Hello readers, the Leighton Moss team would like to wish you all a happy New Year and another great year of wildlife watching experiences! Speaking of experiences, RSPB Leighton Moss is off to a flying start in terms of bird and other wildlife sightings. So without further ado, here is the first recent sightings roundup of 2019.

Leading the 2019 spectacle charge is our fantastic starling population. There is currently an estimated 100,000 starlings going to roost. For the past couple of evenings the starlings have been favouring the north of the reserve with visitors being able to enjoy the murmuration from the Causeway and Lower hides.

Starling murmuration. Photo credit: David Kjaer

New Year’s Day saw an excellent start to the year with bittern sightings being recorded from the Causeway Hide. The Leighton Moss team have estimated that there are currently six bitterns on the reserve so there will be many opportunities to spot these wonderful, elusive species. There have been daily bittern sightings every day since New Year’s Eve.

Also kicking off New Year's Day (and people’s lists) were sightings of the great grey shrike. After an absence of sightings, the great grey shrike had excellent timing and made itself visible for visitors once again. This suggests that the bird has remained in the area, but has been exceptionally elusive! Given the large territory of the bird, this is not unexpected.

Another returning rarity is the drake American wigeon who has been sighted from the Eric Morecambe Pool among his European counterparts. Look out for his lovely creamy white crown stripe and green eye mask. 

Marsh harrier sightings have also been spectacular. There are up to six marsh harriers wintering with us and visitors have sighted them from various locations. With their tendency to soar across the reedbed there is a great chance of seeing them on your next visit.

I should also mention a recent sighting of bearded tits on the causeway grit trays on Tuesday 2 January. Whilst we are out of gritting season, the bearded tits do have to top up every now and then so with a bit of luck you may see a pair gritting or flitting between the reedbed stems. 

One other elusive secretive resident we have here is the water rail. Water rails have been sighted from various locations including the path to Lilian’s Hide and the dyke which runs parallel to the path towards Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. In addition a water rail has been sighted in the trees in the willow scrub habitat on the way to Tim Jackson Hide. Often this is a habitat which is overlooked, but willow scrub is an excellent natural flood defense and provides a mature, moss and lichen rich habitat for multiple species.

Water rail. Photo credit: Mike Malpass.

There is an excellent variety of smaller bird species at Leighton Moss to find including: treecreepers, nuthatches, chaffinches, bullfinches, siskins, goldcrests, marsh tits and the occasional Cetti’s warbler. Some of our smaller birds you do not need to find as they will come to you, especially the robins, blue tits and great tits! Two rarer visitors to look out for include the lovely brambling and handsome stonechat.

Wader and waterfowl numbers continue to be excellent across the reserve. There is currently a huge number of lapwings at the saltmarsh pools with smaller numbers of black-tailed godwit. Other waders to look out for at the saltmarsh include: curlew, oystercatcher, redshank, greenshank and little egrets. Waterfowl to spot include wigeon, shelduck, goosander and red-breasted merganser

On the main site, there is a variety of waterfowl species spread across the reserve. Causeway Pool is the favoured spot for the goldeneye and is often the pool where whooper swans will alight when visiting. Causeway Hide is also a great place to see sizeable groups of tufted ducks, teal, pintail, shoveler, gadwall and the humble mallard. These species of waterfowl can also be seen from Lower Hide, Lilian’s Hide and Grisedale Hide too.

Female goldeneye. Photo credit: Ben Hall.

Grisedale Hide and Tim Jackson Hide continue to be excellent places to spot snipe and the occasional great white egret. The cousin of the great white egret, the grey heron, can be seen from multiple locations but Lilian’s Pool is a great place to spot them.

Moving onto mammals, there have been almost daily otter sightings since New Year’s Eve from the Causeway and Lower hides. The otters have provided some wonderful fishing spectacles as of late, with several sightings being pretty close to the hides.

One final note, are you and your family getting ready for the 2019 Big Garden Birdwatch? This year Big Garden Birdwatch will run from from Saturday 26 January to Monday 28 January.  The Big Garden Birdwatch is crucial for us to understand what is happening to our bird and wildlife species and it is so inclusive – people of all abilities can take part! It is one of the best cases of citizen science in the country with everyone’s data contributing. If you have not done so already, you can sign up online here and look forward to a great hour of birding. 

Naomi, visitor experience intern. 

  • I have had some very nice sightings over Christmas and the New Year Naomi, and I now see you can add pictures to your reply so watch out I will be posting some of mine :) and a happy New Year to you and all at RSPB Leighton Moss.