Phew, it's hot out there! It's like being on holiday round here at the moment. Who needs the Costa del Sol when right here in Morecambe Bay we've got sun, sea, sedge warblers and slices of cake!
Summer is synonymous with marsh harriers here at Leighton Moss and they're at that point where the young are fledging the nest. We have three nests here, and the young marsh harriers have been spotted taking those first tentative flights around the reedbed. In the nest where we've had the webcam, the youngest of the three chicks has been left by his older siblings and our Assistant Warden Alasdair snapped the picture below of him trying to use the camera stand to get some lift off! Look out for the young marsh harriers perching unsteadily in the willow trees or trying to make a shaky landing in the reeds - they're so comical to watch at this age, they're like wobbly toddlers. Once fledged, the females stay with them for another few weeks, encouraging them to find food for themselves, before they make the journey south for winter, some making it as far as Africa!
"To infinity, and beyond" - young marsh harrier trying to get some extra height by Alasdair Grubb
The low water levels at Lilian's, Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides mean that more mud is exposed. Water rails are emerging regularly along the reed edges and large flocks of black-tailed godwits and a great white egret are enjoying feeding in the mud. If you drive or cycle in from Warton, you'll also notice lots of little egrets taking advantage of the lower water on Barrow Scout Fields.
At the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, there are still a couple of fluffy oystercatcher chicks out on the islands. A Mediterranean gull is still being seen down there along with lapwings and avocets.
There's lots of mammal activity at the moment too. A fox cub has been spotted round the woodland feeding station. Foxes will actually eat seeds if they come across them so it has been snacking on fallen sunflower hearts, as well as eying up a cheeky rat for its next meal. Our biggest residents, the red deer are best seen at Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. Why not come along to one of our evening Wildlife Watches in August to try and see them as well as other fantastic summer wildlife such as the bats that hunt insects in our woodland.
Otter sightings are still great from Public and Lower hides, and as you head down towards Lower hide from Public hide, keep an eye out for kingfishers on the main dyke. There's a lot of fish in the water around the Causeway bridge, making it a favoured spot for our most colourful residents to catch a meal.
Kingfisher by Richard Cousens
Whilst I'm talking about Public hide, you may have noticed recently that it has reached the end of its life. It has served us well for decades, but wooden buildings like this don't last forever and it is past its best. As part of the Heritage Lottery Funded project, we're excited to be able to replace it! The old Public hide will be coming down in the week commencing 6 July, with a new one going up the following week. Expert hide makers Gilleards who built the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides have constructed it. I'll keep you updated as to how its getting on.
We've had a great weekend here at Leighton Moss. A lot of excitement was caused on Saturday when a female red-necked phalarope was spotted on the Eric Morecambe pool. Unfortunately it only stayed for about an hour before flying off over the marsh, but with fewer than 10 sightings of this little bird on the reserve ever, it was great to have it here even for a brief time.
If you have never seen (or even heard of) a red-necked phalarope then here's a picture (not taken here)
Red-necked phalarope by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Now it's quite interesting that the phalarope turned up here just before Father's Day. In the world of birds, we are used to the males being less involved when it comes to raising the chicks. However, in red-necked phalaropes, it is the opposite. The females are larger and more colourful than the males and are actually the ones that pursue and fight over their mate! They will defend their mate from other females until the clutch is complete and then it is the male who carries out incubation. The males are the ones to raise the chicks, while the females may attempt to find another mate. The female that was here at Leighton Moss on Saturday may well be the same bird that has been spotted at our Burton Mere Wetlands nature reserve recently.
Elsewhere at Leighton Moss, we've been getting some great views from Lilian's hide. As the water levels are lower, the exposed mud has drawn in the wading birds and large flocks of black-tailed godwits are enjoying feeding there. This morning the great white egret was among them too!
Otter sightings have been brilliant from Public and Lower hides. All those who attended our Birdsong for Beginners walk on Sunday were treated to some fantastic views of them. If you missed it, why not book a place on the next one, details here.
The marsh harriers are very active all over the reedbed. With three nests, there are lots of hungry mouths to feed. The first young marsh harrier fledged on 18 June so no doubt others will follow suit over the coming weeks. They are like toddlers when they first fledge - wobbly on their feet and their wings. You will see them perching in an ungainly fashion in the trees around the reedbed and taking their first shaky flights. It doesn't take them long to learn though, as they have to be able to migrate south at the end of the summer. Keep up to date with one of our marsh harrier nests by viewing our live webcam here.
If you've been visiting Leighton Moss for a few years, you'll know that three years ago we received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Lancashire Environmental Fund, Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Rural Development Programme for England and Higher Level Stewardship to improve some of our facilities. We replaced four of our wildlife watching hides, created our beautiful wildlife sensory garden and have built the Skytower. This elevated viewing platform will give our visitors a bird's-eye view of the reserve and is due to be opened by mid-July which is very exciting! More on that to come....
The sun has been cracking the flags here this week, but sadly, it has taken a turn today and it's a bit grey and drizzly. That doesn't mean that wildlife sightings have been dampened though!
Down at the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, the great white egret is still around. You can distinguish it from the little egrets by its size as well as the fact it has a yellow rather than dark beak. It also has dark feet (as opposed to the little egrets which look like they're wearing marigolds!) We also still have avocets and oystercatchers on the saltmarsh with chicks - Springwatch eat your heart out!
Our marsh harriers continue to be very active around the reedbed as they have hungry mouths to feed. We are excited to have been able to get a camera on one of the nests, showing three very healthy chicks! Check them out on our webcam here.
Otter sightings have been brilliant from Lilian's hide, as well as Public and Lower hides. Look out for the bubbles underwater and their tails flicking up above the surface. Often all the ducks on the water will rush off in one direction if the otter is below the surface so keep an eye out for these tell-tale signs.
The warmer weather we've been having has brought out insects in abundance. We've spotted small pearl bordered fritillary butterflies up on our nearby Warton Crag nature reserve and the sunshine has also been bringing out beautiful broad-bodied chaser dragonflies like this one.
Broad-bodied chaser by Richard Cousens
The reserve is alive with the sound of our summer visitors - Cetti's warblers, reed warblers, chiffchaffs, sedge warblers, blackcaps and willow warblers are popping up all over the site and our Warden Richard regularly hears a grasshopper warbler singing down on the path to Allen and Eric Morecambe hides as he cycles to work each morning. The sound of swifts screaming over the reserve as they zoom around hunting insects is a very welcome one too! If you'd like to learn more about identifying birdsong, why not book a place on our Birdsong for Beginners walk this coming Sunday? Details here.
Cetti's warbler by Mike Malpass
Speaking of Sunday - it will be Father's Day this coming weekend (21 June). Why not bring your dad along to the reserve where he will be treated like a king for the day - gaining free entry to the reserve and a free tea and scone in our Café. You could also treat him to a new pair of binoculars or a telescope by trying them out at our Binoculars and Telescopes Open Weekend.