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Recent sightings

  • 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

  • 8 September 2014

    Rails and rutting and ruff - oh my!

    It's not only the weather that has been cracking here at the Moss over the weekend, but the sightings have been hot, hot, hot too!

    Three great white egrets are continuing to enjoy the lower water levels and were all spotted at Lilian's hide yesterday. The water rails are equally making the most of the exposed mud round the edge of Lilian's pool. These normally secretive birds have been coming out and about in up to 10 in number! If you have never seen one, come on down.

      Catch of the day! Great white egret by Martin Kuchczynski

    As summer gives way to autumn this month, our biggest residents - the red deer stags, are beginning to start rutting. Head to Tim Jackson hide early morning and you may be lucky and spot them starting to lock antlers.

    Another mammalian favourite here - the otters have been seen regularly from Lower hide. There are two older young which seem to stick together, plus mum with her two newer cubs. The dog (male otter) has been spotted too.

    Down at the Eric Morecambe and Allen pools it has been a hive of autumn activity. A spoonbill was seen there over the weekend! The variety of wading birds there at the moment is fab too. Ruff, two little stints, spotted redshanks, redshanks, 600+ black-tailed godwits, greenshanks, two curlew sandpipers, knot, lapwings and oystercatchers have all been spied over the weekend and this morning. If all this sounds a little confusing, why not come along to our 'What's that Wader' event on Saturday and get tips on identifying this notoriously difficult group of birds. Details here. Please note that for the event on Saturday 13 September, Eric Morecambe hide will be closed from 12.45-2.15 pm. Allen hide will be open as normal.




    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 2 September 2014

    It's all going on

    Sightings have been superb over the past few days!

    There has been a lot of otter action on Lilian's pool with the dog (male) seen as well a couple of older young otters. The female and her younger cubs have been out and about too. There have also been sightings on Public and Lower pools, so keep an eye out for the water birds dashing across the pool - it could be a sign that otters are slinking below the surface.

    At Lilian's pool up to 10 water rails have been coming out on the reed edges, and the wading birds are enjoying the exposed mud with eight ruff and around 600 black-tailed godwits feeding there! This is a sight more commonly associated with the Allen and Eric Morecambe saltmarsh pools, and is the result of some major management work going on at the moment.

      Ruff by Brian Salisbury

    That doesn't mean to say the Allen and Eric Morecambe pools are empty. A curlew sandpiper has been spotted there for the past few days as well as dunlins, ruff and the usual flocks of redshanks, lapwings and black-tailed godwits. If you'd like to improve your wader identification, why not join experts Mike and Jane Malpass on our 'What's that Wader' event?

    Two great white egrets are still very much present and enjoying fishing on the reserve. They move around site between the saltmarsh, Lilian's and Public pools, so look out for them wherever you go.

      An ideal opportunity to compare the sizes of a great white egret and grey heron by Martin Kuchczynski

    Our Wardens are into reed cutting time at the moment. Today they did a grand job at Tim Jackson pool, and tomorrow it is the turn of Lilian's pool for it's bi-summer spruce up. They will then move to Grisedale hide on Thursday (where you may even pick them up on our live webcam!) This vital management work helps keep the reedbed ship-shape for the wildlife that calls it home and is exciting to watch, so feel free to pop into the hide to see what they're up to. When the Warden's carry out this work, it does mean that the wildlife on that pool tends to move to another, but they soon return once the cutting has stopped. Read more about it here in Alasdair's blog from last September.



    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 27 August 2014

    The last of summer sightings

    The summer holidays are drawing to a close so it's been great to see lots of families on the reserve this week, making the most of being outdoors before it's back to school time. The end of the summer holidays means that it won't be long until autumn! With the changing of the seasons, it means we have to start saying farewell to some of our best loved summer wildlife. The swifts have already set off back to Africa and we are seeing flocks of swallows gathering on wires, preparing to make their journey. You may see them all swooping around together feeding on insects - they need to fatten up for their long flight. It's sad to see them go and I always wish them a safe journey as there are many perils and obstacles for them to overcome as they head south for winter. We've also said goodbye to most of our marsh harriers, with only one young one being infrequently seen now. You never know though, we may get some coming through as they leave reedbeds further north. For the past few winters we have even had some decide to stay at Leighton Moss. 

