Tag: osprey

Autumn’s arrival and recent sightings

Autumn has arrived at Leighton Moss, and promises a period of cool transformation following one of the hottest summers on record. In the coming months the intrigue and enticement of migration movements through Morecambe Bay and the main sight itself will be realised in the dramatic increase in wintering waterfowl and wader numbers. There has been an unbroken continuity to much of the wildlife activity on the reserve, outlined in my previous blog, which nevertheless includes some exceptional natural spectacles. Substantial flocks of waders (black-tailed godwits, redshanks, or lapwings) still engage in their cycles of alighting, dwelling, and departing – occasionally prompted by a peregrine – and confront visitors with nature’s magnitude. Bird roosts are still a treasure to watch, notably 90 little egrets and now 3 great white egrets at Island Mere, and the evening cormorants in the willow tree at Grisedale (whose dead branches jutting skyward provide perfect parapets for over 30 of them). The cyclone of swallows and sand martins at Lilian’s and Causeway, particularly at the close of day, are still entrancing. Visitors can continue to expect a modest gathering of greenshank on the island, and great crested and little grebes in the mere, at Causeway. Generally, Grisedale and Tim Jackson have been quieter of late, but are still an excellent place to anticipate red deer, and green sandpipers have briefly sojourned here in the past couple of weeks.

Roosting cormorants, by Richard Cousens

There have been noteworthy developments in bird activity witnessed on the reserve in the past couple of weeks. Our beloved marsh harriers appear to have dispersed from the site after a very successful breeding season (with two successful broods totaling 6 fledged juveniles), yet, for the time being, an adult pair remain at Causeway. There are now 3 ruff on Lilian’s pool, with 2 spotted redshank seen here at times but also at Grisedale and Tim Jackson, all these birds being in adult winter plumage. There have been good views of a water rail chick at Lilian’s too, dabbling and scampering around on the left hand side of the island close to the hide, with parents close by – other water rails can, with patience, be glimpsed outside Causeway and Lower. Up to 5 garganey now reside at Lilian’s, a couple drakes in eclipse among other female and juvenile birds; very occasionally a spontaneous, unanticipated outburst from Cetti’s warbler happens around the Causeway. Kingfisher sightings have been reported from Lower hide and from the coastal hides, and another solo bird, a lone common tern, has afforded great views of itself circling in front of Lower hide and perching on the wooden posts out in the water, perhaps beside a grey heron, black-headed gull or cormorant. So if you spot a common tern from Lower hide, be assured it’s not a plastic one!

Juvenile water rail, by Mike Malpass

On the 27th August, there were four ospreys seen together on the saltmarsh, with one actually venturing into the Eric Morecambe pool. Visitors caught sight of one attempting to deal with a huge seabass that it had landed. One or two ospreys have continued to visit Causeway, and though we can expect a declining frequency in their visits (with the young at Foulshaw Moss having fledged and preparations being made for southward migration) visitors still have every chance of spotting these marvellous raptors, perhaps with a little fortitude. Similarly, otters have made some remarkable appearances at Causeway of late. On the first day of the month, three individuals were spotted moving in the mere between Lower and Causeway hides. The previous Thursday one voracious individual spent an hour or so hunting in front of Causeway hide, and twice, having deftly obtained an eel, proceeded to devour it on the wooden island in full view of a captive audience, prompting a frenzy of elation.

Finally, a handsome anomaly was discovered at Lilian’s hide a couple of days ago, and seen again at Causeway the following day – a leucistic greenshank! Leucism is a pigmentation condition in birds which entails an apparent bleaching of plumage. This results in the striking and somewhat ghostly appearance exhibited by birds such as this individual.

Shot of a leucistic greenshank (centre), taken by Matthew Smith 

Since it can never be emphasised enough, I will say that this stunning variety in birds, not to say anything of the other wildlife on the reserve, reiterates the splendid job done by the RSPB Leighton Moss staff and volunteers, to conserve a special place which is vital and thoroughly appealing to wildlife, 

Recent summer sightings

As the unprecedented heatwave continues, the wildlife at Leighton Moss finds itself having to adjust to the changing conditions. Water levels are dropping rapidly, both on the saltmarsh pools and on the main reserve. This of course, presents nature with challenges. For many songbirds drinking water is becoming a little more difficult to find and so we are regularly checking the fresh water around the feeders to ensure a constant supply. This is something we would definitely recommend everyone does in their garden during this dry spell – a lack of water can spell disaster for recently fledged young birds.

