Spring arrivals and fond farewells

Hello readers, Leighton Moss has certainly been sun-kissed in recent days and there is a definite feeling of spring in the air. Our resident woodland birds such as song thrushes, great tits, nuthatches and marsh tits have been in full song, you can listen out for them across the reserve.

First on the agenda are the bitterns. We have observed some encouraging bittern activity, with a couple of bitterns chasing each other across the reedbed. No booming as of yet but it is still early days. Last year saw the booming start in March, so we are all eagerly listening for the tell-tale sound. If you have not heard a bittern boom, check out our interactive screens in the visitor centre, you can listen to the distinctive sound there.

Spring is of course the time to welcome new arrivals to Leighton Moss! The first sand martin of the year was seen on Monday 25 February and we can look forward to more incoming sand martins and swallows over the next few weeks. Monday also saw our first chiffchaff in song down on the Causeway path. This is an excellent place to look for other birds such as bearded tits and reed buntings.

Sand martin. Photo credit: Ben Hall rspb-images.com. 

Did you know that male reed buntings have different songs? A single male will have a slightly varied call to a paired male. The paired male will still try his luck at getting more than one mate though!

Causeway Pool has been a hive of activity for the past week. We have two pairs of great crested grebes displaying at the moment and listen out for the trilling calls of the little grebes too. There have been excellent sightings of the otter family from Causeway and Lower hides and both locations are great places to look for snipe. Water rails continue to show well in the right-hand side reed channel of Causeway Hide and also down in the dyke on the way to Tim Jackson Hide and Grisedale Hide.

Great crested grebe courtship. Photo credit: Hazel Rothwell.

In terms of wildfowl, we have had some departures but there is still a good variety at Causeway and on the wider reserve. Look out for wigeon, pintail, teal, shoveler and gadwall. Diving ducks to look for include up to 14 pochard (hopefully we will have some chicks later!) roughly ten goldeneye and a flotilla of tufted duck too.

There are at least three great white egrets still on the reserve, often down by the Tim Jackson and Grisedale Hides. Grisedale Hide is an excellent spot to look for the very active marsh harriers but the Skytower and Lilian’s Hide are prime places too. Other raptors which have been sighted include buzzard, kestrel, sparrowhawk and barn owl. We also had another fly-over from a red kite on Sunday 24 February.

Male marsh harrier. Photo credit: Alan Saunders. 

Down at the Saltmarsh Pools there are currently 9 avocet. Currently, the best place to look for them near is near the edges of the pools or roosting with other waders such as the black-tailed godwits. There are also lapwing, oystercatcher, redshank, knot and greenshank to look for. The walk to the hides is also an excellent place to spot smaller birds such as stonechat so do keep your eyes peeled.

Warden work

It is also worth mentioning the excellent habitat improvement work the warden team have completed over the past week. The dyke which you cross when on the way to Tim Jackson Hide and Grisedale Hide has been opened up. This will allow for better fish movement into these new areas as well as providing a new bittern feeding habitat as the fish can swim into the edges of the reeds. Our resident waterfowl are already taking advantage of the open water and do keep a watchful eye on the reed edges, you never know what bird species you may see perched there!

Farewell Leighton Moss

As the sun sets on my internship I can’t help but leave with a paradoxical sense of being heartbroken but also filled with optimism for the future. I have thoroughly loved my time as Visitor Experience Intern and I will miss the team, reserve and visitors dearly. I was nervous starting my internship at Leighton Moss but I think I have done alright looking back!  I have learned so much about the fantastic work of the RSPB, the effort needed to run a visitor centre and of course I have learned a lot about our birds and conservation efforts. 

I don’t really have a favourite moment as living on a nature reserve is fantastic in itself! Truthfully, the supportive and welcoming team made the internship for me. I will say however, that seeing the Christmas Market do so well and assisting Andy with guided walks have been key highlights. I assisted on the guided walk Birding for Beginners on Sunday 24 February, this was a very fun event with a fantastic group who were keen to learn and ask questions. I would recommend attending an upcoming Birdsong for Beginners if you would like to learn how to distinguish the various warbler calls. 

I have loved meeting people from all walks of life in the visitor centre and assisting with Nature Tots. Inspiring young minds has been wonderful. Our conservationists, scientists and birders of the future, I think it’s our job to inspire a love for wildlife in children. How can we expect a child to want to protect something they know nothing about? Or indeed have a link to? 

I will leave Leighton Moss with a heavy heart, but I am already planning my return visit to catch up with my friends and mentors and continue to discover the wonderful wildlife this fantastic reserve has to offer. 

I will leave you readers with perhaps my top highlight, holding (and releasing) a juvenile male bearded tit! Thank you for reading my blogs and saying hello in the visitor centre. Perhaps I will see you at Leighton Moss in the future! 


Peregrines in the Forest of Bowland

UPDATE: Peregrines in the Forest of Bowland finally brought down by prejudice and misguided politics

Update 26-03-2016 : The list gets longer
Based upon information received last night, we are currently investigating claims sent to us by a concerned Bowland raptor worker that our list of sites was missing 3 peregrine territories he believes are also abandoned. We have now checked out one of these sites and the information has proved valid. Any subsequent additional abandoned sites we are able to verify will be added in RED to our existing list. Any sites discovered to have been reoccupied this season will be changed to GREEN.
We would like to think our treatment of wildlife has improved since 1947 when the first recorded pair of breeding Peregrine falcons located in the Forest of Bowland were shot and their clutch of 4 eggs destroyed by estate gamekeepers. The reality is the situation today on England’s moorland uplands where red grouse are shot is now much worse than it was all those years ago. Throughout a majority of these moorland areas, peregrines and hen harriers are becoming more conspicuous each season by their almost total absence from these regions..

