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Recent sightings

  • 20 April 2014

    Easter in the reedbed

    The chicks are cheeping, the rabbits are roaming – it can only be Easter weekend!

    To mark the festivities we celebrated with an egg-cellent (ahem) Birdsong for Beginners event. The fabulous Andy Chapman and three enthusiastic volunteers were onsite early to tell people all about the sounds and songs of spring.

    It was an early start for most and our visitors weren’t disappointed!

    Sedge warblers put on a wonderful show. Their raspy calls could be heard out across the reedbed from the causeway. One particular songbird clung to the top of a willow tree to sing out his peculiar flutey song before diving back down again into the reeds.

    Sedge warbler by David Mower

    It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a reed and sedge warbler. However, it’s worth taking the time to stop and listen. A reed warbler sticks to the same pattern of notes and will tend to stay hidden below the reed heads. Whilst a sedge warbler may start off with a similar song, it quickly rises into high-pitched trills and a spectacular leap into the air which is part of its mating display.

    This is the perfect time for warblers. Blackcaps and chiffchaffs can be seen all across the site.

    A reed bunting made its small, discrete call and even showed its black cap and white moustache before swooping away.

    Reed bunting by Brian Salisbury

    The event was a big success - everyone was able to tune in their ears before enjoying a bacon bap from our cafe.

    Other recent sightings include the pair of garganeys which have hunkered down at Grisedale hide. A grasshopper warbler can be seen (and heard!) on the path before Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. Its unmistakable trill sounds just like a grasshopper. Listen out carefully – this one is singing quietly, warming up for the season.

    If you missed our Birdsong for Beginners event you can always catch our second session on Sunday 25 May. Limited places only, so book fast!

    Posted by Jennifer L

  • 18 April 2014

    A sunny Good Friday sightings

    The sun is absolutely cracking the flags here today, and the wildlife is certainly taking advantage of this glorious weather.

    Otters have been regularly spotted at Public hide. Look out for the tell-tale signs of all the water birds dashing across the pool in the same direction, it often means that an otter is slinking below the surface.

    The black-headed gulls are certainly one of the sounds of Spring at Leighton Moss. Head to Lilian's hide to hear them squarking, watch them squabbling and see them mating.

     Black-headed gulls mating by Stephen Smith 

    Marsh harrier numbers are now up to two males and four females. Spot them around the reedbed perching, hunting and doing aerial courtship routines.

    Down at Grisedale hide, the pair of garganey are still here. They are being fairly lazy, spending most of the day snoozing, but occasionally waking up to dabble about and stretch their wings.

      Male garganey giving his wings a good old stretch (Richard Cousens)

    On the path just before Grisedale hide, a Cetti's warbler can be heard belting out its impressive song. Many of our favourite summer visitors are here now including sedge warblers, reed warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps and willow warblers. They can be heard all around the reserve. If you head down to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides, you might also hear a grasshopper warbler along the path. If you would like to learn more about the wonderful songs of these and many more reedbed and woodland birds, then why not come along to our International Dawn Chorus Day event. Details here.

    Avocet numbers have now reached 78 down at the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. They have started scraping (where they use their legs to scratch out a hollow to lay thier eggs in). Hopefully they might break some records in our 50th anniversary year.

    With the sun shining, it has brought out beautiful butterflies. Brimstones, orange tips, peacocks, speckled woods, green-veined whites and small tortoiseshells are being spotted not only around Leighton Moss, but also on Warton Crag nature reserve too.

    With another three days of bank holiday to go, why not come and see us. We've got the Baby Birds Trail for families, a Binoculars and Telescopes Open Weekend and a variety of scrummy cakes in the Cafe!

    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 16 April 2014

    Garganeys galore!

    We hope you’ve been enjoying the gorgeous weather – it’s been cracking the flags here at Leighton Moss! There have been some fantastic newcomers to the site this week, hoping to get their fill of spring sunshine.

    Two garganeys arrived on Grisedale pool on 15 April. The pair showed up to a red carpet from birdwatchers who were eager to get a close-up view of the birds.

    And what stunners they are.

