Today we were joined by volunteer and birdsong extraordinaire – Andy Chapman, who took us on a walk through the reedbed and garden to discover and decipher the world of birdsong in our Birdsong for Beginners guided walk. If you read my previous blog you will know that I am a newcomer to the world of birdsong and have been working hard over the past few months to learn who’s who and what’s what at Leighton Moss. All of those grueling afternoons spent sitting in the garden listening to birdsong paid off as this morning when I helped to introduce some first time listeners to the birdy wall of sound.
As visitors arrived we were greeted by the noisy nuthatch, which seems to have claimed the visitor centre at Leighton Moss as his patch. I don’t think any of us will be forgetting the nuthatches racket for a while.
Noisy nuthatches! Picture by Paul Liley
Leighton Moss is a great home for nature with a fantastic diversity of birds, so we were treated to birdsong from garden favourites such as the tiny but mighty wren and the wonderful whistling of blackbirds. But we also heard the woodlands alive with willow warbler, one of the most melodious but lesser known birdsongs. As well as the explosive Cetti’s warbler at the far end of the boardwalk, which erupts into song from the reedbed.
It has been a fantastic morning with lovely people and a well deserved breakfast bap to round it all off. We will be running two more Birdsong for Beginners walks this year on Sunday 29 May and Sunday 19 June (by which time I will be a birdsong pro). For more information click here.
If you can’t wait till the end of May to dive into the world of birdsong and you can brave an early start then we are running an extra Dawn Chorus walk Sunday 8 May from 4-7.30 am. While the early start may seem daunting, this is a very rewarding walk. You will hear the first blackbirds and robins burst into song before the reserve explodes into life, a truly stunning symphony of birdsong. This walk is not advertised on our website so please call the visitor centre on 01524 701601 for more information and to make a booking.
Birdsong aside it’s been a fantastic week here at Leighton Moss. The past few days of sunshine have bought out the blossom on the trees and the welcome hum and buzz of bees. Butterflies are on the increase, with brimstones and peacock butterflies down the boardwalk. It is that lovely time of year where the sunshine brings everything back to life.
Blooming lovely. Picture by Sophie King
We have had our first sightings of this year’s common sandpiper which is most likely on its way to summer breeding grounds in Scotland. You might see this small wading bird from the Allen or Eric Morecambe Hides at the saltmarsh.
We have also had reports of ruffs in full breeding plumage. For most of the year the ruff will look like a fairly normal, brown wading bird. Then comes spring, where the ruff likes to look his best. The male ruff has a fantastically flamboyant plumage of puffed up head tufts and a large ornamental collar of feathers. These fantastic birds have been seen at Allen and Eric Morecambe Hides down at the saltmarsh and at the Grisedale Hide.
Also causing a spectacle at Leighton Moss is the large flock of black-tailed godwits. Between 2,000 and 3,000 black-tailed godwits have been flitting between the main reserve and Morecambe Bay. It’s quite a sight when a marsh harrier flies above and spooks the whole flock into synchronised flight!
Glorious views of Morecambe Bay. Picture by Mike Malpass
There have also been regular sightings of avocets from Lillian’s Hide. These enigmatic wading birds are normally found on Morecambe Bay and you can see their breeding grounds from the Allen Hide. It seems that this year they have decided to branch out and come for a dip at the main reserve too, making fantastic viewing for our visitors. You might recognise the avocets charactieristic upturned beak from the RSPBs logo? These elegant birds are one of our most staggering success stories, extinct as a breeding bird in the UK by 1842. Now, thanks to the habitat management and protection by the RSPB there are now over 400 breeding pairs nationally!
So far we know there are six avocet nests down at the Allen Pool. Fingers crossed we will be seeing some chicks over the upcoming weeks. Check our recent sightings blog to stay updated or pop into the visitor centre where we can tell you more about these wonderful waders!
We've got our fingers crossed for avocet chicks again this year. Picture by Roy Brown
I have been a residential volunteer at Leighton Moss for just over a month now and in the past couple of weeks, spring has stepped up a gear. The woodlands and garden are alive with birdsong and with the help of the wonderful and knowledgeable staff, volunteers and visitors at Leighton Moss I have been starting to pick apart this wonderful world of sound.
It’s just spectacular to walk along the pathways and hear the enormous diversity of life here at the reserve. Trying to untangle who’s who and what’s what can be daunting, but once you open your ears and your eyes to the world around you; you see the magic in unpicking its mysteries.
You can hear the melodious blackbirds, robins and dunnocks, the chatterings of chiffchaff and great tit, the churring of chaffinches, the racket of wrens and nuthatches and the three dimensional, otherworldly, mindboggling creations of the song thrush.
A song thrush belting out its beauty of a song. Picture by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Over the past few weeks the influx of summer migrants has stepped up a gear and we have been flooded with willow warblers. About the same size as a blue tit, this small warbler is actually very similar to a chiffchaff. The two birds are very tricky to tell apart by sight alone, instead their song is the most common identification tool. While a chiffchaff will very distinctly sing the two tone song of its name - "chiff chaff chiff chaff chiff", the willow warbler sings a more melodic and fluid song of descending notes. As you walk around the garden and woodlands the air is filled with the songs of these two little birds.
