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Recent sightings

  • 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

  • 22 September 2014

    Weekend Sightings: Egrets' Egress and more

    The reserve’s largest ever roost of little egrets was recorded on Saturday, a grand total of 182! Don’t worry if you like your egrets on the large side, as the three great whites are still around. Make sure you capitalise on your chance to see these regal birds.

    Little Egret by Paul Chesterfield (

    Eric Morecambe and Allen hides provided plenty of weekend waders, including all your usual favourites of dunlins, lapwings, redshanks and greenshanks. For your hat-trick of shanks, spotted redshanks were on view. Their slim line appearance, greyish colour and all-black upper bill distinguishes them from the ever-variable standard redshank. Little stints were also scampering around, proving dunlins are not the lower size limit when it comes to waders!

    For those braving dusk and dawn visits to Lower and Public hide, otters have been seen regularly.  However, outclassing even the otters for sheer spectacle, was the early morning visit by a marsh harrier, that sent up a maelstrom of egrets and wildfowl as they attempted to flee.


    Sunrise from Public Hide (P. J. Taylor)

    It would be a crime not to mention teals. We have plenty of teals at Leighton Moss, and sometime it’s easy to take birds that are so numerous for granted – they become scenery. But take a closer look at this delightful dabbling duck and you’ll notice the subtle, somewhat dappled, plumage, and spot the vibrant speculum, a slice of emerald on their wings. You’ll also be amazed just how small they are in comparison to a mallard.

    And now for something completely different: a crane was sighted flying over the reserve. Where did it come from and where is it now? Perhaps you can help us answer those questions. Keep your eyes peeled. We’d love to know if you spot this uncommon visitor. 

    Posted by Philip T

  • 17 September 2014

    Colourful catch of the day

    If you've not been down for the wader watching recently, then come and see us soon, because it is still spectacular. Up to seven little stints are on Lilian's pool along with a pectoral sandpiper and around 600 black-tailed godwits. There is also several ruff around too. A curlew sandpiper has been spotted down at the Allen pool along with the usual crowd of redshanks and lapwings. It's wader-tastic here at the moment!

    A firm favourite among our visitors - a kingfisher has been seen regularly down at the Allen pool. Posing on fenceposts and diving in for fish have been seen by many a visitor recently, so keep an eye for this little beauty who is most arguably the best dressed of all the birds on-site.

      Catch! Kingfisher by Len Heap

    Taking full advantage of the lower water levels at Lilian's hide and excellent fish numbers at Public hide - the three great white egrets have been moving between the two areas. They tend to roost of an evening at Island Mere with their smaller cousins - the little egrets. Can you spot the difference?

    A true sign that autumn is here is when the red deer stags start to get angry with one another and lock antlers for the rut. Get yourself down to Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides in the mornings for the chance to spot this incredible action.

    With autumn comes the return of our much-loved ducks to the reserve. Wigeon and teal numbers are beginning to build up on the pools around the reedbed. Summer hasn't completely disappeared yet though, as  female marsh harrier has been quartering the reedbed for the past few days, and a migrant hawker dragonfly has been zipping around the garden. If you take a stroll around this area, you can't fail to spot all our ideas for giving nature a home - why not try them out in your own garden or school.

    For all you otter spotters out there, the male has been coming out at Public hide a lot recently so keep your eyes peeled for him there.

    Whatever the weather and the season, there is something special to enjoy at Leighton Moss all year round, come and see us soon!

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 12 September 2014

    Weekend Waders and more!

    Large numbers of black-tailed godwits are currently gracing the pool in front of Lilian’s hide, with dumpier snipe pottering between their ranks, and ruffs taking advantage of the exposed mud. For those who like fun-sized waders, little stints have been sighted, so be sure to keep your eyes and lenses peeled!

    Little stint by Mike Langman (

    Lilian’s continues to serve as a prime location for viewing water rails. These birds have been seen slinking around the ‘reed islands’ in close proximity to the hide, allowing amazing views of a normally secretive creature. Listen out for their curious calls, which resembles the squealing of an irate pig.

