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After a cloudy start to the day (sadly covering most of the eclipse, although we did get a quick glimpse through a break in the clouds), spring is defiantly in the air at Leighton Moss. Avocets have reached around 50 in number and they are mating on the saltmarsh (ooh er!) - head down to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides for views of the action like the image below. There is a spotted redshank and a greenshank down there as well, who are regularly joined my flocks of dunlin, lapwing and oystercatchers.
X-rated behavior from our avocet by Wendy Noblet
The great-crested grebes have been seen displaying on the pools. Seeing great-crested grebes like this is one of the most amazing natural wonders you can see at this time of year. They are delightfully elegant water birds that have beautiful ornate head plumes which led to them being hunted to near extinction in the UK. Grebes dive to feed and also to escape predators, preferring this to flying. Almost like penguins, they are clumsy on land because their feet are placed so far back on their bodies. They have an elaborate courtship display that is being seen at Leighton Moss at the moment. They rise out of the water and shake the beaks. Look out for them doing the famous 'weed dance' where the pair dive under the water and emerge with water weeds in their beaks. They then rise out of the pools together presenting the weeds. Lilian's and Public pools in particular are a good place to look.Hopefully we’ll be lucky enough to have some grebe chicks showing themselves over the next few months, if so look out for them riding on their parent’s backs.
We are hoping for another great breeding season for our marsh harriers this year. Whatever the weather, there is a good chance of seeing them out and about around the reedbed. There has been some great views from Lillian’s hide, and we even saw the first skydancing today - where they display to one another by rising and then plummeting through the air with twists and turns. It is incredible!
There have been some great views of reed bunting on the causeway so keep your eyes peeled. Since 1970 there has been a dramatic decrease of around 67% in the UK’s breeding population of reed buntings, a decline which is also mirrored in other farmland species. We are lucky to have such a good population at Leighton Moss, and there is good chance of seeing them on the reserve.
The otters have been wonderful as always, with a pair of cubs are often being seen from Public and Lower hide.
A certain sign of spring is a single sand martin spotted today flying round the reedbed. A chiffchaff has also been singing out its name at the top of the Causeway.
Whilst we are always thrilled to say hello to these spring arrivals, it also means saying farewell to those birds that visit us for the winter. At the moment our wardens are out every evening listening out for the bittern booming. He hasn't been heard yet, but their efforts have been rewarded with views of 'gull calling' on three consecutive nights. Gull calling is fascinating behavior from bitterns that happens at this time of year. In spring, those bitterns that have come over here from Europe for the winter, start to head back to their own breeding grounds. When the conditions in the weather make it right for their migration, they will fly up and circle round the reedbed making a sound very like that of a gull (hence the name gull-calling). This is to round up others as if to say 'come on gang, it's time to go'). This is also behavior that females will exhibit when they are displaying to potential males. Six bitterns have been seen in total over the past three nights, with some heading off and others dropping back into the reedbed. It is an ideal time to come down of an evening to try and see them from the Causeway. It is a really good indicator of just how many of these elusive birds have been hiding out, undetected in the reedbed.
There is more than just fantastic wildlife at Leighton Moss; the reserve also has a packed events calendar. For more information click here.
Thanks to Intern Anya for contributing to this sightings update.
Posted by Annabel Rushton
Quite a few visitors have been reporting views of bank voles over the past few weeks. As you head out of the visitors centre through the sensory garden and down onto the path to Public and Lower hides, there is a little stream and a few dead logs. This is where they have been seen most, often posing for the cameras, just like this one! When you’re walking down the causeway keep your eyes peeled as they are sometimes seen amongst the reeds. They are also regularly spotted on the path to Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides on a tree opposite the insect home.
Look at that little face! Bank vole by Richard Cousens
Bank voles live in woodlands, hedgerows and in parks and gardens. Their main diet consists of fruit, nuts and small insects. They aren’t particularly fussy though, and can sometimes be seen visiting bird tables. The one in this photo seemed particularly keen on some bird food left by passersby!
