches! But look below and see the recovery of the excavated areas. All the vegetation starting to take hold in the bottom images. Then imagine what it’s like, after all those years of trying new things, trying controversial things (but knowing that if you don’t do anything, bittern demise is near certain), when a bittern starts to boom properly again and for the first time in a decade we have a female bittern nesting (and near the excavated areas and in part of the reedbed we dried out for several years!!!!!) 

As a little boy of 8, marveling at this mythical bird, I was able to see one on my first visit. That’s not been the case as I hit my 40s – whilst we have alwas had regu;ar bitterns through the winter, sightings in recent summer months have been few and far between. This summer, there have been many sightings from the Causeway hide as the female flies backwards and forwards on feeding flights – taking food to her chicks. It has been a long road to recovery, but we are making the first steps. We need to keep intervening, we need to keep Leighton Moss dynamic. It wouldn’t be the special place it is without doing it, for bitterns and for all wildlife here. For me the answer to the original question, is without doubt, ‘To intervene’.  

- Jarrod   

   Two ‘excavated areas before (top) and after (bottom) all this new reedbed management










Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

A wild week of birds and beasts at Leighton Moss

Posted on - In Leighton Moss (RSPB)

This week I had the pleasure of helping to lead three excellent events at Leighton Moss, bringing visitors closer to the various forms of wildlife that thrive on the reserve.

I started the week by joining Paul Hurst (Leighton Moss’ Warden intern) and bird expert Andy Chapman for ‘Birdsong for Beginners’, which helped visitors to place identities behind the many songs heard during the glory of Sunday’s early hours. It is certainly a marvellous time of day to experience the springtime melodies of Leighton Moss, with plenty of chances to distinguish their delightful idiosyncrasies: the stark declaration of Cetti’s warblers, the sweet descending cadences of willow warblers, the reiterations of song thrushes, the electric chirp and whirr of goldfinches, and the vaguer notes of reed buntings, to name a few. Andy and Paul’s experienced ears were invaluable in isolating the more measured pace of reed warblers from the frantic improvisation of sedge warblers

Sedge warbler by David Mower

The event reminded me that this lively acoustic landscape represents a place populated not just by many species but by many individuals, reciprocating and corresponding and competing with one another, together forming a vibrant community. At the end of the event the group was treated to the appearance of two acrobatic black terns above the Causeway, and the arrival of an osprey on a morning fishing expedition. The next trail led by Andy will be on Sunday 17 June, and details about the event can be found here.

Following this on Wednesday was ‘Butterflies in the Barn’, which proved very popular with over 100 people attending. We transformed the Leighton Moss barn - located in our meadow which is in the process of rewilding for wildflowers – into a hub of knowledge about the incredible lives of moths and butterflies. Visitors could discover fascinating facts in a tantalising quiz, and children could make their own butterfly feeders for fluttery guests to their own gardens. Of particular interest were the variety of moths on show, taken from our moth trap. Without harming the moths, the trap gives us a greater sense of the overall health and biodiversity of the site, with almost 600 different species having been recorded. It also allows visitors at events like this to get near to a number of stunning creatures which might not be encountered otherwise – from the mammoth-sized poplar hawk-moth to the minute Chinese character, and the camouflaged buff-tip to the striking cinnabar. Since many are nocturnal, and thus largely unseen, they can take on an almost mythical quality, a lot of people went away having enjoyed a memorable and rewarding experience. Want to marvel at the patterns of the angle shades, or the delicate beauty of the white ermine? Then don't miss a chance to 'Meet the Moths at the Moss' again on Sunday 17th June.

Poplar hawk-moth by David Mower

Finally, on Thursday was ‘What Lives Beneath’, which similarly turned out to be two very successful sessions of pond dipping. Ponds support some remarkable beings, who can trace a continuity back hundreds of millions of years. Watching mayfly larvae, for example, gave a picture of a finely attuned adaptability that was like looking into the deep past. Tadpoles, also in abundance, were in varying stages of metamorphosis: each one gave a snapshot of a body redesigning itself, easily overlooked but accomplishing one of the great dynamic feats of the natural world. The highlight was watching the moment a caddisfly hatched. At the larval stage these insects are expert architects, who assemble their own case by weaving together twigs silt and stones with their finely-spun silk saliva. After living through dormancy and submersion for over a year, this adult will briefly mate and perish, contributing to a new generation. Our Learning and Visitor Assistant Jayne had never seen a caddisfly emergence in her many years of pond dipping, and it was pleasure to see such a spectacle of nature take place. A deeper and more general satisfaction came from taking a moment to appreciate the simple little lives of sticklebacks, water boatmen, leeches, water beetles and pond skaters

