Summer evenings at Leighton Moss are a magical time, after the visitor centre closes at 5 pm the pace on the reserve slows down and you can really enjoy this special place at its most peaceful. It’s also when you might see some of our nocturnal residents; a colony of soprano pipistrelle bats.
The soprano pipistrelle bat is the UK’s most common and widely spread bat species. Very small, reaching a maximum length of 45mm these bats feed mainly on flies such as the swarms of midges and mosquitoes found near wetlands on warm summer evenings.
a tiny soprano pipistrelle by David Mower
The ultimate pest controllers, a single tiny pipistrelle can consume 3,000 insects in one evening alone.
The sopranos roost in the eaves of our woodchip boiler room next to the visitor centre. Local bat expert and RSPB volunteer Gail Armstrong has been monitoring the colony since its discovery in 2012. This summer there are around 350 soprano pipistrelles roosting in the boiler room.
look at that face! a fantastic photo by David Mower
Gail informed me that this is a maternity colony which spends its summer in the walls of the woodchip boiler room, raising young and sleeping during the day. Over the winter they hibernate in a cooler and damper corner of Morecambe Bay.
Soprano pipistrelles have only one pup (or sometimes twins) per year, and have a strong maternal instinct to nurture. For three to four weeks a female will feed her young solely on her milk, then the youngsters will begin to take to the wing for the first time. At six weeks old the pups will be fully independent, whizzing around Leighton Moss in search of insects.
Every evening, around half an hour before sunset, the bats will begin to emerge from their roost. Last night, I spent an evening watching this summer spectacle. First you hear the chattering and nattering of the bats in the rafters, as the light lowers the first of the bats emerge, like little bullets shooting out into the night.
They emerge quite slowly at first, then before you know it bat after bat is whizzing out over your head. On these warmer summer nights the reserve feels alive with the beautiful of song thrushes and blackbirds. Swifts and martins zip over the still pools, whilst tawny owls emerge from their day time slumber.
Leighton Moss's lovely tawny owl by martin Kuchczynski
If you want to make an evening trip down to Leighton Moss then you are more than welcome, we don’t shut the car park or any of the hides, and we open a gate just to the side of visitor centre to allow access to the site.
If you read last week’s blog by Fran then you will have heard that our first marsh harrier chicks have began to fledge. This week we’re hoping that the chicks of nest two will begin to take to the sky. In anticipation of this wildlife event our wardens have manage to get a camera onto the nest, which is currently streaming live footage onto our website! Stay tuned to get a glimpse into the early years of these magnificent birds of prey.
One bolshy marsh harrier chick by Alasdair Grubb
Elsewhere on the reserve there are still over 100 black-tailed godwits, large numbers of gadwalls and tufted ducks both of which have been seen with young. The glorious great-crested grebes have been showing well from the causeway hide along with a pair of pochard and we have had sightings of otters in front of Lillian’s Hide,
There are large numbers of lapwings and redshanks down at the Allen and Eric Morecambe Hides, their numbers are likely to increase as more birds return from their inland breeding grounds. There are also small numbers of avocets and little egrets.
Also this weekend, Leighton Moss is one of the hosts to the wonderful Silverdale and Arnside Art and Craft Trail. Located in these two beautiful villages at the edge of Morecambe Bay the arts trail is a series of exhibitions, workshops and demos by local artists. For more information on the arts trail click here.
Have you heard of the tramper? Our all terrain, off road mobility scooter, which is available free to hire at Leighton Moss.
The tramper scooter has been funded in partnership by the Arnside and Silverdale AONB Sustainable Development Fund, the RSPB, Lancashire County Council, the Lancashire and District Ramblers Association, the Arnside Ramblers, Yealand Manor and Leighton Hall.
The RSPB working with the Arnside and Sivlerdale AONB and other partners are committed to improving access for all in this beautiful corner of the world. The partnership worked together to introduce the tramper scheme to improve access to the countryside for those with limited mobility.
This free to hire, four wheel drive mobility scooter is perfect for exploring the countryside. It is available for use for anybody over the age of 14 at RSPB Leighton Moss nature reserve in Silverdale.
Booking is essential, please call the visitor centre at Leighton Moss on 01524 701601. We’re open seven days at week from 9.30 am-5 pm.
Angela who lives in the local area, and her family recently took the tramper for a roll around the reserve, here’s how she got on...