    Further treats have been in store for those venturing to Lilian’s recently, in the form of three elegant great white egrets. Larger than little egrets, the great whites appear to carry themselves with a regal air, their head erect on an astonishingly long neck, their all-yellow beak often titled upwards.

    If you’re walking around the reserve you might encounter bearded tits, which are neither tits nor bearded, but that doesn’t make them any less charming. Listen out for their call, akin to a musical sneeze, and also for what sounds like a hefty small mammal performing acrobatics in the reeds. Often encountered along the causeway to Public Hide, these distinctive little birds have also been heard on the path to Griesdale and Tim Jackson.

    Bearded tit by Andy Hay (

    If you’re an evening visitor, in addition to the amazing sunset (weather permitting, fingers crossed), you could be treated to a murmuration of starlings, a large flock coalescing into intricate shapes as it twists and turns over the reeds, before settling down for the night. On your way home, take care not to tread on any toads in the dark!

    To learn more about wading birds be sure to pop along to our ‘What’s that wader?’ event on Saturday 13 September with experts Mike and Jane Malpass. 




    Posted by Philip T

  • 10 September 2014

    Water rail-tastic!

    Apologies that last week's 50th anniversary blog is a few days late - I was out of the office a lot last week running events and doing radio interviews, but it means you will get two this week :)

    If you read my 'Have we sprung a leak?' blog a few weeks ago, or if you have visited us recently, you will know that there is a fair bit of mud exposed around the edge of Lilian's pool. This has drawn in huge numbers of wading birds and the great white egrets are thoroughly enjoying the lower water levels. It also means that many of our visitors have been treated to regular sightings of one of our more secretive residents - water rails

    If you have never seen one at Leighton Moss, now is your chance. There have been up to ten coming out at once on the edges of Lilian's pool, probing around in the mud. I was only down there for 5 minutes yesterday, changing a display and one came out just next to one of the islands in front of the hide - magic.

      Long legs come in useful by Mike malpass

    There are almost 150 different species in the rail family to which water rails belong. Superficially water rails are similar to moorhens and coots, as they are related, however, they are noticeably smaller than both their cousins. Young water rails are fairly brown all over, but the adult birds have a brown streaky back, blueish-grey underneath, white under the tail and a long, red bill. If you look at a water rail head on, you will notice how narrow they are, as though they have been compressed. This is a clever design feature to give them easy movement through reeds.

    Interestingly water rails have been around for a long, long time. Fossil evidence suggests that 2 million years ago, ancestors of water rails were present across most of their current rage which stretches across Europe, Asia and north Africa.  

    Water rails have been present at Leighton Moss since it became an RSPB nature reserve back in 1964, as they favour wet areas with thick vegetation to live in. Because they are such a secretive bird, water rails are not the easiest birds to census, but there are around 110 pairs at Leighton Moss, which just shows what masters of disguise they are! Usually the best time of year to spot them is in winter. If it is very wet and the paths flood, they are often spotted dashing across or mooching around in the flooded woodland on the path to Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. Alternatively, if it freezes, they come out onto the edges looking for places to fish. 

      You looking at me? by Richard Cousens

    Even if you have never spotted a water rail at Leighton Moss, you are likely to have heard one. They make a loud squealing sound that is described as a 'stuck pig' and are often heard around the reserve, particularly on the causeway. So next time you visit us, keep your eyes and ears open for these fascinating little birds.

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

Your sightings

Grid reference: SD4775 (+2km)

Great White Egret ()
23 Oct 2014
Pectoral Sandpiper ()
25 Sep 2014
Spotted Redshank ()
23 Oct 2014
Pink-footed Goose ()
22 Oct 2014
Marsh Harrier ()
19 Oct 2014
Black-tailed Godwit ()
19 Oct 2014
Bearded Tit ()
19 Oct 2014
Greenshank (4)
19 Oct 2014
Cetti's Warbler (1)
19 Oct 2014
Water Rail (2)
17 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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