Here's a sightings blog from the Leighton Moss senior site manager, Jarrod Sneyd.
What an exciting time of year! Now is the cross-over of wintering birds with the signs of spring coming. Our ‘bellowing sign of spring’ is the amazing early season booming of bitterns. Absolutely incredible. We’ve always known that the vigour and frequency of booming relates to the amount of competition – the more the merrier! When there was just a single male here for a few years (and no nesting females!), the male bittern would start to cough and splutter towards late Feb/early March. It never really boomed that well and didn’t carry on for that long through the season (they can boom into early July). Well, like last year, 2024 has seen our bitterns starting to boom in January (27th was our first record) and at the time of writing (09/02) we’re getting some amazing high-quality notes out of them. Not only that, but without any serious monitoring, we ‘ve already identified four boomers at Leighton Moss (different locations and different pitches). For all those new to bitterns and Leighton Moss, a bittern boom is a male birds declaration of territory, attracting females and warning off other males. The sound is like blowing over the top of a milk bottle except that it’s very loud and sometimes can be heard 3-4 km away. They’ve been heard in Silverdale village close to the shore! Last year we had 5 males at Leighton Moss but as they go from strength to strength ( 4 nesting females in 2023) who knows how many will bellow across the bog this year?!
Bittern in flight (J Sneyd)
Other signs of spring are with us. Snow drops next to our office and song thrushes vocal around the reserve. Has anyone heard any drumming great-spotted woodpeckers yet? Any day now.
But there are plenty of other birds telling us it’s still winter. There have been waxwings in and around the district in the last couple of months. Unfortunately, they’ve not been around Arnside Silverdale much this year, but a small group did turn up in our car park on Jan 14th.
Waxwings taken at Arnside in late Nov but could easily be the same birds! (J Sneyd)
Plenty of pink-footed geese sightings, with big numbers moving around on 12/01, for example and a couple of hundred around Warton Marsh/Slag tips on 26/01.
Wintering duck numbers remain good and even with the recent high water levels, parts of the main reserve (Lilians, Jackson and Grisedale pools) have been great for watching wildfowl. Rough numbers of wildfowl on the main reserve have been 100-150 shoveler, 150-180 gadwall, 250-300+ teal. Tufted duck peaked at 94, joined for much of the period by a Ring-necked duck (still around at the time of writing) with Lilians pool being favoured. Goldeneye numbers have peaked over 30, with the majority being females, though with up to at least 4 males. Wigeon and pintail numbers have been relatively low on the main reserve (handfuls) but in the hundreds down at the Allen and Eric Morecambe pools, where there have also been the odd red-breasted merganser and goosander.
Ring-necked duck (J Sneyd)
Of course, we all know there has been some stormy weather lately – and things end up getting wind-blown. A guillemot on Lilians pool on 26th Jan was a brief delight.
As for roosting birds, starlings have proved variably spectacular, some days delighting with wonderful sky patterns and other days less so; some days predictable (as the night before) and close by (nr the Skytower) and other days choosing to roost away from the crowds! Numbers have been between 50 and 100,000. It varies from year to year, but they can keep roosting into March in some years.
Starlings nr the Skytower (J Sneyd)
Of course, other birds coming into roost don’t get quite the same attention but there are still little egret and great egret going into roost near Island Mere in the evenings. Of course, you’ll see these birds here, there and everywhere on the reserve during the day. It was nice to walk into Jackson hide on Jan 26th to see 3 feeding close by to the right of the hide. Also, great views of groups of snipe from there and on Lilians pool too, through most of the period.
Snipe on Lilians (J Sneyd)
Don’t forget lots of brilliant marsh harrier activity, potential for merlin (especially down at the Allen and Eric Morecambe pools) (worth seeing if the turnstone that’s been hanging around is still there too). …. And finally, passerines from treecreeper to siskin continue to delight with a stonechat hanging around occasionally like the bird seen nr Jackson hide on January 27th