Starlings bathing and drinking (copyright Jodie Randall rspb-images.com)

The warm sunny days have been fantastic for observing dragonflies and damselflies. Impressive brown hawkers, common hawkers and broad-bodied chasers are among the most visible of the larger dragonflies while dainty blue-tailed damselflies dazzle the senses with their sheer brilliance. As bird activity inevitably slows down in the heat of the day, these dynamic insects are providing visitors with amazing views as they fly acrobatically from one spot to another.

Blue-tailed damselfly (Mike Malpass)

Mammals have been performing well with otters the stars of the show, as usual. Red deer too are delighting visitors, chiefly at Grisedale and at the end of the Causeway while a young fox has been seen regularly from Tim Jackson Hide.   

For many species of birds the breeding season is well and truly at an end. Our avocets have all but departed having had a highly successful season; in excess of of 20 youngsters were raised at the Allen and Eric Morecambe Pools. The bitterns have gone back to being extremely elusive now that the female has stopped conducting frequent feeding flights. We cam assume that the young bitterns have now left the nest and are fully independent. Recent sightings have come from all parts of the reserve further suggesting that they are now out and about and all doing their own thing. As water levels drop, we may see hunting bitterns emerging from the reed beds to forage at the water’s edge.

As I write this, the marsh harriers have yet to fledge any broods from the three nests on the reserve. We have been expecting to see some signs but they do seem to be holding tight for now. I’m sure all will be revealed imminently! Ospreys have continued to show superbly, mainly from Causeway and Lower hides while hobbies dash through from time to time for the lucky few who happen to be in the right place at the right time. 

Green sandpiper (Martin Kuchczynski)

Summer sees the start of wader migration as the first returning birds start to head south from their northern breeding grounds. We have already seen the first snipe back in the last week or so and a few interesting bits and pieces have been trickling through. Greenshank, curlew sandpiper, green sandpiper and little ringed plover have all been spotted in recent days while a few bar-tailed godwits can still be found among the black-tailed godwits at the Allen Pools. With the increasing amount of mud on the edges of the pools on the main reserve, we should see more waders dropping in. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for such goodies as wood sandpiper, or perhaps something a little rarer. With areas of fresh water at a premium, Leighton Moss will hopefully act like a magnet for migrating wading birds.

If you’re a keen nature photographer, you may be interested in the Digital Darkroom photographic workshop taking place on July 14. Join experienced and published wildlife photographer Mike Malpass for a workshop on how to give your photographs that extra professional touch. You will look at how to process your images on your computer using lighting, cropping, sharpening and composition techniques. Booking and payment in advance essential – please call our visitor centre on 01524 701601 to secure your place! 

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

Bitterns on show & other recent sightings

The prolonged dry and warm spell is certainly proving popular with visitors to Leighton Moss and many people are getting great views of some of our seasonal specialities.

The female bittern has been putting on a good, if somewhat sporadic, show. She regularly flies from the reed bed out to Barrow Scout giving people in Lilian’s Hide, on the Skytower or in Grisedale Hide fabulous views. We can assume that the bittern chicks have now left the nest and are at large in the reeds – the mother bird is heading off to catch food in a preferred area and returning to feed her growing youngsters. This behaviour will likely stop once the young start to hunt for themselves and so we’ll be back to scanning the reed edges for foraging bitterns. It really has been fantastic hearing the many delighted visitors telling us of their bittern encounters!

