Category: Leighton Moss (RSPB)

Tern Up for the Books

The big news this week (and when I say big, I mean it both literally and figuratively) concerns the all-too brief appearance of a Caspian tern that graced us with its presence yesterday (Thursday). Seen initially from Causeway Hide the rare seabird took off in the direction of Arnside where it was later rediscovered by diligent local birders. Unfortunately its stay there was also short-lived and once again it vanished before other birdwatchers could get out to see the huge tern. A second flying visit to the Causeway was noted late afternoon by the same individual who had earlier relocated it at Arnside, but once again this visit to Leighton Moss was not a lengthy one. Hopes of a reappearance on Friday were not looking good by lunchtime with no further sightings. As I write this, I’m still hopeful that it might drop in during the late afternoon but I won’t be holding my breath!

 Caspian terns are pretty rare birds here in the UK and the last one to wow the crowds at Leighton Moss was back in June 2017. Prior to that one was at the Eric Morecambe Pools in 2005. So, as you can imagine, many local and not-so-local birders would have liked it to stick around a while! Globally, these large distinctive terns are widespread with a cosmopolitan distribution that includes Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Americas. And Leighton Moss.

In other news, the marsh harriers have continued to perform well with the three youngsters spending increasing time exploring the vast reedbeds of the reserve. The adults are still bringing food in for the trio but they will doubtless be learning how to hunt for themselves now too. Ospreys are still be seeing most days; the two chicks from nearby Foulshaw Moss have now fledged and may start making visits to our pools along with other post-breeding ospreys from around Cumbria and further afield. As ever, it’s the warmer days when we may see the occasional hobby here as they swoop in to feast on the plentiful supply of dragonflies on the wing.  

Again, we’d like to say a big thank to you all of our visitors and supporters – the overall response has been very positive and complimentary regarding current access and infrastructure on the reserve during these challenging times. We have continued to welcome back many familiar faces and we have also seen lots of new visitors who have been exploring this wonderful nature reserve for the first time. Many established members have been very generous too with donations and we are delighted to share that we have had many people who have become enthused by the natural world in recent times joining the RSPB and helping us to continue to give nature a home.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for regular news and updates and I hope we’ll see you here at Leighton Moss in the near future!    


Caspian tern photographed at Leighton Moss in 2017 by David Talbot  

Summer Sightings

What a week it’s been!

  We opened up Lilian’s and Causeway hides in time for last weekend and we saw plenty of returning faces, plus lots of new ones, enjoying the many delights of Leighton Moss. The feedback has been terrific so far and we’re really pleased to see that everyone is respecting the social distancing guidelines and being highly considerate to others – of course we’d expect nothing less from our wonderful Leighton Moss visitors!   

The weather has been changeable over the last few days to say the least; we’ve had everything from glorious sunshine to persistent rain but none of it has deterred visitors from exploring the reserve. With more mixed conditions in the forecast it’s best to be prepared for all eventualities!

The newly fledged marsh harriers (pic by David Mower) have continued to entertain. They are best looked for from the Skytower, Lilian’s Hide or the pathway leading to the boardwalk and the boardwalk itself. Ospreys have been sighted most days and as the youngsters from nearby Cumbrian nests start to explore a little we will doubtless see more of these impressive raptors coming to fish at the pools. On sunny days we have seen returning hobbies (pic by Jarrod Sneyd) hawking for dragonflies over the reedbeds and meres – these dashing falcons are fantastic to watch as they target their insect prey in mid-flight. We’re getting occasional reports of bitterns in flight and bearded tits, while typically elusive, are being heard and seen along the Causeway from time to time.   

As we would expect at this time of year, we’re seeing more wildfowl arriving on site. Mallard, gadwall, shoveler and teal are starting to join the resident ducks as they prepare to go into their post-breeding moult. This is known as eclipse plumage, when the birds go through a period of pretty much all looking alike before they grow their immaculate new feathers in time for autumn. Late summer duck identification can be quite a challenge but it’s good fun! 

Here on the reserve the wardening team have been busy catching up with lots of maintenance jobs around the site. We’ve got some pretty exciting projects in the pipeline and we’re hoping to be able to share these soon – watch this space!  

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Hides Re-open!

 We have more good news to share with you this week! We have reopened both Lilian’s and Causeway hides!

