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Today we were joined by volunteer and birdsong extraordinaire – Andy Chapman, who took us on a walk through the reedbed and garden to discover and decipher the world of birdsong in our Birdsong for Beginners guided walk. If you read my previous blog you will know that I am a newcomer to the world of birdsong and have been working hard over the past few months to learn who’s who and what’s what at Leighton Moss. All of those grueling afternoons spent sitting in the garden listening to birdsong paid off as this morning when I helped to introduce some first time listeners to the birdy wall of sound.
As visitors arrived we were greeted by the noisy nuthatch, which seems to have claimed the visitor centre at Leighton Moss as his patch. I don’t think any of us will be forgetting the nuthatches racket for a while.
Noisy nuthatches! Picture by Paul Liley
Leighton Moss is a great home for nature with a fantastic diversity of birds, so we were treated to birdsong from garden favourites such as the tiny but mighty wren and the wonderful whistling of blackbirds. But we also heard the woodlands alive with willow warbler, one of the most melodious but lesser known birdsongs. As well as the explosive Cetti’s warbler at the far end of the boardwalk, which erupts into song from the reedbed.
It has been a fantastic morning with lovely people and a well deserved breakfast bap to round it all off. We will be running two more Birdsong for Beginners walks this year on Sunday 29 May and Sunday 19 June (by which time I will be a birdsong pro). For more information click here.
If you can’t wait till the end of May to dive into the world of birdsong and you can brave an early start then we are running an extra Dawn Chorus walk Sunday 8 May from 4-7.30 am. While the early start may seem daunting, this is a very rewarding walk. You will hear the first blackbirds and robins burst into song before the reserve explodes into life, a truly stunning symphony of birdsong. This walk is not advertised on our website so please call the visitor centre on 01524 701601 for more information and to make a booking.
Birdsong aside it’s been a fantastic week here at Leighton Moss. The past few days of sunshine have bought out the blossom on the trees and the welcome hum and buzz of bees. Butterflies are on the increase, with brimstones and peacock butterflies down the boardwalk. It is that lovely time of year where the sunshine brings everything back to life.
Blooming lovely. Picture by Sophie King
We have had our first sightings of this year’s common sandpiper which is most likely on its way to summer breeding grounds in Scotland. You might see this small wading bird from the Allen or Eric Morecambe Hides at the saltmarsh.
We have also had reports of ruffs in full breeding plumage. For most of the year the ruff will look like a fairly normal, brown wading bird. Then comes spring, where the ruff likes to look his best. The male ruff has a fantastically flamboyant plumage of puffed up head tufts and a large ornamental collar of feathers. These fantastic birds have been seen at Allen and Eric Morecambe Hides down at the saltmarsh and at the Grisedale Hide.
Also causing a spectacle at Leighton Moss is the large flock of black-tailed godwits. Between 2,000 and 3,000 black-tailed godwits have been flitting between the main reserve and Morecambe Bay. It’s quite a sight when a marsh harrier flies above and spooks the whole flock into synchronised flight!
Glorious views of Morecambe Bay. Picture by Mike Malpass
There have also been regular sightings of avocets from Lillian’s Hide. These enigmatic wading birds are normally found on Morecambe Bay and you can see their breeding grounds from the Allen Hide. It seems that this year they have decided to branch out and come for a dip at the main reserve too, making fantastic viewing for our visitors. You might recognise the avocets charactieristic upturned beak from the RSPBs logo? These elegant birds are one of our most staggering success stories, extinct as a breeding bird in the UK by 1842. Now, thanks to the habitat management and protection by the RSPB there are now over 400 breeding pairs nationally!
So far we know there are six avocet nests down at the Allen Pool. Fingers crossed we will be seeing some chicks over the upcoming weeks. Check our recent sightings blog to stay updated or pop into the visitor centre where we can tell you more about these wonderful waders!
We've got our fingers crossed for avocet chicks again this year. Picture by Roy Brown
Posted by Sophie K
I have been a residential volunteer at Leighton Moss for just over a month now and in the past couple of weeks, spring has stepped up a gear. The woodlands and garden are alive with birdsong and with the help of the wonderful and knowledgeable staff, volunteers and visitors at Leighton Moss I have been starting to pick apart this wonderful world of sound.
It’s just spectacular to walk along the pathways and hear the enormous diversity of life here at the reserve. Trying to untangle who’s who and what’s what can be daunting, but once you open your ears and your eyes to the world around you; you see the magic in unpicking its mysteries.
You can hear the melodious blackbirds, robins and dunnocks, the chatterings of chiffchaff and great tit, the churring of chaffinches, the racket of wrens and nuthatches and the three dimensional, otherworldly, mindboggling creations of the song thrush.
