Category: Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Ice, Fire and Recent Sightings

This coming weekend (January 26-28) will see up to half a million people taking part in one of the world’s biggest ‘citizen science’ initiatives: the Big Garden Birdwatch. 2019 marks the 40th year since this nationwide bird-count was launched and the data gathered has helped paint a picture of the well-being of some of our most familiar bird species. 

Here at Leighton Moss we’ve been gearing up for the Big Garden Birdwatch, giving advice on feeding garden birds as well as hosting activities to help encourage more people to take part. If you haven’t yet registered, please do so – your sightings, however insignificant as they may sometimes seem, really do provide our scientists with invaluable information. Find out more about the Big Garden Birdwatch here and see how you can join in the fun.

Back on the reserve, winter continues to provide a few challenges for our wildlife. The drop in temperature over recent days saw notable freezing on many of the pools and as a consequence, a change in the behaviour of some of our birds. The shallower meres were suddenly bereft of wildlfowl while the deeper, more open areas positively teemed with ducks, coots and other aquatic species. The otters didn’t seem the slightest bit bothered and could be seen scampering across the ice in between bouts of active fishing. Water rails and bitterns are often more inclined to show themselves during these conditions though it has to be said, neither species has been terribly elusive so far this winter with many visitors getting brilliant views, and as the Leighton Moss Facebook group page will testify, great photos too! 

 Something else our visitors can’t have failed to notice just lately are the palls of smoke often seen rising from the depths of the reserve. Our wardening team have been out in all conditions, improving the state of the reed bed, creating large open areas that will benefit many of our specialist residents. This often involves setting fire to large mounds of cut reed, which can seem quite alarming when viewed from the footpaths!  Expanding on the work that helped encourage bitterns to nest here again in 2018, this clearing and burning creates ideal breeding and feeding habitat for these enigmatic birds.

This work will also help many of our other reed dwellers such as bearded tit by creating more diverse foraging and nesting sites within the expansive reed beds.   

Recent sightings include the often frustrating great grey shrike near Lower Hide. This scarce visitor from the far north does a fantastic job of being erratic in its appearances, often going unseen for days at a time. With patience and luck however, it will give itself up, albeit often briefly. Great white egrets continue to impress and up to 4 birds have been present recently, ranging anywhere from the Eric Morecambe Pools to Lower Hide. The coastal pools have been excellent for large gatherings of lapwing and black-tailed godwits along with wigeon, teal and pintail

Marsh harriers have been exceedingly active of late, with 6 birds still doing the rounds. It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago a single wintering marsh harrier would have been exceptional, but as our winters become increasingly milder and the breeding numbers of these once rare birds of prey increase we can expect to host multiple birds all year round. 

If you want to know what’s being spotted at Leighton Moss on a daily basis, don’t forget to check the Facebook group, Twitter feed or the Lancaster & District Birdwatching Society website.    

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager



Bold bitterns, cheerful chiffchaffs and other recent sightings.

Hello bloggers, for this recent sightings blog I thought I would try a new layout and give you a brief rundown of bird and wildlife species to look out for in different locations around Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay reserve.

Firstly, the starlings have been giving the reserve team the run around in terms of where they are murmurating. The past few evenings has seen them murmurating and going to roost at Barrow Scout Fields close to the Allen and Eric Morecambe Hides. There are well over 100,000 starlings and they have been performing brilliantly as of late. Please do be mindful of the volume of traffic during the roost time as there is a much smaller car park here.

Down at Causeway Pool

If you want to sight bitterns, Causeway Hide is certainly the place to go. The reedbed channel to the right of the hide has provided some excellent sights as of late, and you may even see the bittern take flight across the reedbed here too. Sightings have occurred daily for the past week, so it is worth spending some time here. Also, the reedbed channel to the right has provided excellent snipe and water rail sightings, so do take a second look!

Dabblers to look out for include teal, wigeon, pintail, shoveler, gadwall and mallard. We also have a large flotilla of tufted duck (approximately 30) and a smaller number of goldeneye. Perhaps my favourite resident at Causeway, the little grebe, can often be seen fishing in front of the hide. One rarity to look out for are two drake pochards, who have been absent since the breeding birds of summer. This is a really special visitor, the pochard species is facing a rapid decline; they are red list species so do take the opportunity to see them. 

Drake pochard. Photo credit: David Mower.

The island in front of Causeway Hide will normally host a group of cormorants and lapwings. You do however get the occasional drop-in species at this spot such as greenshank. Grey heron are often spotted hunting here and with there currently being four great white egret (roosting at Causeway) on the reserve, visitors may get the chance to see the grey heron chase off a great white egret or two, it is a brilliant spectacle to watch.