    As we wave some birds off, others begin to arrive. The first wigeons and even a pintail have been spotted on the reserve. These ducks have spent the spring and summer breeding further north in places like Scandinavia and they come south to Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay for the colder months. 

    Sightings of a whole host of wading birds have been fantastic recently.  Down on the Allen and Eric Morecambe pools you can spot flocks of black-tailed godwits, dunlins, redshanks, 15 greenshanks, four ruffs and a couple of knot. 

      Black-tailed godwit by Kevin Kelly

    A kingfisher has been putting in some stunning appearances down at the saltmarsh - flying round and perching on posts round the edge of the pools. There are still two great white egrets too (with a third one less regularly seen). They have been spotted not only at the saltmarsh but also at Lilian's and Public pools. 

    A hobby has been hunting over Public and Lower pools recently too. It's not surprising really when you see all of the dragonflies around. Migrant hawkers and brown hawkers are flitting about like small helicopters around the reedbed. 

    Down at Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides, the red deer are still making regular appearances, with one hind (female red deer) bringing out her calf (young red deer), which only looked to be about three weeks old. This is unusual as we would expect most of the young to be born around June time so they would be older by now. Deer aren't the only special mammals to be seen with sightings of otters from Public hide and a stoat on the Causeway over the past few days too. 

    A spotted flycatcher has been seen by one of our wardens along the path to Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides, and a lucky visitor also spotted one on the path to Lower hide. 

    If you are visiting on Thursday or Friday this week, just to let you know that the wardens are doing some reed cutting work. It is a vital part of looking after the reedbed to keep it ship-shape for all of the wildlife. It is very interesting to watch so if you'd like to see our wardens in action, they will be cutting at Public and Lower pools on Thursday and finishing off at Lower pool on Friday. When they are carrying out this work, it can cause the wildlife to move to other parts of the reserve for a while, but they quickly return once the wardens have finished. 

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 24 August 2014

    Welcome back waders

    If you head down to the saltmarsh hides this week you’re in for a treat. It’s that time of year when wading birds are flocking back to our pools – and what a sight they are!

    Looking out over Allen pool you’ll see a wonderful selection of waders. Black-tailed godwits, redshank and dunlin are just some of the fantastic species that have made their way back to Leighton Moss.

    Watch out for curlew sandpipers from Eric Morecambe hide. Over the next few weeks there should be plenty of these small birds coming down to feed in the shallows. There are a lot of dunlin around at the moment which have a very similar appearance – however, curlew sandpiper have a white eyestripe and a longer bill with a more pronounced down-curve. This allows them to feed in slightly deeper water.

    Curlew sandpiper by Mike Langman (

    If you spot them in flight, look out for their bright white rumps!

    From the saltmarsh car park you can see flocks of long-tailed tits as well as a noisy charm of goldfinches. Goldfinches tend to stick together in large groups and can be heard chirruping away with their dainty call from the tops of trees before shooting away with their beautiful swooping flight pattern.

    Goldfinch by Richard Brooks (

    Perhaps the most distinctive of all the finches, these birds have vivid red, white and black facial markings and golden feathers which line their wings.

    If you’re thinking of making the most of the Bank Holiday weekend, come on down to Leighton Moss on Monday 25 August! From 10 am we’ll be hosting a glorious Garden Party to celebrate our 50th anniversary.

    Get stuck in and make nestboxes and insect feeders to nature a home in your own back garden! There will also be the chance to find out about your favourite creatures and take part in some excellent arts and crafts. Donations welcome, no need to book!

    All visitors please be aware that the road to the saltmarsh hides over the level crossing (on the way to Warton) will be closed from 11.45 pm on Saturday 30th August until 10.30 am on Sunday 31 August.

    Posted by Jennifer L

Your sightings

Grid reference: SD4775 (+2km)

Great White Egret (1)
30 Sep 2014
Pectoral Sandpiper ()
25 Sep 2014
Curlew Sandpiper (1)
30 Sep 2014
Little Stint (4)
30 Sep 2014
Pink-footed Goose ()
27 Sep 2014
Black-tailed Godwit ()
27 Sep 2014
Spotted Redshank (4)
27 Sep 2014
Greenshank ()
27 Sep 2014
Kingfisher ()
27 Sep 2014
Ruff ()
27 Sep 2014

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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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