A song thrush belting out its beauty of a song. Picture by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Over the past few weeks the influx of summer migrants has stepped up a gear and we have been flooded with willow warblers. About the same size as a blue tit, this small warbler is actually very similar to a chiffchaff. The two birds are very tricky to tell apart by sight alone, instead their song is the most common identification tool. While a chiffchaff will very distinctly sing the two tone song of its name - "chiff chaff chiff chaff chiff", the willow warbler sings a more melodic and fluid song of descending notes. As you walk around the garden and woodlands the air is filled with the songs of these two little birds.
These aren't the only warblers we have been joined by; in the garden listen out for the song of the blackcap, so called because of the males distinctive jet black cap. The blackcaps song is one of the loveliest sounds of Spring, sweet and melodic with rich clear notes. See if you can spot one in the trees or singing from a patch of brambles as you walk through the garden. You will also hear reed warblers and sedge warblers singing as you walk through the reedbed. Loud and proud these noisy little birds have no idea that their songs are described as 'unmusical', 'lacking melody' and 'grating'. A good place to hear the reed warbler is if you head down to the end of the pond dipping platform where we have had one happily singing away all week. One trick to tell the songs apart of the reed warbler and sedge warbler is to imagine yourself conducting to the song of a reed warbler, whereas a sedge warbler is apparently 'un-conductable'.
Look out for that distinctive jet black hood of a blackcap in the garden. Picture by Martin Kuchczynski
In the very early hours of the morning our first spotted crake was heard near the causeway. This elusive bird is very secretive and skulks about in the dense vegetation of the reedbed. You will only know it's there if you hear its distinctive 'whip-lash' call. The spotted crake is specially protected, in the last 10 years there have only been 30-80 pairs breeding in Britain. Which is why places like Leighton Moss are so important to these mysterious birds. The best time to hear the 'whip-lash' of the spotted crake is at dawn and dusk. While the visitor centre is open from 9.30 am-5 pm we don't close the reserve or hides, so keep your ears open if you go for an evening walk down the causeway.
An illustration of the elusive spotted crake by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
If you fancy taking a dip into the world of birdsong then join us for the first of three Birdsong for Beginners walks this Sunday, where our experts (and me!) will help you to decipher the mysterious languages of the woodland. Or if you're willing to brave the early morning then join us for our Dawn Chorus walk in celebration of international dawn chorus day on Sunday 1 May.
If you read our guest blog this week by the fantastic Anya, you will know that RSPB looks after over 200 nature reserves like Leighton Moss as well as working to create more habitats in adjoining sites. Here at Leighton Moss our wardening team have created two new reedbeds since 2005; Barrow Scout fields and Silverdale Moss. Our aim is to make habitats like reedbeds bigger, better and more connected. In this blog I will talk about three of our star species which have benefited from some of this wonderful work; otters, bearded tits and marsh harriers.
Otters disappeared from the waters of Leighton Moss in the mid 90’s, their numbers had dramatically decreased across the UK and they were in big trouble due to persecution and water pollution. In 2006 thanks to some European funding and a helping hand from a huge floating digger we’ve turned our water problems around and have had the otters back with a vengeance! We caught a couple of otters on film down at Barrow Scout fields this week, making the most of their new reedbed. The cheeky duo were having a late night ramble in the reedbed when they stumbled upon our camera trap.
One of our resident otters at Leighton by Dave Hall (not by our camera trap!)
Nick, our assistant warden, came back from an early morning jaunt around the reserve with some very exciting news today; we have two pairs of nesting bearded tits, one on eggs and one with chicks! The bearded tits are one of our most enigmatic, charming and important little birds. Leighton Moss is the only site in the north west of England where bearded tits live and because they are so special to us, we’ve even made them their own little homes; wonderful wigwams made from reed. We have been monitoring bearded tit numbers in the reedbed for over 50 years and over the next few weeks we’ll be keeping an eye on their nest boxes to see how they’ve fared over the wet winter. The bearded tits are fast breeders, having up to three broods per year, so fingers crossed things are looking good for the little beardies!
On the left our fabulous handmade bearded tit nest boxes ready to go out into the reedbed by David Mower and a resident bearded tit by Mike Malpass on the right
The marsh harriers have had an action packed week; these majestic birds of prey have been stealing the show and putting on a fantastic display for all of our visitors. If you have read my previous blog you will already know that we have had two males and two females for quite some time now, but this weekend we were joined by a third female! Fantastic news for us ... and also for our male marsh harrier who has hopefully found himself a mate. With three nesting females and only two males, the boys are going to have to do a lot of fishing to keep their ladies happy! While the female is nesting and incubating her eggs, which can take from 31 to 38 days, the male marsh harrier will have to supply her with food, which he delivers to her in spectacular mid-flight food passes. We expect to see a lot of marsh harrier action over the upcoming months, come down to witness their dramatic food passes, soaring skydances and their silent glide over the reedbed.