There are of course, strict social distancing guidelines in place regarding the use of the hides and there is plenty of information in and around the hides to make things clear. The staff at the Welcome desk will also provide all the relevant detail when visitors arrive on site.

It was great this week to see that three marsh harrier chicks have now fledged from the nest near Lilian’s Pool. The youngsters have been stretching their wings and getting to grips with the very fact that they can fly; watching the frantic flapping activity of the young birds whenever an adult comes in with food is a wonderful sight to see!

The great crested grebes on Causeway have ended up with just one chick but it’s growing at an astonishing rate and all being well is big enough now to avoid capture from the great black-backed gulls or harriers. We have also spotted fledged pochards this week and even some newly hatched broods of tufted duck and mallard – the nesting season isn’t quite over for some birds!

 Family parties of bearded tits continue to be heard and occasionally seen along the Causeway while the scrubby and woodland areas are positively jumping with fledged marsh tits (pic by Mike Malpass), blackcaps, willow warblers and a host of other typical species to be found at Leighton Moss. It’s also worth spending some time at the feeders by The Hideout – we’re seeing lots of bullfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches and, on some days, siskins coming to take advantage of the bounty of easily-accessible food.

As always, we encourage you to follow us on Twitter and Facebook to ensure that you get the most up-to-date information regarding what’s going on at the reserve. We hope to see you soon!  




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The Sky’s The Limit

 We’re very happy to announce that we re-opened the Skytower this week!

Now, visitors can once again rise above the reedbeds for a fabulous birds-eye view of the reserve and the wider landscape. From this breath-taking vantage point you may be lucky enough to see fishing ospreys, hunting marsh harriers, soaring swifts and grazing red deer amongst a host of other exciting wildlife. We have put some social distancing guidance in place to ensure that everyone feels comfortable while exploring the 9-metre high tower, so do please follow all on-site information.

We’re still busy working on ways to open up some of the hides in the coming weeks – hopefully we’ll have some news to share soon! Of course, we do have an accessible toilet on site too for visitors’ use.

Other great news this week concerned the appearance of our first marsh harrier chicks of the season. On Tuesday morning the adult female from the nest at the back of Lilian’s Pool was observed circling the nest area constantly calling and soon she had enticed two reluctant fledglings to emerge from the reedbeds to exercise their wings. The young pair flapped inexpertly around for several minutes, trying to get the hang of their new skills before disappearing back to the safety of their nest. Hopefully, we’ll see much more of these wonderful birds in the coming weeks as they get to grips with the power of flight. It will be interesting to see if they have any brothers or sisters yet to make that great inaugural leap into the skies!

 Elsewhere on the reserve young birds are very much a feature – ducklings, cygnets, goslings and chicks of multiple species can be seen and heard just about everywhere. Bearded tits are very active at the moment, with family groups being regularly encountered along the Causeway; listen out for their distinctive ‘pinging’ calls coming from the path-side reeds.

 The summer months are not just about birds of course; this is a fabulous time to explore the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and enjoy the profusion of wildflowers and butterflies for which this area is justly renowned. Now is a great time to look out for purple hairstreaks (photo by Jarrod Sneyd) around the visitor centre oaks and when visiting Leighton Moss why not try and make sure your itinerary includes some time spent at nearby Myers Allotment, Gait Barrows, Warton Crag or Arnside Knott for yet more butterfly spotting? 

Egrets, We Have A Few

One doesn’t need to spend much time on the reserve at the moment to be made fully aware that we are in the midst of the breeding season. It seems that there are young birds everywhere! As visitors make their way around the pathways they can’t help but be met with the sights and sounds of recently fledged warblers, finches and tits. On the pools, gangs of coot with their almost fully-grown youngsters dot the water’s surface while pontoons of duck dabble in growing numbers.

Make sure you check the adult great-crested grebes for young humbug chicks tucked tight into their backs and while on the Causeway make a point of spending some time watching the rapidly growing great black-backed gull youngsters out on the island. These monster-chicks are already dwarfing the nearby loafing cormorants!

 One intriguing sighting relates to a bird that may well have nested in the area for the first time. Prior to the reserve’s temporary closure back in late March, a couple of adult great white egrets were developing their striking breeding plumage. At least one bird was seen regularly at Barrow Scout throughout the spring but with no staff on the reserve we really had no idea whether any more egrets were still present. 

