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Recent sightings

  • 16 January 2015

    Who's been coming out of hiding?

    With some wet and windy weather this week, you'd think the wildlife would have stayed hunkered down out of sight. However, those visitors who have braved the storms have been treated to some spectacular sightings... 

    At Public hide, the otters are still an almost daily occurrence. Whether frozen over, or open and windblown, the conditions on the pool have not put them off. They've been spotted rolling around and fishing in the water, skating on the ice and taking a rest on the islands and edges. They are truly stunning to see. 

      Otter on an island at Public hide by Martin Kuchczynski

    At both Public and Lower hides, bittern sightings have been great too. We have an increase in their numbers at this time of year as our resident birds are joined by some from the continent. They have superb camouflage so can often be difficult to spot, but recently they've been popping up all round the edges of the pools and even flying out too! Why not come along to our next 'Frost Bittern' walk to see if you can see these elusive birds. Details here.

      Bittern at Lower hide by Richard Cousens

    The ducks on the pools have been battling the almost tidal conditions as the wind gusts across the surface of Lilian's pool. There's a good variety to see with mallards, teal, wigeons, pintail, goldeneye, tufted ducks, pochards and gadwalls all dotted round the reserve.

      A blustery landing for the mallards by Richard Cousens

      Gadwall on choppy waters by Brian Salisbury

    Down on the saltmarsh, a whole host of different wading birds can be seen from the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. Great flocks of lapwings wheeling round the sky, redshanks, black-tailed godwits and among them a spotted redshank, a greenshank, a couple of ruff and some dunlin. A splash of colour has also been added by sightings of a stunning kingfisher and a yellowhammer.

    Close to the visitor centre, at our garden feeding station, you are treated to close up views of many of our woodland favourites. Chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches and bullfinches adorn the feeders with colour, alongside blue tits, great tits, coal tits and a Leighton Moss speciality-marsh tits. We're thrilled that the pair of tree sparrows seem to be staying round, fingers crossed for some breeding. They were spotted recently passing a feather to one another, could this be an early Valentine's gift? With Big Garden Birdwatch coming up in a week's time, why not come along to our events this weekend in preparation. On Saturday and Sunday mornings we'll be helping you to discover 'What's that Garden Bird?' (details here), followed by 'Fat Cake Sculptures' in the afternoons - find out more here.

      Our terrific tree sparrow pair by Richard Cousens

      The perfect gift for your partner by Richard Cousens

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 8 January 2015

    A most magical sight

    The UK’s smallest bird of prey, the merlin, has been seen dashing around the reserve recently. You can tell merlins apart from other falcons (kestrels, hobbys and peregrines) because of their relatively long, square-cut tail and rather broad-based pointed wings, shorter that those of any other falcon. Merlins can be aggressive towards other raptors - the other day a visitor told me when they were out on the reserve they saw a merlin mobbing a peregrine, plucky considering their small size! Leighton Moss is an ideal habitat for them as they favour areas of open country like grassland and costal areas. There have been quite a few sightings recently, a few spots from Lower and Public hides as well as Eric Morecambe hide - look out for them perching on posts on the saltmarsh.

      Merlin by Chris Gomersall (

    Merlins haven’t been the only birds out and about though, the peregrines are still making regular appearances along with three marsh harriers. A barn owl has also been seen at dusk around the station, so if you’re on your way home on the train, keep your eyes peeled!