A marsh harrier making landing in the reedbed look easy - picture by Chris Gomersall
Thanks to the work by RSPB staff, an enormous troupe of volunteers and the support of our wonderful members we have been giving nature a home at Leighton Moss for over 50 years. Come down and visit us over the upcoming weeks and you will see that alongside our stars of the show we are a haven for a massive diversity of wildlife. As you take a stroll through the garden and along the trails listen out for willow warblers which have been flooding into the reserve in the last week. Nip down to the pond dipping platforms to hear the first of the reed warblers singing in the reeds. Look upon the hundreds of sand martins displaying their agility as they skim the water’s surface for insects at dusk. See if you can spot the tawny owl which has taken up roost in the woodland and watch the flocks of black tailed godwits as they take to the sky in their thousands. If you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of the mighty osprey which makes a special trip to Leighton Moss to enjoy the fish.
Leighton Moss waking up and shaking off the morning mist - picture by David Mower
A big thank you to Anya for this weeks guest blog!
Spring at Leighton Moss has always been my favourite time of year. One of the over-wintering ducks still around is the pintail. With lovely, chocolate-coloured heads and immaculate tails feathers they are one of the most popular and attractive ducks on the reserve. Other ducks like teal may stay here to breed. Teal may be small ( the UK's smallest duck in fact) but on closer inspection you can really appreciate their elegance. Let's hope they stay to breed so we can admire them all year round!
The ever elegant pintail by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Signs of Spring are never far away at Leighton Moss, from the indignant calls of a nesting nuthatch to the occasional early peacock butterfly emerging. I spend most of my days in the Visitor's Centre and from here I've noticed two nests, watching with fascination the comings and goings of the nuthatch and song thrush family in the car park.
Out on the reserve I think it's a really magical thing to just stand still, look and listen. You may spot a blue tit or a blackbird repeatedly visiting hidden nests in the hedgerow. You may see a stoat skulking in the shadows, or hear a vole rustling amongst the leaves.
An almost too cute bank vole! Photo by Richard Cousens.
Take a moment to notice the bird song. You will hear the fluted calls of the willow warblers and the buzzing of emerging bees. Whatever you see or hear will be special. There is something peaceful and calming about such stillness when the rest of the the world is moving around you.
Moving at last, you wander along reed-lined paths. Looking down, you may spot a toadlet making its first journey, or a brimstone alighting on a reed. From the hides you can see that sunshine- yellow marsh marigolds are starting to bloom. Look out for marsh harriers tumbling through the air above your head as you walk on down the causeway. Many of our winter species are heading to Europe to breed, to be replaced by sand martins and swallows which have now arrived on the reserve. Looking over the pools you can see them dipping as they feed on insects.
The golden reedbed by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
A sadder story is the decline of some of our country's best-loved species like starlings. The population of these tenacious and adaptable birds once boomed, taking advantage of many different habitats. Unfortunately, since 1980 ,the story has been different. We have lost over 66% of the entire UK population and and the cause is largely unknown.
The starling is not an isolated case. With over 60% of UK species declining there has never been a more important time to give nature a home. We are losing habitat at an alarming rate, with over 99% of all our wildflower meadows gone. The RSPB tackles this by managing over 200 crucial nature reserves like Leighton Moss, as well as providing education, advocacy and also working with landowners to help wildlife flourish.
Sunset starling murmurations at Leighton Moss by Alasdair Grubb
Our aim is to save nature. As simple as that. We want to expand our existing reserves,as we have done here are Leighton Moss, by creating more habitat in adjoining sites. At Leighton we have created new satellite sites in the nearby reedbed at Barrow Scout fields and Silverdale Moss. The sites were planted in 2005 and species including barn owl and marsh harrier are being seen regularly at both sites.
An inquisitive marsh harrier by David Mower.
None of this work can be done without you. Isolated habitats aren't a long term solution. We need to create corridors between them, so by putting up bird feeders in your gardens, (don't forget 100% profit from out RSPB shops and cafe goes to conservation) a bug hotel or creating a hedgehog highway you really will be helping. If we buy more land and make existing land better for wildlife, our dream will quickly become a reality. "If you build it they will come" .
So next time you pop in and see us, why not buy a hedgehog house or some bird food? You could also have a walk around our wildlife garden to get some ideas for your own patch. We have a fantastic selection of birds, like siskins, lesser redpolls and bullfinches. What will you get in your garden?
