Category: Leighton Moss (RSPB)

When a Warden Isn’t Wardening…

As you can imagine, it’s all a bit strange right now for those of us who ordinarily spend our days working at Leighton Moss – and we certainly share the frustrations of our visitors who love to while away the hours on our wonderful reserve!

As part of our efforts to keep nature-focused while the reserve remains closed, we’ll be continuing to share the experiences of staff and volunteers as they adjust to a, hopefully temporary, Leighton-free life. In the first of this series of blogs, our warden Richard Smith (pictured below in his natural habitat) gives us insights into some daily connections he enjoys with the wildlife in his neighbourhood…

 “Those of you with which I’m acquainted will know I’m an outdoor kind of guy. I wasn’t created to be inside, let alone be in an office. I’m aware that we are all going to find the next few weeks challenging in more ways than one. Working at Leighton Moss meant I was outdoors most of the time.

Not being able to get out on the reserve and do ‘an honest day’s work’ before cycling home and heading out into the fells, running with my wife and friends will be hard for my body to adjust.

Luckily for us we live on the edge of Kendal. Over the next couple of weeks, I thought I would keep you in the loop with what we have been seeing on walk/runs over Cunswick Scar and back across the mono-green lamb-filled fields behind our house.

It might not be bittern booming stuff but actually, it’s just as important to us!

Over the couple of weeks before lock-down commenced we happily noted the return of two pairs of curlews in the fields north of Kendal. At first we could hear their territorial calls during the night and then in early morning and evening.

We have since seen birds from both pairs from the house. My wife from her office window (the box room with an old table masquerading as a desk) and me from my rocking chair that sits by the lounge window. Also, while we have been working in the garden we have seen them patrolling overhead.

The eastern pair are in a great position. They have taken occupation of a small hilltop field with an iconic looking ash tree growing out of the bisecting wall line (incidentally we saw noctual bats around said tree last summer on a number of occasions). We will call this pair the ‘Ashdown’ birds.

The western pair are using fields that we can see from our upstairs windows, again they are using the advantage of high slopping ground that boarder the Windermere road. These birds we have named the ‘Toadpool’ pair after a farm at the Plumgarth’s roundabout.

Between us we ran out along the footpath that crosses these fields three times last week, the loop takes in both areas at a distance of more than 500m let alone the 2m prescribed distance of isolation. On all three occasions we saw territorial flights from one or both locations on fast stuttering wing beats accompanied by haunting calls.

 On our Thursday run out we caught the tail end of a fluttering copulation attempt by the Ashdown pair followed by the male scampering around the female, wings out, giving it large so everyone knew – and why not, the sun was out, the weight of winters cloak was falling away, the birds and the bees… sorry I digress!

Yesterday after spending all day smashing up concrete and finally planting the guelder rose and rowan saplings into the garden that I’ve been growing on for years, I took my day’s allotted exercise. With a gluten-free beer in hand and about an hour’s daylight left I wandered up over the first field. It provides a good vantage point over the valley looking up towards Kentmere and out over the two territories.

Over on Ashdown I could see one bird feeding on the crest surrounded by a couple of lesser black-backed gulls, a murder of crows and a swarm of jackdaw; ‘Goodluck’ I said to myself. A noisy commotion drew my attention to the west. Three curlew, one bird being fussed over by two more. One of the fussers took exception the other fusser and showed them the door, and out it went. Looks like the Toadpool male has a bit of work to do!

We can also hear and have seen a pair of oystercatcher cruising around the housing estate. We haven’t been able to pin down a location for these guys as yet but think it’s over towards the River Kent next to the golf course. We will work on it.”

Richard Smith, Warden

Curlew photo: Ian Francis ( 


Get Set for a Wild Challenge!

While the reserve remains closed and most of us are staying at home, let’s not forget that there is still lots of potential to enjoy nature where we live!

Personally, I’ve been keeping an eye on the skies above my house in Lancaster looking out for passing birds and enjoying the noisy antics of the local house sparrows in my neighbourhood. In recent days I’ve also spotted peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies plus bumblebees and ladybirds exploring my small garden area.

If you are looking for nature-themed activities to keep any youngsters occupied and engaged, make sure to check out the RSPB’s Wild Challenge web page. There are loads of great ideas and projects to keep the family busy while helping to give nature a home! 

Below, Leighton Moss Learning and Visitor Assistant Jayne joins her daughter in the garden to create a little piece of wild space for wildlife!        

