Taking over Annabel's role as Visitor Experience Manager here at Leighton Moss is Fran Currie, here's her first blog...
Spring is always an exciting time for migrating visitors returning from their African wintering grounds. Here at Leighton Moss we get an amazing array of migrant birds, from the tuneful reed warblers to the elegant avocets. Over the last few years there has also been a noticeable increase in osprey sightings, particularly in early spring and late summer as they journey to and from nesting sites in Scotland, Cumbria and Northumberland.
Once extinct from the UK, this beautiful bird of prey has recovered fantastically well in Scotland, and is beginning to recover across England and Wales as well. The first pair retuned to RSPB Loch Garten, Abernethy in 1954, and have subsequently spread to England and Wales, breeding for the first time at Lake Bassenthwaite, Cumbria in 2001, and every year since (you can access this year’s web camera here
Osprey, Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Thanks to the work of the Lake District Osprey Project (LDOP), Cumbria Wildlife Trust (CWT) and partners, ospreys now nest in a number of sites across the county. Ospreys regularly visit Leighton Moss through the whole summer, where they can be seen hovering over causeway and lower pools for a fishy treat. Most of these visits are likely to be from the ospreys at CWT Foulshaw Moss, however other birds are also likely to stop off every now and again.
Volunteer warden Larissa recently spotted an osprey over the reserve and was eagle eyed enough to notice that it also had a tracker on its back. She put two and two together and was hopeful that this bird was in fact a juvenile from Bassenthwaite known as “number 14” (you can read about his unbelievable story here
Number 14 being ringed, Phil Cheesley
Having previously worked for the LDOP, I was able to get hold of number 14’s satellite tracking data which produced a map showing that this amazing bird had in fact visited Leighton Moss at the time and date Larissa spotted him!
Satellite map of number 14’s visit to Leighton moss, Phil Cheesley
For me this discovery has a special resonance as number 14 was the first chick hatched on my very first season working at the LDOP. Since then, through his tracking data, I have followed his migration to the Island of Bioko in Africa and back, ending up in Cumbria again this year. I can’t help but marvel at the awe-inspiring journey these birds make year on year, particularly given the ever increasing strains on the natural world, it truly demonstrates nature at its best.
So, if you are ever lucky enough to see an osprey at Leighton Moss, take a minute to think about where it might have come from and the epic journey it might be about to embark on.
If you are visiting the reserve this week, as well as ospreys, you might also want to look out for spoonbills at Lillian’s hide and Eric Morecambe and Allen hides, black-tailed godwits and a pair or garganeys at Grisedale hide, marsh harriers food passing over the causeway as well as swifts, swallows and martins feeding on insects over lower pools. Great crested grebes in front of Lower hide and reed and sedge warblers have been also been heard regularly on the causeway and path to Lower hide.
Snoozing away on the pool in front of Lillian’s Hide this morning was the sleepy spoonbill. The spoonbill is quite an uncommon visitor to the north-west of England, but this one has been a resident for over a week, making itself right at home in sunny Morecambe Bay.
Between naps the spoonbill is a fascinating bird to watch as it wades through the muddy waters swooping its spoon shaped bill from side to side in search of unsuspecting creatures which live beneath the water’s surface.
Our sleepy spoonbill by Martin Kuchczynski
One of our more fantastically outrageous birds at the reserve is the small flock of ruff which have be seen from the Grisedale, Tim Jackson and Lilians Hides, but for the past couple of days we have only had sightings of one male.
For the majority of the year a ruff is an inconspicuous, small brown wading bird. But when spring comes along they get on their glad rags and transform into their spectacular summer plumage. The males develop distinctive ornamental head tufts and neck ruffs in all different colours.
Interestingly there are a small percentage of males which instead of transforming into their flashy summer plumage resemble females. By imitating a female these sneaky ‘cheater’ males are unnoticed by other males and infiltrate their territories to steal matings with females.
We are all very excited about the having the ruffs here at Leighton Moss, it’s been fantastic to watch the males parading around and displaying their incredible summer feathers. Pop into the visitor centre or keep an eye on our recent sightings blog to stay updated about these enigmatic visitors.
A ruff strutting its stuff by Mike Richards (rspb-images.com)
Over the past week Leighton Moss has been treated to fantastic views of some of the UK's most wonderful birds of prey. There have been regular sightings of ospreys and our resident marsh harriers are providing a daily spectacle.
I've got my eye on you - a marsh harrier by Richard Cousens
Unusual for this time of year there has been regular sightings of bearded tits in the area surrounding the small bridge at the far end of the causeway. We think there might be a nest in this area as the bearded tits have been seen darting across the path and flitting about amongst the reeds.
If you have visited Leighton Moss recently then share your stories and your photos on our Twitter or Facebook page.
If you have read my previous blog you might already know that we have been hearing a spotted crakes ‘whiplash’ call from within the reedbed for the past few weeks. Well now we know that there are least two of these elusive and rare birds at Leighton Moss.
