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Finally... they’re here! We’ve had our first wave of starlings arrive here at Leighton Moss, up to 18,000 have been counted so far and we are hoping for more. In previous years we’ve had up to 100,000! It is hoped that the onset of cold weather coming over the continent will bring more birds. Sunday night saw quite an impressive murmuration, with a gorgeous pink and purple sunset as a back drop. Monday and Tuesday wasn’t as impressive due to the wet weather so the starlings came in dribs and drabs but you could still get an idea of the sheer number that roost here over winter. They come into roost in the reedbed near to Grisedale hide but the best views are from Lilian's hide and the Skytower. They begin their displays just before it goes dark, between 3.30-4 pm.
Starling sunset by David Kjaer
I was curious to see what happened in the mornings, if the birds put on a similarly impressive display. So this morning I set my alarm for 6 am and me and two other interns headed down towards Grisedale hide. As we were walking down the path we could hear the starlings chattering away, getting louder and louder as we got nearer. We stopped where we thought we were closest to the birds... and waited... and waited. An hour passed. But eventually we heard them beginning to make flight at around 7.30 am. They were very low to the reeds for a while, just moving from place to place, and then all of a sudden an explosion of birds escaped the reedbed and filled the sky! It was definitely worth the wait. If anyone is thinking of coming to see them in the morning I would recommended the Skytower as this would provide the best views.
Our hour wasn’t a waste though, we saw greylag geese and pink-footed geese fly overhead, a couple of snipe, a teal or two and a flock of about 30 jackdaw, which kept us entertained while we waited for the main event.
Baby blues... jackdaw by Sue Tranter
Most of the duck activity is down at the Grisedale and Tim Jackson hides at the moment as the water level is too high for them on Lilian's pool and the Causeway pool following the heavy rain. Shoveler, teal, pochard, gadwall and mallard have all been spotted out on the water. There have been 3 red deer stags seen outside the Tim Jackson hide, as well as great white egrets, although they seem to have made their way down to the saltmarsh recently.
From the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides there is also quite a lot of duck activity as well as lapwing, redshank and the ever impressive kingfishers. We regularly get two kingfishers down at the saltmarsh, which like to perch just in front of the hides which creates great viewing and photo opportunities.
The otters have definitely been one of the highlights of the past few weeks, they have been seen every day from the Causeway hide and Lower hide and have even been seen in Lilian's pool. The deep water is perfect for them to fish and play in and they have provided hours of entertainment for our visitors.
Otter at Lower hide by Robert Metcalf
The ever illusive bittern has even been seen a couple of times over the past few weeks. It was spotted on Sunday making flights near to Lower hide and has previously been spotted from both the Causeway hide and Lower hide. It has been seen a couple of times emerging from the reeds right next to the Causeway hide.
If you’re coming to visit us in the next few days please don’t forget to bring your wellies as some of the paths are very flooded due to the recent heavy rainfall and some hides are not accessible without them.
If you and your family want to discover more about our super duper starlings why not take part in our self-led family trail which is running throughout November.
Posted by LizzieH
It's safe to say that it has been rather wet and windy up here in the North West of England over the last week, although the sun is peeping through the clouds today which is very welcome. When heavy rain arrives, it can sometimes mean that a lot of wildlife (understandably) likes to hide away, but not all.....
Here at Leighton Moss, we get a big increase in the number and variety of ducks in the winter months. Wet weather doesn't bother them at all and in fact, the windy conditions seen this past week have meant they have often snuggled up close to the hides for shelter, giving those visitors who have ventured out to see them, some fantastic close up views. Mallards, teal, shovelers, pintails, and wigeons all have their own distinct plumages (or outfits as I like to say), and at this time of year, following their autumn molt, they are looking particularly splendid. Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides are the best spots at the moment.
Mallard ballet by Martin Kuchczynski
Some of our best-loved residents - the otters, have not at all been put off by the weather. In fact, they've been enjoying the deeper water levels at Causeway and Lower hides, where up to four otters have been spotted swimming around at once, playing in the water. If you're heading down there, the path to Lower hide is a bit wet at the moment, so waterproof boots or wellies are advised.
These little cuties were out this morning at Lower hide. Images by Robert Metcalf.
Up to three marsh harriers have been seen regularly, battling against the wind whilst they hunt low over the reeds.
Down at the saltmarsh, the pools are pretty deep, so the wading birds have been pushed further out onto Morecambe Bay. However, shelducks and little egrets are enjoying feeding on the fresh creatures brought in by the tides. Look out for them at Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, or even from the train!
