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  • 31 October 2014

    Awesome Autumnwatch #3

    Goodness me, what a tense show last night's Autumnwatch was!

    Right from the word go, there was action from the underwater cam - an eel, a stickleback and then finally, an otter!

    From large mammals to tiny ones - I was then gripped by the rodent agility course. We have a good variety of small mammals here and this entertaining experiment really does highlight how flexible and agile they are when it comes to getting food! A thick branch, a spiky hawthorn twig and even a wobbly rope didn't put off the brown rat, bank vole and wood mouse. You can often see bank voles in the woods along the path to Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides.

      Bank vole by Richard Cousens

    Over the past few shows, Martin Hughes-Games has been on the trail of beautiful Bewick's swans in Estonia. Well, we don't have any here at Leighton Moss, but a couple of whooper swans who have come to spend the winter in the UK have been spotted. We also have resident mute swans - the ones with the distinctive orange beak.

      Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Mute swan by Keith Scovell

    Part of our work here at Leighton Moss involves counting wildlife. We regularly count the wading and water birds in the reedbed and out in Morecambe Bay, we monitor butterflies through the summer months, we record moths every really helps us to know exactly what we have here and how to help make the site best for it. I think therefore, my most exciting bit of the programme was following Martin into the reedbed to show how we are using fascinating new technology - a drone, to help us count the red deer here. By it's very nature, reedbed is low lying with tall reeds (which can grow up to 12 ft!). As Martin showed, all manner of wonderful wildlife such as bearded tits, otters, marsh harriers and water rails live within it, along with our largest residents - the red deer. When they head into the dense reeds, they quickly disappear from view, making it very hard for us to determine just how many we have here. The drone allows us to view the reedbed from the air and means we have been able to establish that we have around 20 red deer on the reserve. If you are hoping to see them when you visit, the best place to head is the Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides.

    But the action didn't stop there! The barn owl footage on the night vision camera was simply stunning - seeing the owl swap its prey from its beak to its talons in mid-air was amazing!! Many people know that barn owls eat voles, but during the autumn and winter here, when there are plenty of starlings around, they are a common meal for our barn owls to feed on!

    So there we were, happily watching the wonderful wildlife on Autumnwatch, when the screen went black! Had a mouse chewed through the cable? Had our pilot flown the drone into the camera? Had Chris Packham gone for a cake break? Unfortunately the power had gone, but being the absolute professionals they are, our pals at the BBC remained calm and worked like troopers to restore our favourite show to our screens. Well done team!

    As always, Autumnwatch not only celebrates nature, but also highlights some of the problems facing our wildlife. The gannets nesting on Grassholm, getting tangled in rubbish was a heart-wrenching piece and shows how important it is to reduce, recycle and re-use our waste to prevent it impacting on our wildlife.

    So tonight is the last show :( I can't believe how quickly this series has gone by! So what can we expect from this Halloween finale? Bats? Moths? Martin on a Mission? Will the starlings show up? Tune in at 8 pm, BBC2 to find out!

    We are open as normal so please do come and see the action for yourselves. We are running a free park and ride or you could hop on the train to Silverdale station - just 250 m from our front door. If you are coming from further afield, why not stay a little longer to really explore the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Beauty and Morecambe Bay. These great 'Nature on Your Doorstep' Guides will help you discover more.


    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 30 October 2014

    Awesome Autumnwatch #2

    I bet you were gripped watching last night's action on Autumnwatch, I know I certainly was! What a show - opening with the cheeky heron on the otter cam and then to see all the drama from the barn owls on the night vision camera! The adult barn owls hunt around the reserve early morning and dusk to bring in food for their chicks, which we think are a second brood. Last night's Autumnwatch showed a young barn owl, not from our brood, intruding on our roosting chicks, trying to take the food One of our chicks had a tussle with it and certainly made the point that it was not welcome!