Bittern in flight by Dave Dimmock

The marsh harriers too continue to delight and can be seen all over the reserve. Also busy feeding young, the harriers are almost constantly active searching for ducklings, coot chicks, small mammals and amphibians to take back for their growing chicks. Ospreys have been absolutely fabulous, with up to four birds coming to fish, primarily at Causeway and Lower pools. Earlier this week one of our regular visitors Hazel was lucky enough to get some shots of an osprey being mobbed by five avocets! Not something you see every day…

Osprey being mobbed by avocets by Hazel Rothwell

In other raptor news; red kites have been reported here and there, while hobby too is making frustratingly infrequent visits. Hopefully as post-breeding swallow and martin numbers grow, along with an increase in dragonflies, we’ll see more of this dashing crowd-pleasing falcon.

Talking of dragonflies, this fine weather is perfect for observing these stunning insects. Broad-bodied chasers, brown hawkers and black-tailed skimmers can all be seen hawking for their prey, along with countless dazzling damselflies in the path-side vegetation.

Broad-bodied chaser by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

The avocets have had a pretty decent breeding season and both adults and youngsters are a treat to see at the Allen and Eric Morecambe Pools (when they’re not bothering ospreys over the main reserve at least!). Lapwing numbers are increasing on the saltmarsh pools too as post-breeding birds head for the coast. Both bar-tailed and black-tailed godwits are also on show here and we can expect to see yet more waders arriving in the coming days and weeks. A curlew sandpiper was reported from the Eric Morecambe Pool a couple of days ago and a spoonbill dropped in briefly midweek.

Meanwhile, the glut of songbird fledglings continues apace. One cannot walk along the trails at the moment without seeing what seems like hundreds of great, blue and marsh tits along with treecreepers, nuthatches, chaffinches, robins, wrens and warblers. Often considered elusive and difficult to see, the young Cetti’s warbler pictured here defied reputation by showing beautifully for the aforementioned Hazel, who took this shot near the dipping pond.

Young Cetti’s warbler by Hazel Rothwell

Non-avian activity also includes very regular sightings of our ever entertaining otters. Lilian’s Hide and the Skytower have been exceptionally good places to spot them recently while amazingly close views have also been had from the Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. Red deer too have been showing exceedingly well; early mornings and evenings are generally recommended if you wish to catch sight of these large native animals.

Plant lovers have also got plenty to divert their attention from the birds, mammals and insects with many woodland and wetland species now in full bloom. And with the forecast predicting yet more good weather we can hope for yet more exciting sights around the reserve. Please do add your sightings to the book if you visit or let our team in reception know what you’ve spotted!

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

Nature’s nursery and recent sightings

As we move deeper into Summer, there’s no better time to witness the charming evidence of Leighton Moss as a grand nursery for nature. It’s pleasing to see this wealth of new life so visible across the reserve, undefeated by early Spring’s disastrous weather. Without falling prey to sentimentality, there’s something to cherish in the sight of these intrepid younglings embarking upon the lives ahead of them.

Mute swan cygnets and greylag goslings are growing up fast, but still paddle after their parents across the pools and along the dykes. Tim Jackson and Grisedale pools are brimming with mallard and gadwall ducklings – on the path between them, a family of treecreepers might be spotted. Despite their diffidence during this season, a family of bearded tits have shown themselves at times skirting the fringes of the Causeway reedbed. On a post close in front of Causeway hide, a pied wagtail has been feeding two voracious young. Fledglings of all varieties abound, and often announce themselves from within the reeds and foliage flanking the paths.

Keeping in line – Mute swan with cygnets by Brian Salisbury

A particular delight is the family of pochards at the Causeway – the hide can offer intimate views of a mother conducting a mini fleet of 9 ducklings. The pochard is currently a red status species and struggling across the UK, so it is uplifting to see this troop doing so well.

The story is the same at the saltmarshes – 22 avocet chicks at last count, growing larger by the day, some still struggling to master their clownish oversized legs. Of the many around, one particular shelduck couple was spotted with 11 young, and of course the black-headed gull colony attend to hundreds of chicks. It is worth mentioning that great white egrets are a possibility here; that a dunlin was spotted amongst the black-tailed godwits earlier in the week, and an occasional Mediterranean gull has been reported.