These aren't the only warblers we have been joined by; in the garden listen out for the song of the blackcap, so called because of the males distinctive jet black cap. The blackcaps song is one of the loveliest sounds of Spring, sweet and melodic with rich clear notes. See if you can spot one in the trees or singing from a patch of brambles as you walk through the garden. You will also hear reed warblers and sedge warblers singing as you walk through the reedbed. Loud and proud these noisy little birds have no idea that their songs are described as 'unmusical', 'lacking melody' and 'grating'. A good place to hear the reed warbler is if you head down to the end of the pond dipping platform where we have had one happily singing away all week. One trick to tell the songs apart of the reed warbler and sedge warbler is to imagine yourself conducting to the song of a reed warbler, whereas a sedge warbler is apparently 'un-conductable'.
Look out for that distinctive jet black hood of a blackcap in the garden. Picture by Martin Kuchczynski
In the very early hours of the morning our first spotted crake was heard near the causeway. This elusive bird is very secretive and skulks about in the dense vegetation of the reedbed. You will only know it's there if you hear its distinctive 'whip-lash' call. The spotted crake is specially protected, in the last 10 years there have only been 30-80 pairs breeding in Britain. Which is why places like Leighton Moss are so important to these mysterious birds. The best time to hear the 'whip-lash' of the spotted crake is at dawn and dusk. While the visitor centre is open from 9.30 am-5 pm we don't close the reserve or hides, so keep your ears open if you go for an evening walk down the causeway.
An illustration of the elusive spotted crake by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
If you fancy taking a dip into the world of birdsong then join us for the first of three Birdsong for Beginners walks this Sunday, where our experts (and me!) will help you to decipher the mysterious languages of the woodland. Or if you're willing to brave the early morning then join us for our Dawn Chorus walk in celebration of international dawn chorus day on Sunday 1 May.
If you read our guest blog this week by the fantastic Anya, you will know that RSPB looks after over 200 nature reserves like Leighton Moss as well as working to create more habitats in adjoining sites. Here at Leighton Moss our wardening team have created two new reedbeds since 2005; Barrow Scout fields and Silverdale Moss. Our aim is to make habitats like reedbeds bigger, better and more connected. In this blog I will talk about three of our star species which have benefited from some of this wonderful work; otters, bearded tits and marsh harriers.
Otters disappeared from the waters of Leighton Moss in the mid 90’s, their numbers had dramatically decreased across the UK and they were in big trouble due to persecution and water pollution. In 2006 thanks to some European funding and a helping hand from a huge floating digger we’ve turned our water problems around and have had the otters back with a vengeance! We caught a couple of otters on film down at Barrow Scout fields this week, making the most of their new reedbed. The cheeky duo were having a late night ramble in the reedbed when they stumbled upon our camera trap.
One of our resident otters at Leighton by Dave Hall (not by our camera trap!)
Nick, our assistant warden, came back from an early morning jaunt around the reserve with some very exciting news today; we have two pairs of nesting bearded tits, one on eggs and one with chicks! The bearded tits are one of our most enigmatic, charming and important little birds. Leighton Moss is the only site in the north west of England where bearded tits live and because they are so special to us, we’ve even made them their own little homes; wonderful wigwams made from reed. We have been monitoring bearded tit numbers in the reedbed for over 50 years and over the next few weeks we’ll be keeping an eye on their nest boxes to see how they’ve fared over the wet winter. The bearded tits are fast breeders, having up to three broods per year, so fingers crossed things are looking good for the little beardies!
On the left our fabulous handmade bearded tit nest boxes ready to go out into the reedbed by David Mower and a resident bearded tit by Mike Malpass on the right
The marsh harriers have had an action packed week; these majestic birds of prey have been stealing the show and putting on a fantastic display for all of our visitors. If you have read my previous blog you will already know that we have had two males and two females for quite some time now, but this weekend we were joined by a third female! Fantastic news for us ... and also for our male marsh harrier who has hopefully found himself a mate. With three nesting females and only two males, the boys are going to have to do a lot of fishing to keep their ladies happy! While the female is nesting and incubating her eggs, which can take from 31 to 38 days, the male marsh harrier will have to supply her with food, which he delivers to her in spectacular mid-flight food passes. We expect to see a lot of marsh harrier action over the upcoming months, come down to witness their dramatic food passes, soaring skydances and their silent glide over the reedbed.
A marsh harrier making landing in the reedbed look easy - picture by Chris Gomersall
Thanks to the work by RSPB staff, an enormous troupe of volunteers and the support of our wonderful members we have been giving nature a home at Leighton Moss for over 50 years. Come down and visit us over the upcoming weeks and you will see that alongside our stars of the show we are a haven for a massive diversity of wildlife. As you take a stroll through the garden and along the trails listen out for willow warblers which have been flooding into the reserve in the last week. Nip down to the pond dipping platforms to hear the first of the reed warblers singing in the reeds. Look upon the hundreds of sand martins displaying their agility as they skim the water’s surface for insects at dusk. See if you can spot the tawny owl which has taken up roost in the woodland and watch the flocks of black tailed godwits as they take to the sky in their thousands. If you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of the mighty osprey which makes a special trip to Leighton Moss to enjoy the fish.
Leighton Moss waking up and shaking off the morning mist - picture by David Mower