MARVELOUS MARSH TITS @ RSPB LEIGHTON MOSS

On Saturday I paid a visit to RSPB Leighton Moss which is a superb nature reserve located at Silverdale in Lancashire on the edge of Morecambe Bay. It was opened by the RSPB in 1964 and contains the largest area of reed beds in the north west of England and provides habitats for many species of wildlife such as Bitterns, Bearded Tits, Marsh Harriers and Red Deer.


In 1822 the Moss became the possession of Richard Gillow who drained the site for agriculture, but by 1918 the land was flooded again and the area was used for duck shooting. The RSPB initially leased the land and then purchased it from the Leighton Hall estate. There are seven hides and a sky tower which gives spectacular views over the reserve. One of these hides is named after the comedian Eric Morecambe and in 2013 and 2014 Leighton Moss hosted the BBC's Autumnwatch programme.


It was a cold, but bright sunny day with clear blue skies overhead when I arrived at Leighton Moss and after a quick drink and look at the sightings board I headed across to the feeders near the visitor centre. From here I saw Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinches, Robins, Dunnocks, Long Tailed Tits, Coal Tits, House Sparrows, Blackbirds, Marsh Tits and a single Nuthatch. There were also Mallards waddling along the ground hoovering up the scraps dropped from the feeders above and as I left I saw a Treecreeper inching its way up a tree trunk on the far side.

I now headed onto the Lower trail for a short distance before turning onto the Reed-edge trail and the boardwalk that takes you across to the causeway to re-join the Lower trail. Half way along the boardwalk I spotted a Marsh Tit and Coal Tit taking it in turns to land on a wooden post where seeds had been left before then dropping down onto the boardwalk and then flying up into the trees. Whilst I was watching this, I could hear the distinctive call of a Cetti’s Warbler calling from somewhere within the reedbeds. After making several trips, both the Coal Tit and Marsh Tit flew off along the boardwalk and into the trees.


About a hundred yards later I reached the causeway and as I turned to the right another Marsh Tit was moving through the trees. A little further along on my right is a small wooden platform where during late autumn and into winter Bearded Tits can be seen feeding from three grit trays used to help their digestion during the colder months. Sadly, it was the wrong time of year and the Bearded Tits did not show up, but as a Marsh Harrier soared over the reedbeds in the distance another Marsh Tit landed in a tree just to my right before flying just a couple of feet over my head, briefly pausing in another tree and then continuing along the edge of the reeds.


Not much further along the trail is the Causeway Hide where several years ago I saw my first ever Great White Egret and it is also where, if you are lucky, Otters can be seen. Sadly, on this occasion there were no Otters but I did see Tufted Ducks, Pochards, Shovelers, Wigeons, Mute Swans, Cormorants, Mallards and a pair of Coots fighting close to the hide. I continued along the causeway to where it reaches a tall line of trees and here, I turned left, walking through the trees where I saw several Blue Tits, Robins, Great Tits, Pheasants and yet more Marsh Tits.

After a few hundred yards the path turns sharply to the left and leads you into the reeds to the Lower Hide. There is a vast expanse of water, surrounded by reeds in front of this hide and out on the water were Coots, Mallards, Teals, Great Black Backed Gulls, Tufted Ducks and four Goldeneyes which were constantly diving for food. Just in front of the hide were a couple of sleeping Mute Swans and swimming across the water from the left was another Mute Swan displaying aggressively as it neared the two sleeping Swans. Eventually it reached the two Mute Swans leaving the water and after a few moments it began to attack one of the Swans until it got up and moved off into the water.


Over to my right I could see several Teals at the edge of the water and hidden amongst an area of chopped down reeds were at least half a dozen Snipes asleep. As it was now approaching midday, I left the hide and began to make my way back towards the visitor centre for lunch. I had not gone very far when I saw a Marsh Tit feeding from a lady’s hand and not much further along was another Marsh Tit making regular visits to a bench where seeds had been left. There were also several Robins in the trees as I returned to the causeway path with one perched on a wooden fence post looking rather windswept.


As I walked along the causeway, I saw a couple of Reed Buntings in the reeds and a Marsh Harrier flying overhead with the sound of Cetti’s Warblers singing nearby. Eventually I reached the visitor centre where I paid a visit to the café upstairs for lunch before heading out on to the Garden and Family Trails. After lunch I made a quick visit to the feeders where there were several Long-Tailed Tits, Blue Tits and House Sparrows whilst flitting through the bushes was a Goldcrest. I now walked the short distance onto the Garden Trail and to Lillian’s Hide where, close to hide, I could see Scarlet Elfcup fungi growing on the ground.