With the average bank vole having three or four litters each year, with around six young in each, like many rodents, they certainly increase their numbers quickly! Bank voles can be found throughout the majority of Britain but were absent from Ireland until the 1950 when they were accidentally introduced. A rather unusual mega-sized version of the bank vole arrived on Skomer Island several centuries ago, and remains to this day. They provide rather a tasty snack for any predators, as they are twice the size as normal bank voles! Although bank voles population are relatively stable, if their numbers decline it would have a massive impact species further up the food chain, like barn owls. Leighton Moss is a haven for these animals but the further loss of woodlands and hedgerow habitat around the UK, poses a threat to this charming little species. There has been lots of research into the decline of many owl species and it has been found that there is a direct correlation between vole populations and owl populations. Let’s hope the vole population at Leighton Moss continues to thrive. We probably have them to thank for the fact we have been getting great barn owl sightings down on the saltmarsh near Barrow Scout Fields.
The saltmarsh is a hive of activity at the moment, with avocets growing in numbers all the time. The European white-fronted geese are also still around, look out for them in amongst the greylags. Kingfishers are also being seen flitting in front of the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides.
The marsh harriers are showing really well at the moment from pretty much all of the hides round the reedbed. In the next few months look out for iconic skydance of these birds. The male drops food to an expectant female below in mid-air. It is a truly wonderful sight and something I look forward to every year. They aren’t the only raptors around though, with peregrines and a merlin being seen regularly too, particularly on the saltmarsh. The peregrines nest at nearby Warton Crag, so head up there to look out for them, along with ravens.
Nesting is certainly on the minds of many of our birds at the moment. The noisy black-headed gulls are back in force on the islands in front of Lilian's, Public and Allen hides. Our resident pair of great black-backed gulls are bonding on the island in the middle of Public pool where they nest every year. This is one of the only places these birds nest in the whole of Lancashire! From our larger, more noisy residents to some of our smaller (but often no less noisy) ones - the house sparrows have been spotted collecting nesting material.
Black-headed gulls noisy nesting by Richard Cousens
Great black-backed gulls pairing up by Martin Kuchczynski
Male house sparrow preparing for nesting by Brian Salisbury
The otters are being as fantastic as ever, with the young often being seen frolicking in front of the Public and Lower hides. The otter family can often be seen catching eels, which is great fun to watch!
Bittern sightings have been good at Public and Lower hides, and we are coming into booming season, so keep an ear open for our male tuning up!
If you would like tips and advice on identifying the birds and wildlife at Leighton Moss, why not book a place on our Birdsong for Beginners event, details here.
Thanks to Intern Anya for this latest sightings blog.
As spring approaches everyone looks forward to the return of summer visitors, and the arrivals are already starting. A rather keen-eyed visitor spotted a Mediterranean gull from Lillian’s hide, it was mixed in with the black-headed gulls. They are slightly larger than black-headed gulls, with a more prominent black hood during the breeding season, and a bigger, redder bill. Mediterranean gulls were a very rare bird in the UK until around 1950, but as their numbers recovered in the Mediterranean they have become a bit more widespread in winter and they are breeding in small numbers in the UK too. Maybe they will become an increasingly common sight at Leighton Moss over the next few years?
Mediterranean gull by Sue Tranter (rspb-images.com)
Black headed gulls are already frequent visitors to the reserve, and the saltmarsh hosts a large breeding population over the summer months, often nesting near our avocets, right in front of the hide! Our numbers of avocets have increased massively of the past week or so, going from about three to almost 30! They are treating visitors to great views, often strutting right in front of Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. I love doing a spot of birding on the train, and the other day when I was passing the reserve I had a great view of the avocets, as well as oystercatchers and redshanks. Pretty successful for a whistle-stop tour!
Public and Lower hides have been busy as ever, with some lovely views of great-crested grebes, bittern and otters. Most of the pools on the reserve are boasting good numbers of teals, pintails and goldeneyes. They will soon be heading north to their breeding grounds so come and see them before they go! The fields around the reserve are still popular with the greylag geese and the European white-fronted geese are still being spotted.
A sure sign of spring here is the arrival of the marsh harriers. We have had three over-wintering here, but they have recently been joined by another male. One of our eagle-eyed (or is that harrier-eyed) survey volunteers spotted that he is the dark male that has been here in previous years. We often call him Voldemort after the Dark Lord in Harry Potter! Look out for him showing off to the females with his aerial displays.
