With now less than a month to go until Christmas, I'm sure many of you will be thinking about presents or how to avoid going shopping. Either way, Leighton Moss is the perfect place to come! If you are in the camp looking for present ideas, come and check out the beautiful Christmas range in our shop. We've got everything from Christmas cards, home wear, calendars, wrapping, crackers and kids gifts. For those keen on watching wildlife, or those who are just starting out, we've got a wide selection of books, DVDs and CDs to suit all needs. You can then relax and enjoy a warming bowl of tasty home-made soup, hot chocolate and a slice of cake in our café. Mmmmmm.
If you are in the camp that would rather avoid Christmas shopping then why not take a stroll round the reserve. With otters frequently appearing at Causeway and Lower hides, Cetti's warblers calling on the Causeway, around 10,000 starlings starting to come in at dusk near Lilian's hide, large numbers of ducks at Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides, bearded tits on the grit trays and much much more besides, you can escape from the Christmas chaos and get closer to nature here (don't forget your wellies for the flooded paths!)
Families can get involved in our self-led, festive Christmas trail, on every day throughout December - details here.
Whichever option you choose, you'll need to know about the slight change to our visitor centre opening hours. In December and January we close at 4.30 pm (5 pm the rest of the year). The nature reserve is open dawn to dusk. We are open every day except Christmas Day, when both the visitor centre and the nature reserve are closed.
Amended opening times over the Christmas period are as follows:
Christmas Eve - 9.30 am-3 pm
Christmas Day - visitor centre and reserve closed
Boxing Day - 10 am-4.30 pm
New Year’s Eve - 9.30 am-3 pm
New Year’s Day - 10 am-4.30 pm
Every other day in December and January is our normal winter opening hours (9.30 am-4.30 pm)
We ho ho hope to see you soon!
Robin by Sue Tranter (rspb-images.com)
Finally... they’re here! We’ve had our first wave of starlings arrive here at Leighton Moss, up to 18,000 have been counted so far and we are hoping for more. In previous years we’ve had up to 100,000! It is hoped that the onset of cold weather coming over the continent will bring more birds. Sunday night saw quite an impressive murmuration, with a gorgeous pink and purple sunset as a back drop. Monday and Tuesday wasn’t as impressive due to the wet weather so the starlings came in dribs and drabs but you could still get an idea of the sheer number that roost here over winter. They come into roost in the reedbed near to Grisedale hide but the best views are from Lilian's hide and the Skytower. They begin their displays just before it goes dark, between 3.30-4 pm.
Starling sunset by David Kjaer
I was curious to see what happened in the mornings, if the birds put on a similarly impressive display. So this morning I set my alarm for 6 am and me and two other interns headed down towards Grisedale hide. As we were walking down the path we could hear the starlings chattering away, getting louder and louder as we got nearer. We stopped where we thought we were closest to the birds... and waited... and waited. An hour passed. But eventually we heard them beginning to make flight at around 7.30 am. They were very low to the reeds for a while, just moving from place to place, and then all of a sudden an explosion of birds escaped the reedbed and filled the sky! It was definitely worth the wait. If anyone is thinking of coming to see them in the morning I would recommended the Skytower as this would provide the best views.
Our hour wasn’t a waste though, we saw greylag geese and pink-footed geese fly overhead, a couple of snipe, a teal or two and a flock of about 30 jackdaw, which kept us entertained while we waited for the main event.
Baby blues... jackdaw by Sue Tranter
Most of the duck activity is down at the Grisedale and Tim Jackson hides at the moment as the water level is too high for them on Lilian's pool and the Causeway pool following the heavy rain. Shoveler, teal, pochard, gadwall and mallard have all been spotted out on the water. There have been 3 red deer stags seen outside the Tim Jackson hide, as well as great white egrets, although they seem to have made their way down to the saltmarsh recently.
From the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides there is also quite a lot of duck activity as well as lapwing, redshank and the ever impressive kingfishers. We regularly get two kingfishers down at the saltmarsh, which like to perch just in front of the hides which creates great viewing and photo opportunities.
The otters have definitely been one of the highlights of the past few weeks, they have been seen every day from the Causeway hide and Lower hide and have even been seen in Lilian's pool. The deep water is perfect for them to fish and play in and they have provided hours of entertainment for our visitors.
Otter at Lower hide by Robert Metcalf
The ever illusive bittern has even been seen a couple of times over the past few weeks. It was spotted on Sunday making flights near to Lower hide and has previously been spotted from both the Causeway hide and Lower hide. It has been seen a couple of times emerging from the reeds right next to the Causeway hide.
If you’re coming to visit us in the next few days please don’t forget to bring your wellies as some of the paths are very flooded due to the recent heavy rainfall and some hides are not accessible without them.
If you and your family want to discover more about our super duper starlings why not take part in our self-led family trail which is running throughout November.
It's safe to say that it has been rather wet and windy up here in the North West of England over the last week, although the sun is peeping through the clouds today which is very welcome. When heavy rain arrives, it can sometimes mean that a lot of wildlife (understandably) likes to hide away, but not all.....
Here at Leighton Moss, we get a big increase in the number and variety of ducks in the winter months. Wet weather doesn't bother them at all and in fact, the windy conditions seen this past week have meant they have often snuggled up close to the hides for shelter, giving those visitors who have ventured out to see them, some fantastic close up views. Mallards, teal, shovelers, pintails, and wigeons all have their own distinct plumages (or outfits as I like to say), and at this time of year, following their autumn molt, they are looking particularly splendid. Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides are the best spots at the moment.
Mallard ballet by Martin Kuchczynski
Some of our best-loved residents - the otters, have not at all been put off by the weather. In fact, they've been enjoying the deeper water levels at Causeway and Lower hides, where up to four otters have been spotted swimming around at once, playing in the water. If you're heading down there, the path to Lower hide is a bit wet at the moment, so waterproof boots or wellies are advised.
These little cuties were out this morning at Lower hide. Images by Robert Metcalf.
Up to three marsh harriers have been seen regularly, battling against the wind whilst they hunt low over the reeds.
Down at the saltmarsh, the pools are pretty deep, so the wading birds have been pushed further out onto Morecambe Bay. However, shelducks and little egrets are enjoying feeding on the fresh creatures brought in by the tides. Look out for them at Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, or even from the train!
The woodland feeding station has still got lots of activity from the smaller birds, look out for bullfinches, nuthatches and marsh tits among more familiar garden favourites like blue tits and chaffinches.
We are getting lots of starling murmuration enquiries at the moment, but they haven't returned yet. Keep an eye on here and our Facebook (RSPB North West England) and Twitter (@Leighton_moss) pages for updates.
The boardwalk and path re-structure is nearing its completion, which we're very excited about. We'll keep you posted this week as to when it is likely to beopen, but not long now......!
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Due to the recent heavy rainfall, many of the reserve paths are flooded. You can get to Lilian's hide and The Skytower without wellies, but you will need them to get everywhere else.