    The greylag geese can still be seen all over the reserve and they can definitely be heard from pretty much anywhere! Our otter family have been showing really well from Public hide almost every day. Bitterns have been seen from Public hide too. If you fancy blowing the New Year cobwebs away on a winter walk then join us on 13 or 30 January to try and spot our most secret residents as well as plenty more seasonal delights! For more details click here

    Thanks to Intern Anya for this sightings update

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 3 January 2015

    Goosing around

    I am sure if any of you have visited the reserve recently you will have been lucky enough to see and hear the graylag geese over the reserve. There have been great views from almost all of the hides, but the best views seem to be down at the saltmarsh hides (Allen and Eric Morecambe hides). Greylag geese are the largest and the bulkiest of the wild geese native to the UK and Europe. The wintering flocks that we have at Leighton Moss are truly stunning birds, and incredibly exciting to watch! If you arrive on the reserve early in the morning you can hear there “chuckling” all over the reserve, and there iconic V-shaped flocks flying towards the saltmarsh. It is from greylag geese that the typical, white 'farmyard' type geese are descended, and if you look closely at greylags, you can certainly see the resemblance. We also get flocks of pink-footed geese flying over in 'V' formation at this time of year.

      Greylag geese by Sue Tranter (

    Yellowhammers have been seen down at the saltmarsh hides, an exciting spot for any birder. The males are unmistakable with their bright yellow head and underparts, brown black streaks with a black and chestnut rump. In flight it shows white outer tail feathers. Look out for them at the top of hedges or bushes singing.

    Whilst you are down at the saltmarsh, keep an eye out for the lapwings flocking together. We have been treated to some epic views of them whirling and wheeling round in the sky, similar to that of a starling murmuration.

    The otters are still being seen regularly, up to five at Public and Lower hides at any one time. Bitterns have also been seen almost daily from Public hide! Some wonderful photographs are being snapped, so grab your camera and see if you can spot this normally very secretive bird. Thanks to everyone who has sent through their snaps of otters and bitterns on the ice, if you've got some (or any of our wonderful reserve and its wildlife) that we can use in our promotions, then please send them to

      Mute swan and otter by Ann Johnson

      Can you see me? Bittern by Anna Johnson

    Three marsh harriers are being seen regularly, often granting visitors with wonderful views, hunting right outside the hide! They aren’t the only raptor on the prowl though, a pair of peregrines seems to enjoying the hunting around Leighton Moss, with some wonderful views of their exciting flying acrobatics from Lower hide.

    Thanks to Intern Anya for this recent sightings update

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 31 December 2014

    Dancing on ice

    Brrrr, it's gotten pretty chilly outside over the past few days. The pools are largely frozen up with a thick layer of ice which means that a lot of the ducks and water birds that frequent the reserve at this time of year have headed onto the open dykes or the saltmarsh. However, the beauty of the frozen conditions (aside from being simply stunning to look at) is that some of our more secretive wildlife comes out and about. Our family of otters (mum with three pups and even sometimes dad too) have been out playing on the ice at Public hide on practically a daily basis. We're thrilled with the reports we've been getting from our visitors about the great views you have had, and the photos you have captured. The gorgeous otter family are the cutest thing ever as they skate around trying to keep their feet. If you haven't seen an otter in the wild, then it is a great time to come and spot them here in this weather. Here's just a few of the photos we've been sent recently. If you've got any we can use for promoting the reserve, please send them through to - many thanks!

      Mum and pups by Richard Cousens

      Chasing off the competition (not sure who's chasing who) by Keith Scovell

    Otters aren't the only ones with their skates on at the moment, this mute swan had a bit of a slippery landing too...

      Mute swan by Martin Kuchczynski

    Bitterns and water rails are also regularly coming out onto the ice at Public hide. Both these birds are pretty shy for most of the year, but the frozen conditions means they venture onto the ice round the pool edges looking for food.

    We have three marsh harriers over wintering on the reserve, so keep an eye out for them as they hunt over the reedbed, or perch in the willow trees around the reserve.

    Down at the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, we're thrilled that two yellowhammers have been spotted. These brightly coloured farmland birds were once a common sight across the British countryside, but are sadly now on the red list of conservation concern due to the declines they have suffered due to changes in farming.