Otter sightings from Causeway Hide have also been excellent, with the otters showing off their fisherman skills and treating visitors to fantastic views on the stone island in front of the Hide. 

At Lower

Much the same as Causeway Hide, otter and bittern sightings have also occurred at Lower Hide. Lower Hide is also great for snipe, jack snipe, little egret and also the same variety of waterfowl as Causeway Hide. It is also worth mentioning the walk to Lower Hide however, as the woodland and willow scrub habitat is home to a huge variety of birds and mammals. Look out for fieldfare in the fields parallel to the reserve and also marsh, blue, coal and great tits, especially in the glade areas. You can also see siskin and lesser redpoll in the tree tops and the past couple of days (January 18 and 19) have also had sightings of brambling and chiffchaff, a lovely olive-brown warbler with a wonderful call.

Chiffchaff. Photo credit: John Bridges

The path to Lower Hide is also the area to go when searching for the great grey shrike, but carry on towards Storrs Lane and look into the fields (especially treetops and hedgerows) to find it. The shrike has been sighted on 18 and 19 January, so keep your eyes peeled.


Like all of the main reserve, there is a good spread of waterfowl present at Lilian’s Pool. The island in front of Lilian’s is used by a large variety of species which has included in the past week black-tailed godwits and greenshank. Curlew have also been sighted from here as well as sparrowhawk, great-white egret, little egret and snipe

Grisedale Hide:

The main residents at Grisedale Hide are snipe but there is also the occasional great white egret alongside a good number of waterfowl. Grisedale Hide is also a great place to see red deer and marsh harrier. Like any hide however, you never quite know what may unexpectedly appear –chiffchaff’s and reed bunting’s have been sighted at Grisedale Hide as of late. The path to the Grisedale and Tim Jackson Hides is also a prime place to spot water rail scampering across the dyke in the willow scrub habitat.

Reed bunting. Photo credit: Zul Bhatia. 

Down at the Saltmarsh Pools

Allen and Eric Morecambe Hides play host to a huge number and variety of waders. At this time of year, Morecambe Bay plays a vital, life-sustaining role for our wintering and resident guests. Species to look out for include: lapwing, oystercatcher, black-tailed godwit, redshank, spotted redshank, greenshank, knot, dunlin and curlew. Other usual suspects include goosander, red-breasted merganser, greylag geese, shelduck, wigeon and kingfisher (the posts and pipes in front of Allen Hide are good places). The drake American wigeon is still present, just very elusive among the huge wigeon flocks present at the saltmarsh. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a stonechat on the path to these hides. Raptors to look out for include marsh harrier and peregrine

The Garden and Visitor Centre

You never quite know what you will see in the garden. Wednesday 16 January saw a kestrel perched in the treetops in the garden and also the screaming call of a jay. Not the nicest of noises to welcome you to the reserve, but a colourful visitor to look out for. Also look out for bullfinches, goldcrests, treecreepers, nuthatches, house sparrows and greenfinches here.

Another note on our marsh harriers, this lovely species will hunt across the entirety of the reedbed; there is no one fixed position to sight them, it is worth scanning the reedbed from the Skytower to sight them too. Recently, visitors have captured some excellent photographs of some of the marsh harriers with their talons locked in combat; there are some excellent sightings waiting for you!

Big Garden Birdwatch 

We now only have one week to go before the 40th Big Garden Birdwatch so if you have not signed up yet, you can download a digital pack here! This is a really easy activity to take part in, and your input really does make a difference. This is top class citizen science which allows the RSPB to monitor the bird populations in the country, track changes and provide us with information so we can plan and take action to help declining species. 

If you have bought a bird feeder especially for the Big Garden Birdwatch, I would recommend you put it up in the next couple of days so that the birds have time to adjust to it and start using it. 

Until next time!

Naomi. Visitor Experience Intern. 

Recent sightings and a happy New Year

Hello readers, the Leighton Moss team would like to wish you all a happy New Year and another great year of wildlife watching experiences! Speaking of experiences, RSPB Leighton Moss is off to a flying start in terms of bird and other wildlife sightings. So without further ado, here is the first recent sightings roundup of 2019.

Leading the 2019 spectacle charge is our fantastic starling population. There is currently an estimated 100,000 starlings going to roost. For the past couple of evenings the starlings have been favouring the north of the reserve with visitors being able to enjoy the murmuration from the Causeway and Lower hides.