Finally, a quick resume of this week's special birds: The black tern mentioned was seen on several days, with two birds on 26th and 27th and a single bird on 28th from Causeway and Lower hides.  A 1st year little gull was also around on 28th at Causeway pool.  Garganey continues to be seen on and off with a male at Grisedale on 27th, and a Spoonbill also made an appearance there on 31st.  The scaup was around most of the week while ospreys visit on a daily basis, with a bird originally hatched at Bassenthwaite and now nesting at Foulshaw Moss making a regular habitat of ‘stealing’ tench from Causeway pool.  Bearded tits have been more visible this week, with family activity around Causeway and Lower hide.  Seeing bittern during the breeding season has been like finding gold dust, but this year there have been lots of sightings at Causeway pool, occasionally in the open areas along the edge of the Causeway track and from Lilian's and Grisedale too. Great white egret may not be as frequently recorded as they were, but are still popping up at regular intervals, with one down on the saltmarsh pools on 27th.  The Eric Morecambe and Allen pools continue to delight with avocets and their chicks. 32 adult birds were recorded on 27th with up to 20 chicks spread across the two pools.  Black-tailed godwit still hanging around (about 110), a handful of bar-tailed godwits (up to 18 on 27th) and knot (3 on 29th).       

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Membership milestone and recent sightings

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Following on from where my previous post ended, we are glad to announce that yesterday David Mower recruited his 1000th RSPB membership at Leighton Moss! As a token of appreciation, David awarded the couple with a lovely framed copy of his photograph of a perching male Marsh Harrier. David began recruitment in October 2014 some months after retiring from 27 years as our Warden, and since then has spent several days a week as a volunteer here continuing to promote the value of the natural world and the conservation work performed by the RSPB at Leighton Moss, across the UK and further afield . It is a remarkable achievement and contribution - well done David! And of course thank you to all those who support us through membership.

  David with the lucky couple

The recent period of glorious weather, heralding the imminence of summer, has brought a pleasant calm to Leighton Moss this past week. Though a short while back the booming ceased, we have been favoured with an influx of bittern sightings recently, which may prove to be a cause for optimism. The Causeway continues to host regular visits from ospreys straying from their Cumbrian roosts to feed, with particular individuals arriving from Foulshaw Moss. Likewise, otters still frequent this area and offer chances to glimpse them during their secretive fishing ventures. Notably, our scaup remains unruffled at the Causeway, and can still be seen bobbing between the tufted ducks, mallards and gadwalls. Two pairs of great-crested grebes call the pool home, one continuing to rear their young and another treating spectators to the theatre of their ‘weed dance’ courtship displays. On the central island a great black-backed gull pair persevere, and the canny visitor may catch sight of a female pochard with 10 recent young deep in the reedbed.

Marsh harriers remain the most visible (and for my money the most captivating) of our iconic species. We have three pairs on the reserve, and females at the present time will be brooding on nests. It is therefore males who will most likely be seen in the midst of the hunt, affording visitors views of their stunning aerial performances. Luck and patience may also reward slow amblers of the Causeway to a brief flitting view of bearded tits, who had young successfully fledge the nest last week. In addition, red and roe deer have been spotted from Grisedale hide and the path along to Lower hide, some guiding fawns through the willows and the reeds. All our warblers continue to fill the air with song.

  Red deer hind by David Mower

Moving to our coastal hides, the itinerant spoonbill, hithering and thithering between Leighton Moss and elsewhere, might still make an appearance for the fortunate visitor. On the banks of Allen pool 13 avocet chicks may now be seen, venturing out daily to hone their balance and to exercise their new-born curiosity. 15 nests remain to hatch, which with any luck this will result in a successful brood. Spotted in amongst these families and the vast number of black-headed gulls may be seen redshank, lapwing, oystercatcher and shelduck.

Source Leighton Moss (RSPB)

The Best of May

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This was the best of May – the small brown birds

Wisely reiterating endlessly

What no man learnt yet, in or out school.

Sedge warbler by David Mower

These final lines from the Edward Thomas’ poem ‘Sedge-Warblers’ seemed to me a fit way to open my first blog. Partly, this is because the songs of sedge warblers – and their partners in bamboozling vocality, reed warblers – have been some of the best parts of my May. I was familiar with neither species before arriving at Leighton Moss 3 weeks ago. Now most days, after completing a reserve ramble, my ears ring with their wild cacophony. Passing and pausing along the trails that lead into the heart of the reserve, one becomes audience to unrelenting songs that emanate from the reeds. Constantly shifting and altering into new tones and phrases in fast succession, seemingly stretching “as long as any lark’s”, they leave the listener baffled and compelled. The energy these birds devote to their enduring performances is consistently amazing. They are surely some of the prime vocalists here at Leighton Moss.

It is at this time of year that our natural spaces are richest with song, and with the considerable diversity of birdlife at Leighton Moss visitors are sure to be struck by melodious outpourings. Strolling around the reserve recently, I often have the impression of touring an amphitheatre midway through an operatic performance. Joining their reed-based relatives, chiffchaffs, blackcaps, Cetti’s and willow warblers continue daily to add to the evocative symphony.