We have been hoping for signs of nesting activity on the reserve for the past couple of years but unfortunately, no monitoring was carried out this spring due to the lockdown. With a small but growing breeding population now established in the UK (including birds nesting at our RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands reserve in Cheshire), we expect that they will mirror the success of their now widespread and familiar cousin, the little egret.

At least one adult bird was still present when we re-opened in late May and then last week, out of the blue, a further three great white egrets appeared – including one juvenile bird! Given how early this is for a young bird to have wandered far and the fact that it was with, and actively following, adult birds suggests that it may well have been raised locally. How locally, we can only begin to guess at this stage.

Did a pair of egrets nest in amongst one of the heronries within a few miles of the reserve or did they actually breed in our reedbeds, undetected? I suppose we may never know but it does at least seem highly probable that this elegant and striking species has bred for the first time in either Lancashire or Cumbria!

Let’s see what happens next year…  

Pic by Mike Malpass          

Unpredictable June Anticipation!

With some pretty mixed weather, it’s been an unpredictable few days here at Leighton Moss! As yet the thunderstorms haven’t delivered anything unusual and despite there having been some scarce visitors not too far away (rose-coloured starling, hoopoe and hooded crow all at Walney, rose-coloured starlings at Carnforth and Morecambe, Blyth’s reed warbler at Knott End and black stork in the Rusland Valley) we have yet to see anything on the reserve to excite those rarity-seeking birders.

 Despite the traditional migration season being over, summer can turn up some pretty spectacular oddities and some very memorable birds have graced us with their presence in the warmer months. In 2017 we saw both Caspian tern (June) and purple heron (Aug) arrive (photo by Mike Malpass) while back in June 2007 Leighton Moss welcomed one of its rarest ever visitors when a white-tailed plover dropped in. So, it pays to keep an open mind and a keen eye out at all times!

 But of course for many the appeal of a wonderful reserve as Leighton Moss lies not in the lure of rarities but the opportunity to enjoy nature simply at its best. In the last week returning visitors have had memorable sightings of such fabulous site favourites as marsh harriers, bitterns (pic from archive by Mike Malpass), bearded tits, Cetti’s warblers, ospreys, red deer and scores of dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies.

The pathways are a delight to stroll along right now as fledgling blackcaps, marsh tits and robins noisily explore their new worlds while a corridor of stunning wildflowers and fascinating wetland plantlife lines the route.

We are still busy working toward opening more of the site and its facilities but please note that for now we are operating with limited access.

The toilets remain closed as does the visitor centre shop and café. The car park and reserve are open only from 9.30am till 5pm daily.

Don’t forget to check in with one of the team upon arrival (we have a temporary welcome area at the rear of the visitor centre where we will explain the current access routes and provide up-to-date sightings info, etc).

You can also keep informed of what’s going on by checking our Facebook page and Twitter feed.    

Leighton Moss Open!

 It’s been a week since we re-opened parts of the reserve here at Leighton Moss and it’s been great to welcome visitors back to our wonderful site. 

Due to access restrictions based on government guidelines we have had to consider which areas would offer visitors an enjoyable experience while considering their well-being and safety, along with that of RSPB staff. So, one of the first things we did was reduce the number of car parking spaces, ensuring that we don’t get too busy for people for to be able to comfortably make their way around on the paths. With the visitor centre closed, we are welcoming visitors near the garden at the rear of the building. Here members of the team can explain the routes and areas currently accessible to visitors.

It’s been quite a week for sightings too – ospreys, hobbies, marsh harriers, red kite and what was almost certainly a white-tailed eagle have all graced the reserve’s skies with their presence. There have been multiple reports of bitterns, primarily of birds in flight from the Causeway, while one particularly vocal male continues to boom on and off throughout the day! A little gull has been frequenting the reserve for around a week, allowing local birders to add this dainty and unseasonal visitor to their lists.

 On sunny days, dragonflies and damselflies have been out in force while keen eyed plant fans may find common spotted orchids in bloom along the path edges.

We’re operating slightly different hours to usual; the reserve pathways and car park are open from 9.30am-5pm only. Please note that there are currently no public toilet facilities available and all hides remain closed.

We look forward to welcoming visitors both familiar and new to Leighton Moss in the coming days and weeks, though we do urge you to stay close to home and to enjoy the green spaces where you live, wherever possible.  


