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Visitor operations manager Kevin Kelly tells us all about the wonderful world of waders...
With autumn in full swing from a birds perspective, one particular family of our feathered friends are in the midst of their mind-boggling migration. If you haven’t guessed it, the clues in the title. Wading birds is a broad title encompassing a whole range of specific families that make up this large avian category. As the name suggests, wading birds wade, in varying depths of water. Some preferring exposed mud, whilst others prefer deeper water in order to feed successfully. They have a fantastic array of different bill types in order to feed, ranging from small stubby bills that prod and stab into the mud, to long pointed bills which allow for much deeper feeding. The end of August through September is the peak time for numbers of waders to arrive here at Leighton Moss, with some at the end of their journey, happy to stay for the winter on the Morecambe bay estuary. But for others this is a critical fuelling station where food, rest and protection are essential before continuing their incredible southward travels. The Morecambe bay estuary is an internationally important site for wading birds such as oystercatchers and knots that will remain throughout the winter in large numbers.
Avocets by Richard Cousens
It is a great time of year to experience the salt marsh in action, as waves of waders pass through with the range of species almost changing from day to day. It is interesting to observe these daily changes with a pulse of birds such as ruffs, greenshanks and spotted redshanks peaking in numbers at the end of August and into September before continuing on their journey. These are joined by scarcer visitors such as curlew sandpipers, little stints and wood sandpipers, rarer birds still like pectoral sandpipers are sometimes caught in the mass movement and arrive onsite too.
Wood sandpiper by Kevin Kelly
The last few weeks has seen an impressive array of waders on the Eric Morecambe and Allen pools. With recent sightings including, 12 greenshanks, two spotted redshanks, two little stints, seven avocets and singles of wood sandpiper and little ringed plover. Add to that a swell of redshanks and lapwings and the pools are awash with hungry migrant waders.
Thanks to some fantastic work to install a new water control system in this area (as mentioned in previous blogs), we are now able to have greater control over the water levels, allowing us to manipulate this to meet the desires of our visiting hungry travellers.
So as the reserve sees a near constant arrival of new birds of all different shapes and sizes you might need a hand telling the difference between the plovers and the sandpipers. Why not pop down to our "What's that Wader?" walk on Sunday 4 September. Join Mike and Jane Malpass to help you with identifying wading birds and discover why Morecambe Bay is such a fantastic home for them. Meet at the Eric Morecambe hide car park (SD 475736). Booking and payment in advance essential. Cost Adults £7, (RSPB members £5.50).
Posted by kevin
With the wild weather this weekend, it is hard to forget that we are racing towards the final few weeks of British summer time. Whilst the shortening days are twinged with a degree of sadness, I often find myself secretly excited at the prospect of the autumn migration.
August can be a quieter month at Leighton Moss, with many birds heading off to their southerly wintering grounds. Marsh harriers disperse, with juvenile birds exploring an ever increasing area before eventually heading off towards the Mediterranean, maybe even ending up as far as West Africa. Although it may not be a complete goodbye, with national populations of marsh harrier doing well, there is always a chance that we will see a number of adult harriers braving the cold Lancashire winter as annual residents. The same resilience is not true for the local ospreys, which will shortly embark on their mammoth journey to warmer climes. But for now at least, sightings of these impressive fishing machines are still daily over the reedbed pools and occasionally from Eric Morecambe and Allen hides.
Osprey by Martin Kuchczynsk
Sightings of summer visitors like swifts, swallows and martins become less frequent as August melts away. At this time of year the relative peace at Leighton Moss can be interrupted by these tireless travellers as they flock together in noisy clouds of energy, ready for the off. Other summer visitors like willow warblers also prepare to leave, and the reserve often sees an influx of smaller migrants as they move south from more northerly breeding grounds. Just this week, our team of bird ringers caught a record 88 willow warblers in one morning. The same morning also saw more unusual birds for Leighton Moss like a tree pipit and a redstart show up in the mist nets.
