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Recent sightings

  • 20 April 2016

    Exciting sightings this April

    It's official, spring has arrived! The summer migrants are BACK and with lots of other wildlife sightings Coombes isn't short of exciting wildlife this time of year. One visitor described Coombes as chiffchaff woods last week, a sure sign of spring! 

    As usual the willow warblers were first to be heard, and seen, on April 15th. Soon after the redstart began making appearances down near Clough Meadow Cottage! Sunday April 17th was however, the most exciting day of the year (so far), with several sightings of pied flycatchers! Regular appearances were reported close to Pooh Sticks bridge.  With several sightings of grey wagtail and dipper down at the brook it definitely seems to be worth spending some time down in the valley. 

    willow warbler - photo by S Brown 

    pied flycatcher - -photo by David Tolliday

    Not to be outdone, this week has also been great for mammal spotting! There have also been reports of weasels and stoats on the reserve as well as red deer (all of which have been spotted from the visitor center).

    There have even been a few warm sunny days, which have been perfect for catching a glimpse of the common lizards. 

    There have also been lots of reports of our more regular visitors including sparrowhawk, buzzard, raven, willow tit, treecreeper, nuthatch, coal tit, great tit, blue tit, goldfinch, chaffinch, great woodpeckers, bullfinch, mistle thrush. blackcap and dunnock. 

    Posted by Rebecca Blackman - Visitor Experience Intern

  • 13 June 2015

    Butterflies Galore

    May is over and the horrible wet and windy weather seems to have gone with it, at least it had until today anyway. So far June has brought beautiful sunny skies and with sunshine come butterflies. The meadows on the reserve are currently chock full of wildflowers, perfect habitat for butterflies.

    Within the last few weeks we’ve had sightings of numerous species including orange-tip, small white, green-veined white, dingy skipper and green hairstreak.

    The green hairstreak is the only green coloured butterfly that can be found in the UK, although strictly speaking it’s only the underwing that is green. Look out for this butterfly feeding on patches of bilberry.

    The beautiful orange tip can still be seen on the wing. The orange tip is considered a sign of spring as it is one of the first species to emerge that doesn’t overwinter as an adult. Females lack the conspicuous orange tips to their wings so are often mistaken for other white butterfly species such as the small white.

    Orange tip - Chris Calow

    The small white is one of the two species that is often referred to as the ‘cabbage white’, although there are no cabbages for them to eat here.

    Small white - Chris Calow

    Another species of white butterfly that can currently be seen on the reserve is the green-veined white. This too can be easily mistaken for a female orange tip or a small white. The key giveaway with this species is the distinctive greenish coloured veins on the underwing.

    Green-veined white - Lucy Hodson

    A species that you couldn’t possible mistake for one of the whites is the dingy skipper. Moth like in appearance and extremely well camouflaged it is certainly harder to spot than any of the whites but it’s well worth searching out because this is a butterfly that is becoming increasingly rare. Keep a look out around patches of bird’s-foot trefoil as this is the larval food plant.  Our Visitor Experience Officer Katy was lucky enough to have one land on her leg recently. The squeal of excitement was a sound that I have not heard before.

    Dingy skipper - Jarrod Sneyd

    Though it’s not a butterfly I can’t neglect to mention the argent and sable moth. It’s only found at 15 sites in England and we are one of them, with our first sighting of the year taking place this week. It’s a day flying moth so do be on the lookout for it at this time of year, especially around areas of young birch.

    Argent and Sable - Mike Pollard

    As summer progresses we will have more and more species of butterfly on the wing as well as many more beautiful wildflowers including the greater butterfly orchid so why not pay us a visit and see how many you can spot.

    If you visit us between the 6th and 19th of July you’ll be able to take part in our ‘Greater Butterfly Orchid Fortnight’. During these two weeks we will be giving you the chance to learn about the wonderful world of wildflowers and you’ll probably see a butterfly or two as well.


    Posted by Chris C

  • 23 May 2015

    You don't need to go far to see wildlife at Coombes

    The woodland is in full song now especially when the sun comes out! With the sun has come some very welcome song and even a couple of sightings of the wood warbler! A bird which is rarely seen on site has been on one of the main visitor trails, close to buzzard bank. Ask at the Visitor Centre for more details.

    A pair of mandarin ducks have been seen a number of times on the Coombes brook and we think they may be nesting somewhere in the valley so we will keep you posted on any mandarin duckling sightings.

    A pair of great tits have five eggs in the nest box close to the visitor centre which has a camera in it. We are all eagerly awaiting their hatching and we’ll let you know when the chirpy little chicks arrive.