Many species like ospreys, bitterns and red kites have been brought back from the brink of extinction in this country. If you are lucky you could see a bittern skulking in the reeds from Causeway and Lower hide. Ospreys have arrived back in the UK in the past couple of weeks, if you would like to see one why not pop along and see us at the Lake District Osprey Project? You may even be lucky enough to see one fishing at Leighton.
There are plenty of success stories so let's all continue to give nature a home together. We can all do something, so that extra slice of cake with your bird friendly coffee really does help to save nature! Lemon drizzle anyone...?
It’s been a wonderful week here at Leighton moss with spring really kicking into action! The big news from this weekend is that one of two female marsh harriers is probably on eggs. This is fantastic news for nature as the marsh harriers numbers had declined in the UK to only one breeding pair by 1971. Incredibly, thanks to the hard work by the RSPB and the support of members this decline has been reversed, now there are over 400 breeding pairs in Britain. It really is an inspirational story to demonstrate the power we have to reverse population decline not just in the UK but abroad as well.
A good place to spot the nesting marsh harrier is from the Causeway hide where the female marsh harrier has made her nest in the dense reedbed where she will lay around four eggs. She will have to incubate her eggs for over a month and so will have very little time to hunt. During this time the male will bring her food, he won’t however visit her nest, instead the female flies up to meet the male as he calls her from the sky. The pair perform magnificent, acrobatic food passes where the female catches food from the male midflight. If you look to the skies over the next few months you might witness this spectacle.
Keep your eyes to the skies! A fantastic food pass captured by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
A male marsh harrier is actually a bit of a bachelor, preferring to build his own nest, called a ‘cock nest’, instead of sharing the females. Whilst he will bring the female food during her incubation period, the male marsh harrier is not a faithful bird. They are known to have up to three mates, making a lot of work when he needs to supply food to them all!
The marsh harriers aren’t the only ones who have been getting down to business over the past few weeks. If you take a stroll down to the pond dipping area you will find it full of frog spawn, just this morning we found a tiny little toadlet trying to get into the visitor centre. Fortunately the very helpful staff from the visitor centre pointed it back in the right direction. If you want to find out more about what lives in the murky waters of Leighton moss then bring the family down for a drop in session of pond dipping this Thursday in ‘What Lives Beneath’. Last week our amateur pond dippers managed to scoop up all sorts of creep creatures including deadly backswimmers, a predator of the water which swims upside-down on the prowl for their unsuspecting prey, as well as cute little newt nymphs which with their feathery gills on their sides look like miniature water dragons.
Back where it belongs, a toad by Anya Kuliszewski
On the pools at Leighton moss everybody is dressed to impress and in their full breeding plumage. The great crested grebes are performing their elaborate courtship displays and the mute swans have got us all seeing hearts as they dance across the water. We still have a number of our winter residents; tufted ducks, teals, wigeons, shovelers, cormorants, greylag geese, pintails and shelducks. Look out for long legged waders; black tailed godwits, little egrets, snipes, redshanks and that ever tricky to spot – spotted redshank. Last but most definitely not least there are 40-50 avocets at the saltmarsh which can you see from the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides.
Seeing hearts by Richard Stead
It’s been a very exciting week as the reserve has been inundated with new arrivals! There are hundreds of sand martins as well as a number of swallows which can been seen darting about over the waters surface hunting for insects. On Monday the first reed warbler of the year was heard along the Causeway, a record breaking early arrival at Leighton moss! The reed warbler is an expert at climbing and clinging onto reed stems. It is so well camouflaged that the best way to find it is to listen for its noisy, rather unmusical chatterings from within the reedbed. Also singing along the causeway are the willow warblers which have migrated here from their wintering grounds in Africa, and the extremely vocal Cetti's warblers which stay here all year.
A reed warbler by David Mower
There’s been a lot of territorial behavior here at Leighton moss! Birds declare their territories by their song, so what to us is the beautiful and musical sound of spring is actually something a little bit more serious. Just outside the visitor centre we have a nuthatch declaring that the land is his from daybreak until nightfall. For such a tiny bird he really does know how to make himself heard! And he’s not the only one who’s taking a piece of Leighton moss for his own, to name but a few as you walk around the garden you may hear; chiffchaffs, chaffinches, song thrushes, blackbirds, robins, dunnocks, goldcrests ,coal tits, marsh tits, great tits and blue tits. If you want to learn more about untangling this complex and magnificent musical tapestry or just enjoy listening to the birdsong symphony then join us for Birdsong for Beginners or (if you can brave the early start) our spectacular Dawn Chorus Walk followed a well deserved full English breakfast!
I'm hungry already! Photo by Keith Palmer
On a final note I would like to introduce some new residents to Leighton moss this week...