    Also down at the saltmarsh a large flock of lapwings has been wheeling round in the sky in a manner to rival a starling murmuration! These are another bird that was once a regular site on farmland that have sadly declined over the past few decades. They gather here in good numbers through the colder months and are a sight to behold when they dance across the sky. Whilst you're there, also keep your eyes peeled for a greenshank, a spotted redshank and one of our most popular residents - the kingfisher.

    We are open on New Years Day from 10 am-4.30 pm, so come and blow away those Christmas cobwebs, have a slice of our famous cake before you hit the January diets, and let us know what you spot!





    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 19 December 2014

    Coming up to Christmas sightings

    With Christmas just a few days away, I thought I would update you on all the latest sightings that you will hopefully get the chance to come and see over the festive period.

    We have a great variety of little birds at our feeding station in the garden and through the woodland. From the more well-known robins and blue tits, to more unusual nuthatches and marsh tits, keep your eyes peeled for the sight and sound of these favourites during your visit. It won't be long until we'll be asking for your help to count them in your own gardens for Big Garden Birdwatch 2015!

    Winter is one of the best times of year to see some of our most secretive wildlife here at Leighton Moss. Recently sightings of our most elusive residents - the bitterns have been almost daily from Public hide, with some sightings at Lilian's and Lower hides too. We have more bitterns here through the colder months as additional birds come over from Europe. Keep a particular eye on 'Al's Alley' - a strip cut through the reeds to the right of Public hide by one of our wardens Alasdair. Another of our shyest residents are water rails. They have also been nipping out in 'Al's Alley', as well as views of them round the edges close by at Lilian's hide.

      Bittern on the ice by Keith Scovell

      Water rails are good skaters too by Keith Scovell

    Up to four otters have been out playing a lot at both Lilian's and Public hides. The large dog (male) otter has also been seen fishing down at Lower hide. The work our wardens have been carrying out in recent years means that fish stocks are really good. Plus we've installed a replacement sluice on the Causeway which means we can manage the water level at Public and Lower hides separately to the water level at Lilian's, Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides, creating the ideal conditions for the different wildlife.

    If you head down the Causeway, keep an ear out for Cetti's warblers. They have been heard singing their explosive song in that part of the reserve, which is a fantastic sound to hear. They suddenly just strike up, like someone putting money in a jukebox and have a raspy sound. Also keep an eye out for bearded tits which have been seen coming onto the Causeway path itself to pick up grit.

    Around the reedbed, we have three marsh harriers - two adult females and a youngster. Up until four years ago, we only ever had marsh harriers here in the breeding season when we usually have four to five females and a couple of males. However, for the past few years, we have had up to four marsh harriers through the winter too. These reedbed birds of prey are a stunning sight as they glide over the reeds looking for prey.

    There are large numbers of ducks on the reserve, both on the pools at Leighton Moss and also on the saltmarsh. See if you can spot the difference between them - mallards, pintails, shovelers, teal, wigeons, pochardstufted ducks, goldeneyes, gadwalls, shelducks, goosanders and red-breasted mergansers.

    Huge flocks of waders are also gathered on the saltmarsh. As I drive to work each morning past that part of the reserve, I often see large numbers of lapwings in the sky - wheeling round and twirling in the way often associated with starlings. They really are a sight to behold. Look out for them as well as redshanks, black-tailed godwits and oystercatchers at the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. One of our regular visitors was also treated to close up views of this lovely little wren whilst they were there, along with seeing one of our most colourful residents - a kingfisher.

      Wren by Richard Cousens

    I have had a few enquiries as to when we open over Christmas, so here's a reminder:

    Christmas Eve 9.30 am-3 pm

    Christmas Day CLOSED

    Boxing Day 10 am-4.30 pm

    New Year’s Eve 9.30 am-3 pm

    New Year’s Day 10 am-4.30 pm

    All other days are normal visitor centre opening hours for December and January (9.30 am-4.30 pm). Please note that both the visitor centre and the nature reserve are closed on Christmas Day.The reserve is open from dawn until dusk every day but Christmas Day when it is closed.

