Having had reports of redwings flying over the reserve this last week, I thought they would make an ideal subject for this week's 50th anniversary blog.
These charismatic little birds have been seen at Leighton Moss over winter for our whole history. Redwings are related to blackbirds and thrushes, but unlike their cousins, are not present in the UK all year round. They arrive in autumn, often in flocks with their relative the fieldfare. These birds travel to the UK from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and Northern Russia.
Their name is slightly misleading as a more accurate name would be red underwing. Redwings look superficially like a song thrush although they a smaller. When they fly, you can see the stunning rusty red colour under their wings. They also have a very distinctive pale eye stripe.
Redwings absolutely love berries. If you have a hawthorn, rowan, cotoneaster or similar in your garden or community, look out for flocks or 'crowds' of these gorgeous birds at this time of year. If not, then you can help them by putting out raisins and bruised apples.
Redwing by Kevin Kelly
Redwings love cotoneaster berries by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
With the return of BBC Autumnwatch in just over two week's time, we're feeling very autumnal here at the moment. We hosted the programme here last year and are thrilled that they have chosen to base themselves here again. The programme will be broadcast live at 8 pm from 28-31 October on BBC 2. You will also be able to get updates and stories throughout the day on the red button from Autumnwatch Extra. Each evening, the main programme will also be followed by Autumnwatch Unsprung (the first three nights will be on the red button and the last one on BBC 2). The wildlife is certainly getting ready for the cameras as we are getting cracking views of lots of our autumn favourites:
Red deer stags can be seen bellowing and clashing antlers down at Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. The young males are even having a go at one another, but the large, 13 point stag makes sure they know who's boss.
One of the tell tale signs of the season at Leighton Moss is bearded tits coming out and about. This year, whilst they are still being seen on the grit trays in the morning, they are also picking up grit from the Causeway itself so look out for flocks of them on the ground there.
Female bearded tit by Martin Kuchczynski
Male bearded tit by Martin Kuchczynski
We have had a couple of bittern sightings from Public hide this week which is great. These shy birds increase in numbers here during the colder months as our resident population is joined by continental bitterns. Make sure you scan the reed edges for this well camouflaged bird.
Otter spotters have been treated to regular sightings of one of our best loved mammals from both Public and Lower hides. The pools there are home to an abundance of fish such as eels, tench, pike and rudd, so are a favoured place for the otters. Likewise, the large dyke that runs under the causeway from those pools hosts lots of fish which has meant that kingfisher sightings have been great down there.
Down at the Eric Morecambe and Allen pools, three spotted redshanks, two whooper swans, a couple of great white egrets and a super speedy peregrine have all been highlights among the crowd of redshanks, oystercatchers, lapwings and black-tailed godwits.
In the woods at the top of the Causeway a chiffchaff and yellow-browed warbler have been heard which is very exciting! These lovely little migrants are summer visitors and should be well on their way by now. Nine lesser redpolls have also been seen in that area and three Cetti's warblers have been seen and heard along the Causeway too.
The reserve is open as normal throughout the filming of Autumnwatch so as well as watching the action on TV, why not come and see it for real. We'll be putting on a free park and ride so there'll be plenty of room for cars, or why not come on the train? Silverdale station is just 250 m from our front door and if you travel here that way (or bus or bike), you'll get free entry and 10% café discount.
If you're not local, why not stay a while longer? There's plenty to see and do in the this stunning area. These brilliant 'nature on your doorstep' guides will give you some ideas and for places to stay, click here.
With the weather getting more blustery and leaves swirling round on the paths, autumn is most definitely in full flow. One of the best things about this season at Leighton Moss is the arrival of over-wintering ducks. Up to ten different types spend the colder months here and among them is one of the most stunning of all (and the subject of this week's 50th anniversary blog) - the pintail.
Pintails have been a regular feature of the site since it became an RSPB nature reserve back in 1964. In fact they will have used it since the previous farmland re-flooded at the end of the First World War and created a wetland. This area was used for wildfowling for many years due to the numbers of ducks and geese attracted to it but they have been fully protected since the RSPB purchased the shooting rights in 1984.
As their name suggests, pintails have a very pointed tail. Their scientific name Anas acuta comes from the Latin 'anas' meaning duck and ' acuta' which comes from the verb 'acuere' meaning sharpen. In the past they have also been called 'spiketail' for the same reason.
Pintails are a dabbling duck, which means that they tilt upside down in the water when they are feeding, with their bottoms sticking up above the surface and their heads below (as opposed to diving ducks which fully submerge under the water). They feed on a variety of plants and animals such as water beetles. Because they have long necks they are able to reach further than other dabbling ducks.
As one of the most elegant ducks, pintails have been described as the 'greyhound of the air' as they have such a sleek look and are fairly fast in flight.
As they arrive for the colder months, pintails do not generally breed in the UK, although around 30 pairs do in Scotland. They spend the spring and summer months north of here in places such as Russia and Scandinavia. Their nest is on the ground and amongst vegetation with fairly easy access to water. The female uses soft feathers from her breast as well as leaves and grasses to line a hollow. She then lays 7-9 eggs which she incubates for around three and a half weeks. During this time the male generally leaves. After they have hatched, young pintails are able to swim and feed themselves very quickly and will fly after 40 days.
Pintails have suffered some declines over the years and the reasons behind it are unclear. What is known is that their breeding sites have to be specially protected and managed to prevent further reductions in their numbers as well as protection and management of their wintering areas such as estuaries.
If you're not familiar with this stunning duck, come down and see them here over the next few months. Public and Lower hides are good places to soot them from as well as at the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. If you get any photos, we'd love to see them. Share them on our Twitter (@Leighton_moss), Facebook (RSPB North West England) or on here too.
Gorgeous male pintail (rspb-images.com)