I have the great pleasure of handing this week's blog over to Naomi Wadsworth, a new Visitor Experience Intern at Leighton Moss. Here she is in her own words, introducing herself and updating you on recent sightings:
Hello bloggers! My name is Naomi and I suppose you could say I’m the new kid on the reserve. I am overjoyed to be spending the next 6 months supporting the RSPB Leighton Moss team as your new Visitor Experience Intern, where I will be following in the footsteps of a long line of fantastic interns. I look forward to meeting many of you!
Naomi Wadsworth, new Visitor Experience Intern at Leighton Moss
This summer I graduated from the University of Edinburgh in Sustainable Development with Sociology. Growing up in the Lake District and then the Trossachs fostered a deep appreciation and love for our landscapes and wildlife. As I learned more about the threats nature faces, I resolved to pursue a degree which would aid me in my desire to protect that which I love.
During my time at university I joined the Sustainable Development Association and assisted with the organisation and facilitation of successful events such as sustainability question time and a sustainability conference. I also worked as a student tutor for two years, helping students in younger years in my degree, improve their understanding and course grades. I was also part of a student group who started our own vegetable garden on campus, where different seasonal produce continues to be grown and shared.
Last summer I had the privilege of volunteering at RSPB Loch Garten on Operation Osprey. I fell in love with the magnificent raptors and whilst I never saw EJ, Loch Garten’s star osprey (who has recently turned 21), I was moved by her story and the conservation efforts of the RSPB to bring ospreys back from extinction. Loch Garten offered lots of amazing wildlife encounters with the crested tits, Scottish crossbills, a white-tailed eagle and red squirrels! I also thoroughly enjoyed working in the visitor centre with such a dedicated team. I discovered bringing both adults and children closer to nature and igniting new interests was so personally satisfying that I realised that it was what I wanted to pursue as a career. This led me to apply for an internship with the RSPB and here I am. Admittedly, I have much to learn when it comes to our wildlife, but what better place to learn than that of a leading reserve with a fantastic, knowledgeable team? Already I have been present for some wonderful spectacles and first sightings: the female marsh harrier swept across the reedbed on my first evening at the reserve, and a friendly pair of marsh tits and I were subject to the down-draft of hundreds of black-tailed godwits' wings as they flew to roost.
During my internship I will be keeping you updated on news, events and activities. Whilst here I hope to advance the great work undertaken at this leading reserve and encourage further charitable support. My personal aim (besides developing my skill set) is to reconnect people with nature and empower them because together we can give nature a home. You’ll most likely find me in the centre where I’ll offer you a warm welcome, or on the reserve assisting with other activities such as guided walks and school visits. I may even organise new activities for you to enjoy – perhaps something sustainability related? My first large project involves organizing the Leighton Moss Christmas market so watch this space! One final key role I have is keeping you updated on sightings and oh my! What a week of action we have had here so hold onto your tail feathers, if the weather forecast is right it’s about to get bumpy!
Stepping into autumn’s cooler embrace we can expect to welcome a multitude of various wader and wildfowl species arriving at Leighton Moss throughout the upcoming weeks. The water levels on the main site have more than recovered after one of the hottest summers on record, and for the previous few weeks the main action has been sighted at Lilian’s and Causeway pools.
At Lilian’s pool is a flock of black-tailed godwits, with the number of birds present altering daily. There are a few individuals who remain in their summer plumage, to the delight of the various raptors who frequent the area. This colony number may very well increase as these Icelandic birds migrate to the UK for the upcoming winter. Amongst this substantial group of waders are a modest number of redshanks (our sightings book suggest 127 so far) with smaller numbers of spotted redshanks, greenshanks and the occasional ruff, knot and dunlin also present. A family of water rails continues to frequent Lilian’s, with a juvenile being sighted almost daily scampering in front of the hide, and many others are present on site, so with a little time and patience you may sight these secretive birds, particularly around Causeway. Garganey, gadwall and shoveler ducks continue to be sighted at Lilian’s, and one female marsh harrier remains at the main site, sighted flying around the main reserve and stirring up trouble at the Allen pool.
Pintail, by Ben Hall
At Causeway, new arrivals and frequent visitors have been treating visitors daily. Kingfisher sightings have been reported with increasing occurrence. The great white egret population has grown to as many as 6 (depending on the day) but have been sighted in the wider AONB. A fantastic territory battle took place last week between a grey heron and great white egret, with the grey heron chasing the great white egret for several minutes. This was an exciting aerial display to witness, as the large bodies of these birds belies their grace and aerial skill, with both birds occasionally skimming the water. Other species include cormorants, teals, pochards and other wildfowl arriving for the winter are also causing a splash. Causeway in particular has been an excellent place to spot numbers of pintails and wigeons.