Mallard ducklings! Photo by Larissa Bennett Margrave
Happy Good Friday everybody! And as a little Easter treat I’m happy to let you all know that we have re-opened the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides down on the saltmarsh. They’ve been closed for the past two weeks while we’ve been widening the paths. As well as looking fantastic they’re also now wheelchair accessible.
Eric Morecambe strutting his stuff down at the saltmarsh by Sophie King
Down at the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides we have a number of avocets, these beautiful birds come to Morecambe Bay in the spring from their over wintering sites in the south of England to breed. It really is magical to watch the avocets and have them breeding here. These elegant birds are very special to the RSPB, you can see them on our logo and they are one of our greatest conservation success stories. From around 1840 there were no breeding avocets in the UK, this was attributed to the loss of their very important wetland habitat. But due to the protection and habitat management by the RSPB, which we wouldn’t be able to achieve without the wonderful support of our members, there are now over 1500 breeding pairs in Britain! At Leighton moss we do a lot of conservation work at the saltmarshes which you can see from the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, thanks to the hard graft of our warden team and fantastic troupe of volunteers, visitors can enjoy the spectacle of these graceful waders every year.
A stunning picture on an Avocet and chick thanks to Michael Porter
If you’re planning on visiting the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides over the Easter holidays you may be greeted by black tailed godwits, snipe, oystercatchers, lapwings, redshanks and little egrets feeding in the mud. There is also a resident kingfisher which can be seen on the hunt for a bit of lunch! Keep your eyes peeled for spotted redshanks and greenshanks in amongst the flocks redshank. At this time of year many bird species are migrating north. We’re hoping to see the first curlew sandpipers on their epic passage from their wintering grounds in Africa to their summer breeding grounds on the tundra of Arctic Siberia. Everyone at Leighton Moss is waiting for the arrival of swallows, sand martins, swifts, ringed plovers and hopefully little ringed plovers, as spring really gets into gear!
A week on Monday we have our first of four ‘Avocet Ambles’, an exploration into the elegant and enigmatic avocets. Join our wonderful and knowledgeable volunteers on a guided walk, not just about birds but about all wildlife and on the importance of Morecambe Bay. Discover what makes Morecambe Bay such a special place and why over a quarter of a million birds come to wade about on its muddy shores every year.
Up in the reedbed, we’ve had a fantastic week. If you read my previous blog or have visited us over the past few days then you’ll be aware that the pools in front of Lilian’s hide are teeming with waders! To name but a few there are bucketfuls of black tailed godwits, little egrets galore, lashings of lapwing, oodles of oystercatchers and our brilliantly boisterous black-headed gulls. There have been blackcaps and chiffchaffs spotted in the garden this week, a welcome sign that spring is nigh after a long wet and windy winter!
As it’s Good Friday and the Easter holidays are upon us, I would like to tell you about a couple of special family events we’re running over the upcoming weeks. Join our experts of the deep in ‘What Lives Beneath?’ next Thursday (for a full list of dates click here). There’s no need to book so just bring the family down to the reedbed to find out what’s lurking in the murky waters. You will discover how under the water life is springing into action and that this watery world is inhabited by some very alien looking creatures!
A very cheerful looking diving beetle larvae by Neil Philips
Come and get lost in a microscopic world as we open up our doors for ‘Nature Up-close'. We have a treasure trove full of dead good stuff; plants, feathers, dragonflies, moths, bark and even a frog! Once they’re under the microscope you’ll discover nature's hidden secrets, see the hairs on a bumblebees back, watch over forests of moss and look into the eye of a fly. Bring in your own, found natural objects and dead insects. We would love to see what you’ve found and how it changes as we get up-close. The first event is next Wednesday (click here for the full list of dates), again there’s no need to book, just pop on into The Holt next to the visitor centre and get experimenting.
A moss and lichecn jungle by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Running throughout the Easter holidays (and for the whole year!) we have our themed, self-led family trails; bring your team and discover more about Leighton Moss. For the rest of March find out how we like to get muddy with our ‘Wears Welly Trail’, then in April come down and discover the cute and cuddly ‘Baby Birds Trail’. The Holt is full of family activities to keep you busy in the sunshine and on those rainy days. Or explore the sensory garden - take on the Den Building Challenge and have fun with our natural playpit, nature's pipes and drums!
We’re open all Easter bank holiday so come down and get exploring or pop into the cafe and treat yourself to something tasty...