    Many birds can be seen close to the Visitor Centre and along our buggy friendly accessible path. Blackcaps are regularly in the hedges on the main path, spotted flycatchers at the back of the visitor centre and many species in the young woodland including nuthatch, pied flycatcher and redstart.

    Nuthatch displaying its skill - Katy Fielding

    Beautiful wildlife can turn up on any part of the reserve and our accessible path means that more and more people are able to enjoy it. Even if you don’t get lucky one day you’re still in for a beautiful walk, surrounded by bird song, taking in the carpet of wildflowers including bluebells, buttercups and stitchwort.

    Bluebells providing a beautiful carpet to any woodland - Katy Fielding

    Sounds pretty good to me.

    I hope everybody enjoys the reserve over the bank holiday weekend and half term and that the weather is good t o us all. Enjoy.


    Visitor Experience Officer

    Posted by Katy F

  • 14 May 2015

    Spring is in full swing!

    The pied flycatchers and redstarts have been back for several weeks now. Thankfully after many days of keen anticipation they have been joined by the third member of our migrant trio. We had our first spotted flycatcher sighting of the year on the 11th of May. This was followed by several more sightings over the next couple of days. So far they have mostly been spotted, no pun intended, down by the pooh sticks bridge, making this a great place to potentially see all three species.

    Spotted flycatcher - Andy Hay

    It's not just your eyes that you need to keep peeled on a visit to Coombes Valley, your ears are in for a treat too because right now the woodland is simply alive with birdsong. Why not come down and see if you can tell the difference between the fluting song of a blackcap and the scratchy song of a garden warbler. It's more difficult than it sounds.

    There's plenty more to be seen here at this time of the year. On sunny days reptiles such as common lizards and slow worms can be seen basking in order to warm themselves up. I've always had a particular fondness for reptiles so I'm delighted whenever I catch a glimpse. The western side of the Woodcock Trail seems to be a hot spot at the moment for creatures of the scaled variety.

    Common lizard - RSPB Images

    Wildflowers are out in force at the moment. Parts of the reserve are currently clad in a beautiful covering of bluebells, which add a vivid splash of colour to the woodland. They are joined by red campion and forget-me-not. All of which combine to make our woodland simply stunning at the moment. Another flower that is currently in bloom is blue bugle. This species has an angular stem which has sides that alternate between being hairy and smooth. A brilliant quirk of nature. I must not forget the wood anemones which are a particular favourite of Katy, our Visitor Experience Officer. Personally I'm a bluebell fan.

    Beautiful bluebells - Chris Calow

    Blue bugle - Chris Calow

    Plenty of flowers means plenty of insects. Orange tip butterflies are currently on the wing, fluttering their way from flower to flower, collecting nectar as they go. Something special to search for at this time of year is the very rare argent and sable moth. It's only found at fifteen sights in England, and we're one of them. This black and white day flying moth is very fussy and requires very specific habitats. Their larval food plant is birch, but only young birch will do. We manage our birch on a ten year rotation in order to help the moths. There are several spots on the Woodcock Trail that should be especially tempting to them. It's the right time of year but we haven't seen any yet, so be on the look out.

    Argent and Sable - Kayleigh Brookes

    Keep watching for more news of what can be seen at Coombes Valley.


    Posted by Chris C

  • 27 April 2015

    Moths in abundance and not as boring as you may think!

    Spring has sprung and we’ve had the moth trap out more regularly here at Coombes!

    The days of capturing one lonely early moth, or the exciting day in early march when we caught a grey shouldered knott AND a dotted border, are over.

    Moths are abundant now and we see species like common quaker and the Hebrew character out in large numbers.

    This lovely specimen of the hebrew character below really brought a smile to my face, its distinctive pattern, bright and fresh, hints at a very fresh emergence from its pupal state (cocoon).

    hebrew character-Ryan Woodcock

    Amongst our last moth haul were the early grey and yellow horned seen below.

    hebrew character-Ryan Woodcock

    Some moth species are variable in their patterning and colouration, for example below are two individuals of the clouded drab species.

    Clouded drabs-Ryan Woodcock

    Pattern and colour variation amongst moths of the same species is an example of genetic polymorphism.

    The most excitement seen from the team was elicited by the oak beauty seen below.


    Oak Beauty-Katy Fielding

    Moths tend to be seen as boring and drab however their diverse range of patterns and colouration, sometimes even seen in different individuals of the same species, make them incredibly interesting. The ability to catch them easily in a light trap with little effort, makes studying these interesting Lepidoptera within the reach of all and well worth a try. Why not give it a go yourself...

    A record of one night’s trapping in early this month.