Over the past week there have been some very exciting unexpected arrivals at Leighton Moss too. For the first time this year, a drake common scoter was found at Causeway. This all-black diving seaduck is an interesting anomaly, but not unheard of, and a consequence of the recent strong westerly winds. Whilst common scoters do breed in-land, they are an infrequent visitor to the reserve. There was also a common tern spotted at Causeway (pictured below) whose aerial skills delighted our visitors. This photogenic bird put on an excellent show, and like the common scoter is not a frequent visitor. Most recently, a guillemot was recorded at Allen pool on 13 September, another blink and you’ll miss it moment unfortunately. There is the potential for more unexpected rare visitors however, as the tail winds of hurricane Florence may very well send some more migrant and sea birds off course.
Common tern, by Mark Wilson
Our resident mammals are also treating visitors to wonderful sightings. With rutting season approaching, increasing numbers of red deer hinds and stags are being sighted from Grisedale hide. I have enjoyed watching these magnificent creatures patrol their land at dusk, with the evening lighting adding to their aesthetic appeal. Otters continue to be spotted from the causeway hide at various times of day, with some remarkable hunting trips being viewed. Stoats have also made brief appearances along the causeway footpath. Such a wonderful variety of wildlife highlights to great and ongoing work undertaken at RSPB Leighton Moss and is a testament to the dedication of the reserve team.
Autumn has arrived at Leighton Moss, and promises a period of cool transformation following one of the hottest summers on record. In the coming months the intrigue and enticement of migration movements through Morecambe Bay and the main sight itself will be realised in the dramatic increase in wintering waterfowl and wader numbers. There has been an unbroken continuity to much of the wildlife activity on the reserve, outlined in my previous blog, which nevertheless includes some exceptional natural spectacles. Substantial flocks of waders (black-tailed godwits, redshanks, or lapwings) still engage in their cycles of alighting, dwelling, and departing - occasionally prompted by a peregrine - and confront visitors with nature's magnitude. Bird roosts are still a treasure to watch, notably 90 little egrets and now 3 great white egrets at Island Mere, and the evening cormorants in the willow tree at Grisedale (whose dead branches jutting skyward provide perfect parapets for over 30 of them). The cyclone of swallows and sand martins at Lilian's and Causeway, particularly at the close of day, are still entrancing. Visitors can continue to expect a modest gathering of greenshank on the island, and great crested and little grebes in the mere, at Causeway. Generally, Grisedale and Tim Jackson have been quieter of late, but are still an excellent place to anticipate red deer, and green sandpipers have briefly sojourned here in the past couple of weeks.
Roosting cormorants, by Richard Cousens
There have been noteworthy developments in bird activity witnessed on the reserve in the past couple of weeks. Our beloved marsh harriers appear to have dispersed from the site after a very successful breeding season (with two successful broods totaling 6 fledged juveniles), yet, for the time being, an adult pair remain at Causeway. There are now 3 ruff on Lilian's pool, with 2 spotted redshank seen here at times but also at Grisedale and Tim Jackson, all these birds being in adult winter plumage. There have been good views of a water rail chick at Lilian's too, dabbling and scampering around on the left hand side of the island close to the hide, with parents close by - other water rails can, with patience, be glimpsed outside Causeway and Lower. Up to 5 garganey now reside at Lilian's, a couple drakes in eclipse among other female and juvenile birds; very occasionally a spontaneous, unanticipated outburst from Cetti's warbler happens around the Causeway. Kingfisher sightings have been reported from Lower hide and from the coastal hides, and another solo bird, a lone common tern, has afforded great views of itself circling in front of Lower hide and perching on the wooden posts out in the water, perhaps beside a grey heron, black-headed gull or cormorant. So if you spot a common tern from Lower hide, be assured it's not a plastic one!
Juvenile water rail, by Mike Malpass
On the 27th August, there were four ospreys seen together on the saltmarsh, with one actually venturing into the Eric Morecambe pool. Visitors caught sight of one attempting to deal with a huge seabass that it had landed. One or two ospreys have continued to visit Causeway, and though we can expect a declining frequency in their visits (with the young at Foulshaw Moss having fledged and preparations being made for southward migration) visitors still have every chance of spotting these marvellous raptors, perhaps with a little fortitude. Similarly, otters have made some remarkable appearances at Causeway of late. On the first day of the month, three individuals were spotted moving in the mere between Lower and Causeway hides. The previous Thursday one voracious individual spent an hour or so hunting in front of Causeway hide, and twice, having deftly obtained an eel, proceeded to devour it on the wooden island in full view of a captive audience, prompting a frenzy of elation.