The woodland feeding station has still got lots of activity from the smaller birds, look out for bullfinches, nuthatches and marsh tits among more familiar garden favourites like blue tits and chaffinches.
We are getting lots of starling murmuration enquiries at the moment, but they haven't returned yet. Keep an eye on here and our Facebook (RSPB North West England) and Twitter (@Leighton_moss) pages for updates.
The boardwalk and path re-structure is nearing its completion, which we're very excited about. We'll keep you posted this week as to when it is likely to beopen, but not long now......!
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Due to the recent heavy rainfall, many of the reserve paths are flooded. You can get to Lilian's hide and The Skytower without wellies, but you will need them to get everywhere else.
Posted by Annabel Rushton
The otters have definitely been the star of the show this week here at Leighton Moss. We have a family of otters with one male (dog) otter and a female with a few pups. They are very sociable animals and are often seen playing together in the water- they look like a group of mini Loch Ness monsters. The best place to catch them in action is from the Causeway hide and Lower hide. They have been seen every day for the past few days now and are providing lots of entertainment for our visitors.
Otter pup by Brian Howson
We are very lucky to have these energetic animals here at Leighton Moss. Not that long ago, they were rare in the UK due to the rivers being unclean and polluted, and persecution which meant otter numbers were low around the country. Now, thanks to massive improvement in water quality, they can be found in every county in England and Leighton Moss is one of the best spots in Lancashire to see them.
The wet and windy weather hasn't put off the marsh harrier’s either, they have been spotted flying all around the reserve...even on the dreariest of days there is still lots of wonderful wildlife to see here at Leighton Moss.
The wild weather can create great wildlife watching opportunities as ducks huddle near to the hides for shelter. Pintail, teal, gadwall, wigeon, shoveler and pochard can be seen from Causeway hide, Lower hide and they have also returned to Grisedale hide. The recent rain has meant that the water level around Grisedale hide is a lot higher than it has been creating a haven for ducks and waders such as green sandpiper and snipe.
Down at the saltmarsh greenshank, redshank, lapwing and whooper swans can be seen from the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. Also keep an eye out for a flash of blue as the kingfisher zooms past.
Whooper swan by Richard Cousens
The wet weather has meant we have had to close the temporary path to the Causeway due to it getting too muddy, so the Causeway can only be accessed from the road for the time being. The brand new boardwalk should be open by next week which will greatly improve accessibility to the Causeway so it will all be worth it, thanks for your patience.
The web cam is up and running again after lightning took it out over the summer; it is currently looking out onto Lilian’s pool so you can still spot wildlife even when you’re warm and toasty at home.
The starlings are still not here but we will keep you updated on their arrival. If you would like to learn more about these special birds you can take part in our super duper starling’s family trail which is running throughout November.
Visitors to the Causeway hide got a wonderful treat yesterday when they were greeted by a bittern sitting on the edge of the reedbed, to the right of the pool. To catch a glimpse of these amazing birds you need a bit of luck and persistence, and for a few of our visitors that paid off! The bittern hung around for a good hour before it was scared away by an otter. It is likely we will start seeing more bitterns during the winter months as they fly over from the continent in search of food.
Bittern/ toasted heron by Alan Saunders
We have a couple of resident bitterns at Leighton Moss, but unfortunately they have not bred here for a few years. This is due to the fact that the reedbed we have here is an old one (over 100 years old) and bitterns like, young, fresh reedbeds to live in. To bring back breeding bitterns we are currently half way through a 3 year plan to rejuvenate our reedbed to a younger one with plenty of channels for fish and eels and hopefully a baby bittern! Aw! Read more about the work we are doing to help this here.
The Causeway hide is providing visitors with tremendous views of our otter family, the mother and pups have been seen playing together in the water and rumour has it the dog otter took a teal for its dinner? Quite a feast! The great white egret is still around the Causeway pool as well with excellent views from Causeway hide and Lower hide.
Otter and great white egret by Phillip Armitage... what a neck!
Out on the water we have a variety of duck species including teal, gadwall, wigeon, pintail and goldeneye. Whooper swans have begun to make an appearance and around seven were spotted flying into Lilian’s pool yesterday.
We still have two marsh harriers on the reserve, which can provide amazing spectacles from the top of the Skytower, especially if they are getting mobbed by hundreds of black-tailed godwits. Marsh harriers usually migrate at this time of year to warmer climates, but due to the abundance of food, such as small birds and mammals, they have decided to stick with us- we’re not complaining!
There have been a couple of short-eared owl sightings this past week. One sighting was from Allen hide, and the other from Lilian’s hide at about 3 pm. This is quite unusual for Leighton Moss, which makes it all the more exciting!