There is one main exception to this conspicuous display of new life, a scarcity only apprehended as a fleeting apparition by especially fortunate visitors – a mother bittern! We were glad to confirm this week that many years of expert management work had paid off, with these exceptional birds breeding once again at Leighton Moss, almost a decade in the making (be sure to read all about this story in this press release and site manager Jarrod’s blog). The evidence had amassed over the past few weeks, with an increase in sightings from our survey teams in the reeds and from hawk-eyed visitors scanning the reedbed from the Skytower and the Causeway. This established several common flight paths between feeding sites and her nest, which we now know is situated on the south side of the reserve near to the main dyke. Stay alert and who knows – you could be rewarded with a glance at Leighton Moss’ most precious resident.

Bittern in flight by John Bridges

Much of the birdlife here has settled into a pleasantly predictable rhythm for the time being. Ospreys conduct their daily fishing ventures at the Causeway, but it can certainly be a lottery to see them. The scaup remains in residence there. Male marsh harriers, bearing the full burden of the hunt to support their brooding mates and recent chicks, are still a regular appearance over the reedbed, effortlessly stylish as ever. Reed, sedge, willow and Cetti’s warblers continue to sing over either side of the reserve – the best places to view them, as well as reed buntings, is the boardwalk, which affords lovely views of their perches on the grey willows (when they are obliging).

As for our non-avian friends: earlier this week there was a mass exodus of froglets and toadlets onto the Causeway. It’s pleasing to think how these tiny beings have struggled through their gradual transformation to terrestrial form, finally amassing themselves to crawl out of the water as a new generation. Despite the perils of their journey (unsuspecting visitors, the unavoidable approach of our reserve range rover etc.) many will make it to the Promised Land and prosper to begin the process anew – so watch your feet!

Foxes with cubs and red deer with fawns are increasingly being seen from Tim Jackson and Grisedales hides and the path connecting the bridleway to Lower hide, navigating through the trees and the reeds at the south side of the reserve. Keep an eye out for otters, which might unexpectedly appear at the pools on either side of the reserve to fish, play and explore.

Red campion by Steven Williams

Beyond birdlife and mammals there is a wider sense of the kaleidoscopic interplay of species across Leighton Moss. The carnivorous bladderwort has emerged at Lillian’s, trapping and feasting on small water-borne prey (keep your fingers inside the hide just in case). Dog rose and elders are blooming, and the thick green reedbed gives off flashes of wildflowers now – on the left before the Causeway hide, a discrete but noble host of common spotted orchids are almost lost beneath the clustered towering foliage; tufted vetch spills blue and violet at edges of the path, and elsewhere red campionforget-me-not and woody nightshade can be discovered. The air vibrates with the masses of common blue, blue tailed and azure damselflies, and all over speckled wood butterflies calmly and briefly alight and depart.

New arrivals and recent sightings

We had a few more somewhat tardy migrants show up this week; garden warbler, redstart and common whitethroat plus the number of sedge and reed warblers increased notably. Similarly more sand martins, swallows and swifts were noted but still not really in the numbers we’d expect by now. The weather forecast for the next couple of days at least looks promising so hopefully we’ll see that influx that we’re all waiting for! 

Common whitethroat by Mike Malpass

Adding to that air of spring was the appearance of our first coot chicks, mallard ducklings and great crested grebes in recent days. The grebes in particularly have been entertaining the crowds, nesting right in from of the Causeway Hide and allowing birders and photographers to get great views. This hide, along with Lower Hide have continued to be the most reliable locations for sightings of otters and ospreys too.  

Great crested grebe (rspb-images.com)

Let me introduce you to another arrival to the reserve (our very own spring migrant); Joe Fraser-Turner is our new residential volunteer who is joining the Visitor Experience team here at Leighton Moss. In fact let Joe introduce himself…

“Hello all! My name is Joe, and I have the immense privilege of spending the next 4 months supporting the RSPB at Leighton Moss as your new Visitor Experience Intern. I have already received an exceedingly warm welcome from the team here, and I look forward to meeting many of you in the coming weeks.