    Number   of individuals

    common quaker


    Small quaker


    hebrew character


    clouded drab


    twin spot quaker


    early grey


    yellow horned


    oak beauty



    Total   species

    Total   individuals



    Posted by Katy F

  • 18 April 2015

    Summer migrants back again!

    The first sighting of a pied flycatcher has been reported here at Coombes Valley on Tuesday 14th April. A male was spotted and photographed close to the pond on the woodland valley loop on Thursday. The pied flycatcher was seen competing with blue tits for a nest box which the blue tits have already began building a nest in. Pretty cheeky flycatcher if you ask us! We’re not sure who is going to win that battle but clearly the pied flycatcher certainly thinks he has a chance!

    First pied flycatcher - Katy Fielding

    Guarding the nest box! - Katy Fielding

    The first redstart has officially been seen today! A photographer taking shots of a peacock butterfly saw a flash of red in a tree close to Clough meadow cottage. A pair of redstarts often nest in the cottage so this might be one of the pair! 

    Willow warbler and chiff chaff can both be heard singing throughout the reserve now. They can even be heard from the car park which makes for a wonderful greeting first thing in the morning for everyone here at Coombes.

    Swallows can be seen soaring overhead from the Visitor Centre and have recently been joined by house martins making a great sight for visitors of all walking abilities.

    Swallow - Katy Fielding

    Additionally, the bird feeders are still alive with birds preparing to and feeding young, so it is well worth spending some time watching these when you visit. You never know when the sparrow hawk might swoop by in the hopes of catching a bird unaware – I watch it try a couple of times a day!

    Smooth newts can be seen in the small pond by the yurt with their breeding crests in full glory. This is great to see but while the newts are mating we’re asking guest to admire these incredible animals and not pond dip for a short time.

    Smooth newt with breeding crest - RSPB image

    Peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies have been seen on the reserve, and as the weather improves we’re expecting to see orange-tip and brimstone butterflies soon.

    Keeping watching for updates of spring migrants and fauna and flora of spring.

    Posted by Katy F

  • 12 April 2015

    Trail cam tales

    So, following on from my last blog where I found lots of signs of mammal activity I decided to set up the trail cam I got for my birthday, which I had thus far been unsuccessful with. I placed it near a patch of bare ground surrounded by some trees, near where I had seen signs of mammals foraging. I was finally successful and got this shot of what I think is a red deer:

    Red deer wandering down a path through the reserve - Cara Bell camera trap

    Now as I grew up in the Scottish highlands I confess I can be a little indifferent at times to red deer, them being so commonplace there. However, when coming back from adjusting the camera, I found these tracks and had a wee shiver of excitement:

    Deer tracks - Cara Bell

    Close up - Cara Bell

    These were fresh deer tracks that weren’t here ten minutes earlier! It was really exciting to think that there are animals very close by and yet unseen, and perhaps even watching me! It gave me a real sense of the wildness of wildlife, despite it being an animal I’m very much used to.

    Experienced trackers are able to determine a rough size and weight of an animal from the prints and the depth of the indentation left. A series of tracks like this can also be used to establish the animals gait and how fast it was travelling. It all helps build a picture of what is going on in the woods. I hope one day I can be that good!

    After my first photo I adjusted the camera to face a trail through the grass to see what’s been using it. After a few more days I came back to find more photos of red deer:

    Peek a boo! - Cara Bell camera trap

    Red deer grazing - Cara Bell camera trap

    And even more excitingly (for me as I’ve never seen one), I also got a couple of photos of a badger:

    Foraging badger - Cara Bell camera trap

    Another badger foraging five hours later. Is it the same one? - Cara Bell camera trap

    So from my limited experience of using a trail cam I can safely say that it works a lot better when you do some groundwork first. Pay close attention to small details, like tracks and disturbances on the ground and try and set it to the height of what you’re expecting to find. Then it’s a case of trial and error. I am excited to see what more I will discover during my internship at Coombes Valley.

    Cara Bell

    Warden Intern

    Posted by Katy F

  • 1 April 2015

    What's about at Coombes: what have our visitors been seeing?

    As more and more people are out and about on the reserve, we’ve been asking them what they enjoyed and what they’ve seen around. Wayne Sullivan and his son had a lovely day out and it sounds like they saw and did loads:

    “Hi Katy,

    I had a wonderful day out with my little boy at Coombes Valley today. My little boy really enjoyed the children's den area.

    We saw some lovely birds today like the Blackbird, Bullfinch, Buzzard and Blue Tit to name a few. We saw some frog spawn and some catkins so we can tick them off in the RSPB book!!!”


    Buzzard - Katy Fielding


    Not only that, but it sounds like more creepy-crawlies are starting to make their presence known again.