Hot chocolate and cake by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Lilian’s hide has been awash with birds over the past few days, including an awesome 360 black tailed godwits! Already in their summer plumage, the black tailed godwits have a striking auburn head and chest. With beaks nearly as long as their legs and fantastically striped black and white wings which they display when in flight, the black tailed godwits are quite a spectacle here at Leighton Moss. There have also been high numbers of little egrets across the reserve, 26 were recorded from Lilian’s hide on Sunday. This distinctive small white heron has become a year round fixture here in recent years, if you’re visiting Leighton Moss there is likely to be great views of the little egrets fishing around in the mud in front of Lilian’s hide as well asTim Jackson and Grisedale hides (to view a map of the reserve click here). There are also a number of other wading birds congregating at these pools including ruffs, oystercatchers, lapwings, snipe, dunlins, redshanks and a solitary greenshank.
Some very long legs on three black tailed godwits. Picture by Gordon Langsbury (rspb-images.com)
This spectacular gathering of wading birds can be attributed to some of the habitat management work our warden team have been doing. They have lowered the water levels of the pools which you can see from Tim Jackson, Grisedale and Lilian’s hides whilst keeping the waters deep around the Causeway and Lower hides, creating two fantastic, contrasting habitats for wildlife. As you can see from Lilian’s hide this has produced lots of exposed mud and is wonderful for watching all of our waders doing what they do best, wading through mud and fishing in shallow pools. If you want to know more about the habitat management we’re doing, staff in the visitor centre and out on the reserve will be more than happy to give you more information.
We also still have a number of shelducks, pintails, tufted ducks, teals, wigeons, goldeneyes and cormorants alongside one of my favourite waterbirds; the great crested grebe, two of which I saw this morning from the causeway hide in their full, fantastic, breeding plumage. A possibility over the upcoming weeks is that they will start their elaborate courtship displays which involve synchronised diving and what is called a ‘weed-dance’, expect head shaking and beakfuls of water weed. An interesting fact about grebes is that they eat their own feathers and feed them to their young, this is thought to line their stomachs, allowing the grebe to digest fish bones! Quite charmingly the great crested grebe will often carry its young on its back to protect them from predators in the waters.
A glorious great crested grebe, keeping Leighton moss classy! Picture by Richard Cousens
Over the past weeks, sightings of our otters have been lower, over the winter we had one family regularly seen from the Causeway and the Lower hide. It is likely that this lack of otter activity is because the female has chased off her two juvenile offspring in order to breed again. Check the recent sightings blog or pop into the visitor centre at Leighton Moss to find out if there’s any more otter news! While there may not be a lot of otter, there have been some sightings of stoats along the Causeway. Often the stoats can be seen running across the paths - one visitor reported that they were seen as you look over the small bridge at the far end of the Causeway path.
A stoat on the lookout by Craig Linford
Great news on the summer migrant front, this morning the first chiffchaff was heard from the Skytower having made its long migration here for the breeding season all the way from Africa. This small olive-brown/ green warbler gets its name from its song, so as you take a walk across the reserve listen out for them singing ‘chiffchaff chiffchaff chiffchaff’. Joining us over the next couple of weeks we are expecting the return of reed warbler, sedge warblers and willow warblers as well as larger numbers of sand martins. If you are interested in identifying birds by their song then why not join us on International Dawn Chorus Day or one of our Birdsong for Beginners walks.
There have been a number of visitors staying late on the reserve over the past few weeks, waiting for that moment when the sun starts to set in the hope of seeing and hearing the elusive bitterns! Since my last update there has been two sightings of the bitterns, one on Sunday evening around 7 pm along the causeway and one this morning seen flying over the reserve from the Skytower! On Sunday two bitterns were seen taking off from the reedbed and circling above us, doing what is call ‘gull calling’. This is where the bittern makes a sound similar to that of a gull whilst it is in flight, and on Sunday you could really hear the difference in their calls. This is thought to be a pre-migratory behaviour, so it could be this pair has headed off to find breeding grounds. Further up the Causeway there was a third bittern heard ‘tuning-up’. This is where the male makes a kind of grunting sound and is literally tuning-up prior to booming, the sound a bittern makes to attract a mate and establish his territory. Then this morning at 8.30 am, Lesley who works here at Leighton moss (many of you may recognise her welcoming smile from the visitor centre) was lucky enough to watch as a bittern took off from Lilian's pool, flew over the Causeway and landed in the reedbed. What a start to the day! Keep an eye on the recent sightings blog for more updates on Leighton Moss or come down and visit the reserve at this exciting time of year!
And finally just a reminder of some important information: Due to essential work to improve the paths to Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, the saltmarsh car park, paths and hides themselves are closed from Monday 14-Thursday 24 March. The work will be completed in time for the Easter bank holiday weekend. The rest of the reserve, visitor centre and main car park are open as normal. The footpath to Jenny Brown's point is still accessible.
Also, the shop will be closed for our end of year stocktake from 3 pm onwards on today (Wednesday 23 March). Visitors can still collect maps and reserve passes from the welcome desk and access the reserve. The cafe is open as normal. The shop will re-open Thursday 24 March as normal at 9.30 am. We apologise for the inconvenience.
