What are my birding highlights over the last few weeks at RSPB Marshside ? Well, there have been spectacular displays of thousands of Black-tailed Godwits , Lapwings and Golden Plovers which make an incredible sight when flushed from the ground by a hunting raptor. This has notably been a Peregrine, which had a real go at them! However, this time has provided me with close-up portraits of both male and female Kestrels , a useful opportunity to compare. There I was photographing my first ever Grey Phalarope (rare bird!), when this male Kestrel flew towards me, landed on the most perfectly placed fencepost and posed coyly for several minutes. His blue-grey head and tail and lighter, less speckled back separate him from all other British falcons. Top moment! This female Kestrel was waiting patiently for me to photograph her. Immediately I’d finished, she bobbed a couple of times and flew off fast and low, causing mass panic among the ducks. Its grey-brown head separates it from the male (with blue-grey head). It’s also paler brown on the head and back than the female Merlin and has streaks rather than the Sparrowhawk’s bars on the front. The Grey Phalarope is quite a rarity, as only a few make landfall during their southwards migration which is mostly over the Atlantic Ocean. About the size of a Starling , this winter bird is identified mostly by its head pattern, which to me makes it look like a balding old man with a black eye! There is also a distinctive dark stripe down the back of its neck. This Water Rail was only the second I have ever seen! I know most of you realise how rare and privileged a sight this is, as these birds generally stay well out of sight in the reedbeds. They are rather like a small, attractively marked Moorhen, with longer red beak. The beak was covered in mud in the first two photos, which made me think it might be a young one. However, young ones have a paler straw-coloured beak and much paler neck and breast. They have a beautiful dark blue-grey neck and breast, chestnut-brown back heavily speckled with black and bold black-and-white barring on their underparts. This one held its tail permanently upright, like a Wren . The final joy for me at this time of year are the incredible Marshside sunsets, which give a whole new perspective on bird photography. Here is a small selection of photographs featuring Greylag and Pink-footed Geese , which I feel speak for themselves.
It’s certainly been a mixed few days weather-wise but it doesn’t seem to have deterred many of you from spending time here on the reserve over the half term week!
And of course our friends at Autumnwatch are back on TV – reminding millions of us of the sheer wonder the UK’s amazing wildlife can offer. It’s been great to see our colleagues doing such a wonderful job at RSPB Old Moor too. It’s a great reserve, do visit it when you can!
Well, here the bearded tit activity has slowed down a little on those days when the weather’s been a bit wet and windy but managed to pull some out of the bag right at the last moment on our final guided bearded tit walk of the season earlier in the week. Even prior to us seeing the beardies we were having a great time with sightings of guillemot (not what one would call a classic reedbed specialist (!) and a rare bird on the main reserve) plus we had superb views of a cracking little yellow-browed warbler – another scarce visitor here.
Wildfowl numbers continue to build and there are lots of shoveler, teal & gadwall on the meres plus wigeon, pintail & tufted duck. Pochard seem to come and go, occasionally dragging the smart drake ring-necked duck with them. A very late garganey has also been seen on and off. Keep an eye out to for those odd hybrids: cinnamon teal / shoveler and wigeon / gadwall. Odd, but fun to pick out among the mass of more familiar ducks!
Marsh harriers continue to be a feature with at least seven birds on site. I think you’d have to be pretty unlucky not to see one while visiting us at the moment. I can still clearly remember seeing my first marsh harrier at Leighton Moss when I was a lad – the perfect combination of elegance and deadly intent (the harrier, not me). Sheer magic. I never tire of seeing these epic birds. Photo by Mike Malpass
Don’t forget, the shop and café are now open from 10am daily.
We have friendly optics experts on-hand should you be looking for a new pair of binoculars or a spotting scope – we are happy to provide impartial advice in order to help you find just what you need.
With things becoming decidedly more autumnal of late, we have been noticing a few changes here on the reserve.
Down at the Eric Morecambe and Allen pools wader numbers are picking up, as we’d expect at this time of year. Good numbers of redshank (photo by Brian Salisbury) and lapwing are usually present and on some days the pools play host to lots of roosting black-tailed godwits. Among the commoner birds one can often find a few greenshank, plus the odd ruff and we had a handful of curlew sandpipers and avocets last week. At this time of year it’s well worth scanning through the gathered birds; there’s always the chance that a scarce shorebird or two may well be mixed in with their commoner cousins. Visitors to the coastal hides have also been reporting sightings of peregrine, osprey, great white egret and kingfisher along with goosanders and plenty of little egrets.