From the paths goldcrest, siskin, redpoll and redwing can be seen flying over head, as well as yellow-browed warbler and Cetti's warbler
Not forgetting the bearded tits which are still providing guests with excellent views from the grit trays. They have also been seen around the new boardwalk site which is an exciting prospect as it may allow visitors to get up close to these special little birds. The boardwalk is still under construction but it is expected to be completed by the end of November. A temporary path has been made through the adjacent field which can get a little muddy so don't forget your walking boots!
Boardwalk construction by Richard Miller
We are getting lots of questions about starlings at the moment, they are not here yet but we will keep you updated on their arrival. If you would like to learn more about these amazing birds why not come down to Leighton Moss and take part in our Super Duper Starlings self-led family trail? Prizes for anyone who gets it all right!
Most evenings I go for a jog down the Causeway to lower hide and marvel at the wildlife as I go, usually catching a glimpse of the otters from the Causeway hide or a soprano pipistrelle bat as it flies overhead, which makes my run that bit more enjoyable (I don’t really like running!). Last night however I got half way down the causeway and realised I wouldn’t be able to see for much longer due to the night’s drawing in so early now. It gets a little bit spooky on the reserve at night, and it was Halloween, so I decided to turn back! Suddenly, crawling out the shadows of reeds, I spotted some mysterious creatures making their way across the path. I stopped for a closer look and realised to my delight it was a toad. I managed to get a picture on my phone (which you can see below) and identified it as a common toad. This toad was probably looking for a place to hibernate during the winter. Common toads are found throughout Britain and often live in gardens. You can help toads survive the cold winters where you live by building your very own toad abode, details of this and other ways you can give nature a home can be found on the RSPB website.
Toad on Causeway path by Lizzy Holiday
Much better photo of a toad by David Mower
With winter fast approaching, a lot of our winter migrants have begun to call the reserve home. Siskin, redpoll and redwing can be seen from most paths around the reserve. They migrate from more northerly countries and choose to stay at Leighton Moss over winter due to the abundance of food. We are still eagerly awaiting the arrival of the starlings which are expected mid-November time; keep an eye on our upcoming sightings blogs as we will keep you updated. If you would like to learn more about starlings, our Super Duper Starlings self-led family nature trail is on throughout November.
The bearded tits are still performing well, with excellent views from the grit trays on the Causeway. They can be seen most morning from around 8am- 11am. During the winter the bearded tits change their diet from insects to seed from the reed. In order for them to digest the seed they take in grit which they store in their crop and this helps them break up the seed, making it easier to digest.
The great white egret is still being spotted regularly from Causeway hide and Lower hide, and there are still a couple of marsh harriers flying around with amazing views from the skytower as they hunt above Lillian’s pool. Down at the saltmarsh, kingfisher are providing spectacular close up views as they perch in front of the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. The red deer are also being seen extremely well from the Grisedale hide, especially in the evening and water rails are being seen regularly from Tim Jackson hide.
As mentioned in previous blogs, our brand new boardwalk is currently under construction. This will lead from the path running parallel to the road and join on to the causeway, meaning visitor will no longer have to walk along the road. This will greatly improve accessibility, especially for wheelchair users and families with pushchairs. Until the boardwalk is complete a temporary path has been made through the field adjacent, this may get quite muddy on wet days so walking boots are advised.
Why not pay us a visit?
Leighton Moss is wonderful all year round, with something exciting to see every season. I think my favourite time of year has to be autumn though. The leaves in the woodland are a rainbow of colour with golds, reds, greens and browns, rustling in the wind and carpeting the floor of the paths as you stroll to Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. When there, you've got a good chance of spotting our largest residents, the red deer. Several stags and hinds have been seen by excited visitors this week.
It's not just the trees that change colour. In autumn the golden reeds are tipped with purple seeds. As they sway in the breeze, the reeds scatter the seeds and it is these that provide the main food source for one of our cutest residents-the bearded tits. If you head down the Causeway on a fine morning at the moment, you stand a very good chance of seeing these otherwise fairly elusive birds, on the grit trays. They need this grit to help them to grind up the hard reed seeds at this time of year, when they've changed their diet from the insects they eat in spring and summer.
Just past sat the grit trays, you'll reach Causeway hide. This has been a fantastic spot this week for sightings of otters. They can pop up at all times of the day, so keep your eyes peeled for the tell-tale signs that they are around. You'll sometimes see the ducks or coots on the water dashing across the pool in the same direction if an otter is swimming under the water. You then usually spot an otters head emerge above the surface for a moment before they dive under and you see their slim tail flick up as they start 'porpoising' (where they roll in the water, up and down, like mini Loch Ness Monsters).
