Tag: Wildlife

Unusual sightings & otters in print!

It’s been another sunny, if a little chilly, week here at Leighton Moss. The expected arrival of summer migrants continues apace with our first reed warblers being heard early in the week and there has been a notable influx of willow warblers; many are singing around the reserve.   

The marsh harriers continue to nest-build while at the same providing visitors with some breath-taking views and at least one bittern is booming regularly at all times of the day. Ospreys are dropping in, or passing through, on a daily basis and a red kite paid a brief visit mid-week. Other scarce incomers included a smart breeding-plumage spoonbill which spent a few days at the back of the Eric Morecambe Pools and a fine drake green-winged teal appeared on the Allen Pools. This American rarity  is quite distinct from our familiar teal, the most obvious difference being the vertical white stripe toward the breast as opposed to a horizontal white tripe along the body. The appearance of this transatlantic globe-trotter attracted plenty of interest from the region’s birders who also enjoyed great views of the female scaup still present on the Causeway Pool along with the tufted ducks and pochards

The avocet colony seems to have peaked at around 60 birds and they can be seen making their nest scrapes on the islands in front of the saltmarsh hides. Good numbers of black-tailed godwits remain on the pools and some birdwatchers have been spotting birds with colour rings on their legs. Each of these godwits is individually identifiable and the data gathered from these sight records helps build a picture of the birds’ often complex migratory habits. Please do forward details of any ringed birds that you may see.

Other recent sightings of interest include kingfishers, a lingering merlin and of course our very obliging otters! Talking of which, today sees the publication of a new book entitled Tails from the Reedbed written by local otter enthusiast Elaine Prince. This book is filled with unique and revealing first-hand accounts of many close and intimate encounters, collected over a decade of almost daily observations at Leighton Moss. This engaging volume, which contributes significantly to our knowledge of otters should delight anyone who loves these aquatic mammals and the natural world in general. Our very own former warden John Wilson says Tails from the Reebed is “a wonderful read for anyone interested in wildlife”.

Copies of the book are available in our shop priced £7.99

Jon Carter

Photos: copyright of Charlotte Cassidy (Spoonbill) and Mike Malpass (Green-winged teal)

    

    

Unusual sightings & otters in print!

It’s been another sunny, if a little chilly, week here at Leighton Moss. The expected arrival of summer migrants continues apace with our first reed warblers being heard early in the week and there has been a notable influx of willow warblers; many are singing around the reserve.   

The marsh harriers continue to nest-build while at the same providing visitors with some breath-taking views and at least one bittern is booming regularly at all times of the day. Ospreys are dropping in, or passing through, on a daily basis and a red kite paid a brief visit mid-week. Other scarce incomers included a smart breeding-plumage spoonbill which spent a few days at the back of the Eric Morecambe Pools and a fine drake green-winged teal appeared on the Allen Pools. This American rarity  is quite distinct from our familiar teal, the most obvious difference being the vertical white stripe toward the breast as opposed to a horizontal white tripe along the body. The appearance of this transatlantic globe-trotter attracted plenty of interest from the region’s birders who also enjoyed great views of the female scaup still present on the Causeway Pool along with the tufted ducks and pochards

The avocet colony seems to have peaked at around 60 birds and they can be seen making their nest scrapes on the islands in front of the saltmarsh hides. Good numbers of black-tailed godwits remain on the pools and some birdwatchers have been spotting birds with colour rings on their legs. Each of these godwits is individually identifiable and the data gathered from these sight records helps build a picture of the birds’ often complex migratory habits. Please do forward details of any ringed birds that you may see.

Other recent sightings of interest include kingfishers, a lingering merlin and of course our very obliging otters! Talking of which, today sees the publication of a new book entitled Tails from the Reedbed written by local otter enthusiast Elaine Prince. This book is filled with unique and revealing first-hand accounts of many close and intimate encounters, collected over a decade of almost daily observations at Leighton Moss. This engaging volume, which contributes significantly to our knowledge of otters should delight anyone who loves these aquatic mammals and the natural world in general. Our very own former warden John Wilson says Tails from the Reebed is “a wonderful read for anyone interested in wildlife”.

Copies of the book are available in our shop priced £7.99

Jon Carter

Photos: copyright of Charlotte Cassidy (Spoonbill) and Mike Malpass (Green-winged teal)

    

    

Blog Post: The Hen Harrier Hotline is open!