      Barn owl by John Markham (

    It was intriguing to watch the pink-footed geese in the south of Morecambe Bay at Lane Ends in Pilling. 20,000 of them out on the fields tucking in is a sight to behold. As Michaela said, they are a "visual spectacle and a sound sensation". They fly round in V formation, congregate in flocks in fields and have a variety of interesting calls to one another - an all round sensational species.

    The red deer at Minsmere were phenomenal - their large stag known as 'The General' getting into a fight with 'The Captain' was epic to watch. We have a herd of red deer here at Leighton Moss too. They are somewhat more subdued than 'The General' and his challengers, as our main rutting time here is slightly earlier in September and early October. They are being spotted regularly at Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides with the hinds (females).

    What about the tawny owls? Weren't they just terrific! Autumn is a great time to listen out for them where you are. We get lots of sightings in the woods around Lower hide. Last night's show highlighted the impressive range of noises they have aside from the stereotypical "twit, two" (which is actually two tawny owls- females call the males a "twit", and the males say "twooo").

    As shown last night, one of our most charismatic birds is the bearded tit. I can't wait to see the results of Chris Packham's grit experiment. Bearded tits are insectivores in summer i.e. they eat insects. However, at this time of year when there are much fewer insects available they change to being granivores (grain eaters), more specifically eating reed seed. To help them to grind up the reed seed, they take in grit (yum yum) and this experiment is looking into which size they prefer - course, medium or fine.....we'll find out later tonight, so tune in, BBC 2, 8 pm.

    Of course it is not just the wildlife shown on the programmes that is being spotted around the reserve. Down at Public hide, we have been getting lots of views of two of our most secretive residents - bitterns and water rails, so keep an eye out for them there. If you head down the Causeway beyond Public hide to the bridge, stop for a while to look out for one of our most glamorous residents - the kingfisher. The variety and number of fish in the main dyke that runs through the reserve (where Martin was doing his human tadpole impersonation on Tuesday) means that this is a favoured spot for these beautiful birds.

    We're open as normal throughout so why not come and see the drama for yourselves? There's loads to see and do in the whole Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and around Morecambe Bay. These 'Nature on your Doorstep Guides' will help you to discover more.






    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 29 October 2014

    Awesome Autumnwatch #1

    WOW! What a fantastic first day of Autumnwatch yesterday! From an otter live on Autumnwatch Extra, to Nick Baker's hilarious antics on Unsprung, there was never a dull moment throughout the entire day! If you missed the action from the main show, here are the highlights:

    Martin Hughes-Games looking like a human tadpole on his mission in a wet suit. Absolutely hilarious! He was uncovering the differences between dabbling ducks, diving ducks and sawbills. Autumn is a cracking time for learning all about the different ducks here at Leighton Moss and around Morecambe Bay. The dabblers are the ones that upend in the water - sticking their bums in the air. They're feeding on water weed on the surface. Look out for mallards, pintails, teal, gadwall and shoveler around the pools here. The divers, as their name suggests, find their food in the mud at the bottom of the pools. They can be difficult to keep an eye on as they are constantly ducking underwater but look out for pochard, tufted ducks and goldeneyes. Sawbills are the ones with serrated beak edges - ideal for catching slippery fish. These include goosanders and red-breasted mergansers. They are less regular on the reserve but keep an eye out for them on Public pool and down at the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides.

    The stunning pink-footed geese spectacle out in Morecambe Bay at Lane Ends was fantastic to watch (we were as excited as Michaela!) Around 20,000 of them are out on the mud flats and flying in V formation over the Bay.

    How epic was the red deer rut!! This was filmed at our big sister reserve RSPB Minsmere (where Springwatch was filmed this year). Our red deer have their main rut during September and have calmed down a little now. We are getting excellent daily views of them every day from our Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides.

    As mentioned on the show last night, due to some westerly winds, starlings haven't arrived in large numbers yet. We have around 6,000 coming in to roost of an evening doing a mini murmuration. Fingers crossed the winds will change and bring in more before the end of the series!

