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Recent sightings

  • 19 December 2014

    Coming up to Christmas sightings

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

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

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

      Bittern on the ice by Keith Scovell

      Water rails are good skaters too by Keith Scovell

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

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

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

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

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

      Wren by Richard Cousens

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

    Christmas Eve 9.30 am-3 pm

    Christmas Day CLOSED

    Boxing Day 10 am-4.30 pm

    New Year’s Eve 9.30 am-3 pm

    New Year’s Day 10 am-4.30 pm

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

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

    We look forward to seeing you!

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 11 December 2014

    This will quack you up!

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

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

      Stunning male teal (David Mower)

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

      Male shoveler (David Mower)

      Female shoveler-look at that bill! (David Mower

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

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

    Thanks to intern Anya for these latest sightings.

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 10 December 2014

    Robin the rich to give to the birds

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

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

      Fat cake sculptures by Jen Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

      December moth by Adam Machin

    Thanks to intern Anya for this latest update

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 9 December 2014

    What a rail place to have a good time!

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

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

      Water rail by Mike Malpass

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

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

     Thanks to intern Anya for these recent sightings.

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 5 December 2014

    Having a hoot at Leighton Moss


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


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

      Barn owl by John Bridges (

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

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

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

    Thanks to Anya for this recent sightings update.

    Posted by kevin

  • 1 December 2014

    Otter this world!

    Apologies for another bad otter pun, it is just so exciting that they are being seen almost everyday at the moment. Head down to Public hide for the chance to spot one of our most adorable residents. One of the females and her two cubs have been coming out at all times of day, as well as sightings of them on their own.

      Otter on the island in Public pool by Richard Cousens

    Our most secretive residents - water rails and bitterns are also being seen from Public hide regularly at the moment. We have more of them around at this time of year as they come across from Europe to spend the colder months here.

      Not one but two bitterns by Alan Saunders

    The woodland on the edge of the reedbed is a hive of activity from the little birds. Marsh tits and nuthatches come down regularly along with familiar favourites such as blue tits and great tits

    On the pools around the reedbed we've got a great variety of different ducks - shovelers, teal, gadwalls, pochards, wigeons, goldeneyes, tufted ducks and of course mallards. We have an influx of these lovely birds in the winter at Leighton Moss and on Morecambe Bay.

    Down at the Allen and Eric Morecambe pools there are flocks of redshanks and black-tailed godwits, with the odd greenshank and a spotted redshank among them. These wading birds just love the saltmarsh and mudflats of Morecambe Bay as they house tasty morsels such as shrimps and lugworms. There are also a number of shelducks on the pools there, arguably one of the most attractive ducks with their striking red beak and chestnut band across their chest.

    If you would like tips and advice on identifying birds, why not book a place on our next Birding for Beginners event, details here.

    As it is now December, we have changed to our winter opening hours. In December and January only, we close the visitor centre at 4.30 pm (5 pm the rest of the year). We open at 9.30 am as normal.

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 29 November 2014

    Nothing 'otter than an otter

    From frolicking otter cubs to bold bitterns, Leighton Moss has some truly stunning wildlife views to offer at the moment. One of our resident female otters has had two cubs this year. They are keen to play all day, often right in front of the hides.  This unusually bold behaviour offers both fantastic views and great photography opportunities. The best places are Public and Lower hides.  Though we are used to regular sightings of otters these days, this hasn’t always been the case.

    The otter has faced several challenges over the past century. Pollution in our river systems led to a crash in the population in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Otters were also legally hunted until 1978 and that was one if the main reasons for their plummeting numbers.  When hunting was banned and stricter water quality controls came into play, numbers began to recover in the 1990’s.

    Leighton Moss has historically been a great place to see otters, but they disappeared from the reserve for a decade from 1990-2000. The RSPB looked into it extensively, and though they are not completely sure, it is believed that a lack of fish may have been the reason. Otters need to eat over a kilo of fish a day, so unless there is a very stable fish population, otters would not be able to survive.  

    Otters are now thriving on the reserve once again. The dredging of the reserve in 2004, led to the increase in fish stocks, leading to ever increasing otter numbers. We continued this dredging work last winter too and it has further improved the site for otters. Despite their difficult past otter numbers have been steadily increasing for the past five years, not only here at Leighton Moss but across the country. 