    If you are bringing children with you on your visit, why not take part in Bertie Bittern's Christmas Wish self-led trail, to discover what Bertie has wished for. The Holt (our education room) will also be open most days with interactive boards and Christmas colouring and quizzes.

    We look forward to seeing you!

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 11 December 2014

    This will quack you up!

    You may sometimes take the massive variety of ducks for granted here at a Leighton Moss. At this time of year, on any day you can go down to the hides and see teal, shoveler, wigeon, pochard and pintail to name but a few. The male goldeneye has to be one of our most elegant winter visitors, it is easy to recognise by its distinctive black-and-white plumage and its startling yellow eye. Though these birds can now be seen across the country but the first nest site was only discovered in Scotland in 1971. Hard work and some excellent research has meant that these birds now quite regularly nest in specifically designed nest boxes put up on trees close to water. The birds we get at Leighton Moss are mostly birds that have migrated from northern Europe. The best place to see them in summer is the highlands of Scotland but at this time of year the lakes, large rivers and sheltered coasts of the north west are great, so Leighton Moss is just perfect!

    Despite us having hundreds of teal on the reserve they are actually an amber status bird so we are lucky to have fabulous views of them here. Teal are the smallest of the dabbling ducks (the ones that feed just under the surface of the water by sticking their bums in the air). Males are particularly distinctive, with a chestnut coloured head and broad green eye patches, females are slightly less distinctive as they are mottled brown. Both males and females show green wing patches in flight. At this time of year these birds are congregating in low-lying wetlands. The population we have at the moment are mostly birds from the Baltics and Siberia.

      Stunning male teal (David Mower)

    The aptly named shoveler has a bill shaped like a spatula. The males have dark heads and a lovely chestnut patch on their side and the females, like with teal, are mottled brown for camouflage on the nest. In flight you can see light blue wing patches on shoveler. The UK is home to just over 20% of the north western European population. We have quite a few on the reserve at the moment, with the best views from Lilian's hide.

      Male shoveler (David Mower)

      Female shoveler-look at that bill! (David Mower

    If you don't know a wigeon from a pigeon then why don't you join us on Birding for Beginners this Sunday. As well as an insightful guided walk you can warm up afterwards with a bacon or veggie bap and a brew! Details here.

    We have a few bitterns on the reserve with good sightings from Public hide almost everyday. Have a look down 'Al's Alley' - a strip cut through the reeds to the right of Public hide, which the bitterns and water rails are using a lot. The otter cubs are still out and about each day too. I've had some of the best views of otters I've ever had from Lower hide over the past week so come and see them. A great white egret has been spotted from Tim Jackson hide too.

    Thanks to intern Anya for these latest sightings.

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 10 December 2014

    Robin the rich to give to the birds

    I am sure we have all started thinking about what’s on our Christmas lists, but have you thought about what the birds might like? Because we have had such a mild autumn many of the birds we see in our gardens may be unprepared for winter. Just a few minutes work can make all the difference and increase their chance of survival. Birds need three key things this winter: water, food and shelter. We get a fabulous collection of garden birds at Leighton Moss -  robins, treecreepers, great spotted woodpeckers, marsh tits and bullfinches to name but a few. We always put food out for the birds in the sensory garden, but as the temperature starts dropping we have started increasing the amount of feed we are providing.

    During winter it is very important that birds have stored enough fat during the day to make it through the night. Suet balls are perfect, but you can also make your own fat or lard cake. This is a fun activity, perfect for the Christmas holiday but also benefits birds massively. Mix seeds, grated cheese, bread, sultanas and mealworms into unsalted butter or lard and then mould around a pinecone, into a coconut shell or just into balls. You could even get creative and make a sculpture like this owl and mouse we made. Why not join us on our fat cake sculptures event in January to learn more, details here.