Let it grow, let it grow…

So spring has sprung and whilst we are at home trying to find things to keep ourselves and our children occupied, it’s a great opportunity to give RSPB Wild Challenge activities a try. Sign up now at Don’t feel that just because you don’t have children that this blog and the activities aren’t for you; whatever your age you can experience and help nature in your own garden, from your window or whilst out on your daily exercise walk (whilst observing social distancing guidance). There are many studies that show that time spent in nature can improve our mental and physical wellbeing, which we all need right now.

Over the coming weeks we will be sharing activities you can have a go at, giving you some top tips about Giving Nature a Home at home and generally helping to lift your spirits.

 Last night I saw a message from my local council in South Lakeland that our green bin collections would cease for the moment to allow them to concentrate on refuse and recycling. Therefore the first Wild Challenge activity my daughter and I are going to do is probably the easiest of all…Let it grow. The clue is in the title, let a small part or all of your lawn grow and let it go wild! 

The long grass will be great for insect life and you can keep a weekly photo diary to show how long and wild your very own mini jungle gets. If you decide to go for it and let your whole lawn grow then maybe you could mow a path through it, or create a maze, the possibilities are only limited by your creativity! 

So what can you do now to prepare to let it grow…

Decide on the area of lawn that you are going to let go wild. 

 Make signs and maybe put up a string fence or similar to let other family members know what you’re doing and remind them not to mow it whilst it’s growing.

Take the first picture for your diary, measure the length of the grass today on day 1 and decide when you are going to take the next picture and measure it again, weekly is probably best

Then let it grow!

Hopefully this sunny spring weather continues and you can have a go at this or other wild challenges. There will be more from us over the coming weeks so watch out, we will try and include challenges that can be done indoors too or adapted for a window sill or yard.

To finish a quote from Rachel Carson the author of the book Silent Spring: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

Jayne Buchanan


Reserve hide closures update 22/03/20

Please note that all hides will be closed from close of play on Sunday 22 March.
The visitor centre, shop and café will remain closed. This is to prioritise the health and welfare of our staff, volunteers and visitors.  
These are diff…

Reserve closure information

Following the latest government advice we have made the difficult decision to close our visitor centre, café and shop to visitors at 5pm on Friday 20 March. This is to prioritise the health and welfare of our staff, volunteers and visitors.

Leighton Moss scoops top award

VisitEngland has announced the winners of its 2019 Visitor Attraction Accolades and RSPB Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay nature reserve at Silverdale has been recognised for providing an outstanding visitor experience!
Just 73 attractions across the en…

Twilight sightings and updates

 We may have showers, but that hasn’t put a damper on the wildlife around the reserve. Our two male bitterns (photo by Andy Hay) have been making themselves known this past few weeks, the best chance of hearing them booming is either just before the sun starts to rise at dawn and as the light is fading at dusk along the Causeway. Although this is the peak of the bitterns’ booming activity, they are being heard occasionally later in the day, from mid-morning to mid-afternoon! So even if you don’t arrive during the peak hours, there’s always a chance you will be lucky.

Of course, there is another reason to stay on the reserve till after dusk. There is still chance to see the starlings (copyright Andrew Holden), they are  currently murmurating beautifully. The best time to see this wonderful display is at sunset, so it is getting later and later. It also depends on the weather, you are more likely to see a better mumuration on a clear night; clear skies means it will occur a bit later. On the other hand, if there is a lot of cloud cover, or if it is foggy, then the mumuration will happen earlier due to the darker lighting. For up-to-date information on where they have been going to roost you can either ask a member of our team in the visitor centre on the day of your visit or give us a ring.

If staying till dusk is a little late for you, don’t fret, there’s a lot to see throughout the day as well. We have a large variety of species on site, from snipe to goldeneye to marsh harriers. There are also our saltmarsh hides, which have a different selection of wader species such as the avocets which have been increasing in number over the past week, with 30 individuals now residing there – though today the saltmarsh car park has been closed due to spring tidal flooding! Keep an eye out on our Facebook page for any updates.

On the topic of flooding, the water levels have risen on the reserve due to recent rainfall. Due to this, it is highly recommended that wellies are worn when walking down the paths for Causeway, Lower, Grisedale and Tim-Jackson Hides. The path to Lillian’s Hide and the Skytower is still accessible without wellies.