    The best time to see otters here is normally early mornings and evenings but at the moment the cubs can be seen playing at any time.

      Two of our lovely otters by Dave O'Hara

    We are lucky enough to still have three marsh harriers on the reserve, which is unusual as they normally go back to South Africa in the winter. We believe that they will stay the whole winter, which is brilliant because they are always fantastic birds to see. We also look forward to their amazing aerial displays in spring.

    A pair of peregrines have been seen a few times at the Grisedale hide end of the reserve along with a male merlin. We are getting lots of bittern and water rail sightings at Public hide and don't forget to stop at the grit trays - the bearded tits are still coming down for grit some days which is pretty late in the year for them to be doing this. It is likely to be because October was so mild so they were still finding insects then and so starting gritting later. 

    If you'd like to brush up on your bird identification or need tips on telling those pesky little brown birds apart, why not book a place on tomorrow's Birding for Beginners? Details here. If you can't make tomorrow, we're running it again next month, details here

    Thanks to intern Anya for these sightings :)


    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 25 November 2014

    Once bittern, twice not so shy!

    Well, we've been going bittern bonkers at the minute. Up to three have been coming out at once in the reedbed at Public hide. These normally shy residents, seem to want to come out and prove they are not a mythical creature! Scan round the pool edges for them, as well as having a look down 'Al's Alley', an area cut through the reeds to the right of Public hide, that was created by one of our wardens Alasdair. With the weather set to get colder, we could even get more in over the next few weeks, as they come across from Eastern Europe to spend the winter months here.

      Seeing double! Two bitterns by Les Walton

    The deer are also being spotted in pairs, although getting even closer to one another than the bitterns. Check out this gorgeous snap of two red deer snuggling up. Head to the Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides for the best chance of seeing our largest residents.

      Red deer snuggling by Richard Cousens

    Talking of large mammals, the otters are still putting in daily appearances at Public hide. The mother and her two cubs have been out playing in the water at all times of day. You may even see one emerge with a fish in its mouth like this fabulous photo.

     Otter with perch by David Mower

    The bearded tits are also still coming down to the grit trays of a morning which is quite late in the season for them really.

    The pools around the reserve are currently home to a variety of ducks - wigeons, pintails, goldeneyes, mallards, teals and shovelers are all here in good numbers. If you need help with identification, then there are still spaces available on this Sunday's Birding for Beginners, we'd love to see you, details here.

    As you can see, some of our star species are putting on a great show at the moment, so come along and see what you can spot (we'd love to see your photos if you get any), and then of course treat yourself to a warming brew and a cake in our café afterwards.

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 21 November 2014

    A truly golden celebration

    In honour of the golden anniversary of Leighton Moss, the “golden” wildlife has truly put on a spectacular show. At the moment we are hosting golden plover, goldeneyes and goldcrests, which can all be seen from Lilian’s and Tim Jackson hides.

      Ben Hall (

    The past week has been brilliant for wildlife at Leighton Moss with the otters in particular granting visitors with wonderful views. The mother otter and her cubs have been showing very well outside Public and Lower hides. I was down at Lower hide the other day and was treated to a good forty-five minutes of the cubs playing-right in front of the hide!

    You can get some great views of a variety of ducks from Lilian’s, Tim Jackson and Grisdale hides. The majority of the birds down there are teals, wigeons and shovelers. A goosander has also been spotted at Lilian’s hide. If you'd like to learn more about how to tell the difference between these charismatic birds, then why not book onto our Birding for Beginners course - details here.

    Our birds of prey have also been impressing with some great views of marsh harrier, peregrine, merlin and sparrowhawk. During the starling murmerations in particular, the sparrowhawk and peregrine can be seen hunting the starlings adding to their great performance of aerial acrobatics. For the opportunity to see this autumnal spectacle, we recommend getting here around 3 pm and the visitor centre team can direct you to the place with the best chance.

    Huge thanks to our intern Anya for providing these sightings.

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

Your sightings

Grid reference: SD4775 (+2km)

Great White Egret (1)
10 Dec 2014
Spotted Redshank ()
21 Dec 2014
Marsh Harrier (1)
16 Dec 2014
Goosander ()
16 Dec 2014
Kingfisher ()
16 Dec 2014
Water Rail (5)
8 Dec 2014
Bearded Tit (1)
8 Dec 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

Get directions

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

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