Willow warbler by Fran Currie
As many of these summer visitors say goodbye, the reserve barely gets a chance to stand still before welcoming the first of the autumn travellers. Numbers of wading birds passing through will peak in September but areas on the salt marsh are already playing host to a selection of individuals on their annual pilgrimage. Often early to the party, this week's star arrival has to be the aptly named little stint, in fact two have been feeding on the newly flooded salt marsh pools over the last few days. No larger than a house sparrow, this tiny wader can be identified in late August by short black legs and a mottled rufus back.
Little stints by Richard Cousens
Redshanks and greeshanks have also been joined by two spotted redshanks on the pools in front of Eric Morecambe and Allen hides this week, a long with a couple of green sandpipers on the Grisedale pools. Many of these birds using Leighton Moss as a pit stop on their journey between Northern Europe and North Africa.
Swimming otter by Ben Andrew
Migration aside, the shortening days also coincide with an exciting time of year for our resident otters, with the emergence of young pups. Sightings of these enigmatic mammals have been infrequent through the summer months, with the female likely to be hiding away with a new family. But hope that the pups will shortly be venturing out of their Holt has slowly increased and visitors were finally rewarded with the first glimpse of the young family taking a swimming lesson on the causeway pools this week.
So as the rain lashes down over the North of England this afternoon, I will certainly make the most of the last few weeks of August whilst looking forward to an exciting early autumn migration!
If you would like learn more about migration and in particular about the migration and identification of wading birds, why not join our "What's that Wader?" walk on Sunday 4 September. Join Mike and Jane Malpass to help you with identifying wading birds and discover why Morecambe Bay is such a fantastic home for them. Meet at the Eric Morecambe hide car park (SD 475736). Booking and payment in advance essential. Cost Adults £7, (RSPB members £5.50).
Posted by Francesca C
During the school holidays our learning team take a break from entertaining school parties at Leighton Moss and get to have some fun of their own at our special family events. Learning and visitor assistant Angela Welbourne tells us all about her favourite events...
Have you ever marveled at how hairy a bumble bee is or stared into the compound eyes of a fly? Have you goggled at a water fleas digestive system, or the patterns on a water mite no bigger than a pin head? What about the delicate latticed wing of a damselfly, or a fierce underwater predators jaws in action?
If you have you'll surely want to have another opportunity, and if you haven't there's a world of magnified wonders awaiting you at Leighton Moss next week at our family events. On Wednesday 17 August between 1-3pm we have Nature Up Close, a chance to bring in all your 'dead' good stuff for a closer inspection. We will have lots of magnifiers, microscopes, and hand lenses available to use. You'll be amazed by the slugs, woodlice and millipedes, as the digital microscope creates moving images on the large screen, magnified beasts fit for a leading role in a horror movie!
Nature "up close", www.rspb-images.com
Then on Thursday 18 August we have What Lives Beneath, drop in between 10.30am and 12.30pm or 1.30 to 3.30pm to explore what lurks in the murky depths of the pond. You can hire pond dipping equipment for £3.50 and dip til you drop! The pond is teeming with life just waiting to be discovered, enter another world, a watery world of predators and prey, of hairy legs and inbuilt snorkels, of miniature scuba divers and translucent worms. Hope to see you there.
What lives beneath? by Amy Grace, www.rspb-images.com
If you pop along to one of our events you might also want explore the rest of Leighton Moss, where there is lots of wildlife to try and spot! There are still plenty of beautiful butterflies around, in particular peacock, red admiral and speckled wood. Otters are also still popping up every day at the causeway pools and lower pools. Lots of little egrets have been spotted fishing at in the pools in front of the Skytower, Lilian's hide and Grisedale hide, along with their larger cousins the grey herons. There has been infrequent sightings of a hobby as well, mainly from the causeway hide this week. Mallard and Gadwall are the main ducks on the reserve currently with great crested grebe still showing well on the lower and causeway pools. Bearded tits have been heard along the causeway and a few lucky visitors have also managed to catch a few rare glimpses of a pair from the bottom end of the path.
Mallard drake by David Mower
Juvenile peregrine falcons are still performing well at the saltmarsh, with visitors reporting lots of close up views this week. Wading birds are also starting to build up in numbers at the coastal area of the reserve with greenshanks, redshanks, lapwings and oystercatchers showing well from Eric Morecambe and Allen hides.
Posted by Angela W
After a couple of weeks of hard graft our head warden Richard Miller can breath a sigh of relief knowing that the salt marsh will be a fantastic home to the wildlife of Morecambe bay once again. Here is his final installment of how him and his team have managed it...
With the finishing touches to the water level control on Friday morning, the repair to the Allen pool bank is finished! We can now control the water entering and exiting the lagoon, and how much water we keep on there. This will allow the pool to settle down, with the wildlife returning to take advantage of the food available in the plentiful wet mud.
Allen bank and water control system before the work - Richard Miller
The bank was finished in the nick of time, as the tide was vigorous and higher than predicted on Wednesday night last week. It survived this first test, and the vegetation is starting to regrow through the hessian covering. The grass seed that has been scattered over the area will begin to germinate shortly, knitting the topsoil together, and further stabilising the new bank. It needs to do this fast as the tides towards the end of August are set to be even higher, with 10 meters height predicted.
The completed Allen bank and new water control pipes - Richard Miller
We look forward to the pool being a great place for migrating birds to stop off and refuel on their autumn journeys. I am very grateful to all the staff and volunteers on the reserve who made this possible, and especially to Dinsdale Moorland Specialists, who have worked very hard on the project in some challenging conditions.
If you are visiting Leighton Moss this week, it is well worth stopping off at the salt marsh hides, not only to see the completed bank but there is also some fantastic wildlife around. Peregrine falcons have been the star birds this week, with the juveniles from Warton crag now fledged and practicing their flying skills right in from of Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. Wading birds like redshanks, greenshanks and black-tailed godwits have also been seen from the Eric Morecambe hide and these birds should start to use the new areas in front of Allen hide now that the work is finished. Little egrets have been in good numbers at Barrow Scout, and a great white egret was also spotted on the salt marsh last week.
Little egret - Mike Malpass
On the main reserve, otters have been regular visitors to the causeway and lower pools, and marsh harriers are still showing well at that end of the reedbed. Osprey continue to visit the reserve every day, fishing mainly over the pools in front of causeway hide and lower hide. Kingfisher has been spotted at Lilian's hide and at Eric Morecambe hide, along with wading birds such as greenshanks and black-tailed godwits on Grisedale and Tim Jackson pools.
Red admiral - Andy Hay (www.rspb-images.com)
Butterflies have also been abundant on warmer days, particularly peacock, speckled wood and red admiral, along with dragonflies such as beautiful broad-bodied chasers.
As promised in Saturday's blog here is an update from head warden Richard Miller on the work to repair the water management system at the salt marsh...
Dinsdales successfully moved their excavators to the problem area on Monday afternoon, which involved a 2.5 km trip across the saltmarsh, climbing over creaks, watching out for tidal debris and winding around deeper pools. On arrival, they got straight into the first part of the job, which was breaking up the existing concrete sluice to use it as erosion protection for the new bank. They then began the process of scraping and digging material to use in the construction of a solid foundation to set the water control pipes on.
The old sluice broken up by Jarrod Sneyd
On Tuesday, they managed to install two of the three planned water control pipes and began to build the bank around them. Eventually the bank will be around 13 metres wide at the bottom and 5 metres wide across the top giving a really stable barrier to hold back the tide and hold in the lagoon water.
New pipes going in by Jarrod Sneyd
Fingers crossed the weather stays on our side, although there is some heavy rain forecast for Thursday, which may hamper our efforts slightly.
I will be moving our excavator out to the Allen pool later on today and will be using it to clear some vegetation and to improve and create some islands improving the habitat for feeding and nesting birds this coming year.
The wildlife visible from the Eric Morecambe hide has been largely unaffected with greenshank, redshank, black-tailed godwit and avocet all present on the pool. Little egrets are also present as well as some juvenile peregrines, which have been practicing their hunting skills by chasing some of the other birds on the pool including some disgruntled looking shelduck!
Juvenile avocet by Kevin Kelly
On the main reserve otters have been showing really well from lower and causeway hide, as have the marsh harriers. Great crested grebes are still carrying chicks around on their backs in front of causeway hide and redshanks have been also been spotted from here. Cetti's warbers also continue to be heard from the causeway path. A green sandpiper has been present at grisedale hide along with red deer and a few black-tailed godwits.
Continue to keep an eye on the blog page for more updates as the work happens.
An insight into one of my early morning walks around the reserve...
One of my favourite things about summer is the opportunity to get up early and explore the reserve before work. Dawn really is a magical time at Leighton Moss when the reedbed explodes to life as sunlight creeps across the landscape, interrupting the peaceful slumber of each creature that calls Leighton Moss home.
Magical dawn. View from causeway hide by David Mower
Walking down the causeway, reed warblers tune up, often joined by the sporadic call of the Cetti’s warbler. The piercing squeal of a water rail stabs through the still morning air with enough vigor to suggest it has been awake for hours. In contrast, the delicate “peep peep” of a flock of goldfinches breaks over head and the occasional hoot of a coot adds to the chorus.
Hanging around. Reed warbler by Brian Salisbury
Popping into causeway hide at this time of day always brings with it a great sense of anticipation. Otters are often more active early in the morning and I have been lucky enough to have some incredible views of them from here. It’s always a good way to wake the senses, spending a few concentrated moments scanning the still water for a ripple, a tail flick or pair of nostrils breaking the surface, snorting in the fresh morning air.
A walk farther into the reserve brings with it the hypnotic fragrance of the meadow sweet as it floats across the air along the path to lower hide. Common spotted orchids stand proud as bees buzz around them in an early morning feeding frenzy. I always find this spot peaceful, particularly at this time of day as willow branches sway in the gentle breeze and dappled light breaks through the canopy.
Early morning feeding frenzy. Common spotted orchid and bee by Fran Currie
Continuing towards lower hide, crossing the spring often brings with it an unexpected surprise. Be it a family of greylag geese with a gaggle of fluffy goslings feeding in the shallows, or the fluorescent blue flash of a kingfisher shooting off into the reed cover. I have even been lucky enough to have an occasional chance encounter with red deer at the spring which often results in comical startled reactions from both the deer and myself!
On reaching Lower hide, a quiet moment to take in the landscape is always first on the agenda. At this time of year everything is so gloriously green. Bright new reeds shoot up in the foreground framed by the emerald shade of the water and deep forest colours of the distant trees. I love watching the swifts, martins and swallows dip and dive over the pools on the hunt for the first of the day’s insects. Tufted ducks bob up and down with amusing buoyancy and dragonflies zip around the reed edges. Magic.
Dappled light and meadow sweet by Jenni Thornley
If you are visiting Leighton Moss this week look out for kingfisher at Eric Morecambe and Allen hides as well as an increasing number of wading birds like redshanks, avocets and lapwings. Otters have been showing well from causeway hide during the day and marsh harriers continue to perform, with six juveniles now fledged. Sightings of osprey are still a daily occurrence and are likely to become more frequent once the chicks from Foulshaw Moss start to explore the wider landscape.
This week we have a guest blog from our site manager Jarrod...
Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay Nature Reserve is about a wealth of wildlife and capturing the essence of nature; not just birds.
You can wander from the Leighton Moss Visitor Centre into the wider AONB and imagine you’re a hobbit, on some great adventure through Middle-earth. There are nooks and crannies, rarely visited; a deep lake, limestone pavement, little rickety wooden foot bridges. In your exploration, perhaps passing by Haweswater Moss and through Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve, you could once again end up on RSPB land at Challan Hall.
Challan Hall woodland is adjacent to Gait Barrows. A public footpath there winds its way through an avenue of trees, heading towards Storth and beyond. Still within the ‘RSPB world’, is a lovely meadow next to Back Wood. The setting is very picturesque. It is the only place you can view our wetland site at Silverdale Moss at close quarters (little egrets abound at the moment), but the backdrop is of Arnside Tower and Arnside Knot.
Our meadow near Challan wood - Jarrod Sneyd
This field is heaven to me. 97% of our unimproved grassland has been lost and it is rare to see ‘jewels’ like this. Many grasslands are now agriculturally improved and are made up of a limited number of productive grasses (such as perennial rye-grass). Most are simply different shades of green. Flowers of different types and colours are few and far between, squeezed out by the tougher grasses. But here, there are blues and pinks and purples and yellows……. And it is alive with insects (including horseflies on this particular occasion)
Eye-bright, Meadowsweet and Betony are just some of the flowers blossoming in this meadow - Jarrod Sneyd
Pictures don’t always capture all the colour – but it’s obvious when you’re there. And then delve deeper…….
Not to forget Oxe-eye daisys, Greater birds-foot trefoil and Black knapweed - Jarrod Sneyd
So, will you be Bilbo Baggins and enjoy the ‘firework display’ of colour?..... before heading off on a mysterious journey? To find this particular meadow, just chat to one of the team in the Visitor Centre and they will give you the map to Middle Earth!
So, send your answers to our Facebook page………..
What is a meadow?
And…. what on Middle-earth has this plant got to do with it??
Find out what it's all about in the next blog from our Site Manager in early august.
Posted by Sophie K
Getting out and enjoying nature is always rewarding. I find that whether I see a mallard or a marsh harrier when I go for a walk around the reserve I come back with a clear mind, feeling refreshed and inspired. There are some days however when taking a walk in nature, that you unexpectedly stumble upon a magical wildlife moment that you are unlikely to forget in a hurry.
Yesterday a couple of visitors had one of these wonderful encounters whilst sat in the Lower Hide at the far end of the reserve. Two juvenile marsh harriers approached the hide, and hovered in front of the glass, getting an eyeful of those who came to watch them!
No more than two feet away our visitors could see the colour of their eyes and detail of their talons as the inquisitive harriers regarded their viewers.
One of the marsh harrier chicks by Keith Scovell
It must have been a truly wonderful experience and it makes you think how rare such close encounters with the wild world are, and how important places like Leighton Moss are now, and will continue to be in the future.
The marsh harriers have been doing really well this year, so far two of the three nests have successfully fledged and the skies a full of these first time fliers.
Recently we've had the occasional report of a bittern at Leighton Moss, this morning that has been confirmed as our Visitor Operations Manager Kevin saw one flying from the Lilians Hide. We're not sure who this bittern this or where it's come from, but as you can imagine we're all very excited! So if you're going out onto the reserve this week keep your eyes peeled for this magnificent bird, and please let us know if you spot it!
A bittern in flight by Dave Dimmock
You might see the family of redstarts in the field to the right of the path to Lower Hide. Redstart chicks are quite noisy, so if they're around they're quite easy to see. There has also been a family of young Jays flitting around the garden making a racket, and if you visit us in the next few days you are likely to see gadwall chicks, which seem to be everywhere!
One of the young jays from the garden this week at Leighton Moss by Wendy Hassam
For the past couple of weeks of there have been regular sightings of otters throughout the day and ospreys seen almost daily from the Causeway and the Lower Hides.