    With a bittern already spotted in front of Public hide this morning, what will be featured on this evenings show? Will the bearded tits be hogging the limelight? You'll have to tune in to find out - 8 pm, BBC 2. If you can't wait that long, head to Autumnwatch Extra for action all day on the red button and internet.

      Bittern by Craig Linford

    We're open as normal throughout so why not come and see the drama for yourselves? There's loads to see and do in the whole Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and around Morecambe Bay. These 'Nature on your Doorstep Guides' will help you to discover more.

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 28 October 2014

    Risky behaviour from our red deer

    With BBC Autumnwatch here filming this week, we are super excited! Make sure you tune in at 8 pm on BBC 2 for all the action. If you can't wait that long though, you can catch up to date drama and interviews by tuning into Autumnwatch Extra every day from 7 am.

    Autumn is a stunning season for watching wildlife and here are some of the highlights that we have been spotting this week:

    Majestic red deer stags are coming out daily. Head down to Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides for the best views. You may spot them hanging out with the hinds (female deer) or hear them bellowing at one another across the reserve. You may even see some risky behaviour!

      Cover your eyes! (Thanks to Craig Linford for capturing the moment)

    Bearded tits are regular visitors to the grit trays on the Causeway and they have also been picking up grit from the path itself. It might sound a bit odd for them to be eating grit but it is an essential part of their autumn and winter diet. In the spring and summer months they eat insects, but at this time of year there are hardly any insects around. Bearded tits therefore switch their diet to eating the seeds of the reeds. They don't have any teeth, so because the reed seed is very tough, they take grit into a special pouch in their chest called a 'crop' or 'gizzard' to help them grind it up. Clever ay! We put grit out on the trays to help them with this. It also makes monitoring their numbers easier.

    We're so excited that the Autumnwatch Extra team picked up an otter live on 'otter cam' today! We've been getting lots of sightings of these beautiful mammals from Public and Lower hides recently too.

    One of our most secretive residents - the bitterns have been coming out of hiding at Public and Lower hides so keep an eye out for this rare cousin of the heron.

    We're open as normal, so please do come and see us. You could hop on the train to Silverdale station - just 250 m from our front door. We're located in the heart of the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so why not stay a little longer and do some exploring? These great 'Nature on Your Doorstep Guides' will help you discover more.



    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 24 October 2014

    Red deer and redwings and redshanks

    OK, so I went a little overboard on the alliteration there, but there seems to have been a lot of 'red' sightings over the past few days.

    Down at the Eric Morecambe and Allen pools there are lots of redshanks and oystercatchers feeding and wading in the mud. The huge flocks of black-tailed godwits that are normally down there, seem to have decided that Grisedale hide is the place to be at the moment, so keep an eye out for a mass of them there.

    Grisedale and Tim Jackson hides are the best place on the reserve to spot our largest residents - the red deer. However, as you walk anywhere on site, listen out for the roaring of the stags. I heard one from the Causeway yesterday so their sound really travels. They are doing this because autumn is rutting season - where the stags compete for the females. Look how smug this stag is that he's got a wife!

      A very smug stag by Richard Cousens

    Despite the wind and some seriously wet weather, we have been seeing the bearded tits regularly. They are coming to the grit trays in twos and threes (although there were nine at once one morning). This year's young ones are also collecting grit from the Causeway itself, so if you are having no luck at the grit trays, cast your eyes down the Causeway towards Public hide. They come to the left hand edge of the path  just beyond the grit trays, sometimes up to 12 in number.

    Perhaps our most famous residents are the bitterns. Despite some of our visitors thinking they are a mythical creature, we've been getting some cracking views of a bittern at Public hide. Have a good look along the reed edges as they are very well camouflaged and skulk about there.

