While there are still a few bearded tits entertaining the crowds as they visit the trays, I think it's fair to say that 'gritting season' is certainly coming to an end. As we'd expect by the beginning of November fewer bearded tits are being seen gathering grit and they become increasingly, typically elusive once more. As always, if you hope to see these dazzling reedbed dwellers, morning is best (as with almost all birds) and avoid coming on days that are windy or very wet.

Should you have missed this year's gritting activity, don't despair as these birds will still be present through the winter and can, with patience and luck, often be encountered in the reeds along the Causeway or on the path to Grisedale . Learn their distinctive call and you'll be in with a good chance of finding your own 'beardies'! Keep up to date with sightings by checking our Facebook group. Photo of bearded tit by David Mower.

Thanks to all of the photographers and birdwatchers who have passed on their information regarding colour-ringed bearded tits - this information is invaluable in the study of these rare birds and helps us better understand, and consequently conserve, them. There is still plenty of time to email us your observations. Please send ring combination info to johnwilson711@btinternet.com

Just as the bearded tit bonanza draws to a close so too does the red deer rut. Once the stags have asserted their authority and gathered their harem, things rapidly quieten down on the reserve. It takes a lot of effort and energy to bellow and challenge other male deer so once the need to do so is over the dominant animals wind down and concentrate on the serious jobs of mating and relaxing. The deer will still be seen from time to time as they stray from the sanctuary of the reed beds so it's always worth keeping an eye out.

As winter continues to creep ever near, we also see the arrival of two Leighton Moss specialities; bitterns and marsh harriers. As most readers of this blog will know both these species breed here during the summer. Research has shown that young bitterns usually disperse in their first autumn and these birds are replaced by bitterns arriving from further afield. As a consequence, we can have many more bitterns on the reserve in winter giving visiting birders the opportunity to see them at any point on the site - cold, icy conditions can often be ideal for seeing these cryptic herons as they emerge from the reeds.

Following a successful nesting season our breeding marsh harriers and their young departed in late summer; some of these will have migrated to southern Europe or Africa while others stay here in the UK. Last winter we had five marsh harriers spend the winter months with us and already this year eight have turned up; it would be fascinating to know where these individuals spent the summer months!

 Other highlights in recent days include a couple of spoonbills which touched-down on the Eric Morecambe Pools on Wednesday (and are still present at time of writing), continued sporadic reports of hen harrier, a well-watched red kite, the very unseasonal garganey and the pair of scaup at Lilian's. Added to this of course is the annual arrival of lots of wildfowl with numbers changing on a daily basis. Cetti's warblers (photo by Mike Malpass) are becoming increasingly vocal and birds may be heard just about anywhere on the reserve.

As many of you will know, Leighton Moss hosts multiple school, college and university visits throughout the year. Engaging with young people is absolutely essential for the future of nature conservation and we are committed to connecting children and young adults to nature through learning. Here our Learning Officer Carol Bamber summarises the year so far... 

End of a busy season with high praise

It’s been another successful summer at Leighton Moss for school, university and youth group visits. Since April the team have delivered outdoor learning sessions to 70 groups, engaging with over 2,250 participants – that’s a lot of pond dipping, minibeast safaris, Living Things and their Habitats trails and sensory walks, as well as discovering brilliant birds, plus lectures and guided walks to degree-level students.

 Here are some recent quotes from participating group leaders:

‘What a wonderful day we’ve all had! So much learning that could never have happened inside the classroom.’ Reception class teacher

‘This has been an incredible child-led experience. You have ticked so many curriculum objectives in a very hands-on way.’ Year 3 class teacher

‘Thank you so much for the session. It was just right for our first visit.’ Specialist School teacher

‘As always, this was an excellent trip. Lots to see – pupils interested and engaged.’ Year 8 science teacher

‘Brilliant introduction to the RSPB and the wider conservation industry. Related well to the students’ aspirations.’ University lecturer

‘A really good evening and very engaging activities provided for the group.’ Cub Scouts leader

Wow! 99% of respondents on our evaluation forms rated our educational offer as ‘very good’ or ‘outstanding’. It’s a massive team effort, we thoroughly enjoy what we do and we appreciate the urgent need, now more than ever, to connect people of all ages with wildlife and the great outdoors in a fun and interactive way. 

If you are interested in booking an educational visit to Leighton Moss at any time of year, please contact Carol on (01524) 703015 or carol.bamber@rspb.org.uk

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