Finally... they’re here! We’ve had our first wave of starlings arrive here at Leighton Moss, up to 18,000 have been counted so far and we are hoping for more. In previous years we’ve had up to 100,000! It is hoped that the onset of cold weather coming over the continent will bring more birds. Sunday night saw quite an impressive murmuration, with a gorgeous pink and purple sunset as a back drop. Monday and Tuesday wasn’t as impressive due to the wet weather so the starlings came in dribs and drabs but you could still get an idea of the sheer number that roost here over winter. They come into roost in the reed bed near to Grisedale hide but the best views are from Lilians hide and the Skytower. They begin their displays just before it goes dark, between 3.30-4 pm.
Starling sunset by David Kjaer
I was curious to see what happened in the mornings, if the birds put on a similarly impressive display. So this morning I set my alarm for 6 am and me and two other interns headed down towards Grisedale hide. As we were walking down the path we could hear the starlings chattering away, getting louder and louder as we got nearer. We stopped where we thought we were closest to the birds... and waited... and waited. An hour passed. But eventually we heard them beginning to make flight at around 7.30 am. They were very low to the reeds for a while, just moving from place to place, and then all of a sudden an explosion of birds escaped the reed bed and filled the sky! It was definitely worth the wait. If anyone is thinking of coming to see them in the morning I would recommended the Sky tower as this would provide the best views.
Our hour wasn’t a waste though, we saw greylag geese and pink-footed geese fly overhead, a couple of snipe, a teal or two and a flock of about 30 jackdaw, which kept us entertained while we waited for the main event.
Baby blues... jackdaw by Sue Tranter
Most of the duck activity is down at the Grisedale and Tim Jackson hides at the moment as the water level is too high for them on Lilians pool and the Causeway pool. Shoveler, teal, pochard, gadwall and mallard have all been spotted out on the water. There have been 3 red deer stags seen outside the Tim Jackson hide, as well as great white egrets, although they seem to have made their way down to the saltmarsh recently.
From the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides there is also quite a lot of duck activity as well as lapwing, redshank and the ever impressive kingfishers. We regularly get two kingfishers down at the saltmarsh, which like to perch just in front of the hides which creates great viewing and photo opportunities.
The otters have definitely been one of the highlights of the past few weeks, they have been seen every day from the Causeway hide and Lower hide and have even been seen in Lilians pool. The deep water is perfect for them to fish and play in and they have provided hours of entertainment for our visitors.
Otter at Lower hide by Robert Metcalf
The ever illusive bittern has even been seen a couple of times over the past few weeks. It was spotted on Sunday making flights near to Lower hide and has previously been spotted from both the Causeway hide and Lower hide. It has been seen a couple of times emerging from the reeds right next to the Causeway hide.
If you’re coming to visit us in the next few days please don’t forget to bring your wellies as some of the paths are very flooded due to the recent heavy rainfall and some hides are not accessible without them.
If you and your family want to discover more about our super duper starlings why not take part in our self-led family trail which is running throughout November.
It's safe to say that it has been rather wet and windy up here in the North West of England over the last week, although the sun is peeping through the clouds today which is very welcome. When heavy rain arrives, it can sometimes mean that a lot of wildlife (understandably) likes to hide away, but not all.....
Here at Leighton Moss, we get a big increase in the number and variety of ducks in the winter months. Wet weather doesn't bother them at all and in fact, the windy conditions seen this past week have meant they have often snuggled up close to the hides for shelter, giving those visitors who have ventured out to see them, some fantastic close up views. Mallards, teal, shovelers, pintails, and wigeons all have their own distinct plumages (or outfits as I like to say), and at this time of year, following their autumn molt, they are looking particularly splendid. Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides are the best spots at the moment.
Mallard ballet by Martin Kuchczynski
Some of our best-loved residents - the otters, have not at all been put off by the weather. In fact, they've been enjoying the deeper water levels at Causeway and Lower hides, where up to four otters have been spotted swimming around at once, playing in the water. If you're heading down there, the path to Lower hide is a bit wet at the moment, so waterproof boots or wellies are advised.
These little cuties were out this morning at Lower hide. Images by Robert Metcalf.
Up to three marsh harriers have been seen regularly, battling against the wind whilst they hunt low over the reeds.
Down at the saltmarsh, the pools are pretty deep, so the wading birds have been pushed further out onto Morecambe Bay. However, shelducks and little egrets are enjoying feeding on the fresh creatures brought in by the tides. Look out for them at Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, or even from the train!
The woodland feeding station has still got lots of activity from the smaller birds, look out for bullfinches, nuthatches and marsh tits among more familiar garden favourites like blue tits and chaffinches.
We are getting lots of starling murmuration enquiries at the moment, but they haven't returned yet. Keep an eye on here and our Facebook (RSPB North West England) and Twitter (@Leighton_moss) pages for updates.
The boardwalk and path re-structure is nearing its completion, which we're very excited about. We'll keep you posted this week as to when it is likely to beopen, but not long now......!
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Due to the recent heavy rainfall, many of the reserve paths are flooded. You can get to Lilian's hide and The Skytower without wellies, but you will need them to get everywhere else.
The otters have definitely been the star of the show this week here at Leighton Moss. We have a family of otters with one male (dog) otter and a female with a few pups. They are very sociable animals and are often seen playing together in the water- they look like a group of mini Loch Ness monsters. The best place to catch them in action is from the Causeway hide and Lower hide. They have been seen every day for the past few days now and are providing lots of entertainment for our visitors.
Otter pup by Brian Howson
We are very lucky to have these energetic animals here at Leighton Moss. Not that long ago, they were rare in the UK due to the rivers being unclean and polluted, and persecution which meant otter numbers were low around the country. Now, thanks to massive improvement in water quality, they can be found in every county in England and Leighton Moss is one of the best spots in Lancashire to see them.
The wet and windy weather hasn't put off the marsh harrier’s either, they have been spotted flying all around the reserve...even on the dreariest of days there is still lots of wonderful wildlife to see here at Leighton Moss.
The wild weather can create great wildlife watching opportunities as ducks huddle near to the hides for shelter. Pintail, teal, gadwall, wigeon, shoveler and pochard can be seen from Causeway hide, Lower hide and they have also returned to Grisedale hide. The recent rain has meant that the water level around Grisedale hide is a lot higher than it has been creating a haven for ducks and waders such as green sandpiper and snipe.
Down at the saltmarsh greenshank, redshank, lapwing and whooper swans can be seen from the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. Also keep an eye out for a flash of blue as the kingfisher zooms past.
Whooper swan by Richard Cousens
The wet weather has meant we have had to close the temporary path to the Causeway due to it getting too muddy, so the Causeway can only be accessed from the road for the time being. The brand new boardwalk should be open by next week which will greatly improve accessibility to the Causeway so it will all be worth it, thanks for your patience.
The web cam is up and running again after lightning took it out over the summer; it is currently looking out onto Lilian’s pool so you can still spot wildlife even when you’re warm and toasty at home.
The starlings are still not here but we will keep you updated on their arrival. If you would like to learn more about these special birds you can take part in our super duper starling’s family trail which is running throughout November.