To discover how many are here and where they are our wardening team is planning a late night survey across the reserve to listen for the whiplash call of the spotted crakes. This will give us a much clearer insight into how many of these secretive birds are skulking about in the reedbed. Check back on the recent sightings blog to find out how the survey goes or join us for our Birdsong for Beginners walk Sunday 29 May to hear these unusual birds.
If you are planning to visit us soon then keep your eyes peeled for the flock of 150 black-tailed godwits, look out for the lovely garganeys, great crested grebes, shelducks, shovelers and pochards. Listen out for the electric sounds of our aerial acrobats the lapwings or just enjoy the sounds and smells of nature in the reedbed and the woodland at this very special home for nature.
Come down and smell the garlic in our incredible edible woodland at Leighton moss by Sophie King
Swept in on the blustery winds Monday afternoon was a flock of black terns. On Saturday one black tern was sighted, but on Monday 15 flew in. The black tern is a small and elegant bird which almost looks like an overgrown swallow.
A stunning photo of a black tern
Visitors reported sightings of the terns from 3 pm and come 5 o’clock I wasn't the only member of staff making my way up to the Lower Hide to see these unusual visitors. Darting and skimming over the water's surface, the black terns were quite a spectacle. Leaving just before dusk, the terns seemed to be using Leighton Moss as a pit stop on their epic migration, and they were treated to a buffet of insects which were abundant on the surface of the warm water.
For birds on migration such as the black terns, places such as Leighton Moss are of vital importance. Without these natural sanctuaries providing food, water and shelter then many migrants wouldn't complete their journeys. This network of reserves needs to be spread beyond our borders. Some of you may have already heard of our campaign; Birds without Borders, where we are working with European partners towards a safer passage for birds on migration.To learn more about how our Birds without Borders project is helping to protect species like the black terns click here.
Visitors were also treated to incredible views of two ospreys on Monday, which arrived at the reserve in the afternoon, leaving not long after six. These magnificent birds were taking advantage of the plentiful supply of fish and to watch them hunt really is very special. The osprey will hover, looking completely still, almost like a picture in the sky, before they see something move below the water's surface. Diving at phenomenal speed, the osprey will plunge into the water from great heights to catch its prey.
Although the ospreys do not nest at Leighton Moss, during the summer months we can be visited by them daily. These magnificent birds of prey are very special to the RSPB and I do hope that you manage to see them here. One of the pair was carrying a satellite transmitter on his back and we can confirm that this was No.14 from the Basenthwaite nest in the Lake District. The transmitter was fitted to No.14 when he was a chick in 2013, since then it has recorded him visiting 32 different countries across Europe!
A fantastic shot of a diving osprey by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
On the spot list for many keen bird watchers this weekend was the pair of garganeys, a small but elegant duck, the male has a characteristic broad stripe above his eye. These notoriously secretive ducks have been seen displaying, so fingers crossed the pair will decide to stay and breed at Leighton. With only 14-93 breeding pairs in the UK this would be wonderful news for nature.
A male garganey enjoying a good splash about by Richard Cousens
On Wednesday we were treated to the arrival of one of the UK's most enigmatic birds, the fantastical spoonbill. It's name comes from its large spoon shaped bill which it sweeps through the shallow water, snapping shut when it comes across an unlucky insect or fish. We haven't had a spoonbill breeding at Leighton before, but this one at least seems to be enjoying the reedbed. Not the most active of birds, visitors are most likely to see the spoonbill having a little snooze in the sunshine.
three fantastical spoonbills by Mike Malpass
Fantastic news regarding our marsh harriers, we now have three confirmed nests, with two females on eggs and one nest already hatched out! Over the upcoming months the females will need more food for themselves and their young, so look to skies to see some aerial acrobatics, as the males deliver food to the females in spectacular mid-flight food passes.
If you want to see wildlife a little bit closer, maybe buying your first pair of binoculars or thinking of upgrading then come along to this month's Binoculars and Telescopes Open Weekend. Where our wonderful and knowledgeable experts will be offering their impartial advice. With opportunities to try out all kinds of scopes and binoculars. Running over the whole weekend Saturday 28, Sunday 29 and Monday 30 May, drop in 10 am-4 pm to see what is on offer. The event is held in The Holt, normal admission prices apply to non-members, no additional charges for the event.
If you are interested in warblers then we are awash with them! As you walk around the reserve you will hear sedge warblers loudly chattering away their incomprehensible song. A tune so complex it is thought that they never sings the same song twice. The reed warblers are happily chirping in the reedbed, melodious blackcaps and willow warblers can be heard in the woodlands and the simple but effective song of the chiffchaff will greet you in the garden. You might also hear the unmistakable grasshopper warbler, whirring and churring in the distance.
At the end of the month the extremely knowledgeable Andy Chapman and myself will be looking into the mysterious world of birdsong in Birdsong for Beginners. A fantastic way to help you start unraveling the complex and fascinating language of our feathered friends. Sunday 29 May (7.30-10 am) Booking in advance is essential. Cost £15 (RSPB members £12) includes a well deserved bacon or veggie sausage bap and tea of coffee.