The long staying juvenile purple heron has attracted a daily audience since its arrival on August 18 with hundreds of visitors making a special journey to see this very scarce and curious member of the heron family. The last record of a purple heron at Leighton Moss was in 1996.

Purple heron in flight by Martyn Jones

Also known as the snake bird because of its very snake like neck posturing, with a partially yellow bill and purple tint, it is the size of a grey heron with what has been described as bittern like habits. It has a tendency to hide more so than the grey heron and stalks its quarry of fish, eels and the occasional small mammal, raising its head to the sky at times like a bittern would to blend into the reeds. Since its arrival visitors have been treated to excellent views daily, principally from Grisedale Hide, where it appears to have settled in nicely and is hunting well. Thank you to Martyn Jones for sending us his cracking shots of the star bird of the moment. It has remained visible and often close to the hide, offering great views every day, although on occasion it has given some visitors the run around only to return to its favoured spot a short time later.

Purple heron in flight by Martyn Jones

Similar to earlier in the year, the number of herons and egrets on the reserve is truly impressive. The purple heron has been joining up to 100 little egrets going to roost in the trees at the north of the reserve and a great egret is back on the scene. This large white egret has been roosting on the reserve and, like its purple cousin, favouring Grisedale Hide to hunt by day. Grey herons are equally great to watch from most hides on the reserve.

In other exciting news we have a confirmed report of a bittern that did a loop over the reedbed, and briefly joined the purple heron in flight, before disappearing to ground into the reeds at Grisedale this week. This is our first confirmed report of a bittern since the spring. Perhaps this bittern is young bird originating from the same area as the purple heron or maybe it’s a UK bird simply moving nice and early into Leighton Moss for the winter?

Other avian visitors to the reserve include a steady migration of ospreys fishing over Causeway Pool and resting in the trees at Lower Hide. Although they don’t tend to stop for long as they make the journey back to their wintering grounds, osprey sightings from visitors continue to feature in our latest sightings book most days. A spate of raptor sightings include a merlin, kestrels and sparrowhawks down at the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides together with hobbies taking advantage of the roosting sand martins on the main reserve during the late evenings. One or two marsh harriers remain faithful to the site and may be seen anywhere on the reserve. Peregrines, particularly during early mornings, are quite active of late at the saltmarsh, with some great sightings possible as wader numbers build.

Female marsh harrier by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com) 

Important notice. We have contractors joining our fantastic warden team working on long awaited repair work to the Eric Morecambe Pool for the duration of the week with work due to stop during the first week in September. The work will enable us to repair the damage to the embankment caused by strong winter tidal surges so that the pool retains water and water levels can be controlled and managed to create the best conditions for birds. During this essential work on the pools it is expected that disturbance will temporarily push most of the waders away on to the Allen Pool. Some are likely to find alternative feeding and roosting opportunities on the reserve too at Grizedale or the stone island in front of the Causeway Hide. Please plan your visit accordingly and bear with us whilst we undertake essential reserve improvements. Early mornings may prove fruitful if you visit before 9am. All the hides remain open as usual.

As a round up I will end on wader sightings. Following work on the pools 16 greenshank were spotted on the island from Causeway Hide recently. A spotted redshank put in an appearance with hundreds of common redshank plus several ruff, black-tailed godwits and occasional green sandpipers have been seen down at the coastal hides. Over 1000 lapwing together with starlings and congregations of swallows have been using the fields visible from the entrance of the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides car park. Kingfishers are being reported on the reserve and at the coast.

Starling by Ged Gill

At this time of year anything can move through and some may stay whilst others like redstarts may be a literal windfall on your next visit, as was reported by one of our visitors. Duck numbers remain low and are best encountered from Causeway and Lower hides. A few pochard and the first small groups of teal have arrived back and gadwall are moulting back into their smart feather finery.

Be sure to visit and spend some time at Grisedale Hide where much of the action seems to be!

 

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