“How do you balance the needs of a six and seven year old with boundless energy and their eighty year old infirm granny? I have often visited Leighton Moss with my children and my mum and found the combination quite limiting and frustrating. My Mum expends most of her efforts just using the stair lift to get into the cafe, and once the children have eaten their sunshine beans and completed this months colourings and word-searches it is usually time to go home, having not actually been able to get out on the reserve at all. But now at Leighton Moss they have the perfect solution........the tramper.
Sunny afternoons at Leighton Moss by Angela Welbourne
The tramper is an all terrain mobility scooter available to hire free of charge within Visitor Centre opening hours. After a short induction on how to operate the vehicle we were able to go out together as a family and access areas of the reserve never before seen by Granny and complete the family trail. “Ooh I never knew the reserve was so big, what a lovely place” said Mum “Come on Granny put it into hare mode, pleeeaaase” said Fin which was followed shortly after by “Granny wait for us, granny, granny, we haven’t had a chance to write the answer down yet!” as my mums confidence grew in her driving skills, progressing from tortoise to hare she disappeared round the corner deeper into the reserve.
It was really refreshing, opening up new horizons for my mum and giving us the now rare opportunity for shared new experiences as a family with varying needs. We hared all the way out to Grizedale hide before heading back to the cafe for cake. I’ve no doubt we’ll be back to explore the boardwalk sometime soon.....infact I think I might have become a tramper enthusiast.....searching out other tramper opportunites. Today Leighton Moss tomorrow.......who knows. My brother is keen to go round the world on one and he is able bodied! But for now we will just have to live out our tramper dreams through our mum. “
On a roll by Angela Welbourne
A walk down the causeway at RSPB Leighton Moss in summer isn’t complete without a glimpse of a majestic marsh harrier. It has been a fantastic year here for these birds, with five adults in total, three females and two males, on the reserve since early spring.
Marsh harriers are one of the RSPBs biggest success stories at Leighton Moss, with the first ever breeding pair arriving here in 1987. In the last couple of years we have seen a great increase in the success of youngsters fledging the nest and we hope that 2016 will be just as good! It really is remarkable when you think that in the 1980s, though harriers were a regular spring passage migrant at the reserve, their numbers had been vastly depleted due to persecution. At the low point at the end of the 1970s, there was only one pair in the country. Thanks to the RSPB’s great work in creating new reedbed, marsh harrier numbers have soared again in recent years and there are now around 400 breeding females in the country.
Female marsh harrier by David Mower
Marsh harriers usually start courtship in April when they arrive back from their southerly wintering grounds which can be as far away as Africa. Despite this epic migration, male birds waste no time in trying to attract the ladies. At the height of their efforts, they perform a spectacular “sky dance”, flying hundreds of metres above the reedbed and plummeting back towards the ground, twisting and turning in a whirlwind of movement and colour.
During May and June our marsh harriers settle down to nest, with the female birds incubating for around a month and males providing most of the food for her as she sits on the eggs. Always able to entertain, even this simple exchange of food can be a thrilling sight, if you’re lucky enough to catch it! Marsh harriers perform a “food pass”, often in mid air, where the female is called off the nest by the male who drops her dinner for her to catch upside down. Causeway hide and lower hide have been the best places to catch this amazing display of aerial acrobatics so far this year.
Marsh harrier food pass by Ben Hall
This week has seen the emergence of the first lot of harrier chicks on the reserve. Reports of a single chick were first made on Monday, followed by more regular sightings through the week. The next few weeks will be an exciting time to visit as more chicks fledge the nests and begin to explore their surroundings. Identifying young marsh harriers is usually straight forward, particularly in the early stages of their development. As well as being much darker in colour than the adult birds, they are clumsy and uncoordinated as they get to grips with flight and hunting in the reedbed. In previous years, visitors to lower hide have been treated to incredible close up views of young marsh harriers, hopping around the front of the hide looking for easy prey, like worms and other invertebrates.
If you are planning on visiting the reserve this weekend as well as marsh harriers there is plenty of other fabulous wildlife to get excited about. Up to five spoonbills have been sighted regularly at Eric Morecambe and Allen hides along with redshanks and as well as a single spotted redshank. Ospreys have been visiting the reserve on a daily basis, spotted most regularly hunting over the pools in front of lower hide. Lilian’s hide has been excellent for close up views of black-tailed godwits as well as a couple of ruffs. As well as birds, Leighton Moss provides a home to a diverse range of plants and the path to lower hide is currently alive with fantastic wild flowers, such as common spotted orchid, ragged-robin and woody nightshade,.
Common spotted orchid, ragged-robin and woody nightshade by Fran Currie