Starling murmuration. Photo credit: David Kjaer

New Year’s Day saw an excellent start to the year with bittern sightings being recorded from the Causeway Hide. The Leighton Moss team have estimated that there are currently six bitterns on the reserve so there will be many opportunities to spot these wonderful, elusive species. There have been daily bittern sightings every day since New Year’s Eve.

Also kicking off New Year’s Day (and people’s lists) were sightings of the great grey shrike. After an absence of sightings, the great grey shrike had excellent timing and made itself visible for visitors once again. This suggests that the bird has remained in the area, but has been exceptionally elusive! Given the large territory of the bird, this is not unexpected.

Another returning rarity is the drake American wigeon who has been sighted from the Eric Morecambe Pool among his European counterparts. Look out for his lovely creamy white crown stripe and green eye mask. 

Marsh harrier sightings have also been spectacular. There are up to six marsh harriers wintering with us and visitors have sighted them from various locations. With their tendency to soar across the reedbed there is a great chance of seeing them on your next visit.

I should also mention a recent sighting of bearded tits on the causeway grit trays on Tuesday 2 January. Whilst we are out of gritting season, the bearded tits do have to top up every now and then so with a bit of luck you may see a pair gritting or flitting between the reedbed stems. 

One other elusive secretive resident we have here is the water rail. Water rails have been sighted from various locations including the path to Lilian’s Hide and the dyke which runs parallel to the path towards Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. In addition a water rail has been sighted in the trees in the willow scrub habitat on the way to Tim Jackson Hide. Often this is a habitat which is overlooked, but willow scrub is an excellent natural flood defense and provides a mature, moss and lichen rich habitat for multiple species.

Water rail. Photo credit: Mike Malpass.

There is an excellent variety of smaller bird species at Leighton Moss to find including: treecreepers, nuthatches, chaffinches, bullfinches, siskins, goldcrests, marsh tits and the occasional Cetti’s warbler. Some of our smaller birds you do not need to find as they will come to you, especially the robins, blue tits and great tits! Two rarer visitors to look out for include the lovely brambling and handsome stonechat.

Wader and waterfowl numbers continue to be excellent across the reserve. There is currently a huge number of lapwings at the saltmarsh pools with smaller numbers of black-tailed godwit. Other waders to look out for at the saltmarsh include: curlew, oystercatcher, redshank, greenshank and little egrets. Waterfowl to spot include wigeon, shelduck, goosander and red-breasted merganser

On the main site, there is a variety of waterfowl species spread across the reserve. Causeway Pool is the favoured spot for the goldeneye and is often the pool where whooper swans will alight when visiting. Causeway Hide is also a great place to see sizeable groups of tufted ducks, teal, pintail, shoveler, gadwall and the humble mallard. These species of waterfowl can also be seen from Lower Hide, Lilian’s Hide and Grisedale Hide too.

Female goldeneye. Photo credit: Ben Hall.

Grisedale Hide and Tim Jackson Hide continue to be excellent places to spot snipe and the occasional great white egret. The cousin of the great white egret, the grey heron, can be seen from multiple locations but Lilian’s Pool is a great place to spot them.

Moving onto mammals, there have been almost daily otter sightings since New Year’s Eve from the Causeway and Lower hides. The otters have provided some wonderful fishing spectacles as of late, with several sightings being pretty close to the hides.

One final note, are you and your family getting ready for the 2019 Big Garden Birdwatch? This year Big Garden Birdwatch will run from from Saturday 26 January to Monday 28 January.  The Big Garden Birdwatch is crucial for us to understand what is happening to our bird and wildlife species and it is so inclusive – people of all abilities can take part! It is one of the best cases of citizen science in the country with everyone’s data contributing. If you have not done so already, you can sign up online here and look forward to a great hour of birding. 

Naomi, visitor experience intern. 

Marvellous marsh harriers and other recent sightings

Hello everyone, it’s been another great week of sightings for our regular wildlife and seasonal specialities here at Leighton Moss.

The marsh harriers continue to delight and they can be seen from all areas of the main reserve site and occasionally from the coastal pools too. Isn’t it amazing to think that we have 5 of these beautiful raptors here when in 1971, there was only one pair left in the UK? Our marsh harriers are very active, you can often see them gliding across the reedbed and scouting for prey.

Male marsh harrier. Photo credit: Alan Saunders

Bittern sightings have also been regular with all reported sightings this week being from the Causeway or Lower hides. Some of the recorded sightings have been of the bitterns in flight; they often appear seemingly out of nowhere and their striking silhouette certainly adds to the spectacle. Seeing a bird so closely connected to Leighton Moss is wonderful and the hushed reverence that falls in the hide when a bittern is present surely adds to it’s magic.