Cetti's warbler by Mike Malpass

The wave of pleasant weather that has graced us recently has provided ample clarity to enjoy the reserve’s varied spaces, enhanced by the strength of the light. Visitors on hot afternoons can cherish everything from the warm golden hues of the reedbeds, to the dignified rafters of birch, oak and ash at the reserve’s entrance, their shades splintered with sunlight, and the sumptuous moss-laden, lichen-thick corners of aged willows and sallows flanking the main trails.

This week I was given a day tour around the reserve by David Mower, Warden at Leighton Moss for 27 years. It was an incredibly valuable opportunity, and for the majority of the day I remained an attentive listener whilst David provided a thorough account of the history of the reserve, the different approaches to reedbed management and the achievements made since the 1960s, the varying fates of wildlife on the reserve, his hopes for the reserve, and a reiteration of the considerable importance of the work done to preserve and promote Leighton Moss and places like it. There is a gentleness and humility to David, who freely spends most of his week in our Visitor Centre introducing people to the reserve and attempting to recruit more support to aid the work done at Leighton Moss in particular, and the RSPB more general.

Joe Fraser-Turner, Residential Volunteer Intern

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Tern Up for the Books & recent sightings

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A few more seasonal arrivals were noted this week with the pick of the bunch being a fine breeding plumage spotted redshank at the Eric Morecambe Complex. No doubt bound for northern Scandinavian nesting grounds these dapper waders are always a treat to see in their striking summer finery. Also on the saltmarsh pools, our first avocet  chicks have hatched. With an impressive number of active nests this year we hope to see more of these delightful little nestlings in the coming weeks.

Avocet with chicks (copyright by Chris Gomersall)

The errant adult spoonbill returned to the Eric Morecambe Pools too, providing many visitors with a welcome year-tick. Mediterranean gulls have also been spotted amongst the mass of black-headeds at the Allen Pools.

Meanwhile on the main reserve, the drake scaup has continued to hang around in front of Causeway Hide for much of the week. A rare day-trip saw it spend much of Thursday on Lilian’s Pool before it returned to its favourite spot on Friday. The great-crested grebes and their brood of humbug chicks have been a joy to watch, again in full view of multiple admirers at Causeway Hide.

Somewhat surprisingly, our male bittern has ceased to boom. The lack of vocals has however given way to an increase in the number of sightings with one bittern showing particularly well at Lower Hide and it, or another, in flight from Grisedale Hide. Otter activity has been at a peak with plenty of reports from all around the reserve. Similarly ospreys have showed well most days, fishing over Causeway and Lower pools.  

A few other bits and pieces to tempt visiting and local birders have included a hawfinch, cuckoo and a hobby. And of course at this time of year, who knows what might drop in next! 

Island with, erm, terns

A few people have commented on the terns sat on the islands in front of Lilian's Hide. One or two unsuspecting birdwatchers have asked what species they are, to which we have to answer "fake"! These decoys have been put on the islands in the hope that they may attract real terns to nest. So pleased be warned, if you see a tern at Leighton Moss and it isn't flying, make sure you give it a thorough check. If it's a real bird, please let us know :-)   

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager         

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New arrivals and recent sightings

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We had a few more somewhat tardy migrants show up this week; garden warbler, redstart and common whitethroat plus the number of sedge and reed warblers increased notably. Similarly more sand martins, swallows and swifts were noted but still not really in the numbers we'd expect by now. The weather forecast for the next couple of days at least looks promising so hopefully we'll see that influx that we're all waiting for! 

Common whitethroat by Mike Malpass

Adding to that air of spring was the appearance of our first coot chicks, mallard ducklings and great crested grebes in recent days. The grebes in particularly have been entertaining the crowds, nesting right in from of the Causeway Hide and allowing birders and photographers to get great views. This hide, along with Lower Hide have continued to be the most reliable locations for sightings of otters and ospreys too.  

Great crested grebe (

Let me introduce you to another arrival to the reserve (our very own spring migrant); Joe Fraser-Turner is our new residential volunteer who is joining the Visitor Experience team here at Leighton Moss. In fact let Joe introduce himself...

"Hello all! My name is Joe, and I have the immense privilege of spending the next 4 months supporting the RSPB at Leighton Moss as your new Visitor Experience Intern. I have already received an exceedingly warm welcome from the team here, and I look forward to meeting many of you in the coming weeks.