Meanwhile, over on the main reserve at least two marsh harriers are being seen regularly. Their lingering implies that they may well be the first of the birds that will spend the winter with us. Bitterns are being seen daily too – often making quite protracted flights over the reedbeds.
Wildfowl is building up across the site, as we’d expect, and along with the shoveler (photo by David Mower), gadwall, pochard, teal and tufted duck we’re seeing increasing numbers of wigeon returning and up to five garganey have been lingering. Meanwhile overhead, the first skeins of pink-footed geese etch their way across the sky heralding the approach of winter.
We’ve really noticed the movement of swallows and martins in recent days and I saw what may well turn out to have been my last swift of the year last week; it’s always a bittersweet moment, knowing that I’m unlikely to see another until they return next spring!
Don’t forget our shop is open from 10.30 am till 4pm daily. If you’re looking for a new pair of binoculars or a scope, you can now arrange a 1-2-1 appointment with one of our friendly experts – each Saturday through September. A member of our knowledgeable team will be more than happy to answer all your questions and help you to find the perfect optical gear to suit your needs and budget. You can just turn up or if you’d rather you can pre-book by contacting us on 01524 701601 or emailing Leighton.firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope to see you soon – till then, take care and keep safe!
Birders with eyes on the skies and ears to the ground will not be surprised by a RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) report that raptor persecution shows no signs of slowing down across the UK. Are we also shocked to learn that while…
The Safari was picked up by CR on dreary wet November morning last Tuesday and off we set north-bound on a twitch for a Yankee duck that had been resident on Pine Lake for a week or so. A convenient early port of call on the way to Leighton Moss. The d…
Ribble Reserves blog w/c 04.11.19 Our new Ribble Reserves blog combines news from all of our RSPB Ribble estuary sites; Marshside, Hesketh Out Marsh and the Ribble Discovery Centre providing you with all the latest up to date information about sightings, events, shop offers and educational visits! Ribble Discovery Centre The kingfisher continues to be spotted flitting over the lake, it continues to evade us in the centre however! Redshanks and oystercatchers are spotted frequently on the edge of the lake and over 30 mute swans were counted this week. Educational visits With #OutdoorClassroomDay today we thought we would look at our education season so far. This season since April we have delivered our learning sessions to schools and youth groups, engaging 1500 children. That’s a lot of mud dipping! We offer a suite of sessions linked to the Science National Curriculum and our coastal beach sessions also match the Cornerstones curriculum. We undertake sessions in and around the lake and gardens such as plant detectives and living things and their habitats, but one of our most popular sessions is the mud habitat study. Awe and wonder is rife in this session. Children have the opportunity to not only discover and identify the invertebrates living beneath this highly nutritious mud but they also have the chance to understand their wider relationship within the food chains and ecosystem of the habitat. The opportunity to use wide scientific vocabulary is there and this was commended in our Council for Learning Outside the Classroom Quality badge inspection. Brownies mud dipping photo credit Jo Taylor Our feedback this season has also been excellent with 100% of respondents stating their session was “outstanding” or “very good”. This is with great thanks to the huge contribution of our many learning volunteers who are so vital to our team. If you are interested in booking an educational visit at the Ribble Discovery Centre at any time of year please contact our learning officer Jo Taylor at email@example.com Visitor Centre and family events Our Autumn Explorer trail was very popular over half term with over 70 families taking part. The winner has now been drawn and will be collecting their family prize from the Ribble Discovery Centre this weekend. Well done! Shop Alongside our Christmas cards, wrapping and calendar offers there’s currently a fantastic 20% off 12.75kg boxes of Buggy Nibbles (R402649) and High Energy Suet Sprinkles (R403130). Normally £39.99, now £31.99 too. In our centre we sell a wide range of books, including some great wildlife identification guides and also a range of natural history novels. Great for that special Christmas gift. Ray, one of our centre volunteers has written the following book review for us: “This book is a must – sensitive, inspiring and told in such a way it gives you feeling you are being told a story by someone who genuinely cares. It is well researched and factual interspersed by humour. If you love birds, history or just a thoroughly