Recent sightings and birding for beginners

Hello everyone, this week’s blog provides a culmination of the recent sightings from Monday 19 November to Tuesday 27 November.

Beginning with bittern sightings, these have been fantastic over the previous week with daily sightings from different locations. The majority of bittern sightings have been from the Causeway and Lower hides, with bitterns being seen relatively close to both hides. It is a privilege to see these endangered birds, their camouflage is something to behold; perfect for their reedbed habitat. Visitors in Lilian’s Hide have also had bittern sightings, most recently on Monday 26 November. What is also a delight is how many people have told me of their bittern sightings and have shared their joy with me, for some it has been a decade (or longer) since seeing this species so that is something quite special.

Moving onto our rarer visitors, the great grey shrike and the drake American wigeon, remain on the reserve. Starting with the great grey shrike, the bird has continued to stay in the periphery of the reserve close to the Lower Hide. The shrike has been sighted daily from Friday 23 November until Tuesday 27 November inclusively. The bird has been showing periodically on these days – patience and a little bit of luck will be required to sight the bird (and perhaps a good pair of optics!).

The American wigeon has been just as elusive in terms of sightings, having hunkered down with his European cousins at the coastal pools. The drake was most recently sighted on Tuesday 27 November but over the past week he has been sighted from Tuesday 20 November to Thursday 22 November, Saturday 24 November, Monday 26 November and also Tuesday 27 November. I have been told crag point has been a good spot for sightings but equally sightings from the hides have persisted. 

Other notable sightings include a twite (pictured below) a type of finch, on the path along to the Eric Morecambe Hide on Monday 19 November. Twite have lovely brown streaked plumage, and while closely resembling linnets, they have longer tails and shorter bills.

Twite. Photo credit: Tom Marshall

Speaking of coastal pools, there is a great array of waders for you to sight from both hides. Look our for redshank, the scarcer spotted redshank, the elegant greenshank, curlews and wintering black-tailed godwits. Two kingfishers continue to show well from the Allen Hide and there are also lapwings, little egrets and the occasional great white egret. Wildfowl include the airbuses of the duck family - the shelduck, Eurasian wigeon and in terms of sawbills there are small numbers of red-breasted mergansers and goosanders

Kingfisher. Photo credit: Mike Malpass

Back on the main site wildfowl numbers remain to be excellent with a nice spread of species across the pools. They are currently looking their best, so if you want to improve your wildfowl identification ability, now is the time to come and visit! The Causeway Pool is the best place to see our goldeneye and tufted ducks. Pintails and wigeon frequent the Causeway Pool also and are also present at Lilian’s.

Bearded tit sightings are still occurring infrequently and at varying times of day. For example, I enjoyed watching a pair of bearded tits on Friday 23 November at 1610 on the Causeway grit trays but the previous day they had been showing at the Grisedale grit trays in the morning.

Marsh harriers continue to show beautifully across the reserve and can often be seen gliding across the tips of the reedbed from the Skytower.

Water rail sightings are also becoming more frequent, the reedbed channel to the right of the Causeway Hide is proving popular and another great place to spot water rails is by the dyke next to the ‘swan tree’ on the path towards Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. Snipe can be seen from these hides and also at Lilian’s, however, we have had no recent reportings of jack snipe. We have also had irregular reportings of woodcock along the woodland path to Lower hide.

Water rail. Photo credit: Hazel Rothwell

Our smaller birds are also showing very well, look and listen for Cetti’s warblers and reed buntings, particularly along the paths to the Grisedale and Causeway hides. In addition, we currently have extended families of long tailed tits exploring the reserve in the search for food. So far, the largest family I have seen consisted of ten individuals, moving across the alder trees close to the Skytower. Flocks of siskins and redpolls have been seen along the path to Lower hide in the woodland and also look out for mixed flocks of tits and finches. In Addition, the Hideout and the garden are also great places to look and listen for various species of our smaller feathered friends, perhaps you should take some time here… you may be pleasantly surprised by what you see (perhaps a great spotted woodpecker or a brambling?). We have increasing numbers of redwings and fieldfares in the reserve, with them taking advantage of the fallen apples in our orchard.

That wraps up the recent sightings on the reserve for this week, but I would also like to emphasise that the fabulous welcome desk team will happily update you on sightings and guide you in the right direction if there is a particular bird you are hoping to see.

On a final note, I would like to tell you about our recent Birding for Beginners walk which our very knowledgeable volunteer, Andy, led and I assisted on Sunday 25 November. Birding for Beginners is ran to help individuals identify the birds they see and hear at Leighton Moss but the knowledge is transferable to the wider environment. Learning birdsong is another aspect of the walk, as it helps to be able to identify a bird’s contact call or song because if you can’t see them, you know what you are looking for. This walk took the group to the Skytower, Lilian’s and Causeway hides before finishing in the café with a lovely breakfast bap. At each location, Andy and I highlighted particular species of bird we could see, directed our attendees to them and presented some information about the bird. Or, if attendees spotted a bird but didn’t know what they were looking at, we would identify the bird and describe its key identifying features such as size, plumage, call and speculum (for the wildfowl). Andy and I were happy to answer any questions and we also took a ‘scope so attendees could take a closer look at some of the birds such as female goldeneye, water rail and marsh harriers.

This is a great event to attend if you want to sharpen up your birding skills, but what counts as a beginner? Well, to be a beginner birder can be slightly ambiguous. Let me explain – you could have a fantastic knowledge of wildfowl, but no raptor knowledge or perhaps you are great with garden birds but know little about waders and wildfowl? Everyone has to start somewhere and Birding for Beginners can you help you build on your existing knowledge (and perhaps give you more knowledge of certain groups) or, it can give you a foundation to build upon. Whatever your perceived level, everyone learns and has fun. You may be introduced to people who you can go out birding with too. The next Birding for Beginners is in February, perhaps I will see you at this very popular event?