      Fat cake sculptures by Jen Walker

    It is very important that birds have access to unfrozen water for drinking and bathing. The RSPB recommends placing a ping-pong ball on any open water to keep it ice-free. The slightest wind will move the ball and prevent the water freezing over. Here at Leighton Moss we have recently installed a pond in the sensory garden, this is perfect for amphibians as well as a great spot for birds to drink. Bird baths are also ideal, or you could turn an old washing up bowl into a mini pond. Failing that, a puddle will do! 

    When you're snuggled by your fire this winter, spare a though for the poor birds outside, we all need shelter this winter! Nestboxes are a perfect home for almost any birds and can be bought from RSPB shops or online. Careful planting of dense hedges like privet and hawthorn can also provide suitable sheltering sites.

    All these methods are brilliant for birds, but as you make your garden more attractive to them you are also treated to some wonderful views. Visitors come from far and wide to see and photograph the woodland birds at our feeders here at Leighton Moss as well as the large variety of wildlife around the reserve.

    In the reedbed, bittern and otter sightings continue to be almost daily from Public hide. These two popular residents are often thought of as secretive, but they appearing on a regular basis at the moment, delighting visitors and the staff and volunteers here alike! We also have three marsh harriers hunting around the reedbed.

    Down at the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, there is number of different wading birds. Redshanks and lapwings gather in flocks and there are some black-tailed godwits, a spotted redshank, a greenshank and a ruff among them. Keep an eye out for ducks too including wigeons, goosanders and red-breasted mergansers. We are also regularly seeing a chiffchaff right outside Allen hide. These lovely little birds are generally in West Africa and the Mediterranean for the winter, but in recent years, particularly when the weather is milder, we have been seeing more of them spend the colder months in Britain.

    In our moth monitoring equipment we have been finding the rather aptly named December moth. Moths are usually something you would associate with the warmer months, but certain types of moth come out later in the year. Winter is a season where moth activity gets somewhat under recorded around the country, so if you see any moths through the colder months, be sure to log your sightings with Butterfly Conservation here.

      December moth by Adam Machin

    Thanks to intern Anya for this latest update

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 9 December 2014

    What a rail place to have a good time!

    The water rail is a relatively common, yet highly secretive bird. It is more often heard than seen. Its high pitched squeal (like a piglet) is really distinctive and is often the only sign of them being present in an area. It has chestnut-brown and black upperparts and black-and-white barred flanks, with a long red bill. This long bill is perfect for spearing any unsuspecting worms, spiders or fish. Unlike other rails, their bodies are flattened laterally. This adaptation benefits them enormously when they travel through the reeds - their preferred home.

    Water rails can be seen at Leighton Moss at any time of the year, but they are easier to spot in winter. As with many other birds like robins and starlings we get an influx of water rails in the colder months, and a higher population means more sightings! As the pools begin to freeze over, it is more likely that the birds will venture into the open, which they generally don't do the rest of the year. The most regular sightings at the moment are from Public and Lillian’s hides. Particularly look out for them in 'Al's Alley' at Public hide - a strip to the right of the hide that has been cut through the reeds by one of our wardens Alasdair. Both bitterns and water rails are popping out a lot along there a lot at the moment.

      Water rail by Mike Malpass

    We are inviting visitors to join us on a Winter Wonderland wildlife walk on Wednesday 17 December. Who knows, you might see a water rail! Warm up afterwards with a mince pie and brew. Click here for more information.

    The rest of the reserve is buzzing as always, with otters and marsh harriers being as regular as clockwork, particularly at Public and Lower hides. Many little egrets are popping up anywhere on the reserve but the best sightings are from Allen and Eric Morecambe hides.

     Thanks to intern Anya for these recent sightings.