The most suitable logo that depicts the situation throughout this area designated as an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.’ 

In the spring of 2009 seventeen occupied peregrine territories were recorded by licensed members of the North West Raptor Group in the Forest of Bowland. One year later, in 2010 Natural England, (the Government’s Wildlife Advisor on the Natural Environment) with-held licences which they had previously issued permitting the group to monitor and protect peregrines, including several other threatened raptor species for over thirty five years; just 4 years later fifteen of these historic territories had been found abandoned resulting in the disappearance of the adult falcons..
In 2014 taking into account the unprecedented disappearance of so many Peregrines in such a short time frame from one moorland region, Terry Pickford a founder member of the NWRG (1967) appealed Natural England’s decision asking them to reinstate his license, they refused. The 3 reasons provided by Natural England for their decision were as ridiculous as they were illogical, read below..

  1. Terry was advised other licence holders had been appointed to cover this region. (Terry had worked in Bowland since 1975 protecting peregrines )
  2. Terry’s presence would cause unnecessary disturbance to nests. (What nests, by this time the peregrine was almost extinct in Bowland? )
  3. Issuing Terry with  license would cause duplication of nest visits. (How could anyone duplicate visits to nests that no longer existed? )

Based upon valid arguments contained in Terry Pickford’s licence reinstatement request, amongst other facts, he highlighted that Peregrines and a high number of their nests were being destroyed at an unprecedented rate on estates in Bowland; who’s interests were Natural England really trying to protect by refusing to reinstate his Bowland licence we might ask?
Putting Natural England’s decision into perspective it is important to point out Terry Pickford has held a BTO class ‘A’ ringing permit since 1986 authorising him to ring nestlings at the nests of the 6 schedule 1 raptor species listed in the table below. He currently holds a scientific disturbance licence for Peregrine (Cumbria Only), Goshawk (Lancashire and Cumbria), Red Kite (South Cumbria & Lancashire), Osprey (Cumbria & Lancashire), Barn Owl, Golden Eagle (Scotland). Natural England for some curious reason refuse to issue a Peregrine licence for use in Bowland to any member of the NWRG where persecution is widespread, but on the other hand are happy to support his licence for use in Cumbria where persecution is very low.

  1. Peregrine
  2. Goshawk
  3. Hen Harrier
  4. Red Kite
  5. Osprey
  6. Golden Eagle (Scotland)

Taking into account what has taken place in Bowland since 2010, there can no longer be any doubt it was not the Peregrines or their nests Natural England were concerned about saving. Natural England in reaching their decision refusing to reinstate the license of an extremely experienced and conscientious field worker chose instead to ignore the systematic extermination of a protected species taking place in the Forest of Bowland. In our view this was  a misguided attempt to prevent the embarrassment of estates by covering up the illegal killing of Peregrines and the destruction of historic nest sites taking place with impunity. Keeping Terry Pickford together with the rest of the membership of the NWRG out of Bowland, would in some people’s warped opinion conveniently keep this important criminal activity from becoming public knowledge.
Just in case you are one of the sceptics, we have added details of twenty one Peregrine territories below, which are known to have been abandoned inside the boundary of the Forest of Bowland since 2010. You may feel these desertions are coincidental, but you would be wrong. An RSPB spokesperson writing in the Lancashire Life in 2014 explained these losses, details which were never published within the annual RSPB Crime Report Figures as even suspicious, were the result of climate change and the lack of suitable prey, plus possibly some persecution. Well the RSPB would know because they are paid to protect raptors inside the Forest of  Bowland.

22 Forest of Bowland Peregrine territories confirmed abandoned as of this week. 

United Utilities:

  1. Trough Bank, (3 alternate sites abandoned)
  2. Burn Fell (3 alternate sites abandoned)
  3. Lythe Fell, (3 alternate sites abandoned)
  4. Langden Head, (2 alternate sites abandoned)
  5. Brennand Fell, (3 alternate sites abandoned)
  6. Bleadale,  (3 alternate sites abandoned)
  7. Burnslack Fell, (1 site recorded, used once before being abandoned)
  8. Hareden, (1 site recorded, found abandoned 20th March 2016)
  9. Grindleton Fell. (1 site recorded containing 2 chicks. 1 chick shot. 2nd chick observed on wing one mile from nest) Shoot closed down. No charges brought following police investigation into actions of tenant gamekeeper.
Abbeystead and Littledale
  1. Threaphaw Fell, (Nesting Ledge Destroyed)
  2. Marshaw Fell, (1 site Nesting Ledge Destroyed, 2 additional sites abandoned)
  3. Hawthornthwaite Fell, (3 additional sites abandoned)
  4. Catshaw Greave, ( site abandoned, traps and grit trays placed close to nests)
  5. Foxdale Beck, (3 alternate sites each abandoned)
  6. Mallowdale Pike, (In 2010, 2 nestlings disappeared, site abandoned ever since)
  7. Tarnbrook Fell, (Nesting Ledge Destroyed prior to 2010)
  1. Grizedale Fell, (Nesting site on ground burnt out)
  2. Luddock Fell, (Nesting site on ground burnt out)
  3. Bleasdale Moor, (Clutch of 3 eggs disappeared within one day of nest being located 2015, site now abandoned)
  1. Greenbank Fell, (3 additional sites abandoned)(Clutches of Eggs disappeared, 2006, 2007, also in 2013, 14. (Site abandoned since single male peregrine disappeared in 2015.)
Cloughton Moor.
  1. Cloughton Quarry, Nesting ledge destroyed 2015, suspected clutch of eggs disappeared in 2014. ( Site found abandoned March 2016)
Cow Ark.
  1. Birket Fell, (Nesting Ledge destroyed in 2010/11 site abandoned)