Joe Fraser-Turner – Visitor Experience Intern 

Here’s a little about myself – I have lived most of my life in the Yorkshire Dales, and since childhood I have been profoundly influenced by the wildlife I have encountered in the woodlands, meadows, moors and riverbanks surrounding my home. At school I took to the humanities and ended up studying English Literature at Oxford, where I discovered a particular passion for birds. Since then they have come to occupy a large part of my attention and my imagination – my dissertation discussed in large part birds in the poetry of Edward Thomas, the mysterious ways we respond to and interact with them – and so I share with all of you who come to Leighton Moss the curiosity and adoration that birds inspire. After graduating, I soon became aware of a conviction to become a full-time advocate for nature. This led me to apply for my current position, and I am grateful to have received this wonderful opportunity.

During my time with the Leighton Moss visitor team, I hope to contribute to the splendid work performed at this marvellous place, whilst learning all I can from those around me. I will be keeping you informed, in person as well as through blog posts and social media updates, about new sightings, upcoming events and all activity taking place here at the reserve. You might spot me accompanying school visits and family events, helping to inspire young minds to cherish the natural world, or perhaps assisting guided walks to educate and captivate. The popularity and success of Leighton Moss is a testament to the crucial work performed by the remarkable staff here, and this is made possible by the kindness of members and visitors – as such, I hope to hone my skills in communicating the ethos of the RSPB, in order to encourage greater charitable support and membership, and succeed in my role as an ambassador. And of course, I will be eager to offer you all a pleasant welcome at the visitor centre, share sightings and conversations along a path or in a hide, and help you in any way I can.

See you soon, Joe”

In other news, visitors will be pleased to hear that the access track to the Eric Morecambe and Allen pools has been beautifully refurbished by our dedicated and hard-working wardening team. I know that this rather rustic approach to the parking area has been a point of discussion for many visitors so I hope that this resurfacing will encourage a few more people to go and enjoy the hides overlooking the salt marsh pools.

        

The lovely smooth(ish) approach track to the Eric Morecambe and Allen Pools car park    

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

      

Scaup scoop & other recent sightings

There can few sights more uplifting than the first glimpse of the year of that distinctive scythe-like master of the air, the swift. We all rejoice when the swallows return of course, but there’s something really powerful about those dark, dashing alien birds who are almost as detached from our world as it’s possible for a bird to be. During the last week ones and twos have appeared on the reserve, usually just ahead of a menacing grey cloud and an attendant downpour. But now multiple swifts can be seen daily, particularly in the late afternoon when they swoop over the reed beds and meres alongside sand martins, swallows and house martins. For me they are the true symbol of summer and hearing their screams as they pursue one another over our urban landscapes is a thrill I will never tire of.

Swift by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

The slow spring has been the subject of many conversations in recent weeks and as the weather shows little sign of improvement who knows how nature will respond?

So far migratory birds, or more precisely the lack of them, seem to be the obvious indication that all is not as it might be. Numbers of many common summer visitors appear to be lower than we’d expect at the end of April. Perhaps many have headed straight to the breeding areas rather than make landfall en route, while others are still biding their time and will arrive as soon as conditions improve.

Despite these setbacks, the reed beds are still reverberating with the sound of reed and sedge warblers and those master-blaster Cetti’s warblers are doing a fine job of revealing their whereabouts with their explosive song. Although more often heard than seen, a little patience will often reward the watcher with great views of these skulking scarcities.

Cetti’s warbler by Mike Malpass

While on the subject of noisy birds, it would be rude to move on without mention of our fine booming bittern. His voice has become otherworldly in the last week or two and his boom is now positively spectacular and can be heard across the entire reserve when he’s in full flow. We saw some great photos of a bittern in flight this week, taken from Grisedale Hide late one afternoon.

Rather unexpected was the arrival a drake scaup this week. Not a common sight at Leighton Moss, this handsome duck dropped in at Causeway Pool where it dived alongside tufted ducks giving visitors a great opportunity to compare the two monochromatic wildfowl side by side.     

Ospreys can be expected daily at the moment with birds fishing primarily at Causeway and Lower, with occasional trips to Lillian’s Pool. Otters too have been seen regularly, again at the northern end of the reserve.  