good story then this is a must read for you. I would recommend this nook to anyone interested in birdwatching and the history of the conservation movement, anyone wanting a good read and anyone interested in the history of the Second World War.” Marshside Skies We have been treated to displays from a suite of raptors present at Marshside of late. Peregrine , hen harrier , merlin , sparrow hawk , marsh harrier hunt over the inner and outer marshes, often agitating their quarry into amazing evasive displays. The black tailed godwits below are were filmed at Marshside (Rimmers Marsh) keeping ahead of a peregrine. https://vimeo.com/371079332 Out and About A the days get shorter and the first few frosts reach in, the marshes colour palette is finding its winter hues. Dusk at Sandgrounders hide: Marshside Record breaking cows This cow broke the coveted ‘interference record’ – with an outstanding heavy scratch test of a freshly repaired stile …. 45 seconds is going to be hard to beat From the Web Visitors have been enjoying the nomadic band of cattle egrets as they move from site to site along the Ribble. These thirteen were photographed by Janice Sutton as they headed to roost. Its incredible to see this species increase its footing on the Ribble. Janice also caught up with the growing flock of twite now enjoying the saltmarsh. This image was taken by the pier, but they have been spotted at Marshside and along the fence line at Hesketh Out Marsh .
The water has been sticking around since the last blog. It’s definitely wellie weather right now here at Leighton Moss, and if you come prepared you have the chance to see some great seasonal wildlife spectacles.
The bearded tits have been continuing to show very well on the grit trays along the Causeway and the path to Grisedale Hide in recent days. If you don’t have wellies, still do feel free to come and visit our café where we are screening live footage from a camera focused on the grit trays – so you may be able to watch these amazing birds while enjoying a hot drink and a slice of your favourite cake!
One of the big species to spot right now is the red deer. With the rut getting underway they are easier to see because the stags are forming harems and challenging one another for supremacy. The males can be heard bellowing all around the reserve, especially in the mornings and again in the late afternoon. With their magnificent antlers on display, they can provide great photographic opportunities. The best place to catch sight of these impressive beasts is from the Grisedale Hide (maybe after sighting the bearded tits?). Red deer pic by Mike Malpass.
Some of the other sightings around include otters, which are another firm favourite with visitors. These aquatic mammals have been spotted a couple times in the last week from the Causeway Hide. At least three marsh harriers have been seen hunting over the reedbeds in recent weeks. Usually this species migrates to Africa during September and October. However, a growing number of marsh harriers are remaining in the UK all year round due to milder winters rather than leaving and returning for breeding in April.
Other birds of prey being seen regularly include merlin, peregrine, sparrowhawk and kestrel – mainly from the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. Visitors have also been enjoying great views of little and great white egrets, multiple species of waders and kingfishers.
Wildfowl numbers continue to creep up with shoveler, gadwall, teal and wigeon flocks growing almost daily. Tufted ducks have increased too and have attracted one or two pochard and a pair of juvenile scaup. A rather unseasonal garganey has been present now for several days and tends to favour Lillian’s and Grisedale pools.
Are you thinking about buying some binoculars or a spotting scope? Well on October 26 and 27 we are hosting a binocular and telescope open weekend. This will give you the chance to try out the optics you have been eyeing outdoors, so you know which are the right products for you. We will have our friendly, impartial team on hand to help you decide on the perfect equipment for your needs and budget.
So, even though we’re a bit flooded, there is still a lot to around to see. We hope to see you down here soon, but please bring wellies for the next few weeks. We will give an update when the water levels decrease on this blog, the RSPB Leighton Moss Facebook group and Twitter @LeightonMoss.
See you soon!
Charlotte (Visitor Experience Intern)
For those of you still yet to see the wonderful long flights of our nesting bittern, there is still time with the female still making consistent flights across the reserve and down to Barrow Scout in search of food. Whilst the go-to place on the …
The Safari had a wont to have a peek at the rarer geese that had been found last weekend in the fields and marshes Over Wyre. Our first port of call was the farmland bird feeding area where there were numerous Tree Sparrows, always good to see them, an…
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,