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 5 December 2014

    Having a hoot at Leighton Moss


    As many of you may have seen on Autumnwatch, Leighton Moss is home to a wealth of wildlife including some silent hunters, owls. The equipment the BBC provided, let us have a fantastic insight into the numbers and types of owl we have in our area. Because these birds hunt mainly at dusk and at night they aren’t always the easiest to see and study. The use of this night vision equipment allowed us to take a peak into their fantastic nocturnal world. Amazing footage of a barn owl nest was featured as well as a special segment on the local tawny owls too. And hot off the press this week, we were contacted by Gillian Cunningham who informed us that whilst she was travelling past the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides on the train, she was lucky enough to spot a short- eared owl flying on the edge of the reserve. This hasn’t been the only view of owls on the reserve over the past week or so though, barn owls and tawny owls have been seen from Lower hide at dusk, with one visitor enjoying a great view of a barn owl hunting right in front of the hide. It is great that we have the opportunity to see these fabulous birds on the reserve as their populations are notably unstable; barn owls especially often suffer great declines in their numbers across the UK. In 2013 barn owl nest occupancy fell by 72% which was terrible news. Through the hard work of the RSPB and a range of other conservation charities, as well as favorable weather in 2014, populations are beginning to recover and hopefully we will see more of these beautiful birds across the country.


    As a regular commuter on the Barrow to Lancaster line I am constantly surprised at the rich diversity of wildlife you can see from the comfort of the train carriage. I regularly spot little egrets and wading birds as well as foxes, kingfishers and owls on my daily commute, not to mention some of the nicest views in Lancashire. If you haven’t yet discovered the huge variety of places you can explore around Morecambe Bay, or if you want to find more, why not download these fantastic 'Nature on your Doorstep' guides to help you on your way. Not only do they cover areas with masses of wildlife, but cultural experiences and places to eat and drink are included too! There's still space on Tuesday evenings meal and talk all about what a special place Morecambe Bay is for nature and how partners are working together to help keep it that way, details here

      Barn owl by John Bridges (

     The rest of the amazing wildlife on offer has been as reliable as ever, with several sightings everyday of both bitterns and otters, with the best views being from Public and Lower hide.

    Winter is a great time of year for a selection of ducks, with teals, pintails, goldeneyes, shovelers and wigeon visible from most of the hides. Red deer are also regularly being seen from Grisedale hide, especially in the early morning. As the temperature drops and the pools begin to freeze over, we are hoping for some brilliant seasonal views of normally hard to see birds such as water rails as they venture out onto the ice. Why don’t you join us on a Winter Wonderland walk on 17 December. Event details here.

    We have lots of enquiries about the number of starlings and where the best place to see the murmurations are. Because of the unseasonably mild weather over the past couple of weeks, their usual spectacle has been unpredictable. At the moment the starlings aren’t roosting at Leighton Moss, but we hope that as the temperatures drop they will return and we will be treated to the wonderful displays we have become accustomed to. We will keep you all informed and as soon as they return we will post a recent sightings blog about their numbers and location. In the meantime, pop your thermals on, pack your gloves and pay us a visit and enjoy natures own winter wonderland.

    Thanks to Anya for this recent sightings update.

    Posted by kevin

Your sightings

Grid reference: SD4775 (+2km)

Pink-footed Goose (325)
25 Jan 2015
Bittern (2)
24 Jan 2015
Marsh Harrier (2)
24 Jan 2015
Water Rail ()
24 Jan 2015
Cetti's Warbler (1)
24 Jan 2015
Red-breasted Merganser (5)
23 Jan 2015
Ruff (3)
23 Jan 2015
Bearded Tit (8)
22 Jan 2015
Firecrest (1)
22 Jan 2015
Tree Sparrow (1)
20 Jan 2015

Contact us

Where is it?

  • Lat/lng: 54.16814,-2.80107
  • Postcode: LA5 0SW
  • Grid reference: SD478750
  • Nearest town: Carnforth, Lancashire
  • County: Lancashire
  • Country: England

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Note: Some reserves are not served directly by public transport and, in these cases, a nearby destination (from which you may need to walk or take a taxi or ferry) may be offered.