The first sand martin of the year has also been spotted! It was battling its way around in the wind and the rain. The swallows and house martins will also be on their way. Have you seen any where you live?
If you would like to brush up on your bird identification, why not come along to one of our Birdsong for Beginners events - details here.
Leighton Moss has a wealth of wildlife to offer, but that’s not where the fun ends! For one night only, we are going to be a cultural hotspot as we play host to Beaford Arts and China Plate. They are presenting ‘The Common’, a performance work of five dialogues about life and land, exploring what the rural environment means to its people.This is a free event, but booking is essential. The performance is followed by a buffet. Click here for further details and how to book.
Despite snowy showers and rather chilly temperatures many visitors have braved the elements and have been well rewarded with great views are some rather unusual visitors...
If you have read some of our previous blogs you will know that there were up to three tundra bean geese around last month. Another sighting of a single bean goose was reported on Friday down near Barrow Scout Fields. There has also been up to five European white-fronted geese as well over the past week or so. Both the bean geese and the white-fronted tend to be mixed in amongst the greylags so grab your binoculars and test your ID skills! The fields around the level crossing along with the saltmarsh seem to be their favoured spots.
Over the weekend, a green-winged teal was spotted amongst a flock of teal, shovelers and wigeons. They are not commonly seen at the reserve as they are an American duck, so it is pretty exciting as we haven't got many records of them here. The best way of telling our usual teal from the green-winged teal is looking for the white stripe on their side whilst they are swimming about. On the majority of the teal you will see out on the pools the stripe runs horizontally, whereas the green-winged teal has a vertical line (basically they look like someone has tip-exed the stripe the wrong way!). The cream coloured patch on the bottom of the green-winged teal is also slightly smaller. This is a tricky bird to see, particularly when you are picking it out of a flock of other teal, but well worth the trouble as it is a very special visitor. I had the very briefest of glances the other day, before it sheltered from the hail storm behind some reeds! The best views of the green-winged teal have been from Tim Jacksons hide, but also some sightings at Grisedale hide.
When I was down at Tim Jackson hide the other day looking for the teal, I also had the most charming view of a little egret. They are a fairly common sight on the reserve but I still love to see them. They look so exotic, and rather out of place in the snow and howling gales of Leighton Moss!
Little egret by Richard Cousens
Over the past couple of weeks a song thrush has been seen and heard from the car park at the front of the visitor centre and on the road leading to the train station. They have the most unmistakable call, so listen out when you’re on your way in and out of the centre. They are a sure sign that spring is on the way, so it's great to hear them. If you are hoping to brush up on your bird song identification, why not join us on one of our Birdsong for Beginners events? Details here. There's also still space on our popular Dawn Chorus event if you fancy an early rise. Details here.
Song thrush by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
The otters have been as regular as ever, with fantastic views from Public and Lower hides. Keep an eye out for them at Lilian's hide too. The bitterns have been slightly more elusive, but still with the odd view from Public hide.
Snipe sightings have been regular from almost all of the hides, but one seems to be showing really well from Lower hide and we had up to nine today in front of Lilian's hide. They are well camouflaged so you have to make sure you have a proper look.
Marsh harriers have been showing brilliantly from all of the hides in the reedbed. I had a great view the other day from Lillian’s hide - a female was hunting over towards the back of the pool. She hung just above the reeds then dropped to the floor to grasp her prey.
Barn owls and tawny owls have both been seen around the reserve over the past few weeks. The barn owls have been particularly keen on hunting down at the saltmarsh, so keep your eyes peeled! If you're down at the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides then also look out for kingfishers, they often land on a post right in front of the hides, you would think they were posing for the cameras!
If you fancy trying to capture the beauty of wildlife then why not take part in one of our digital photography workshops? If you have an SLR camera and want to improve your wildlife photography skills then join Mike Malpass for guidance, inspiration and tips on field craft. Mike is an experienced, published wildlife photographer and welcomes people of all experience to join him on this event. Click here for more information.