    Male and female garganeys by Richard Cousens

    Males have a distinctive white eyestripe, with long overlapping wing feathers and a blue wing patch. Females are similar in appearance to teal with a black bar across their eye.

    These small grey-billed birds are called ‘dabbling’ ducks, as they feed on the water’s surface. They’ll be enjoying the water plants on our pool, and have been seen basking in the sun on small islands.

    Also spotted onsite: our lapwings are displaying well at the moment. The male will dance spectacularly through the air, cartwheeling and flipping his long rectangular wings, before swopping back down to the ground. He will then make quite a show of digging potential nesting sites to attract a female.

    Otters can be seen daily from Public hide. They love to play just off the far banks.

    Robins and nuthatches are lining our paths as they insects for their young. We had this great shot of a male robin feeding his fledgling on site. Grub’s up!

    Photo by Martin Kuchczynski

    Wildlife is definitely out and about early this spring. Keep on top of our recent sightings by following us on Facebook (RSPB North West England) and Twitter.

    Posted by Jennifer L

  • 15 April 2014

    Warblers tune up their trills

    We’ve had an influx of warblers over the past few days, making Leighton Moss a top spot for bird song this spring.

    Blackcaps have been nesting onsite as well as nearby Trowbarrow. Although similar in appearance to coal and marsh tits, the blackcap has a black hat pulled down low to its eyes but lacks the black bib seen on tits. Female blackcaps are buff in colouring with a chestnut cap. Look out for them on the path to Lower hide as well as in our sensory garden.

    Blackcap by Paul Chesterfield (

    At the moment these small birds are flying in from the continent and can be seen gathering leaves and mud for their cup-shaped nests. These nests are built in hedgerows. In the coming months blackcaps will feed their young on caterpillars, insects and spiders and can be heard singing loudly as they hop from branch to branch.

    The blackcap’s beautiful song has earned it the coveted title of the Northern Nightingale. We couldn’t agree more!

    Willow warblers have taken up residence down the walk past Lower hide. Commonly mistaken for the chiffchaff, the birds both share a yellow eye stripe and dun colouring. The willow warbler has a slower, deeper, more melodious song. At this time of year they will be making their dome-like nests close to the ground.

    Willow warbler by Sue Tranter (

    Sedge warblers have also been playing their raspy tunes around the site, with chiffchaffs making their joyful song heard from various treetops.

    Watch out for more warblers coming in very soon!

    If you want to learn more about birdsong, why not book yourself onto our International Dawn Chorus Day walk on 4 May for a bright introduction to the most beautiful sounds of spring.

    Posted by Jennifer L

  • 11 April 2014

    Things are hotting up here!

    We've got absolutely glorious weather at the moment! It feels very much like spring, and the wildlife is certainly feeling it too. Our visitors have been noticing springtime behaviour all over the place and sending us pictures of the sights that they've seen.

    This cheeky pair of robins came right up to one lucky visitor to take live meal worms from his hand! They then flew off to their nest to feed them to their hungry brood.   Mr and Mrs robin by Paul Davis

    The nuthatches are certainly getting frisky too. This pair were caught by one visitor in a rather compromising position recently!

      Nuthatches mating by Paul Liley

    We are thrilled that the marsh harrier action is picking up too. Last week's 50th anniversary  blog by our Visitor and Promotions Intern Jenn, showed just how far marsh harriers have come here since they first bred in 1987. We started this year with one male and two females that had over-wintered here. They were then joined a few weeks ago by another male and female. Today's good news is that a fourth female has arrived. Now I know it may not look like the maths add up, but the thing with marsh harrier males is, they will happily have between 1-3 wives, so four females between two males is no problem. Keep an eye out for them displaying over the reedbed.

    Spring migrants are growing in numbers. Willow warblers, blackcaps and chiffchaffs are all being heard around the reserve.  We have had occasional reports of a swallow and the odd house martin, not in any great numbers yet but it won't be long. The sand martins however, are around in bigger flocks. One of our resident bird buffs Kevin, thinks that grasshopper warblers will be showing up over the next few days, so keep your eyes and particularly ears peeled for them. If you're not sure about distinguishing one bird song from another, why not book onto one of our upcoming events. We've got Birdsong for Beginners coming up on both Sunday  20 April and Sunday 25 May. Then there's the International Dawn Chorus Day event on Sunday 4 May.

