We are now entering the second summer of a three year plan involving a bit of a shake up in the way we manage the reedbed in a bid to restore it back to pristine bittern habitat. In the next few months you might start to notice much more mud appearing around some of the pool edges, but don’t worry, we haven’t sprung a leak.
Though we have bitterns here, currently the reedbed is unsuitable for them to breed. They like to have areas of reed growing in really deep water, so they can fish in the cover of the reeds. As Leighton Moss has been a reedbed for almost 100 years, sediment has built up and areas that should be underwater are now dry as a bone.
In 2006 work was done to remove the sediment layer. The hope was that reed would start to grow at a lower level in these areas, which would mean fish could swim in between the reed stems, providing perfect bittern feeding habitat. Unfortunately this did not happen, and we were left with bare patches of sloppy mud that reed finds very difficult to grow in. We have tried planting areas of reed (and fencing it, to protect against grazing deer and geese), but re-growth has been pretty poor here too.
So, we have had to resort to a rather more drastic technique. We are drawing the water level down over a period of three years, so that this sloppy mud layer will consolidate and dry out. Hopefully, this will allow the reed to spread out from the edges and grow with much more vigour. Then, when we re-flood the areas, the reed mat will help to bind it together and it will not return to sloppy mud.
What will this mean for the wildlife and for you?
As mentioned above, you will start to see more mud appearing around the pool edges – Tim Jackson and Grisedale pools may even dry out completely. Although this changes the viewing spectacle, it doesn't worsen. Last summer the large areas of mud provided fantastic feeding areas for wading birds (proving particularly spectacular around migration time). The red deer came out into the open more often to graze the new vegetation. The expanse of bare earth should also provide fantastic new areas for plants like marsh marigold, water dock and ragged robin to thrive in – this will provide excessive amounts of duck food in the autumn and winter, so hopefully their numbers will increase in these areas too.
The ditches are not being dried out, so there will be no effect on fish or otters. Bearded tit and marsh harrier populations will also be unaffected.
Lilian's pool last September when we started the work. Lots of wading birds flocked to feed in the shallow waters which they are already doing again this year. Image by David Mower
If you have any questions on the management of the reserve, we’d be more than happy to answer you. Either ask in the visitor or centre, or send one of our Wardens an email: Richard Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Alasdair Grubb (email@example.com)
The first sounds of a grasshopper warbler were heard by our Warden Richard at the end of last week. It was on the path to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides in the bushes. Listen out for its distinctive call (not surprisingly, it sounds like a grasshopper). Its high reeling song is the best clue of its presence, as they are often pretty difficult to see. They creep through foliage, almost like a mouse. Sadly dramatic population declines have made the grasshopper warbler a red listed bird, but we always have a few on the reserve each spring.
Grasshopper warblers are not the only warbler on site, we have also been joined by willow warblers, which have been seen and heard at the bottom of the Causeway. They are small birds, with a yellow tinge to the chest and throat and a pale stripe above the eye (also known as a supercillium). They look very similar to the chiffchaff, but can be separated by their song. The sound of the willow warbler is a series of descending notes whereas the chiffchaff quite helpfully says its own name. If you'd like to learn more about birdsong, why not book onto one of our Birdsong for Beginners walks - details here.
Willow warbler by Brian Salisbury
Chiffchaff by Martin Kuchczynski
If you’re down on the Causeway looking for the willow warblers then it is definately worth popping into Public hide. I went down there on Thursday evening and the great crested grebes were displaying near the hide- always a fantastic sight! Just as I was getting ready to leave a swarm of swallows, house martins and sand martins flew over the top of the hide, and started catching insects right in front of it. They are wonderfully agile birds and seeing them flying so close was an experience I won’t forget in a hurry! The otters were also around, where the channel narrows between Public and Lower hides.
Our marsh harriers are as active as ever, with pretty much guaranteed views if you’re out and about on the reserve. We have four females and two males here and I had a lovely view from Grisedale hide on Friday of one of the males (can be identified by the pale under wings) hunting over the reedbed. Black-tailed godwits are on both Grisedale and Tim Jackson pools at the moment, but keep your eyes peeled, I spotted some ruff mixed in with them the other day.
Male marsh harrier by Brian Salisbury
A few blackcaps have been seen on site too. If you head out of the centre and turn left, just by our insect home 'Bugingham Palace' both a male and female blackcap have been seen. The male does exactly what he says on the tin, whilst the female Blackcaps have a lovely, almost fluty song which has earned them the nick name of 'northern nightingale.' They are mostly summer visitors but the birds from Germany and North East Europe are increasingly spending the winter in the UK.
Male and female blackcap by Martin Kuchczynski
We feel quite spoilt at the moment, as if all this wasn’t enough, we have the avocets as well! Numbers have quite drastically increased at the moment, with around 80 down on the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. The first couple of nests have been spotted, so we hope for new additions very soon!
History was made the other day when the first bearded tit was spotted on our satellite site Barrow Scout Fields. We all have our fingers and toes crossed that this year will be the first year they nest there.
Lucky visitors spotted a common crane flying over the saltmarsh at the weekend. They are a huge yet graceful bird that you definitely can’t miss. Small numbers pass through Britain in spring and autumn, and there is a population in Eastern England around our Lakenheath Fen nature reserve and a re-introduced population in Somerset. They are by no means commonly seen over the reserve here though. It's a shame it didn't want to stop off.
We also had the very exciting news that ospreys have been spotted flying over the reserve early last week, and for the 14th year running have started collecting nesting material and assembling a nest near Bassenthwaite Lake. If you would like to visit the osprey view point click here for more information. Our pals at the Cumbria Wildlife Trust have also informed us that ospreys are back at their nearby Foulshaw Moss nature reserve. In previous year the ospreys have come to fish at Leighton Moss quite regularly, so we hope to see them again this year.
Huge thanks to Intern Anya for this recent sightings update.
If you've visited Leighton Moss over the past few months, you'll have noticed a new structure by the side of Lilian's hide. This is our new, elevated viewing platform known as the Skytower. We are really excited about this project as it will allow visitors to see Leighton Moss from a bird's eye view as well as out across the surrounding Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and over to the stunning backdrop of Morecambe Bay. It is not a hide, as it doesn't have a roof, but it is around 9 metres tall, canopy level and will give a heightened experience to those visiting the reserve. Spotting marsh harriers hunting over the reedbed and elusive bitterns moving around will be given a whole new angle.We've had a few enquiries recently about when our Skytower will be opening. It needs another coat of paint, so it's not quite ready yet, but I will post on here once it is.
The signs of spring are all around us here at Leighton Moss. The whole site is alive with birdsong! In the past few days we've heard the first reed warblers and sedge warblers back for the breeding season, so their raspy sounds have been added to the symphony in the reedbed. Cetti's warblers are regularly heard along the Causeway and the two-tone call of chiffchaffs can be heard around the reserve too.
Our resident woodland birds are also tuning up, with wrens blasting out their noisy song (they are remarkably loud for such a tiny bird!) A whole host of tits and finches can be heard and of course the melodic notes of blackbirds, robins and dunnocks.
A bittern has been heard making a few half-hearted grunts on the Causeway, but he hasn't yet tuned up to what you would call a full boom. During the breeding season, male bitterns make an incredible booming sound to attract a mate and warn off other males. It is an unusual noise that sounds like the note you produce when you blow over the top of an empty glass bottle. If you'd like to learn more about birdsong, why not book a place on one of our Birdsong for Beginners walks or upcoming International Dawn Chorus Day?
As well as the stunning sounds throughout the reserve, there are of course spectacular sights too. There are four female and two male marsh harriers around the reedbed and they can be seen displaying and carrying nesting material. Huge thanks go to our dedicated monitoring volunteers who are out every day recording the harrier's movements, working out who has paired with who and where they are nesting.
Male marsh harrier with nesting material by Carl Lane
On Saturday, whilst watching the marsh harriers, one lucky visitor spotted this red kite from Grisedale hide too! The yellow wing tags let us know it was tagged in Yorkshire in 2005! You can identify a red kite in flight by that distinctive fork in their tail which gives them their name.
Red kite by Carl Lane
Red kite by Carl Lane. The yellow wing tags can be seen clearly on this one.
Yesterday we were super duper excited when reports came back to the visitor centre that a male redstart was on the reserve. He was on the fenceposts between the reedbed and the field, best viewed from the pond dipping area. He was a bit of a distance away, but several people managed to see him as he hopped on and off the fence searching for insects. These colourful little birds are migrants from Africa and there have been several of them arriving on sites around Morecambe Bay over the last few days.
Male redstart by Derek Huskisson
Otter sightings continue to be really good from Public and Lower hides. Up to six have been spotted at once. Look out for them rolling around in the water catching eels.
Down at the saltmarsh, the avocets are getting their breeding activity underway. They have been spotted scraping (where they use their legs to scrape out a hollow on the islands to lay their eggs in). There are around 80 adults, so fingers crossed for a fantastic breeding season. Head to Allen and Eric Morecambe hides to see these stunning birds in action.