    “The centipede was on the inside of the gate post where the gate closed at the bottom of the track down the slope from the children’s den area. My boy liked the area because we were playing hide and seek. It was also the place where we last saw the rabbit being chased by the weasel.”


    Now I haven’t seen a weasel in the den building area but I’m certainly going to keep my eyes open next time! Hopefully I’ll get as lucky as Wayne and his son!


    Weasel - RSPB images

    Our winter visitors were seen gathering in fields last week and we think they’ve started the long journey back to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

    Chiff chaffs have been heard singing throughout the reserve, even in the car park! No other summer migrants have been spotted or heard yet but they might only be days away!

    Many birds are beginning to display mating behaviour now. Blackbirds have seen collecting twigs and moss and blue tits and great tits are squabbling over nesting boxes. This includes the box next to the visitor centre which has a camera in it – so fingers crossed we’ll have some action for visitors to watch soon!

    I’m looking forward to seeing my first butterfly on the reserve. Will it be a brimstone, a peacock, a small tortoiseshell or even an orange tip? All are early butterflies which we have at the reserve and I’m just dying to see them again. Keep watching ‘recent sightings’ for updates and to find out when the spring migrants arrive.

    Orange tip butterfly - Katy Fielding

    Posted by Katy F

  • 7 February 2015

    The Coombes Concert - conducted by Heather Watkins?!

    Don’t be fooled by the quietness of our woodland valley in the heart of winter. There is lots of life and as spring nears, the woodland appears to ‘wake’as the birds become vocal again.

    Even now, in snowy February, it is impossible not to immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the woods. An early morning walk will see you transported into a concert.

    Just the other morning I went for a stroll to Clough Meadow cottage to sit on my favourite bench. From that spot I closed my eyes and let the senses take hold. The rush of Coombes Valley brook in the background was an obvious initial sound.  However, listening harder I could hear birdsong. At first all the birds seemed to sing as one mass ‘tweeet’ but by concentrating on one song at a time I began to recognise the unique voices of each bird.

    The ‘see-sawing’ of at least three great tits caught my attention first. Their competitive voices taking clear centre stage at this theatre. 

    Crazy great tit with a yellow coat – Heather Watkin

    Next a wave of long-tailed tits came swooping to land on a near-by bush. Their high pitched, fast notes mixed with explosive rippling calls - ‘interrupting’ each other as they grouped together on the bush. The boldest must have jumped to a near-by tree as one-by-one the long-tailed tits happy chirps faded further into the woods.

    An echoey ‘piiyay’ came from way up high. I couldn’t resist opening one eye and peeking at the majestic buzzard gliding impressively across the early morning sky.

    There was a quick rustle in the long rushes and grasses next to my bench.  A grey squirrel revealed itself and hopped hurriedly across the path to disappear up a nearby tree. 

    There was quiet for a few seconds before a sad lonely call broke the silence. The bullfinches self-pitying, ‘pew pew’ call, rang mellow across the meadow. The little fellow, clutched hold of some on the meadow and I managed to grab a quick picture! An answering call of another bullfinch came from the entrance to the wood and off he flew to meet his mate. 

    Beautiful bullfinch – Heather Watkin

    The rising chatter of a few blue tits started the chorus up once more. These were quickly followed by the song thrushes song phrases repeated again and again in the distance - easy to hear across the valley because they are so powerful.

    A coal tit joined in with his bicycle-pump call, complementing the blackbird like a supporting instrument. 

    A little wren made an impressive attempt to control the floor with its hard ticking and harsh churring. However, it was quickly overrun with yet more great tit shuffling and see-saw calls.

    The sun was now nearly up and all those birds created a cacophony of sound that rang out over the valley, drowning the buzz of the brook. The finale was so spectacular that I quickly forgot to try and recognise which birds were which.

    As the noise began to die down, I opened my eyes. The sun shone down over the meadow, melting the winter chill of the night before. Grassy shadows dotted the meadow as the valley ‘sighed’ from the warmth. The valley knew the birds were awake now, the show had ended.

    But what a beautiful morning adventure.

    If you’d like to learn a little bit more about bird calls – I would personally recommend RSPB’s phone app. I honestly didn’t know what any calls at the start of the year and the app has really helped! However if you can remember the call long enough to get home on your computer try the RSPB’s website –


    Why not pop down to Coombes Valley early one morning. You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the beauty of bird song!

    Heather Watkin


    Posted by Jarrod Sneyd, Site Manager

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  • Lat/lng: 53.07781,-1.98803
  • Grid reference: SK009534
  • Nearest town: Leek, Staffordshire
  • County: Staffordshire
  • Country: England

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