    The fabulous otters were out and about this morning at Public and Lower hides. Why not pop down with your breakfast early in the morning, or bring a picnic tea and head down there for a chance to see them.

    One of my favourite signs of spring are brimstone butterflies. A large one fluttered past my office window earlier and we have been seeing them all over the reserve. 

    Our largest residents, the red deer will be giving birth in the coming months, so keep an eye out for pregnant hinds (female red deer) coming out to the pool edges and snoozing in the sunshine.


    Posted by Annabel Rushton

  • 9 April 2014

    Ospreys are about!

    We hope you’re sitting down, because we’ve had a visitor which made us weak at the knees.

    On Sunday night at around 6:30 pm, an osprey was seen hunting by Lower hide. It kept a close eye on the water, hovering low before swooping down into the reeds on the right-hand side.

    Ospreys can be easily spotted by their white underside and angled wings in flight. They are large fish-eating raptors and can be seen plummeting down to the surface of a pool, opening their talons and flying up again with a tasty meal.

    Osprey by Phil Boardman

    Ospreys were once extinct due to persecution, but have made a come back  There are areas around the country particularly known for their osprey population, such as Bassenthwaite Lake near Keswick and Loch Garten in Scotland where they regularly breed and give fantastic views of the wide eyries – or nests – which can take up to 21 days to build.

    An osprey was sighted flying north through Leighton Moss in early March but this is the first osprey of the year which chose to stay for its dinner.

    Our wardens will definitely be keeping a lookout for this stunning bird to return. Keep looking at our recent sightings for breaking news!

    Posted by Jennifer L

  • 8 April 2014

    Snow goose? Show off!

    April has arrived and everything is turning out in their numbers just desperate to be noticed.

    The black-headed gulls are making quite a commotion out on Lilian’s pool. Our large flock just keeps on calling! While you might think they’re just a crowd of rabble-rousers, they stay in large flocks to deter predators. So during breeding season the black-headed gulls keep close together – this makes sure that their eggs and chicks are protected by a small bird army.

    We had a surprise visit from a snow goose this weekend. The rare visitor is smaller than your average goose at around 65-75 cm in length (about the size of a pink-footed goose). The uncommon vagrant showed up at Grisedale hide and stayed for the afternoon. It is difficult to know with these birds whether they are genuine or escapees, but lovely to see none-the-less.

    A white goose with grey tail feathers, the snow goose has a short orange beak and orange legs. Confusingly, some have a grey body with a white head, so watch out for them in flocks of other geese where it shelters for some extra protection. We’d gladly welcome it back, and luckily we had some other visitors which caused cameras to start clicking once again...

    Some bar-headed geese sneaked in amongst our flock of greylags at Lilian's pool. Around the size of a bean goose, this bird has two distinctive black bars on its head and face making it easily identifiable in a group.

    Bar-headed goose by Howard Stockdale

    It’s also been the perfect weather for adventurous amphibians this week, with the rain providing some extra ponds to dip their toes into. This common toad refused to budge from its favourite spot, sheltered on all sides by the reeds.

    Photo by Jennifer Lane

    As the breeding season gets underway, we’ll be seeing plenty more frogs and toads around site. They are often fond of a puddle or two, so please make sure you keep an eye out underfoot when walking about the reserve!

    Wildlife loves stopping off at Leighton Moss in spring. Why not make your very own pit stop this Easter holiday: with our exciting events plan, you’ll want to make the most of the outdoors.

    Posted by Jennifer L

  • 2 April 2014

    Bitterns, Bats and Barn Owls - Blimey that's a Brilliant Bedtime

    A couple of weeks a go, we saw two bitterns leave the reserve, on their journey back to their breeding grounds in mainland Europe. They were "gull calling"; the migratory ritual of the bittern.

    Just before dark, on a still, clear evening in early spring, they will get up in the air and circle above the reedbed, making a funny, gull-like call ( They do laps of the reedbed, calling out to let everyone else know "I’m heading home, who else is coming?" If there are any other birds ready to leave, these will join up and they will circle together. They will get higher and higher, calling as they go, then eventually head off east.