I now sat down in Lillian’s Hide where over to my left I could see Teals, Shovelers, Mallards, Coots, Pintails and a duck which was a cross between a Shoveler and a Cinnamon Teal. Over to my right were Teals, Coots and a little further off a single Snipe, whilst out on the water were several Black Headed Gulls and a trio of Great Black Backed Gulls and a pair of Lesser Black Backed Gulls. I left the hide and headed onto the Family Trail, dodging a trio of Mallards which had taken to sleeping on the path. The trail follows a line of trees at the edge of the reedbed for around two or three hundred yards before taking a ninety degree turn to the left and heading out into the reeds towards the Grisedale and Tim Jackson Hides.


After a short distance the path splits in two the righthand path taking you to the Tim Jackson Hide, I took the lefthand path and continued on towards the Grisedale Hide. As I walked to the hide a Marsh Harrier was soaring over the reedbeds in a circle to my left before heading away from me. The water in front of the hide was fairly quiet with just a few Shovelers and Teals present, there was however on the far side of the water an Osprey nest platform which had been erected since my last visit, hopefully it will be used this year! I re-traced my steps to where the path split in two and this time took the righthand path to the Tim Jackson Hide which was much busier.


On the water were Teals, Wigeons, Mallards, Coots, Greylag Geese and a pair of Pintails, whilst off to my left along the water’s edge were at least five Snipes. As the Snipes probed the mud for food a female Reed Bunting perched on a reed as it swayed in the wind, whilst in the distance I could see a Marsh Harrier flying over the reeds. I now made my way back along the trail to the visitor centre and drove the short distance to the car park for the Allen & Eric Morecambe hides which look out over Morecambe Bay. In the fields on either side of the road were Canada Geese, Greylag Geese and Mute Swans with Crows flying overhead.

The path from the car park follows the line of the railway and after a few hundred yards reaches the Allen Hide which sits at the top of a grass bank looking down over a large area of water with several islands. From here I could see Redshanks, Black Tailed Godwits, Little Egrets, a Grey Heron and an Oystercatcher in front of me whilst over to the left a large group of Black Headed Gulls and Avocets. I left the hide and continued the short distance along the path until it turned to the right and reached the Eric Morecambe Hide with the area in front divided into two large bodies of water.


On the right-hand side were Redshanks, Black Headed Gulls and quite close to the hide around thirty Avocets. After a few minutes all the Avocets and Black Headed Gulls rose up from the water on the right and after swirling round in the air for a couple of minutes landed on the water to the left where I could also see Shelducks, Greylag Geese and another Little Egret. It was difficult to see what was present in the distance with the sun reflecting brightly off the water so I headed back along the path to the car and to the main car park as for the last few weeks thousands of Starlings had been performing a murmuration at Leighton Moss.


After calling at the café for a slice of cake I walked over to the bird feeders which were still very busy with Great Tits, Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Long Tailed Tits, House Sparrows, Coal Tits, Robins, Dunnocks and Marsh Tits all making regular visits. At the far side of the feeders, I briefly saw a female Blackcap perched near the top of a tree trunk whilst off to my right a Collared Dove was perched on a branch before flying off and landing in a tree high above my head. As the Murmuration was not due for another hour or so I walked the short distance to Lillian’s Hide where the wildfowl and gulls had been joined by half a dozen Snipes on small damp grassy islands to my left.

To my right several Coots were squabbling and to the left the Snipes were slowly edging their way along the edge of the mud towards the hide. A Pintail now swam across from the left before heading across to the far side of the water as one by one the Snipes flew off to the left over the reeds. It was now approaching five thirty so I headed the short distance to the Sky Tower which gives fantastic views of the reserve and is one of the best places to view the murmuration. The top level of the Sky Tower is around thirty feet off the ground and at first, I watched over the reeds from the middle level where I could see Marsh Harriers soaring over the reeds and hear Cetti’s Warblers calling in the distance.


As I was waiting for the Starlings to arrive, I spotted a Barn Owl flying through trees, closely followed by a Crow. About ten minutes later the Starlings started to arrive, so I moved up to the top level of the Sky Tower to get a better view. As the minutes passed by, more and more Starlings arrived and began the murmuration with there eventually more than 20,000 Starlings present. The Murmuration was mostly taking place over the reedbeds at the far end of the reserve with them occasionally moving over the causeway and closer to the Sky Tower before dropping into the reeds. Just before I descended the steps of the Sky Tower the Barn Owl made another appearance, again being chased by the Crow but in the opposite direction along the Family Trail. As it was now getting dark, I headed back to the car and began the two-hour drive home after another cracking visit to Leighton Moss.


I have attached a gallery of all my photos from my trip to RSPB Leighton Moss below.




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