In other news @CumbrianRambler Beth pipe has bought our attention to a local bylaw in Lancashire which makes it illegal to pass Leighton Moss and not stop for coffee and a cake...
Delicious delights from the cafe by Anya Kuliszewski
This Sunday we have another of our fascinating Meet the Moths at the Moss events, from 11 am-12 pm. All ages are welcome, the event is free (normal admission charges apply) and there’s no need to book.
Moths have been recorded at Leighton Moss for over 50 years now, and so far we’ve found over 500 different species. During the summer we run these moth events so people can drop in see the incredible diversity and beauty of these mysterious insects, alongside learning how and why we monitor their numbers.
The morning starts with opening up the moth trap in the garden and finding out what’s inside. Fingers crossed we’ll find some show stoppers like the spectacular poplar hawkmoth and the peculiar buff tip which camouflages itself by resembling a twig.
The fascinating buff tip moth - David Mower
The trap itself works by moth charming, attracting the night time wanderers to a bright light which will lead them down a funnel and into the trap. Once in the trap the moths settle down for the evening, then when morning comes they seem to be in a state of stasis, allowing us to pot them up for a closer look. Some moths (particularly the hawkmoths) will walk straight onto your hand and you can watch while they vibrate their wings, warming up until they take flight!
A poplar hawkmoth warming its wings before taking flight - Fran Currie
After finding out what’s in the trap it’s off to The Holt, here we have moths on display which have been found in traps all over North Lancashire. At our last event we had over 130 species of moth on display! It’s a fantastic opportunity to get a close up look of something which you normally only get a fleeting glimpse of.
As well as being a great chance to see these wonderful winged creatures, recording moths in moths traps is important as it allows us to see how their numbers change across the country. For instance at June’s Meet the Moths we had a blood vein moth, quite unusual as it’s only the second recording of this moth at Leighton Moss. A common moth in the south, it’s possible that it might be spreading north.
The unusual but beautiful blood vein moth, could it become a regular at Leighton Moss? Photo - Brian Hancock
We hope to see you this Sunday, if not then maybe you will make it to our next event on Saturday 13 August (11 am-12 pm).
Moths aren’t the only wonders at Leighton Moss this weekend, all week we have had fantastic sightings of otters from the Causeway Hide. Mainly in the mornings, visitors have been treated to seeing otters do some leisurely fishing in the pools.
Can you spot an otter at Leighton Moss - Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
You are certain to see the marsh harriers which continue to be extremely active as adults and juveniles fill the skies at Leighton Moss. And we’ve had daily sightings of ospreys which come fishing at the main reserve and down at the saltmarsh. Our most regularly visiting ospreys are nesting nearby at Foulshaw Moss, and they are furiously fishing to feed their pair of fast growing chicks. You can watch their live webcam on the ospreys nest here.
It’s been great to hear how many sightings of bearded tits we’ve had this week, mainly along the boardwalk and the causeway, but also from inside the Causeway Hide! There are small groups fluttering across the pathways, so listen out for the distinctive ‘pinging’ call which you can hear on the RSPB website. Sightings are high due to the number of young birds on the reserve, they’re out and about grabbing food, feeding on insects and are extremely active in the reedbed.
Listen out for beardies in the reedbed - Martin Kuchczynski
Our flock of black-tailed godwits can normally be seen from the Grizedale Hide, this is a great spot for seeing the deer and their young as well. Down on the saltmarsh there are the usual suspects; lapwings oystercatchers, little egrets, grey herons and redshanks.
If you’re heading out into the local area there are flocks of over 100 curlews and oystercatchers at nearby Jenny Browns Point. We’ve also had reports of hawfinches zipping about the Arnside and Silverdale area as well as a green sandpiper spotted at one of our satellite sites Silverdale Moss.
Keep your eyes peeled for hawfinches! Photo by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Grid reference: SD4775 (+2km)
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