Finally, a handsome anomaly was discovered at Lilian's hide a couple of days ago, and seen again at Causeway the following day - a leucistic greenshank! Leucism is a pigmentation condition in birds which entails an apparent bleaching of plumage. This results in the striking and somewhat ghostly appearance exhibited by birds such as this individual.
Shot of a leucistic greenshank (centre), taken by Matthew Smith
Since it can never be emphasised enough, I will say that this stunning variety in birds, not to say anything of the other wildlife on the reserve, reiterates the splendid job done by the RSPB Leighton Moss staff and volunteers, to conserve a special place which is vital and thoroughly appealing to wildlife,
Rain and wind have continued to assist the recovery of water onto areas of Leighton Moss and the wider reserve this past week. Myers’ Dyke is running once again, and the Eric Morecambe Pool, which had endured a considerable dearth of water up to the 13 August, was finally somewhat rejuvenated by a high tide and gale that evening. This weather, however, and this general time of year – sandwiched between the breeding season and migratory activity – means visitors should expect a marked inconstancy to the presence of birds. Nevertheless this amplifies what is always true and charming about nature here at Leighton Moss and everywhere: it is unpredictable, and retains a capacity to surprise and astonish us.
Redshank flock, by David Griffin
This is especially true for birds of the bay. Hundreds of redshank and lapwing are usually present on the pools, and a little over 400 black-tailed godwits are often at Barrow Scout (with these species found regularly in smaller numbers on central islands of Leighton Moss meres), but are liable to spontaneous departures and returns - as J. A Baker reflects, to the mind of the wader "there is only the impulse, like the tide drawn out by the moon". Smaller waders are similarly in permanent flux, though visitors have every chance of seeing ringed plover, greenshank, knot, green sandpiper, a lone male ruff and dozens of dunlin. It is also worth anticipating visits from a juvenile peregrine which has taken to scanning this area of late, occasionally flushing up the flocks of lapwings.
This week's highlights on the reserve include: 3 garganey may be spotted from Lilian’s Hide dozing on the central island - being in eclipse plumage, they pose a challenge to birders attempting to single them out from the hundreds of mallard and gadwall in a similar state of moult. These have been rejoined by a small unit of tufted ducks. Little grebes have been abundant, with up to 30 birds, many being juveniles, distributed across Causeway and Lillian’s pools, indicating a very fruitful breeding season. Hobby activity continues to excite our visitors, and up to two birds at varying times may be found hunting or contentedly perching on dead branches at Grisedale, Lilian’s and Causeway hides. Very recently a handful of people have caught sight of the cobalt flash of a kingfisher at Causeway Hide. Well over 100 coot and 30 mute swans remain here. In the evenings, 2 great white egrets (whose massive frames might be noted perching in trees at Causeway through the day) and in excess of 90 little egrets amass onto Island Mere to roost; similarly, over 30 cormorants gather to rest at Grisedale, which remains a prime location for troops of snipe. Vigilance could reward the astute visitor with an otter sighting from Causeway or Lower hides. Though they refuse to be seen most of the time, there are large flocks of warblers moving about the reedbed feeding themselves in preparation for their looming departure. For raptor enthusiasts, Warton Crag is as always an excellent visit, with regular views of the nesting peregrines as well as a high chance of buzzards, kestrels and sparrowhawks.
Great white egret, by Mike Malpass
Turbulent weather gives a vast murmurous voice and undulating form to the reeds of Leighton Moss, which is not merely ample compensation for a quiet day in terms of birds but a reminder of how unique this habitat is. These winds exaggerate the movements of sand martins and swallows to the gestures of a tornado: surging across the waters of the meres, rocketing up, spiralling down. Evenings see these hirundines in a mania of motion before calming to roost, and it is easy to be convinced these birds are filled with the delight of flight.
It was a great weekend for events: Going Batty took place on Saturday, with local bat expert Gail Armstrong giving a comprehensive introduction to these charismatic creatures, looking at global curiosities as well as our precious local species. Despite rain undermining hopes for bat detection Gail gave a thoroughly enjoyable and informative talk, and as always the rescue bats she brought with her were fascinating to all present. There are still a handful of places on the Going Batty events taking place this Saturday 18 and next Sunday 26 August, so if you're mad about bats book now!
A very successful Ringing and Singing event took place on Sunday. Despite uncertain weather a fine walk was concluded with over 60 birds ringed, giving attendees the rare chance of getting close to reed warblers, willow warblers, chiffchaffs and swallows. The next event will take place on Saturday 22 September, and due to its popularity booking as soon as possible is also highly recommended.