Thanks to Visitor Experience Intern Sophie for this week's recent sightings blog.....
With the days getting lighter, brighter and longer we’ve had all sorts of signs of springtime activity here at Leighton moss, including butterflies on the boardwalk! Both peacock and brimstone butterflies have been spotted this week. You might not know but the RSPB helps give butterflies a home all across the surrounding area. A great site to stretch your legs and test your identification skills is Warton Crag, home to rare species such as the Northern brown argus and high brown fritillary. Warton Crag is also home to nesting peregrines as well as willow warblers and blackcaps which will all be returning there over the coming few weeks. We work in partnership with other organisations - Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council to ensure this special place for nature is looked after. Come and find us in the visitor centre at Leighton moss if you’d like to find out more about what we do in the wider area and where you can go butterfly spotting - there's lots of fantastic sites in this area of outstanding natural beauty!
Brimstone butterfly by Mike Malpass
If you peer over the edge of the boardwalk in the next few weeks you might find some frog spawn in the water. It's breeding season for frogs, toads and newts and our pools have been alive with action. If you go out after dark you might find them wandering the streets in the night looking for potential mates - be careful not to squish them, you may need to give them a helping hand to get safely across.
Sadly some amphibians and butterflies are part of the 60% of British species found in the State of Nature report to be in decline in the UK, but fortunately there’s lots of ways you can help them in your back garden. If you would like ideas of how you can attract wildlife such as butterflies and frogs to your backyard, then come and explore our sensory garden, a haven for wildlife, full of ideas of how you can give nature a home. You can also check out our website and order your free guide to giving nature a home.
In the garden this week we’ve had fantastic views of a tiny goldcrest flitting about amongst the branches in the treetops. The bird feeders never fail to amaze, with regular visits from birds such as nuthatches, great spotted woodpeckers, bullfinches, marsh tits and jays. As the days start to warm, expect to see bees visiting the flower patches - why not see how many different species you can find.
The signs of spring continue with the arrival of one of our first migrants - a sand martin has been spotted from Grisedale hide. This small and beautiful bird will have migrated here from its wintering grounds in Africa in order to breed here in the UK. The numbers will build up over the coming weeks and you'll see large flocks of them catching insects above the reeds in the evenings.
The marvellous marsh harriers are keeping up their wonderful aerial displays as they continue to skydance this week. They have also been spotted collecting nesting materials, a really positive sign that we’ll have them breeding here at Leighton moss again this year! Joining the spring action, the lapwings have been seen doing courtship displays. The males fly up into the sky performing dramatic swoops and dives, making their characteristic mating calls. The Tim Jackson hide has been a great spot to see and hear these wonderful rituals.
Lapwing by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
A green sandpiper has been spotted on the small island which you can see directly in front of the Causeway hide. After spending the winter in warmer climes, it’s most likely this charismatic little bird is on its way to breeding grounds in the subarctic. An amazing fact about the green sandpiper is that unlike other wading birds which nest on the ground, it actually nests in trees, re-using the old nests of other species such as woodpigeons and thrushes.
As some of you may be aware, last week we had sightings of two bitterns. I was fortunate to see them on Friday evening at 6.30 pm along the Causeway - a fantastic end of my first week volunteering here at Leighton Moss! Just as the sun was setting, two bitterns took to the skies, circling high above the reedbed. As the pair circled the reserve they were doing what is called ‘gull-calling’, where they make a sound similar to that of a gull whilst in flight. This is thought to be a pre-migratory behaviour, so it could be that this pair is getting ready to make a move and leave the Moss. On Tuesday they were heard but not seen!. Flying much later than the week before, at approximately 7.10 pm, when the reserve was in total darkness and even the most patient of wildlife watchers had given up hope, a bittern was heard gull-calling as it circled the reedbed.
On Thursday night this week, not one, not two, not three, but FOUR gull-calling bitterns were seen and heard on the Causeway. If you are planning to make a trip to hear the bittern gull-calling (we predict tonight will be a good night), keep your ears open for the calls of woodcock and the squealing of water rails. You might even see a barn owl swooping over the reeds. We’re all on tenterhooks to see what the bitterns will do next, will they stay or will they go, keep an eye on our recent sightings blog or pop down to the reserve to stay updated.
With Easter weekend coming up we hope to see you on the reserve, come and enjoy this magical time of year at Leighton Moss. Over the holidays we have lots of events both for adults and families, so click here to find fun activities for you.