As spring arrives we’re asking you to keep your eyes to the skies and you may even spot some skydancing! Project Manager Dr Cathleen Thomas tells us how you can help us to protect hen harriers. For anyone new to the blog, hen harriers are a bird of prey that breed in the uplands, principally on hills with heather moorland. They are the UK’s most threatened bird of prey and on the brink of extinction as breeding bird in England, with just 9 successful nests in the whole of England in 2018 despite there being enough habitat to support over 300 pairs. So, the population size is a very long way from where it should be for a healthy, self-sustaining population. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that shows that the main reason for the decline of our hen harriers is illegal killing by criminals in areas associated with intensive management of moorlands for grouse shooting. Just two weeks ago, the English government contributed to published research that found hen harriers were ten times more likely to die or disappear in areas of grouse moor, relative to areas with no grouse moor. This paper also found that 72% of their tagged birds were either definitely, or very likely to have been, illegally killed on grouse moors. Here at the RSPB, the staff working on our Hen Harrier LIFE project carry out direct conservation action on the ground to protect and monitor nests. We work alongside local raptor workers, including those that are part of the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) and the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG). To be able to protect the birds we need to know where they are and that’s why we’re asking for your help. As the weather is slowly warming up, the birds are becoming more visible as they start long journeys moving away from their winter roosting grounds and towards their summer breeding grounds. They will be moving into areas of heather moorlands in places like the North Pennines and the Forest of Bowland. Hen harrier are birds of prey with strong talons and a curved beak. They are a medium-sized bird of prey, smaller than an eagle and similar in size to a buzzard. Female hen harriers have brown and white feathers that camouflage them when they nest on the ground amongst the heather. They have horizontal stripes on their tails and a patch of white just above it. Males are slightly smaller and ash grey with black wing tips. Both have a round, owl-like face and a wingspan of just under a metre. A female hen harrier with mottled brown feathers and a barred tail (photo by Steve Knell, RSPB-IMAGES) In the spring, the male hen harrier performs a spectacular courtship display to attract a female, known as skydancing. The bird sweeps and somersaults, climbing high in the air before plunging to the ground and then pulling up just before he hits it! He twists and turns, all to impress the female and it should be a common sight on our hills and moorland in the spring. A grey male hen harrier (photo by Andy Hay, RSPB-IMAGES) If anyone spots a hen harrier, skydancing or otherwise, please make a note of the date, time and location with a 6-figure grid reference if possible. A description of what the bird was doing is also helpful. Sightings can be reported to henharriers@rspb.org.uk or you can call us on 0845 460 0121. Please help us to keep these birds safe this summer.

Dynamic water levels & recent sightings

While we’ve been enjoying this rather lovely weather, the lack of precipitation has certainly had an effect on the reserve. In fact, the total rainfall figure of just 18mm set a new record low for the reserve in June. And after three consecutive weeks with no rain at all, it’s really showing. We have lost 25cm of water from the main reedbed through evaporation alone and Myer’s Dyke (which runs into Lilian’s Pool) has, according to former warden John Wilson, never been drier.

Myer’s Dyke (Jon Carter)

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; dynamic water level changes are often key to the overall health of a wetland habitat. One of the things that we have been doing here at Leighton Moss in recent years is deliberately drawing down water levels in summer to promote new growth. This, coupled with targeted reed cutting, creates a mosaic of areas that benefit a wide range of wildlife.

We birders too can benefit from a reduction of water on the meres as the increased muddy edges and shallower pools can encourage normally elusive red bed dwellers such as bitterns and water rails to come out into the open. And as late July sees a notable rise in the numbers of migrating waders on the move we can hope that this prime feeding habitat attracts a good selection. Already, in recent days we have seen an influx of black-tailed godwits and little egrets onto the Grisedale Pool while snipe numbers have increased across the reserve. Up to six greenshanks are being seen regularly on the island in front of the Causeway Hide and both common and green sandpipers have been spotted at various locations on the reserve. The Eric Morecambe and Allen Pools are practically bone dry at the moment but that should change with the predicted high tides over the next couple of days or so.

Greenshank (Mike Malpass)

The rather baffling lack of sightings of marsh harrier fledglings is somewhat frustrating – there appears to be plenty of food going into the nests and the adult birds can be seen and heard flying around calling, trying to entice the youngsters to stretch their wings but so far the chicks seem immune to the charms of exploration.

The wardening team have been busy, as always, with various jobs around the site. One of the most exciting for me is the creation of a new bearded tit viewing area along the Causeway. Anyone familiar with the grit trays will be aware of the limited space that is available when watching out for these enigmatic reedbed residents. In an effort to make viewing more comfortable, and safer too given the occasional farm vehicle that passes by, we are building a platform which will take visitors off the road. By starting the work now, we can ensure that it will be ready in plenty of time for autumn when the ‘beardies’ start to visit the trays. And with new grit trays in other areas of the reserve we hope to improve our visitors’ chances of seeing these wonderful birds.

New bearded tit viewing area under construction (Jon Carter) 

As well as all the dazzling dragonflies around at the moment the reserve is also a great home for moths. The problem is, of course, that we rarely get chance to observe these nocturnal insects. Like many nature reserves, we run a moth trap at Leighton Moss which allows us to gather an amazing amount of information about which species both reside and visit here. Over 600 types of moth have been recorded on the reserve and our band of dedicated moth enthusiasts are discovering new ones each year.

Elephant hawk moth (Jon Carter)

This month we offer two opportunities for visitors to learn more about moths – our Meet The Moths at the Moss event is a short introductory drop-in session that takes place on Sunday 22 July while our more detailed Moths – Beginners Workshop on Saturday 28 July will appeal to those really wanting to know more about these fascinating insects and wish to get to grips with moth identification.  

To see all the events and activities taking place at Leighton Moss visitor our events page.     

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

 

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