Out on the Eric Morecambe and Allen Pools several avocet pairs are now nesting while large numbers of black-tailed godwit can still be seen. They were joined by a flock of bar-tailed godwit in the week, quite unusual here. Many of the 500 or so knot there are now moulting into their smart breeding plumage too so a visit to these hides is well worthwhile at the moment.   

Black-tailed godwits by Paul Brady

And we have some good news for those visitors with limited mobility. As you may know, we have a Tramper that is free to use (pre-booking advised) but we have always had to restrict the routes available for safety reasons.

One of the new passing places along the Causeway

Previously, Tramper users could not take the vehicle down the Causeway due to reserve wardens and farm traffic occasionally traveling along this public route. We have now added a number of passing places to the Causeway allowing access to the hide and along the length of the track. We hope that this will add to the experience for a greater number of people and we welcome feedback on this or any issue regarding access.  

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

Delicious flava & Welsh ospreys

Now that the weather is a little more settled, for a few days at least, we’re hoping to see an influx of delayed migrants here at Leighton Moss. As I write this an increase in recent sightings of sedge and reed warblers is already evident and several birds are belting it out from the reedbeds around the reserve. Meanwhile the sound of blackcaps, willow warblers, chiffchaffs and Cetti’s warblers is an almost constant feature as one wanders along the trails.

Our foghorn-in-residence, the very vocal male bittern continues to boom away from his patch of reeds to the south of the Causeway. Although most easily heard between dusk and dawn, the song of this particular bird is often heard at random times of the day allowing many visitors the chance to hear this evocative sound.

There was some excitement last week following the surprise discovery a rare race of yellow wagtail near the Allen Pools. On Saturday, Christine and Max Maughan came into the visitor centre asking us to verify a couple of distant record shots of a bird they could only identify from their field guide a black-headed wagtail (Motacilla flava feldegg). A quick look at the back of their camera looked promising but we’d have to see the bird for ourselves!

Black headed wagtail by David Morris

Within a few short minutes a small group of birders and RSPB staff was assembled and the bird was soon relocated feeding alongside meadow pipits and pied wagtails in the field where Christine and Max had seen it earlier. Even through binoculars the wagtail was easy to spot as the bright zesty yellow of its breast dazzled from a considerable distance. Slowly the bird moved closer and through ‘scopes we obtained superb views and quickly confirmed its identity. I was even able to dash off a couple of ‘phone-scope’ pics just in case it decided to fly before ‘proper’ photos were taken.

As it happens the bird stayed around for another couple of days and many birders made the trip to see this rare Balkan / Central Asian vagrant variant of yellow wagtail. Thankfully, others were able to get decent shots so you don’t have to suffer my dodgy efforts.

In other news, the slow trickle arrival of common migrants continues with scattered reports of lesser whitethroat, redstart and pied flycatcher coming in while swallows and martins are still notable chiefly by their relative absence.

Ospreys have been good value in the last few weeks with daily sightings at Leighton Moss. They generally tend to prefer fishing at Causeway or Lower pools but do make the occasional trip to Lilian’s Pool, so when you’re visiting keep your eyes peeled skyward!

Welsh osprey at large in Lancashire. Pic by Paul Ellis

We assume that most of the osprey sightings here refer to Foulshaw Moss birds out on fishing forays but visiting birder Paul Ellis photographed this bird at Leighton Moss last Sunday (15). Close inspection reveals that this osprey was ringed as a chick in the nest at Glaslyn, Wales in 2014 and is clearly not a Foulshaw bird. Interestingly, the only other verified sighting of this bird was also at Leighton Moss, in July 2017 so he seems to like this area. How soon before ospreys nest in Lancashire?

A fine drake garganey has been gracing Lilian’s Pool for the last few days, though as is typical of this secretive species it can play hard to get at times. A little patience and bit of luck should ensure a sighting from either Lilian’s Hide or the Skytower. Checking the vegetated water edges at Grisedale and Jackson may also pay off as more of these handsome dabblers are likely to arrive in the coming days.  

As always, you can keep up to date with news by following our Twitter feed @leighton_moss

 

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager