After a cloudy start to the day (sadly covering most of the eclipse, although we did get a quick glimpse through a break in the clouds), spring is defiantly in the air at Leighton Moss. Avocets have reached around 50 in number and they are mating on the saltmarsh (ooh er!) - head down to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides for views of the action like the image below. There is a spotted redshank and a greenshank down there as well, who are regularly joined my flocks of dunlin, lapwing and oystercatchers.
X-rated behavior from our avocet by Wendy Noblet
The great-crested grebes have been seen displaying on the pools. Seeing great-crested grebes like this is one of the most amazing natural wonders you can see at this time of year. They are delightfully elegant water birds that have beautiful ornate head plumes which led to them being hunted to near extinction in the UK. Grebes dive to feed and also to escape predators, preferring this to flying. Almost like penguins, they are clumsy on land because their feet are placed so far back on their bodies. They have an elaborate courtship display that is being seen at Leighton Moss at the moment. They rise out of the water and shake the beaks. Look out for them doing the famous 'weed dance' where the pair dive under the water and emerge with water weeds in their beaks. They then rise out of the pools together presenting the weeds. Lilian's and Public pools in particular are a good place to look.Hopefully we’ll be lucky enough to have some grebe chicks showing themselves over the next few months, if so look out for them riding on their parent’s backs.
We are hoping for another great breeding season for our marsh harriers this year. Whatever the weather, there is a good chance of seeing them out and about around the reedbed. There has been some great views from Lillian’s hide, and we even saw the first skydancing today - where they display to one another by rising and then plummeting through the air with twists and turns. It is incredible!
There have been some great views of reed bunting on the causeway so keep your eyes peeled. Since 1970 there has been a dramatic decrease of around 67% in the UK’s breeding population of reed buntings, a decline which is also mirrored in other farmland species. We are lucky to have such a good population at Leighton Moss, and there is good chance of seeing them on the reserve.
The otters have been wonderful as always, with a pair of cubs are often being seen from Public and Lower hide.
A certain sign of spring is a single sand martin spotted today flying round the reedbed. A chiffchaff has also been singing out its name at the top of the Causeway.
Whilst we are always thrilled to say hello to these spring arrivals, it also means saying farewell to those birds that visit us for the winter. At the moment our wardens are out every evening listening out for the bittern booming. He hasn't been heard yet, but their efforts have been rewarded with views of 'gull calling' on three consecutive nights. Gull calling is fascinating behavior from bitterns that happens at this time of year. In spring, those bitterns that have come over here from Europe for the winter, start to head back to their own breeding grounds. When the conditions in the weather make it right for their migration, they will fly up and circle round the reedbed making a sound very like that of a gull (hence the name gull-calling). This is to round up others as if to say 'come on gang, it's time to go'). This is also behavior that females will exhibit when they are displaying to potential males. Six bitterns have been seen in total over the past three nights, with some heading off and others dropping back into the reedbed. It is an ideal time to come down of an evening to try and see them from the Causeway. It is a really good indicator of just how many of these elusive birds have been hiding out, undetected in the reedbed.
There is more than just fantastic wildlife at Leighton Moss; the reserve also has a packed events calendar. For more information click here.
Thanks to Intern Anya for contributing to this sightings update.
Quite a few visitors have been reporting views of bank voles over the past few weeks. As you head out of the visitors centre through the sensory garden and down onto the path to Public and Lower hides, there is a little stream and a few dead logs. This is where they have been seen most, often posing for the cameras, just like this one! When you’re walking down the causeway keep your eyes peeled as they are sometimes seen amongst the reeds. They are also regularly spotted on the path to Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides on a tree opposite the insect home.
Look at that little face! Bank vole by Richard Cousens
Bank voles live in woodlands, hedgerows and in parks and gardens. Their main diet consists of fruit, nuts and small insects. They aren’t particularly fussy though, and can sometimes be seen visiting bird tables. The one in this photo seemed particularly keen on some bird food left by passersby!
With the average bank vole having three or four litters each year, with around six young in each, like many rodents, they certainly increase their numbers quickly! Bank voles can be found throughout the majority of Britain but were absent from Ireland until the 1950 when they were accidentally introduced. A rather unusual mega-sized version of the bank vole arrived on Skomer Island several centuries ago, and remains to this day. They provide rather a tasty snack for any predators, as they are twice the size as normal bank voles! Although bank voles population are relatively stable, if their numbers decline it would have a massive impact species further up the food chain, like barn owls. Leighton Moss is a haven for these animals but the further loss of woodlands and hedgerow habitat around the UK, poses a threat to this charming little species. There has been lots of research into the decline of many owl species and it has been found that there is a direct correlation between vole populations and owl populations. Let’s hope the vole population at Leighton Moss continues to thrive. We probably have them to thank for the fact we have been getting great barn owl sightings down on the saltmarsh near Barrow Scout Fields.
The saltmarsh is a hive of activity at the moment, with avocets growing in numbers all the time. The European white-fronted geese are also still around, look out for them in amongst the greylags. Kingfishers are also being seen flitting in front of the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides.
The marsh harriers are showing really well at the moment from pretty much all of the hides round the reedbed. In the next few months look out for iconic skydance of these birds. The male drops food to an expectant female below in mid-air. It is a truly wonderful sight and something I look forward to every year. They aren’t the only raptors around though, with peregrines and a merlin being seen regularly too, particularly on the saltmarsh. The peregrines nest at nearby Warton Crag, so head up there to look out for them, along with ravens.
Nesting is certainly on the minds of many of our birds at the moment. The noisy black-headed gulls are back in force on the islands in front of Lilian's, Public and Allen hides. Our resident pair of great black-backed gulls are bonding on the island in the middle of Public pool where they nest every year. This is one of the only places these birds nest in the whole of Lancashire! From our larger, more noisy residents to some of our smaller (but often no less noisy) ones - the house sparrows have been spotted collecting nesting material.
Black-headed gulls noisy nesting by Richard Cousens
Great black-backed gulls pairing up by Martin Kuchczynski
Male house sparrow preparing for nesting by Brian Salisbury
The otters are being as fantastic as ever, with the young often being seen frolicking in front of the Public and Lower hides. The otter family can often be seen catching eels, which is great fun to watch!
Bittern sightings have been good at Public and Lower hides, and we are coming into booming season, so keep an ear open for our male tuning up!
If you would like tips and advice on identifying the birds and wildlife at Leighton Moss, why not book a place on our Birdsong for Beginners event, details here.
Thanks to Intern Anya for this latest sightings blog.
As spring approaches everyone looks forward to the return of summer visitors, and the arrivals are already starting. A rather keen-eyed visitor spotted a Mediterranean gull from Lillian’s hide, it was mixed in with the black-headed gulls. They are slightly larger than black-headed gulls, with a more prominent black hood during the breeding season, and a bigger, redder bill. Mediterranean gulls were a very rare bird in the UK until around 1950, but as their numbers recovered in the Mediterranean they have become a bit more widespread in winter and they are breeding in small numbers in the UK too. Maybe they will become an increasingly common sight at Leighton Moss over the next few years?
Mediterranean gull by Sue Tranter (rspb-images.com)
Black headed gulls are already frequent visitors to the reserve, and the saltmarsh hosts a large breeding population over the summer months, often nesting near our avocets, right in front of the hide! Our numbers of avocets have increased massively of the past week or so, going from about three to almost 30! They are treating visitors to great views, often strutting right in front of Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. I love doing a spot of birding on the train, and the other day when I was passing the reserve I had a great view of the avocets, as well as oystercatchers and redshanks. Pretty successful for a whistle-stop tour!
Public and Lower hides have been busy as ever, with some lovely views of great-crested grebes, bittern and otters. Most of the pools on the reserve are boasting good numbers of teals, pintails and goldeneyes. They will soon be heading north to their breeding grounds so come and see them before they go! The fields around the reserve are still popular with the greylag geese and the European white-fronted geese are still being spotted.
A sure sign of spring here is the arrival of the marsh harriers. We have had three over-wintering here, but they have recently been joined by another male. One of our eagle-eyed (or is that harrier-eyed) survey volunteers spotted that he is the dark male that has been here in previous years. We often call him Voldemort after the Dark Lord in Harry Potter! Look out for him showing off to the females with his aerial displays.
The first sand martin of the year has also been spotted! It was battling its way around in the wind and the rain. The swallows and house martins will also be on their way. Have you seen any where you live?
If you would like to brush up on your bird identification, why not come along to one of our Birdsong for Beginners events - details here.
Leighton Moss has a wealth of wildlife to offer, but that’s not where the fun ends! For one night only, we are going to be a cultural hotspot as we play host to Beaford Arts and China Plate. They are presenting ‘The Common’, a performance work of five dialogues about life and land, exploring what the rural environment means to its people.This is a free event, but booking is essential. The performance is followed by a buffet. Click here for further details and how to book.