As well as the gorgeous otters, a great white egret has been delighting visitors by coming into land right in front of Causeway hide. This relative of the grey heron can be distinguished from its smaller cousins, the little egrets, by its yellow beak, dark feet and its larger size.
Great white egret being photo bombed by an otter! Image by Mark Wilson
From the top of our Skytower, you'll not only get the best views of the whole reserve and surrounding Arnside and Silverdale AONB, it's also a top place for spotting a marsh harrier hunting over the reeds. There's at least one that has decided to stay with us when the others have flown south for the colder months. A couple of lucky visitors and our Kevin also saw a fly-by from a short-eared owl yesterday afternoon, over the reedbed past Lilian's hide. We don't often see these stunning birds at Leighton Moss so it was a real treat.
We've had a few questions about the starling murmuration this week. They've not arrived back yet, they usually come early to mid-November, depending on what the weather's like. This massive autumnal swell in numbers is due to an influx of starlings from Europe who have come to spend the colder months in the UK. It is still pretty mild at the moment, but they shouldn't be long.
As I mentioned in my blog last week, we're excited to be installing a new boardwalk at the moment to improve access to the Causeway. Whilst the path to the Causeway is being levelled, it has been temporarily closed. We have created a diversion through the field next to it so you can still get to the Causeway. The diversion is sign posted and staff and volunteers in the visitor centre will be happy to direct you where to go.
One of the many wonderful things about Leighton Moss is that you never know quite know what you might see on any given day-the changing of the weather, days, months, seasons and years always brings something different, exciting or unusual to discover. Even if it involves wildlife you have spotted previously, your visit can take an unexpected direction when you encounter that wildlife behaving in a way you have never observed before, or arriving in numbers you haven't ever witnessed. It is simply awe-inspiring.
Whilst on the reserve yesterday, one of our volunteers Roger, had what he described as an unbelievable morning, one of the best that he could remember anywhere! It started with a walk down to Tim Jackson hide, where at the bridge, he had great views of a water rail. We're seeing a lot more of these usually shy birds around the reedbed at the moment, so keep your eyes and ears open (they sound like a squealing pig when they call).
At Tim Jackson hide, Roger then spotted two majestic red deer stags on the embankment. As it is autumn, they can be heard roaring and bellowing across the reedbed at one another, and in the early morning, you may even see them clashing antlers as the rutting season is underway! It is very exciting!
The Causeway was Roger's next destination, where he had around a thousand ducks on the Causeway pool! As the wind was coming from the sea, the area directly in front of the hide was a flat calm, making it ideal for watching the birds on the pool. We have a great variety of ducks arriving here in the autumn-visiting from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia. Pochards, wigeons, pintails, gadwalls and shovelers are just some of the beautiful ducks to look out for when you visit.
Whilst Roger was at Causeway hide, a great white egret flew in and settled right next to the hide for about 20 minutes! We've had up to three of these large birds here over the past few months, so look out for them around the reedbed as well as on the saltmarsh from Allen and Eric Morecambe hides.
Great white egret impersonating a swan by Brian Salisbury
By this time, it was coming towards the end of his shift, so Roger headed back to the visitor centre for some well earned lunch, and as he passed the grit trays, he spotted several bearded tits there in full view. Although they are here year round, October is the best month to see these elusive little birds here as they are taking in grit most mornings. Why not come along to our bearded tit walk on Wednesday to find out more about them?
Thanks to Roger for sharing his wonderful experience.
If you visit the reserve over the next few weeks, you'll also notice some structural changes are afoot. Thanks to Heritage Lottery funding, we're currently installing a new boardwalk. It is being constructed by Gilleard Bros, expert hide makers who brought us the new Causeway, Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. The boardwalk will make access to the Causeway much easier as it will mean visitors can avoid the small stretch of road you currently have to walk on to get there. It will also make that route much more level and wheelchair accessible. Work has started moving patches of vegetation and erecting the posts to hold the boardwalk in place. We're hoping to have the project finished by the end of November.
the beginnings of the boardwalk by Richard Miller
The ivy is in bloom here at Leighton Moss and it is attracting a wealth of insect life. Red admiral and small tortoiseshell butterflies are enjoying the rich tasty nectar that the ivy has to offer as well as many different types of hoverfly, wasps and bees. The activity doesn’t stop at night though; evening reservations are made by moths, such as angle shades and pink-barred sallow. The smell of the ivy is also very distinctive (some say it smells like otter spraint) and the loud buzzing from the hoverflies and wasps means you won’t miss it. Follow the path down from the visitor centre to the top of the Causeway and take a look for yourself.