And finally just a reminder of some important information: Due to essential work to improve the paths to Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, the saltmarsh car park, paths and hides themselves are closed from Monday 14-Thursday 24 March. The work will be completed in time for the Easter bank holiday weekend. The rest of the reserve, visitor centre and main car park are open as normal. The footpath to Jenny Brown's point is still accessible.
Also, the shop will be closed for our end of year stocktake from 3 pm onwards on Wednesday 23 March. Visitors can still collect maps and reserve passes from the welcome desk and access the reserve. The cafe is open as normal. The shop will re-open Thursday 24 March as normal at 9.30 am. We apologise for the inconvenience.
Posted by Annabel Rushton
Last week we said a fond farewell to Lizzy, our Visitor Experience Intern. So that means it is time to say a big welcome to our new one! Introducing Sophie King and her first blog..........................
There’s been a new sighting here at Leighton Moss – and it’s me! I am the new Visitor Experience Intern replacing the wonderful Lizzy who is just starting her new job on the RSPB Manchester Peregrine Project. I’m not that new to Leighton Moss, many of you may recognise me from my previous role at the Welcome Desk, where I volunteered while studying for my MSc in Conservation and Ecology at nearby Lancaster University. However, I have just taken on the new challenge in this full-time role.
Sophie has arrived by Annabel Rushton
Prior to starting at Leighton Moss I took some time out for a little jaunt in Asia. You may not know but the RSPB is one of the leading partners involved in SAVE; Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction. Fifteen years ago there were millions and now they’re nowhere to be found. Three species of South Asia’s vultures have decline by 97% and one the species by 99.9% which are unprecedented levels of decline. This shocking decline is down to the veterinary drug diclofenac, toxic to any vulture that feeds on the carcass of cattle that have recently been treated with it. Despite being banned for veterinary use it continues to be sold and used illegally today. The RSPB and partners are working in a number of ways to save Asia’s vultures, including the creation of captive breeding centres to maintain the population. Safe feeding zones or ‘vulture restaurants’ have also been established, where there is a regular supply of diclofenac-free carcasses for the hungry vultures! And perhaps most importantly the formation of education programmes to help stop the use of the vulture killing chemical.
Here at Leighton Moss we may not have vultures, but we do have a large bird of prey and conservation success story - the marsh harrier! In 1971 the marsh harrier’s numbers were at an all time low, with only one breeding pair in Britain. Their numbers declined due to drainage of reedbeds which are their breeding habitat, and unfortunately as with many other birds of prey, they suffered from persecution. However, due to the fantastic work of charities such as the RSPB creating new areas of reedbed there are now around 400 breeding females in Britain. This is just one of the many success stories of the RSPB which would not have been possible without the support of our members.
We have had marsh harriers successfully breeding with us here at Leighton Moss since 1987. Nesting is due to start in April, and over the past few weeks the males have been observed skydancing above the pools! This is an incredible spring spectacle where the male marsh harriers produce dramatic flight displays in the hopes of attracting a female. If you want to see this magical moment then come down to the reserve before early April when the displays tend to cool off and nesting begins. With 3 nests in 2015 and 6 successfully fledged young, 2016 promises to be another good year for the marsh harriers here at Leighton Moss.
Marsh harriers high by Ben a (rspb-images.com)
The next couple of months here at Leighton Moss will be just as glorious as we come out of the winter months and into spring. Already we have heard the bittern booming and the avocets are arriving down at the saltmarshes. I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of 12 avocets from the Eric Morecambe hide just yesterday as the sun was setting across Morecambe Bay. If you would like to find out more about our spring visitors then why not join us for an Avocet Amble, a series of guided walks in April to our hides down at Morecambe Bay.
The reedbed is ready to spring into life and change from a beautiful sea of golden reed into a green forest ,with the reeds towering overhead reaching an astonishing 7-8ft over water level! I for one am excited to see the reeds flourishing around our new boardwalk, a path which winds through the reedbed, home to Cetti's warblers and reed buntings, soon to be joined by reed and sedge warblers.
In the next couple of weeks I’ll have two more interns joining me, but while I’ll be focussed on all things visitor experience, they’ll be joining the wardening team and getting involved in the practical habitat management which is so important on our reserves. One of the real treats of our roles is that we get to live here, on-site at the reserve. Who else can say that they have Leighton moss as their back garden? If you are interested in the RSPB's internships either here at Leighton Moss or at any of our other reserves, as well as lots of other volunteering opportunities, more information can be found on our website.
See you soon - Sophie
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Due to essential work to improve the paths to Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, the saltmarsh car park, paths and hides themselves will be closed from Monday 14-Thursday 24 March. The work will be completed in time for the Easter bank holiday weekend. The rest of the reserve, visitor centre and main car park are open as normal. The footpath to Jenny Brown's point is still accessible.
Grid reference: SD4775 (+2km)
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