Category: Leighton Moss (RSPB)

The Cusp of Summer

Things are certainly getting exciting here at Leighton Moss with spring in full swing and hints of summer on the horizon. Our Visitor Operations Manager, birder and ringer Kevin Kelly sums up the past week or so:   
"With migration in fu…

Recent Sightings & Inspiring the Next Generation

Well, what a glorious few days we have had over the Easter period! The sun has shone, the mercury has risen and the birds and beasties have been brilliant. Since the last post we’ve seen yet more summer migrants arriving including sedge warblers, grasshopper warbler and lesser whitethroat plus an increase in the number of reed warblers, blackcaps and willow warblers. That much-hoped-for spring duck, garganey too has been much in evidence with up to three birds present – often showing fantastically well in front of Causeway and Lower hides much to the delight of birdwatchers and photographers. (Pic of garganey from archive by Richard Cousens)

 The visiting drake green-winged teal moved on but was miraculously replaced by yet another Nearctic duck; American wigeon. This fine male turned up on the Eric Morecambe Pools and was easy to pick out from the small group of Eurasian wigeon with which it was keeping company. Also on the saltmarsh pools, we have continued to see the mass of black-tailed godwits moult into their resplendent breeding garb. Amongst them, a handful of bar-tailed godwits, a few knots and the occasional spotted redshank have been seen. 

Our booming bittern can still be heard mainly in the very early hours, but he also reminds of us his presence now again in the afternoon pleasing any visitors within earshot. The marsh harriers are busy nesting – we have at least four active pairs at the moment. Our ever-popular otters have been stealing the limelight with frequent appearances in the deeper Causeway and Lower pools. Recent sightings of ospreys include birds catching fish in front of hides full of admirers; we should see daily visits from the Foulshaw pair as well as lingering non-breeders and others passing through so always keep your eyes to the skies! 

Here at Leighton Moss, as on other major RSPB reserves, we are committed to engaging with the next generation and doing all that we can to connect young people to nature. Here, Learning and Visitor Assistant, Jayne Buchanan, explains how we’re helping to inspire the conservationist of tomorrow.     

“In January 2019 the Department for Education launched the ‘My Activity Passport’ for primary school children in England. The passport contains a list of activities that intend to support schools and parents in introducing children to a wide variety of experiences. The RSPB believes that connecting with nature should be part of every child’s life and many nature based experiences are embedded within the new passport. A visit to a nature reserve such as Leighton Moss either as part of a school visit or with family members would enable children to tick off a large number of activities such as ‘Discover what is in a pond’, ‘Become a nature detective’ or ‘Go birdwatching’.

 Use of the Activity Passport can also be linked with the RSPB Wild Challenge, converting ticks on the passport into Wild Challenge bronze, silver and gold awards by uploading evidence of nature experiences to the Wild Challenge website. Taking part in such activities will hopefully make a start in addressing our children’s increasing disconnection from nature. A study carried out in 2013 by the RSPB and the University of Essex found that only 21% of children in England had a connection to nature.

Growing up in the 1970’s I was amongst the 40% of children who regularly played outside in nature. In 2009 according to Natural England only 10% of children played outside in natural environments. We are all aware that as a society we are surrounded and at times overwhelmed by a tidal wave of technology. Simple natural pleasures such as jumping in puddles on a rainy day, picking juicy blackberries or lying on the grass making daisy chains have been replaced by virtual multimedia experiences for many children. It is not just the convenience and availability of technology that has fuelled the disconnect but children are growing up in an increasingly risk adverse society where supervised play in parks and gardens is more likely to be children’s experience of outdoor play.

Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay Nature Reserve with its abundance of spectacular wildlife, variety of habitats and good visitor infrastructure gives schools and families the opportunities to introduce children to nature in a multitude of ways. Last year the learning team welcomed over 2,900 young people to the reserve, connecting them with nature through programmes such as Discovering Birds, Plant Detectives and Investigating Minibeasts. Most of the children we engaged with had never visited a nature reserve, bird watched from a hide or met a woodlouse up close! A visit is a chance for every child (and accompanying adults) in the group to learn and make their own connections with nature and we aim to make the time the children spend here at Leighton Moss an experience that they want to share with others and one that they will remember for a long time. It is fantastic when children who have been on a school visit bring their families back to the reserve, with the implementation of the Activity Passport there will hopefully be even more reasons for parents to share nature experiences with their children. The future of nature conservation is dependent on young people feeling a connection with nature, including nature activities in a national initiative for primary aged children can only help shape a generation’s attitudes”.

Unusual sightings & otters in print!

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Carter

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

    

    

Unusual sightings & otters in print!

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Carter

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

    

    

Spectacular signs of spring

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

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

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

  Bittern by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

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

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

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

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

More Hints of Spring & Recent Sightings

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

Marsh harrier by Mike Malpass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

             

Spring arrivals and fond farewells

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great crested grebe courtship. Photo credit: Hazel Rothwell.

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

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

Male marsh harrier. Photo credit: Alan Saunders. 

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

Warden work

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

Farewell Leighton Moss

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

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

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

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

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

Naomi.