Speaking of otters, they have been on full form lately with excellent views from Causeway hide and Lower hide. They are very sociable animals and are often seen playing with each other which makes a great spectacle. The best way to spot if an otter is around is by looking at the worried looking ducks who will all be swimming in the opposite direction of the otters, as they have been known to take down a duck or two for food.
There are many different species of duck on the Causeway pool at the moment including teals, wigeons, shovelers, mallards and pochards. Up to three great white egrets have also been spotted at once from the Causeway hide which is a sight probably not a lot of people will have seen. Until recently great white egrets were incredibly rare to see in this country, and are still an unusual sighting now.
The bearded tits are showing extremely well at this time of year and have been seen nearly every morning on the grit trays down the Causeway. To learn why bearded tits use these trays click here. Why not join one of our bearded tit walks to discover more.
Acrobatic beardie by Richard Cousens
This time of year is also excellent for viewing our red deer as they are in the rutting season. They can be seen best from Grisedale Hide, especially in the morning and evening. You may notice their loud bellowing across the reedbed before you see them.
Black-tailed godwits are still commandeering Lilian's Pool and can sometimes be seen mobbing the marsh harrier as it flies over head. The godwits are also in high numbers down at the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides as well as the odd ruff, lots of redshanks, up to 13 greenshanks and a spotted redshank. Our most colourful resident, the kingfisher is a regular feature down there at the moment too.
Kingfisher by Richard Cousens
As autumn sets in, our winter migrants are beginning to arrive from the North. Redpolls, siskins and redwings have all been seen around the reserve woodland areas. The arrival of new species is always very exciting as the seasons change and there are different birds to see and hear. This can also be a bit frustrating if you have only just got to grips with identifying summer species and now you’re back to square one. Not to fear, our Birding for Beginners guided walk can help get you back on track. Details here
Thanks to Visitor Experience Intern Lizzy for this recent sightings update.
A misty morning on Causeway pool by David Mower
The reserve looks enchanted in the mornings as the mist settles over the reedbed. It may seem quiet and still but it is teeming with life. The bearded tits are showing really well on the grit trays and are most active from around 8 am until about 12 noon, but can be seen around the reserve anytime of the day, especially if you know what to listen out for. Bearded tits have a distinctive ‘ping-ping’ call, (click on the bearded tit link to access the audio guide) so if you hear this call as you are walking around the reserve, wait a few minutes and you may be lucky enough to see them flying out of the reeds. Why not join us on our bearded tits guided walk to learn more about these brilliant birds.
Mr and Mrs bearded tit by Richard Cousens
Mornings are a great time to see red deer, the sight of a stag appearing out of the reeds on a misty morning really is magical. Head down to Grisedale hide first thing and you should be lucky enough to see one of these majestic animals.
As the sun comes out in the afternoon so do the birds of prey, there is a young marsh harrier around, as well as lots of buzzards. The marsh harrier was recently nestled on the bank of the Causeway pool, with perfect views from Lower hide. Despite its watchful eye, the pool was full of an array of ducks such as wigeons, teals, gadwalls and pochards.
A yellow-browed warbler was discovered by our ringers over the weekend on the path to Lower hide, and there was another seen on the path to Grisedale hide. As their name suggests, these tiny little birds have a distinctive yellow eye stripe. They are on an epic migration south to India and South East Asia, so keep your eyes and ears peeled for them when you are out and about.
The unicorns of the bird world - bitterns have become more regularly seen with several visitors, including TV's fabulous Simon King, spotting one at Lower hide on Saturday. This end of the reserve seems to be the best, with views from both Causeway and Lower hides. We get more bitterns arriving at this time of year as they come from Europe to spend the colder months here, so keep an eye out for them around the reed edges, or the occasional fly-by.
Down at the saltmarsh amongst the gathering of black-tailed godwits and redshanks a couple of snipe have managed to squeeze onto one of the islands. The water level is particularly high at the moment due to the high tides so there isn’t much land available for the birds-it is looking quite cosy down there on the islands. As well as snipe there have been sightings of kingfisher, ruff, and three pink-footed geese on the pools and a stonechat on the path to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. Most surprising of all is the presence of up to four avocets there! Avocets nest here in the spring, but they move off south once breeding has finished, so it is very unusual to have them here in autumn.
Standing room only by Brian Salisbury
You can also discover what comes out at night with our Creatures of the Night Family Trail that is running throughout October, bring your family team to have a go.
See you soon!
Huge thanks to Visitor Experience Intern Lizzy for this recent sightings update.
Grid reference: SD4775 (+2km)
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