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Partial re-opening of reserve

We are delighted to announce that this morning (Saturday) we opened some sections of our trails and the car park so that we can welcome visitors back to wonderful Leighton Moss!
Of course visitors will be required to follow on-site guidance which will …

Update to reserve closure

Despite some very slight changes in lockdown restrictions in England, Leighton Moss remains closed to the public for now. Our priority is to ensure that we only re-open when we have everything in place to keep our members, visitors, volunteers and employees safe.

We must also make sure that the wildlife that calls our site home is ready to receive attention after a couple of months completely on its own. You’ll have seen reports from round the UK of birds nesting on and near normally busy paths (as well as some weird and wonderful places), so it’s going to take us some time to check and make sure they are safe too.

We ask that you bear with us in these difficult times and check our reserve website, Facebook and Twitter regularly for the latest information, as well as the RSPB Covid-19 updates here

If you are exercising on public paths around the wider Morecambe Bay area, as well as abiding by social distancing measures, we urge you to be alert for nature and please be extra careful around it –  especially on beaches (where birds such as plovers nest), paths (where plants have emerged, and birds may have nested) and open landscapes such as saltmarsh (ground nesting birds and other wildlife can easily be disturbed by people and dogs off leads). 

Thank you. We look forward to being able to welcome you back when it can be done safely and responsibly for all people and wildlife concerned. 

Bittern by Mike Malpass 

A booming great start to the breeding season

We’re so excited that for the first time since 1999, we’ve got three booming male bitterns here at Leighton Moss!

Bittern populations are monitored by recording the number of ‘booming’ males, so called for their rather unusual birdsong.

The bittern is Britain’s loudest bird, but the noise it makes is far from a typical bird song. Indeed, for such a shy and elusive bird, their call is not exactly discrete. Their ‘booming’ has been described as a deep sound “like blowing over the top of a glass bottle”, or less poetically, “like a giant gulping”. 

One of the males here in particular has a strong voice. This is the first year for many years, when we’ve had such a good quality boomer. His boom carried over a distance of around 2.5km and was heard by our Site Manager Jarrod in Silverdale! This bodes well for a successful breeding season.

After an absence of breeding here for almost a decade, these elusive birds nested in 2018 as a result of a four-year programme to rejuvenate the wetlands. Since 2018, the birds have continued to thrive, and this year, the three booming males are the highest record in 20 years.

Before 2018, we had one booming male, but he would fail to work up to a full boom or stop early in the season. In 2018 we had our first breeding success, and now, merely two years later, to have three high quality booming males is amazing news. It’s evidence that the hard work and dedication of our staff and volunteers to maintain the reedbed, and create a bittern-friendly habitat, has truly paid off.

Bittern in flight by John Bridges (

As an unusual cousin of the more familiar grey heron, bitterns rely on reedbeds to live in – a now rare habitat in the UK, with Leighton Moss being the largest one in North West England.

Reedbed is very important to conserve as a lot of it has been lost through drainage for agriculture and development. In the late 1990s, bitterns were almost wiped out in this country, due to the loss of the reedbed habitat on which they depend. At that time Leighton Moss was one of only a few sites  in the UK where bitterns were clinging on. Since then, the RSPB and other nature conservation organisations have been working hard to save the species and it has been successful, with 198 booming males recorded in the UK in 2019

As we are still closed, visiting the Leighton Moss bitterns is sadly not possible at this time. However, you can listen to a recent recording here, made by our Site Manager Jarrod, before lockdown. Not only can you hear the brilliant booming bitterns, but a whole host of wonderful wildlife in the reedbed too. Hopefully it will bring you a little piece of Leighton during this strange time.

You might also like to tune into the upcoming BBC Radio 4 Farming Today piece, which will be going out this Friday 8 May. Reporter and presenter Caz Graham came along to Leighton Moss before lockdown, and ventured into the reedbed with Jarrod to record our booming bitterns and chat about the reedbed restoration work for the programme. If you live locally, you may have also seen Caz’s recent article about her adventure here, in Cumbria Life magazine.

Our Site Manager Jarrod Sneyd and Radio Reporter and Presenter Caz Graham, out very early in the morning to record booming bitterns. 

You can of course also keep up with the latest reserve news by following us on Twitter and Facebook. And finally, for the possibility of hearing a live bittern, have a listen to the live mic in the reedbed at our pal’s RSPB Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk. 

Sneaking out to the edge. Bittern at Leighton Moss by Mike Malpass.