 Any Springwatch fans here? Well, you may have heard about bbc presenter lolo Williams’ new book ‘Wild Places UK’ where the Welsh naturalist looks at the abundance of British wildlife and landscapes around the UK. And lolo himself is taking a trip up to Leighton Moss this coming weekend! Come along on Saturday 14 March between 3:30-4:30pm when you will be able to pick up a copy of ‘Wild Places UK’, meet Iolo in person and have him sign your copy!



Signs of Spring

 Love is in the air at Leighton Moss as spring comes into full swing. If you arrive in the morning you will be greeted with a symphony of sound as birds sing to compete and court. Even one of our very special species are joining in. If you head up to the Causeway or Lower Hide just before the sun rises you might be able to hear bitterns booming. We have two booming males on-site, which is amazing since we have only had one male booming here for the last two years! This means we are heading in the right direction with our conservation work. It shows that the reserve is now land that the bitterns want to compete for, and a place where they want to breed. This is one step forward for increasing the bittern populations.

 Speaking of courting, our marsh harriers have started to skydive and food pass. The male passes food to the female during incubation and hatching stages. It’ll be interesting to see how many nests we’ll have on the reserve this year.

 Singing and courting are not the only behaviour changes we have seen for spring. We have had a loved migrant species return for the breeding season. The avocets have settled at the Allen and Eric Morecambe saltmarsh hides. Up to 14 have been counted, and with the flooding having receded from the salt marsh it’s a great time to visit.



However, though it is fine to visit the saltmarsh without wellies, we still recommend that you wear wellies on the main reserve to be able to enjoy it to its fullest. Without wellies you can reach Lillian’s Hide and the Skytower. Which is perfect if you are visiting to see the starlings. They are still performing great mumurations, though they are getting later and later every day. The show starts as the sun begins to set, though the time and length can depend on other factors such as the weather conditions.

For up to date information on the flooded areas of the reserve, the starling mumuration or recent sightings, ask a member of our team when you visit, or call our visitor centre. We also post updates on our Facebook and Twitter.

Continue Reading » Signs of Spring...

Wellies at the ready

Signs of spring are popping up here and there. With Snowdrops (photo by Mike Malpass) blooming and the woodpeckers drumming against the trees in the morning, but along with the foreshadowing of better weather are some rather wet conditio…

Continue Reading » Wellies at the ready...

Recent sightings & #Showthelove

Birdwatching has been great on the reserve with lots to see. From occasional bittern sightings at Lillian’s and Lower hide, great white egret (pic by Martin Kuchczynski) at Lillian’s and Tim Jackson (at least 3 bird…

Recent sightings & Big Garden Birdwatch submissions

 This winter has been amazing for Marsh harriers (copyright Robert Metcalfe), it seems the numbers just keep increasing. We now have 11 of them! This is over double last years number of over wintering individuals which settled at 5. This of course, means there is a great chance of seeing these amazing birds during your visit, usually seem flying around one of our pools whether that be on our main site or at our salt marsh hides.

Our winter wildfowl are also thriving here at Leighton Moss. Especially at our Lillian’s hide. There’s usually a great selection of species to be seen such as pintail, teal, wigeon and shoveler. These species can be found in the UK throughout the year, but their population drastically increases during the winter as they migrate in from further north.

The bittern is no exception. In winter we have a higher number of these rare birds, with approximately 600 wintering individuals compared to the 80 breeding males in breeding season. This means winter is one of the best times of year to catch a glimpse of them. Especially as we have had recent sightings of them from Lower and Lillian’s hide.

Mumurations are still ongoing. Though over the past few days there has not been a stable routine, with resting in different spots around the reserve. For up to date information on the starlings, and their most probable nesting place on the evening of your visit, ask a member of our team when you arrive, or call our visitor centre on the day of your visit.


Did you participate in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch? If so, this is just a little reminder that any online results need to be submitted by 16 February, or 11 February if you are sending your results by post. Thank you to everyone that took part, it would not have been possible without all our wonderful RSPB supporters. Once all the collected data is compiled, we’ll be able to see how our favourite garden birds have been faring compared to years previous and which birds have been visiting your gardens the most this year.


Participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch is only one way you can show support. Being members of the RSPB allows us to protect species and the areas they live in, and 90% of our net income goes back into conservation over all our 200 nature reserves around the UK.

Our Marsh harriers are just one example of a conservation success story that would not have happened without all of you. There was only 1 female nesting in the UK in 1971, but through conservation work, numbers have risen drastically with 400 pairs now breeding here in the UK. If you would like to join us, you can either come into your visitor centre and talk with our team or join online.