    Whilst you are down at Public and Lower hides, watch out for bubbles under the water and the ducks dashing across the pools in panic. This can mean that an otter is around! We've been spotting them playing in the water, splashing around and catching fish.

      Look at those knashers by Keith Scovell

    Redwings have been giving fly-overs to rival the red arrows this week. Keep an eye out for these gorgeous winter thrushes as you walk round. 

    I've been asked about the starlings a lot recently. There are roughly 4000 here at the moment, so they haven't built up to a big murmuration just yet. We think that this is because it has been so mild. I will be sure to let you know when the numbers increase. Hopefully they're not camera shy and will rock up for next week when Autumnwatch is on. We're delighted that the BBC have chosen to be based here for the second year in a row. Make sure you tune in Tuesday-Friday next week, 8 pm, BBC 2 to catch all the autumn action.

    The reserve will be open as normal throughout, so why not come and see the drama in real life! We will be running a free park and ride, or why not hop on the train - Silverdale station is just 250 m from our front door. If you don't live locally, why not book a trip to really explore the area? The Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Morecambe Bay have it all for lovers of the great outdoors - breathtaking views, stunning scenery, a wealth of wonderful wildlife, history and culture. Click here for fantastic 'Nature on Your Doorstep Guides' that will help you discover more.



    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 15 October 2014

    Autumnal highlights

    With the return of BBC Autumnwatch in just over two week's time, we're feeling very autumnal here at the moment. We hosted the programme here last year and are thrilled that they have chosen to base themselves here again. The programme will be broadcast live at 8 pm from 28-31 October on BBC 2. You will also be able to get updates and stories throughout the day on the red button from Autumnwatch Extra. Each evening, the main programme will also be followed by Autumnwatch Unsprung (the first three nights will be on the red button and the last one on BBC 2). The wildlife is certainly getting ready for the cameras as we are getting cracking views of lots of our autumn favourites:

    Red deer stags can be seen bellowing and clashing antlers down at Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. The young males are even having a go at one another, but the large, 13 point stag makes sure they know who's boss.

    One of the tell tale signs of the season at Leighton Moss is bearded tits coming out and about. This year, whilst they are still being seen on the grit trays in the morning, they are also picking up grit from the Causeway itself so look out for flocks of them on the ground there.

      Female bearded tit by Martin Kuchczynski

      Male bearded tit by Martin Kuchczynski


    We have had a couple of bittern sightings from Public hide this week which is great. These shy birds increase in numbers here during the colder months as our resident population is joined by continental bitterns. Make sure you scan the reed edges for this well camouflaged bird.

    Otter spotters have been treated to regular sightings of one of our best loved mammals from both Public and Lower hides. The pools there are home to an abundance of fish such as eels, tench, pike and rudd, so are a favoured place for the otters. Likewise, the large dyke that runs under the causeway from those pools hosts lots of fish which has meant that kingfisher sightings have been great down there.

    Down at the Eric Morecambe and Allen pools, three spotted redshanks, two whooper swans, a couple of great white egrets and a super speedy peregrine have all been highlights among the crowd of redshanks, oystercatchers, lapwings and black-tailed godwits.

    In the woods at the top of the Causeway a chiffchaff and yellow-browed warbler have been heard which is very exciting! These lovely little migrants are summer visitors and should be well on their way by now. Nine lesser redpolls have also been seen in that area and three Cetti's warblers have been seen and heard along the Causeway too.

    The reserve is open as normal throughout the filming of Autumnwatch so as well as watching the action on TV, why not come and see it for real. We'll be putting on a free park and ride so there'll be plenty of room for cars, or why not come on the train? Silverdale station is just 250 m from our front door and if you travel here that way (or bus or bike), you'll get free entry and 10% café discount.

    If you're not local, why not stay a while longer? There's plenty to see and do in the this stunning area. These brilliant 'nature on your doorstep' guides will give you some ideas and for places to stay, click here.