Thanks to Intern Anya for these recent sightings
After several weeks of anticipation, the moment has arrived, the avocets have returned! Two were seen at the weekend, and they have stuck around with two or three more sightings of the couple over the past few days. We hope to be joined by many more over the next week or so. Here at Leighton Moss we all get very excited about the return of the avocets. Fifty years ago it would have been unthinkable that avocets would ever breed this far up north, but as these birds began to breed more successfully in the south they eventually made their way up to our saltmarshes.
Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
The avocets used to be prevalent, nesting in many areas of the UK, but due to the loss of important wetlands where they lived, they were extinct as a breeding bird by around 1840. However their fate turned as war broke out and the costal marshes of East Anglia were flooded for defence. This created a perfect habitat for them, and a very small number began to return. The RSPB stepped in and protected the birds at Harvergate Island and Minsmere reserves, and numbers eventually began to increase. Bringing the avocet back from brink of extinction is one of the RSPB’s greatest successes, and is why the avocet our logo.
Avocet chick by Richard Cousens
1997 was the year the very first avocet was spotted on our saltmarsh, with only one bird being seen. Luckily this bird wasn’t just blown off course, as the following years lead to an increase in numbers, with 2011 bringing us 9 fledglings. 2012 was a bumper year with 48 young fledging from 19 nests. It was a very exciting time for everyone, and there was much celebration. 2013 was still a pretty good year for them, with 22 fledging.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though and the birds have had plenty to contend with from floods, draughts and predators.
We totted up how many chicks Leighton Moss has produced, and we found that we have added 109 wonderful avocet chicks to the world. I am sure you will all agree that this is a great success, and none of this would have been possible without the dedication of many staff and volunteers. And of course, if you are an RSPB member you know that your monthly contributions are going towards many wonderful projects like this one, and we, and all the wildlife out there thanks you.
You would think that we have had enough excitement for one week, but the otters are still fantastic, with brilliant views everyday from Public and Lower hides. The marsh harriers are still putting on a good show, being seen from almost every hide, they are regularly joined by peregrines and merlin. The pools are still busy with teal and pintail mostly, but the odd gadwall and snipe being seen as well.
As we edge towards spring we look forward to seeing many young chicks out and about, flowers begin to bloom and butterflies start to make an appearance. But whatever the time of year, there is always something fascinating to see, so why not grab a woolly hat and gives us visit?
Huge thanks to Intern Anya for this recent sightings blog.
When I was younger and my best friend's dad used to take us out watching wildlife, there's a particular group of birds that were ever present wherever we went - ducks. As a really young child, I thought that a duck was just a duck and there was only one sort, but as I grew older (and was better at sitting still to watch them) I discovered that there's lots of different kinds of ducks and they are fascinating! Some dive under the water for their food, whilst others simply pop their heads under the water and stick their bums in the air to feed under the surface. The more you look, the more you notice their different habits and the huge variety of colours they have which often shimmer in the light if the sun catches them right.
During the autumn and winter, Leighton Moss has a great variety of ducks. They come to Morecambe Bay from their breeding grounds further north in places like Scandinavia. They are always a welcome sight when they arrive and I am always sad to see them go in spring, but wish them well, hoping they'll return again when the weather gets colder.
If you head to Lilian's hide at the moment, there are dozens of pintails (in my opinion the most elegant of all the ducks we get here). You'll also spot pairs of tufted ducks too. Wigeons, teal, pochards, mallards and gadwalls can also be spotted swimming around. With spring in the air, the ducks are starting to get a bit frisky and none of them put more effort into finding a girlfriend than the male goldeneyes. If you head down to Public hide, you can see just how much showing off they do to attract the ladies. They pull some spectacular moves - swimming along with their head low, then throwing it back,letting out a loud “zeee-zeee” call. It is entertaining to watch and the female goldeneyes certainly seem impressed as you can see from this picture captured recently. If you're visiting with your family, why not have a go at our 'Love Birds Trail' as you walk round - you'll discover all the funny and unusual ways birds will try to attract a mate.
Just look how many girls he's impressing with his moves (image by Richard Cousens)
A lovely pair of tufted ducks by Brian Salisbury
When you're at Public hide watching the goldeneyes strut their stuff, also keep an eye out for our otters which are putting in regular appearances at the moment. Some of our most secretive residents - the bitterns are also popping out a lot to prove they're not mythical creatures.
