Caspian tern by David Talbot

There was a fair sprinkling of excitement, mixed with a little dash of frustration on the reserve yesterday (21 June). The cause of this emotional buffet was a Caspian tern, a rare visitor to the UK.

News came out on Tuesday evening that the scarce bird had been seen over the southern part of Leighton Moss and heading toward Causeway Pool at around 6.15pm.

By early morning Wednesday a few dedicated local birders had set up a welcoming committee and were duly rewarded when the large, distinctive tern reappeared. It showed well for the assembled group as it actively fished in front of the Causeway Hide before departing around 9.45am.

Caspian tern by David Talbot

From then on it played a game of cat and mouse, making brief visits to the same area every two hours or so. It soon became apparent that it was flying in from the direction of Jenny Brown’s Point, over the southern part of the reserve past Lillian’s Hide and heading straight to the Causeway Pool. It would catch a fish or two and then fly back out in the direction from which it had come.

The last reported sighting was at 8.10pm.

Thankfully most birdwatchers who were on the reserve during the day managed to catch up with it but despite a promising early rumour and a lot of optimism the Caspian tern failed to return on Thursday.

The last Caspian tern to be seen at Leighton Moss was in July 2005. Oddly, it followed a similar pattern to this week’s bird in that it was also first sighted in an evening; it too was a one-day-wonder, spending the following day on the Eric Morecambe Pools after which it departed.

Meanwhile, two spoonbills continued to be seen regularly on the pool to the south of the Eric Morecambe Pools while marsh harriers, avocets and bearded tits have been reported daily. A wood sandpiper dropped by on Wednesday and ospreys have been seen regularly around Lower and Causeway Pools.

Warblers, including grasshopper and Cetti’s are still singing away in various parts of the reserve while the number of sand martins and swifts hawking low over the pools has been steadily rising in recent days.

The ever popular otters have been putting in regular appearances, mainly at Causeway Pool where great crested grebe and little grebe families are also doing their best to solicit 'ahhhhs' from many visitors.

As many wader species start to return from their northern breeding grounds and young birds of all types begin to disperse, the next few weeks could see plenty of change at Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay nature reserve. Who knows, maybe we'll be visited by something even rarer than a Caspian tern?   

Jon Carter