    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 8 October 2014

    Early October highlights

    Autumn is most definitely here - one of our Wardens Alasdair saw redwings from the causeway this morning. These gorgeous little thrushes have a distinctive white eye stripe and red under their wings. Keep an eye out for them over the coming months, particularly on berry bushes such as holly and cotoneaster. If you don't have any of these shrubs in your garden or yard, why not plant some to help give nature a home.

    Also from the Causeway, a kingfisher has been spotted fishing in the main dyke. If you're heading down that way, it's a good idea to stop off at the grit trays too, as the bearded tits are showing there most days. You'll also want to make time to go into Public hide as otters are frequently being seen there. They're taking full advantage of the fishing opportunities in the deep water. Whilst you're there, keep your eyes peeled for our most secretive of residents - bitterns. We've had several sightings there in the past few days. They camouflage well with the reeds, so you have to make sure you've scanned all of the pool edges.

    Kingfisher preening by Keith Scovell

    Following the rainy spells we've had, the water on Lilian's hide has gone up a little, but the great white egrets are still exploiting the fishing to the fullest. If you haven't made it to see them yet, come on down. Worth watching out for are the water rails too. They've become an almost daily occurrence at Lilian's hide and have been spotted right in front of Public hide as well.

    Great white egret by Keith Scovell

    At Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides, the red deer rut is well and truly underway. Stags are roaring and bellowing across the reedbed and the young males are tussling with one another whilst keeping out of the way of the huge stag who has 14 points to his antlers! The hinds are often seen around them with their still spotty calves. Head down there early morning for the prime action, but they have been keeping it up throughout the day. 

    Regal red deer both by Keith Scovell

    Moving away from autumn behaviour slightly, a marsh harrier was seen skydancing this morning! Given that this is something they normally do in spring to attract a mate, it is very unusual for this to be witnessed at this time of year. Up to five marsh harrriers are frequenting the reserve at the moment, with four of them heard calling to one another on Monday evening!

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 2 October 2014

    True Grit

    If you've never seen bearded tits at Leighton Moss before, then October is the best month to spot these otherwise fairly elusive residents. At this time of year they change their diets from insects to reed seed to get them through the winter. In order to digest the hard seed they take in grit,a bit like a chicken does,into a special pouch in their chest known as a 'crop' where the seed can be ground up. To help them find this much needed ingredient we provide grit on trays just off the Causeway where the bearded tits come most mornings in October. They are particularly reliable if it is not wet or too windy so the weather at the moment is ideal. 

      Bearded tits on the grit trays by Ben Hall (

    When you see bearded tits at Leighton Moss you'll notice that the vast majority look like they're wearing multi-coloured bracelets. This is part of a study that has been carried out by former Warden and still active volunteer John Wilson who has been studying these birds for over 40 years here. The rings allow us to identify individual birds and tell us about their lifespan and who is paired with who. When they come to the grit trays it makes it easier to determine this as they are in one place. It also  makes it easier for our visitors to spot this secretive little bird that is an icon of Leighton Moss. 

    Having said that they reliably come to be grit trays every day, this year we've been getting a lot of reports of flocks of bearded tits collecting grit from the path close to grit trays. John has observed this and says that interestingly the birds still coming to the grit trays are the older bearded tits and those being spotted on the path are generally this year's young ones. We're not quite sure why this is happening this year but the parents have obviously not passed the grit tray message onto their kids! So if you're down the causeway,by all means stop at the grit trays but don't forget to check the path too for a chance to spot some of these fascinating little birds. 

    Further down the Causeway, Public hide has been a hotbed for sightings. This morning an otter,kingfisher,a water rail and a marsh harrier were all seen within 10 minutes of each other there!

    Over on Lilian's pool the great white egrets continue to fish in the shallow water and a huge flock of black-tailed godwits is enjoying feeding on the exposed mud. 