Down at the saltmarsh, a flock of greylags is hanging out with five white-fronted geese at the moment which is a great sighting for the reserve. They were spotted the other day with a rather unusual creature among them as you can see from this photo
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? by Richard Cousens
When you're down at the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, don't forget to check out the wading birds too - a golden plover has been spotted among the lapwings and a spotted redshank is there among the redshanks and black-tailed godwits, so see if you can pick them out from the crowd.
Golden plover by Richard Cousens
Some people imagine winter is a quiet time on the reserve, but this couldn't be further from the truth. From otters to great spotted woodpeckers and wigeons to woodpigeons the reserve is packed!
A pair of peregrines have been seen for the past couple of days, hunting on the saltmarsh and even being mobbed by a rather plucky merlin! It is likely that they are the pair from Warton Crag, so head up there to see them scoping out their nest site. The ravens are already starting to nest there too.
The marsh harriers have been as regular as ever, with sightings from all the hides on a daily basis. In just over a months time, they will be joined by more coming here to breed - a sure sign of spring!
Some lucky visitors have spotted bearded tits on the Causeway. Bearded tits are some of Leighton Mosses most charming inhabitants and their distinctive "pinging" sound can be heard all year round. They have been seen quite a few times just on the path outside Public hide, so keep a look out when your on your way out of there.
As seems to be their daily routine at the moment, the otters have been absolutely fantastic in front of Public and Lower hides, with visitors sitting for hours on end just watching them catch fish and play. When you're walking down to Lower hide, also look out for a lesser redpoll which has been seen a few times among the trees.
The saltmash has been busy lately with small flocks of black-tailed godwits and redshanks along with a spotted redshank ,a greenshank and a few ruffs. There has also been some lovely views of lapwings, with numbers in their thousands! They swirl around in the air, similar to the patterns that the starlings make here in the autumn. Up to145 dunlin have been seen as well along with up a handful of little egrets.
Thanks to Intern Anya for these sightings.
Our Membership Manager Kevin has been on a goose finding mission again and came up trumps on Saturday with five white-fronted geese in amongst a flock of greylags! This is an unusual sighting for Leighton Moss so we're chuffed to bits. They have put in an appearance on Lilian's pool, but have mainly been spotted in the fields by the level crossing. Like the bean goose Kevin found last week, the white-fronted geese you get in the UK have two races - European white-fronts and Greenland white-fronts. It is more common to get the Greenland race on this side of the country with the European white-fronts generally being found on the East coast (they come down from Northern Russia). However, we have in fact got five of the European race here at the minute so they are extra special!
From the picture you'll notice their distinctive white 'blaze' at the base of their beak. They develop this at the end of their first winter. The adult birds also have the stunning black barring on their chests, which the younger ones lack.
Three white-fronted geese by Kevin Kelly
The picture below also shows you the size comparison between the smaller white-fronted geese and the much chunkier greylag geese (image Kevin Kelly)
With half-term now underway, why not bring the whole family down. There's still a few spaces on our Batbox event on Wednesday, or why not have a go at our Love Birds Trail , running all month, to learn all about the ways in which some of our favourite birds find love.
The weather is mighty fine at the moment (it might be cold but it's lovely and sunny), and both visitors and wildlife alike are making the most of it. The otters are being as active as ever with several sightings everyday from Public and Lower hides. Up to six of them have been spotted together. In early mornings when it’s been a chilly night and the pools are frozen over, you can get some fantastic views of the whole otter family exploring on the ice as they look for food. Bittern sightings are still fairly regular too, best views seem to be from Public hide. When you arrive have a look in our recent sightings book for the most up-to-date views.
I was heading down to the saltmarsh the other day and had a beautiful view of two stonechats sitting on the wire fence that runs parallel to the track. I saw one male and one female. Listen out for their loud, striking call that sounds like two stones being hit together.
There has been a large flock of lapwings around on the saltmarsh too, which is a great sight when a merlin or peregrine dives in amongst them - it’s a like mini murmuration! There are around twenty to thirty dunlin there too along with redshanks, a spotted redshank and a greenshank seen from Allen and Eric Morecambe hides.