      Bittern in flight (David Tipling

    This winter has been relatively mild, and our reduced recordings of bittern activity was thought to be associated with this; less birds needed to migrate to Britain as their own breeding grounds were warm enough. Therefore, when two birds migrated a couple of weeks ago (and one was left booming), we thought that was all we had. Well, last night put pay to that theory...

    I'd been out on the reserve checking bearded tit nest sites (so far we've got 5 nests incubating eggs), and was waiting for it to get dark so I could go out on a fox survey. It wasn't quite dark so wandered along the causeway to see what was around. All along the track pipestrelle bats were hawking the plethora of insects on the wing, and over 200 sand martins were flocking, making shapes like starlings do in the autumn. Then I heard a gull calling bittern! Not only that, but I heard another respond! Obsessed, I ran along to an area clear of trees to see what else I could see. There were three of them, all calling and circling above Public pool. Then I heard more behind me; another three, circling over the southern end of the reserve. All six joined up and did several laps of the whole reedbed, calling constantly, getting higher and higher! I just stood there in absolute awe as they became pinpricks in the sky and disappeared east. Where were all those birds hiding all winter?!

    Just as I was walking back, I heard another odd sound that I couldn’t quite place – it sounded a bit like a barn owl, but why would it be screeching in the middle of the reedbed? Sure enough, I glimpsed the dark shadow of a barn owl quartering the marsh, accompanied by it’s call! I’d never heard that in flight before – I researched it when I got home and apparently it is a territorial call often made in spring time. That makes sense, as a couple of seconds later, I heard a responding call from the other side of the reedbed; two owls were circling me, marking their own territory. Absolutely fantastic! Understandably, I was jumping up and down with excitement, texting anyone I could!

     Barn Owl by John Bridges (

    Yesterday was one of those days where everything happens at once and you realise just how brilliant nature (and this reserve) is – not sure if I can get away with calling this my “job”!


    Posted by Alasdair Grubb

  • 2 April 2014

    Sing your heart out

    Some of us might not have recovered from the clocks springing forward last weekend, but our birds have definitely been making the most of that extra hour of daylight!

    Two Cetti’s warblers have been spotted onsite. Although they might usually prefer to be heard and not seen, the pair have been giving birdwatchers some fantastic shots over the past few days.

    Their favourite spot is the reeds just before Grisedale hide where they occasionally perch in a small tree before diving back down into the reeds again. These small illusive birds were once a rarity in the UK, but since 1973 their numbers have increased and they have gradually spread further north. A bonus for Leighton Moss! They are similar in appearance to the wren with their dun colouring and upright tail-feathers, however look out for a longer more rounded tail to tell the difference between the two.

    (Photograph courtesy of Liz Cutting)

    Known for their short blasts of melodious song, our Cetti’s warblers have been keeping eager listeners on their toes.

    Chiffchaffs are also making themselves heard. Take a stroll over to Public hide and close your eyes – it probably won’t be long before a chiffchaff starts calling its name! It might be early in the season, but it seems like warblers may be making an appearance sooner than expected this year.

    Our scarlet elf cup fungus is blossoming beautifully. Check tree stumps near boggy ground for these magnificent red shapes. We have a variety of violets on the reserve – look out for the small, purple blooms on the walk to Lower hide.

    (Photograph courtesy of Jim Beattie)

    Leighton Moss is really starting to come to life again this spring. Our nestboxes are full of blue tits and noisy nuthatches! Here are some wonderful ways you can give nature a home too over the Easter holidays.

    Posted by Jennifer L

Your sightings

Grid reference: SD4775 (+2km)

Avocet (50)
23 Apr 2014
Bar-tailed Godwit (2)
23 Apr 2014
Spotted Redshank (2)
23 Apr 2014
Black Tern (1)
23 Apr 2014
Whinchat ()
23 Apr 2014
Tawny Owl (1)
20 Apr 2014
Pink-footed Goose (1)
19 Apr 2014
Red-breasted Merganser (2)
19 Apr 2014
Goosander (1)
19 Apr 2014
Cetti's Warbler (1)
19 Apr 2014
Singing/breeding calls heard

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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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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