    If you head down to Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides then the red deer rut is well underway. One of our team was down there mid-morning and witnessed some impressive behaviour. Two young stags were locking antlers when all of a sudden a much larger stag appeared with his harem of hinds and bellowed at the young stage across the pool. They looked up from their scrap,spotted him and scarpered! We've also had visitor reports of the largest stag dressing his antlers in reed and wallowing around in the mud,which is all part of making themselves look and smell gorgeous for the ladies.

      A stag with his hind by Brian Salisbury (sincere apologies for mis-crediting you earlier!)

    With the exciting news that BBC Autumnwatch have chosen Leighton Moss as their home for the second year running (it will be live on BBC 2 from 28-31 October at 8 pm) it seems as though the wildlife is gearing up to pose for the cameras again. 

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 26 September 2014

    Autumn is coming!

    Autumn was in the air this week, in a literal sense, with flocks of pink-footed geese flying over the reserve. These intrepid birds breed in Iceland and migrate to the UK to survive the harsh Icelandic winters. The geese above Leighton are likely bound for the Pilling marsh area in Lancashire, where they will take advantage of the relatively mild conditions, before starting the return journey next spring.

    Pink-footed geese by Andy Hay (

    Autumn could also be experienced closer to the ground, with the earthy bellow of a red deer stag heard on Tuesday evening. Keep your ear drums primed for more acoustic shenanigans as the time of rutting begins.

    A plethora of waders were on offer for visitors to the Eric Morecambe pool. Spotted redshanks and little egrets were feeding close to the hide, set against of backdrop of the usual suspects – large numbers of lapwings and redshanks. Amongst the dunlins was a curlew sandpiper. Looking like a ‘jacked up’ dunlin, curlew sandpipers possess longer legs, a more elongate downward curving bill and a white eye stripe.

    A special mention goes to the spoonbill sighted on the saltmarsh, at some considerable distance. Have a good scan around this weekend as we’re keen to know if this special visitor is still in the area.

    Even before reaching the hides, there were still jewels to be found. Kingfishers were visible around the water channel at the entrance to the pools’ car park, with one kindly perching on the water-depth board.

    Kingfisher by Ben Andrew (

    A multitude of black-tailed godwits continue to decorate Lilians pool, but for those after less common waders, a grand total of 13 little stints were sighted, not to mention a pectoral sandpiper.

    The great white egrets are still here! Speaking of egrets, as mentioned earlier this week, the roost count of 182 broke all previous records. To expand the egret extravaganza, a cattle egret was spotted roosting amongst the regulars. Cattle egret are smaller than little egret and can be further distinguished by their yellow bill.

    Now is the time to listen out for musical sneezing along the causeway, because bearded tits are visiting the grit trays. So far, the total stands at two, but larger numbers have also been seen flying overhead.

    During the previous blog we highlighted the beauty of teal, still plentiful on the reserve. For those duck enthusiasts out there, a visit to Public hide will reward you with views of pintails and the odd shoveler – a marvellous duck with an oversized bill that appears to have waddled straight from a Lewis Carroll novel. If the wildfowl suddenly take to the skies, look out for the female marsh harrier which has been present intermittently this week.

    Finally, we’ve mentioned many of the birds you can see, but what about the equipment you’re using to see them? If you’d like any advice about optics, pop along to our binoculars and telescopes open days this weekend.

    Posted by Philip T

Your sightings

Grid reference: SD4775 (+2km)

Great White Egret (1)
30 Oct 2014
Spotted Redshank ()
30 Oct 2014
Whooper Swan (2)
29 Oct 2014
Bittern (1)
29 Oct 2014
Black-tailed Godwit ()
29 Oct 2014
Tawny Owl (3)
27 Oct 2014
Singing/breeding calls heard
Water Rail ()
27 Oct 2014
Pink-footed Goose (30)
25 Oct 2014
Marsh Harrier (1)
25 Oct 2014
Bearded Tit (1)
25 Oct 2014

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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