A pair of barn owls have been seen around the reserve at dusk. On Thursday evening at 5 pm, two of our members of staff had stunning views of two barn owls flying over Barrow Scout Fields on their way home!
The ducks have been tackling the chilly conditions by finding open water on the ditches or heading to the saltmarsh pools and there has been a good variety - pintails, gadwalls and pochards to name but a few!
There are still large flocks of greylag geese flying over, so look up when you’re out and about! The three bean geese are still being spotted among them so make sure you have a good look through the whole flock. They are often grazing on the fields down by the level crossing or out on the saltmarsh.
Greylag geese by Sue Tranter (rspb-images.com)
Thanks to Intern Anya for this recent sightings update.
Please be aware that on Monday 9 February, the track to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides car park will be closed whilst we install a pipe to help us to manage water levels on Barrow Scout Fields.
Happy World Wetlands Day everyone! As an internationally important wetland, Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay nature reserve is home to a great abundance of special and important wetland wildlife. We're pretty excited by the fact that we've had up to three bean geese around over the past few days. The first sighting came from our Membership Manager Kevin on Thursday, with one in among greylag geese and pink-footed geese on the farmland by Barrow Scout Fields. Since Thursday, with lots of eyes on the flock, we have found that there are three bean geese in total. They are moving around a lot so can be difficult to track down, but the fields by the level crossing and also the saltmarsh are the main places to look.
There are two races of bean geese that come to the UK - tundra bean geese and taiga bean geese. This means that they are the same species, but with slightly different variations in their appearance and where they're found. Bean geese are a very unusual sighting for Leighton Moss, but the three that have been spotted are tundra bean geese. They look very similar to pink-footed geese as they are closely related, but essentially tundra bean geese are orange in all the places that pink footed geese are pink - this includes the legs and a band of colour on the beak. By contrast taiga bean geese have a longer, much more orange beak than the tundra race and are larger. In terms of seeing them in winter, you are more likely to see tundra bean geese on this side of the country (though not commonly), and taiga bean geese on the East coast, particularly in Norfolk.
Tundra bean goose by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
Taiga bean goose by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
Both races of bean geese found in the UK come from Siberia and Northern Europe but they differ in where they breed (either on the tundra or in the lakes of the taiga forest). They then migrate south to Western Europe for the winter.
The bean geese are not the only ones that have been drawn to Leighton Moss to escape colder weather elsewhere. We have additional bitterns on the reserve through the winter months as our resident birds are joined by those from the continent. Public hide is the best place to spot them at the moment, particularly when the pools are frozen up like today. You also have a good chance of spotting another of our most elusive birds - the water rails whilst the pools are iced over.
Our otters are also regularly popping out in front of Public and Lower hides. Up to six have been seen at once which is fantastic! In this frozen weather they skate across the ice, and when it thaws, they can be seen rolling around in the water catching eels.
The three musketeers by Richard Cousens
We have had a report of a stoat down towards Grisedale hide, that is in partial ermine. Stoats are chestnut brown for most of the year, but during the winter months they change their coat to white to blend in with snow. The one seen here isn't pure white, but it has a half-changed outfit on, so it looks a little undecided as to what the weather is doing.
Though it is not the main gritting season, bearded tits have been seen and heard in and around the grit trays on the Causeway, so keep an eye and an ear out for these elusive little birds.
The three marsh harriers that have frequented the reserve through the autumn and winter are still here, so look for them around the reedbed. They also sometimes head across to the saltmarsh to hunt too. Down at the saltmarsh, we have been re-building the sluice at Eric Morecambe pool as it was undermined by a strong tide recently. We're holding it back temporarily at the moment, but is will need more work in the summer. The water level on the Eric Morecambe pool has dropped significantly due to the water being able to escape, but this means that the mud is exposed so the birds are enjoying it. If you head down there, look for redshanks, dunlins, lapwings, a spotted redshank and a greenshank.
Please be aware that on Monday 9 February, the track to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides car park will be closed whilst we install a pipe to help us to manage water levels on Barrow Scout Fields.
Grid reference: SD4775 (+2km)
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