Joe Fraser-Turner - Visitor Experience Intern 

Here’s a little about myself – I have lived most of my life in the Yorkshire Dales, and since childhood I have been profoundly influenced by the wildlife I have encountered in the woodlands, meadows, moors and riverbanks surrounding my home. At school I took to the humanities and ended up studying English Literature at Oxford, where I discovered a particular passion for birds. Since then they have come to occupy a large part of my attention and my imagination – my dissertation discussed in large part birds in the poetry of Edward Thomas, the mysterious ways we respond to and interact with them – and so I share with all of you who come to Leighton Moss the curiosity and adoration that birds inspire. After graduating, I soon became aware of a conviction to become a full-time advocate for nature. This led me to apply for my current position, and I am grateful to have received this wonderful opportunity.

During my time with the Leighton Moss visitor team, I hope to contribute to the splendid work performed at this marvellous place, whilst learning all I can from those around me. I will be keeping you informed, in person as well as through blog posts and social media updates, about new sightings, upcoming events and all activity taking place here at the reserve. You might spot me accompanying school visits and family events, helping to inspire young minds to cherish the natural world, or perhaps assisting guided walks to educate and captivate. The popularity and success of Leighton Moss is a testament to the crucial work performed by the remarkable staff here, and this is made possible by the kindness of members and visitors – as such, I hope to hone my skills in communicating the ethos of the RSPB, in order to encourage greater charitable support and membership, and succeed in my role as an ambassador. And of course, I will be eager to offer you all a pleasant welcome at the visitor centre, share sightings and conversations along a path or in a hide, and help you in any way I can.

See you soon, Joe"

In other news, visitors will be pleased to hear that the access track to the Eric Morecambe and Allen pools has been beautifully refurbished by our dedicated and hard-working wardening team. I know that this rather rustic approach to the parking area has been a point of discussion for many visitors so I hope that this resurfacing will encourage a few more people to go and enjoy the hides overlooking the salt marsh pools.


The lovely smooth(ish) approach track to the Eric Morecambe and Allen Pools car park    

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager


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Scaup scoop & other recent sightings

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There can few sights more uplifting than the first glimpse of the year of that distinctive scythe-like master of the air, the swift. We all rejoice when the swallows return of course, but there’s something really powerful about those dark, dashing alien birds who are almost as detached from our world as it’s possible for a bird to be. During the last week ones and twos have appeared on the reserve, usually just ahead of a menacing grey cloud and an attendant downpour. But now multiple swifts can be seen daily, particularly in the late afternoon when they swoop over the reed beds and meres alongside sand martins, swallows and house martins. For me they are the true symbol of summer and hearing their screams as they pursue one another over our urban landscapes is a thrill I will never tire of.

Swift by Chris Gomersall (

The slow spring has been the subject of many conversations in recent weeks and as the weather shows little sign of improvement who knows how nature will respond?

So far migratory birds, or more precisely the lack of them, seem to be the obvious indication that all is not as it might be. Numbers of many common summer visitors appear to be lower than we’d expect at the end of April. Perhaps many have headed straight to the breeding areas rather than make landfall en route, while others are still biding their time and will arrive as soon as conditions improve.

Despite these setbacks, the reed beds are still reverberating with the sound of reed and sedge warblers and those master-blaster Cetti’s warblers are doing a fine job of revealing their whereabouts with their explosive song. Although more often heard than seen, a little patience will often reward the watcher with great views of these skulking scarcities.

Cetti's warbler by Mike Malpass

While on the subject of noisy birds, it would be rude to move on without mention of our fine booming bittern. His voice has become otherworldly in the last week or two and his boom is now positively spectacular and can be heard across the entire reserve when he’s in full flow. We saw some great photos of a bittern in flight this week, taken from Grisedale Hide late one afternoon.

Rather unexpected was the arrival a drake scaup this week. Not a common sight at Leighton Moss, this handsome duck dropped in at Causeway Pool where it dived alongside tufted ducks giving visitors a great opportunity to compare the two monochromatic wildfowl side by side.     

Ospreys can be expected daily at the moment with birds fishing primarily at Causeway and Lower, with occasional trips to Lillian’s Pool. Otters too have been seen regularly, again at the northern end of the reserve.  

Out on the Eric Morecambe and Allen Pools several avocet pairs are now nesting while large numbers of black-tailed godwit can still be seen. They were joined by a flock of bar-tailed godwit in the week, quite unusual here. Many of the 500 or so knot there are now moulting into their smart breeding plumage too so a visit to these hides is well worthwhile at the moment.   

Black-tailed godwits by Paul Brady

And we have some good news for those visitors with limited mobility. As you may know, we have a Tramper that is free to use (pre-booking advised) but we have always had to restrict the routes available for safety reasons.

One of the new passing places along the Causeway

Previously, Tramper users could not take the vehicle down the Causeway due to reserve wardens and farm traffic occasionally traveling along this public route. We have now added a number of passing places to the Causeway allowing access to the hide and along the length of the track. We hope that this will add to the experience for a greater number of people and we welcome feedback on this or any issue regarding access.  

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

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

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