Causeway and Lower hides remain excellent places to sight a variety of wildlife such as great white egrets, grey herons, snipe, goldeneye ducks, tufted ducks and regular flotillas of teal, gadwall and shoveler with handsome pintails present too.

Grisedale hide has been an excellent place for waterfowl sightings. Listen out for the lovely wigeon whistle and keep an eye on the drake teals who are starting to demonstrate courting behaviour. A male and female stonechat were sighted from Grisedale hide on Monday 17 December. Grisedale remains one of the best hides to watch marsh harriers. Tim Jackson and Lilian’s hides are both good places to spot snipe among the reed cuttings and waterfowl loafing on the small islands in the pools.

Curlews, oystercatchers and a black-tailed godwit. Photo credit: David Mower.

The Allen and Eric Morecambe pools remain excellent for waders and waterfowl. There are good numbers of redshank, oystercatcher and lapwing with a sparser number of greenshank, curlew and the occasional black tailed godwit. Waterfowl present here include shelduck, wigeon, goosanders and red-breased mergansers. As always, the kingfisher continues to show well in a dazzling flash of turquoise and orange.

Our smaller passerine birds are also showing brilliantly across the reserve. I am often followed by curious blue, coal and great tits and even some marsh tits have came for a closer look! I should also mention our brilliant robins continue to delight visitors old and young. As always, the Hideout is a great place to spot a variety of smaller birds (maybe some larger ones too). However the surrounding woodland and mature willow scrub make for great places to spot a variety of species including goldcrestsiskin, greenfinch, treecreepers and nuthatches. The boardwalk to Causeway is also a great place to hear and see redwing and the occasional fieldfare also.

Marsh tit. Photo credit: Richard Cousens

Non avian-activity has also been fantastic. We have had otter sightings on the ice on our cooler days and in our milder, wetter days otters have been sighted fishing from Causeway and Lower hide. The most recent sighting has been today (Wednesday 19 December). There have also been irregular stoat, red and roe deer sightings for some lucky visitors.

One final note is to highlight one BIG event that the RSPB is running next month which we have recently launched. That’s right folks, its time for the 2019 Big Garden Birdwatch! Why not bring your friends and family along to RSPB Leighton Moss (or your nearest reserve) and get your bird identification skills into top shape ready for 26 – 28 January 2019. If you would like to learn more about the Big Garden Birdwatch check out our website here:

Until next time. 

Naomi, Visitor Experience Intern. 

Winter wildlife and recent sightings

Evening everyone, the reserve continues to be in the midst of cold snaps and milder, wetter weather but sightings of wildlife have remained excellent over the past week. So without further ado…

A festive bittern. Photo credit: Andy Hay

With the wetter weather, bittern sightings have become a little less frequent in recent days. Sightings have reduced due to deeper water levels on the reserve meaning there are more places within the reedbed for bitterns to fish; they do not have to prowl across the reedbed edge as much as they have been. Lower and Causeway hide remain the best place to sight bitterns and this pool has lots to offer in terms of other wildlife such as otters, waders and wildfowl. The island opposite Causeway Hide is currently a good spot to see the elegant greenshank and there is often a little grebe fishing in this area too.

Photo credit: Mike Malpass

Lower hide has been the prime location to spot fishing otters. The pool has also been excellent for:

Currently the Grisedale and Tim Jackson hides are a prime area for wildfowl. Look and listen for wigeon here too and if you have a keen eye, you should be able to spot some snipe hunkered down in the grass and reed cuttings in front of the hides.  

Foraging water rail are continuing to show well in a variety of locations including Causeway, Grisedale and Lilian’s hides. I would also recommend checking out the dyke that runs parallel to the path towards Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides and the Skytower as places to spot these often elusive birds. Great white egret continue to be sighted fairly frequently in different locations including the coastal pools.

Water rail. Photo credit: Mike Malpass

Our marsh harriers are currently very active and have been sighted daily (including today) across the reserve. The Skytower is a favourite place of mine to spot them. The juveniles are often seen flying and sparring together and the male can normally be seen around the Grisedale Pool area. I watched him from Grisedale Hide on Wednesday 12 December as he flushed the wildfowl from the pool, he looked to be scoping them out to find a potential dinner and it was interesting to see the juveniles watching him. Perhaps it won’t be too long until I see them purposefully flushing the birds too!

