This coming weekend (January 26-28) will see up to half a million people taking part in one of the world's biggest 'citizen science' initiatives: the Big Garden Birdwatch. 2019 marks the 40th year since this nationwide bird-count was launched and the data gathered has helped paint a picture of the well-being of some of our most familiar bird species. 

Here at Leighton Moss we've been gearing up for the Big Garden Birdwatch, giving advice on feeding garden birds as well as hosting activities to help encourage more people to take part. If you haven't yet registered, please do so - your sightings, however insignificant as they may sometimes seem, really do provide our scientists with invaluable information. Find out more about the Big Garden Birdwatch here and see how you can join in the fun.

Back on the reserve, winter continues to provide a few challenges for our wildlife. The drop in temperature over recent days saw notable freezing on many of the pools and as a consequence, a change in the behaviour of some of our birds. The shallower meres were suddenly bereft of wildlfowl while the deeper, more open areas positively teemed with ducks, coots and other aquatic species. The otters didn't seem the slightest bit bothered and could be seen scampering across the ice in between bouts of active fishing. Water rails and bitterns are often more inclined to show themselves during these conditions though it has to be said, neither species has been terribly elusive so far this winter with many visitors getting brilliant views, and as the Leighton Moss Facebook group page will testify, great photos too! 

 Something else our visitors can't have failed to notice just lately are the palls of smoke often seen rising from the depths of the reserve. Our wardening team have been out in all conditions, improving the state of the reed bed, creating large open areas that will benefit many of our specialist residents. This often involves setting fire to large mounds of cut reed, which can seem quite alarming when viewed from the footpaths!  Expanding on the work that helped encourage bitterns to nest here again in 2018, this clearing and burning creates ideal breeding and feeding habitat for these enigmatic birds.

This work will also help many of our other reed dwellers such as bearded tit by creating more diverse foraging and nesting sites within the expansive reed beds.   

Recent sightings include the often frustrating great grey shrike near Lower Hide. This scarce visitor from the far north does a fantastic job of being erratic in its appearances, often going unseen for days at a time. With patience and luck however, it will give itself up, albeit often briefly. Great white egrets continue to impress and up to 4 birds have been present recently, ranging anywhere from the Eric Morecambe Pools to Lower Hide. The coastal pools have been excellent for large gatherings of lapwing and black-tailed godwits along with wigeon, teal and pintail

Marsh harriers have been exceedingly active of late, with 6 birds still doing the rounds. It's hard to believe that just a few years ago a single wintering marsh harrier would have been exceptional, but as our winters become increasingly milder and the breeding numbers of these once rare birds of prey increase we can expect to host multiple birds all year round. 

If you want to know what's being spotted at Leighton Moss on a daily basis, don't forget to check the Facebook group, Twitter feed or the Lancaster & District Birdwatching Society website.    

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager