One of the things we get asked about more than anything else at this time of year is, 'are the starlings murmurating yet?'. From October through to the end of December we usually give the same reply; not yet. In recent years the large numbers of starlings that roost here have been reluctant to really partake in murmurations before the end of December, preferring to appear on the reserve at dusk and going straight into the reedbed. Bang on cue, the first truly impressive murmuration took place on Christmas Eve. The conditions were perfect - calm, bright and dry. Groups of birds came from all directions, and joined the swirling mass over the Barrow Scout fields from around 3.45pm. From my viewpoint on the Skytower, I estimated a count of around 60,000 by the time the flock had peaked. Quite a sight.
If these birds behave as they have done for the past couple of years, they should relocate to the main reserve soon, giving visitors the chance to witness this amazing spectacle from the comfort of the reserve facilities. Currently, we would advise those wishing to see the murmuration to do so from either the Tim Jackson or Grisedale hides or the Skytower. If you decide to watch them at Barrow Scout itself we recommend parking in the Eric Morecambe / Allen pool car park and walking back along the track toward the road. DO NOT park on the track or on the road - the police have been in touch and will be making regular checks to ensure that people are not stopping here and obstructing traffic on what can be a dangerous stretch of road. For the latest murmuration updates, please call the visitor centre on (01524) 701601.
Elsewhere on the reserve, bitterns continue to be seen with relative regularity and marsh harriers are just about impossible to miss with several of these dynamic raptors wintering on the reserve. Wildfowl is very much part of the winter scene here at Leighton Moss and hundreds of birds are on show, especially at Lilian's and Grisedale. Keep an eye out for the smart-looking (if slightly odd!) cinnamon teal x northern shoveler hybrid. With the apple and hawthorn berry stocks depleted, the large gangs of winter thrushes have mostly moved on leaving just a scattering of fieldfares and redwings around the garden but siskins and occasional lesser redpolls are a treat to hear and see near the feeders or along the path to Lower Hide.
As 2019 daws to a close, it's tempting to ponder what exciting nature spectacles await us in the New Year - if you are already looking ahead to 2020 why not think about booking on one of our great guided walks? Choose from our monthly walks where we will explore the reserve and the specialities of the season, or how about expanding your birdwatching knowledge by joining Andy Chapman on one his Better Birding walks?
And if you're an avid collector of bird books don't miss our fabulous Bird and Natural History Book Sale on January 11 - where you will find a large selection of must-have and sought-after titles from publishers including Helm, Poyser and the Collins New Naturalist series, all at excellent prices.
Finally we would like to wish all our readers and visitors a very Happy New Year!