Allen and Eric Morecambe pools have been fantastic for waders, wildfowl and raptors for the past week. Wednesday 12 saw a marsh harrier and peregrine stir up trouble on the Eric Morecambe Pool and there have also been frequent sightings of merlin here too. There are excellent numbers of wigeon across the saltmarsh, there have been no recent sightings of the drake American wigeon, it could still be there but perhaps it has moved into a new area… Other wildfowl to look out for include:

Waders to spot include:

Of course, our kingfisher remains present here too. A top tip for visitors – visit the coastal pools in the morning as the lighting is much more productive to sighting and identifying birds.

Our other rarity, the great grey shrike has also not been sighted recently but again we are unsure on whether the bird has moved on or remains in the area.

One final note is that starling murmurations have yet to start. There are over 80,000 starlings roosting in the local area (not on the reserve) but they are just going to roost at this moment in time. We will of course send word out when the starlings begin murmurating. Until next time folks!


Important notice

To allow for essential maintenance the café will be closed for the following periods:
Monday 17 December – close at 3.30pm
Tuesday 18 December – close at 2pm
Wednesday 19 December – closed until 12noon*
*hot and cold drinks & cakes wi…

Bold bitterns and dapper dabblers

Despite a mix of weather, from cold snaps to milder, wetter conditions here at Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay. wildlife sightings of some of our specialties remain excellent. The chilly snaps often freeze the edges of the reedbed, so we can expect (and hope) for great sightings from otters, water rails and bitterns.

Firstly, after a few days of absence, the great grey shrike reappeared in its favoured spot close to the Lower Hide on Tuesday 4 December. Perhaps my current favourite bird, the aptly-nicknamed ‘butcher bird’ is a rare visitor and arguably, worth the cold and rain to see! Just keep in mind that this bird does like to move and can be absent for long periods of time, it is a lucky dip (not to be confused with a birder’s dip!) when spotting this particular species.

The bitterns continue to show brilliantly, for the past week we have had daily sightings. These are predominantly from the Causeway (some lucky visitors had four sightings in a day!) and Lower hides but there have also been irregular sightings of bittern from Lilian’s Hide. It is a delight to watch the bitterns foraging the edges of the reedbed and also to see them in flight, their wing shape is unmistakable.

Bittern in flight. Photo credit: John Bridges

Visitors have also been treated to great sights of foraging water rail from Causeway, Grisedale and Lilian’s hide. With another forecast cold snap, perhaps we shall see slightly bolder behaviour from this otherwise often elusive species. A great white egret has also been present on the reserve, often seen from Lower, Lilian’s and Grisedale hides. 

The marsh harriers have continued to provide excellent sightings, coasting over the reedbed with all the confidence a bird of prey of their calibre should exude. Marsh harriers often stir up trouble at the Causeway Pool (the panicked waterfowl are still a great spectacle when alighting the water) but sightings have been equally good from Lilian’s and Grisedale hides. Look out for a pristine male, two juveniles and two females.

Male Marsh Harrier. Photo credit: Alan Saunders.

Speaking of harriers, on Thursday 29 November we had a hen harrier (ringtail) hunting around the reserve. Interestingly, this raptor remained on the reserve for a couple of days before moving on, often we are only lucky enough to get brief visits of hen harriers at Leighton Moss.

There are good numbers of wildfowl on the reserve, most notably, a pochard was reported from Lower Hide on Tuesday 27 November and this pool is home to small numbers of goldeneye and tufted ducks that can be sighted daily. The drakes are in their best plumage right now, with lovely sights of pintail, wigeon, teal, shoveler and gadwall

The Allen and Eric Morecambe pools are also worth visiting with a variety of waders such as redshank, greenshank, lapwings, black tailed godwits,and ‘sawbills’ on show; goosanders and red-breasted mergansers. The kingfisher is also showing very well, often with a dazzling flash of teal and orange skimming the pool surface before sitting on their regular posts.

Our smaller feathered friends are showing equally well, the bird feeder to the entrance of the centre is a prime place to watch bullfinches and marsh tits as well as nuthatches, chaffinches and great, blue and coal tits.

Non-avian activity includes regular sightings of our resident otters down at the Causeway Pool and our largest mammal, the red deer can be sighted from the Grisedale Hide and the Skytower. 

We are always at the whim of the weather, so if you plan on visiting Leighton Moss do wrap up warm as it can get chilly in the hides. Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who attended our Christmas Market on Sunday 2 December and supported our local businesses. Despite the weather, the event was hailed a success with visitors and vendors alike enjoying themselves.

Until next time! Naomi.
Visitor Experience Intern.