Latest wildlife sightings – December 2019

It’s back to reality here at the Wildlife Trust after a Christmas season filled with wildlife. In fact, December as a whole was packed with all kinds of fantastic wildlife sightings.

We saw ducks galore and redwings a-plenty; frost glittered across our reserves and most days ended with bright pink sunsets. But that was just the beginning – read on for the best of our December wildlife sightings in Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.


Brockholes Nature Reserve is undoubtedly one of the best winter walks in Lancashire, and in December, visiting walkers and nature-lovers were rewarded with beautiful frosty vistas. In Boilton Wood, cheeky bank voles cashed in on the bird seed scattered on tree trunks and vibrant scarlet elf cup fungi started to emerge. Kingfishers flashed sapphire blue down the Ribble and a bittern was spotted at dusk on Meadow Lake. Ducks, too, still flocked to the reserve in decent numbers, with species including goldeneye, shoveler and the famous female smew who’s been present for the past couple of months. The best time to see her is at dusk, where she flies onto Number One Pit to roost with the shovelers.

Of course, the top December wildlife sightings at Brockholes were the incredible starling murmurations. Numbers really built over recent weeks and the birds put on some spectacular shows for visitors; dancing over Number One Pit and Meadow Lake.

Starlings murmurating over Brockholes Nature Reserve, by Alan Wright

Middleton Nature Reserve

Itching to visit a wetland brimming with brilliant birds? Middleton Nature Reserve near Heysham is a wonderful spot, and December didn’t disappoint where wildlife sightings were concerned. Redwings were counted in double figures as they cleared the berry trees of their ruby bounty, while water rails and woodcock were also sighted as they moved stealthily around the reserve. There were still plenty of ducks to enjoy, including:

  • Gadwall
  • Wigeon
  • Tufted duck
  • Shoveler
  • Teal
  • Mallard

The wigeon hybrid we thought dropped by Middleton Nature Reserve last month is still around, though is now thought to be a female wigeon, just with a few odd behavioural traits.

Heysham Nature Reserve

Staff at Heysham Nature Reserve were surprised to see a small tortoiseshell butterfly resting near the reserve office on 29 December! Small tortoiseshells find quiet places to hibernate in December, but if it’s warm enough, they’ll often wake up from their slumber and venture out in search of food.

A close-up of the hairs on the fruiting body of hairy curtain crust fungus

Hairy curtain crust by Charlotte Varela

Heysham Moss

Mosslands (also known as peatlands) tend to quieten down in winter, but they’re still beautifully tranquil places for a scenic walk and there is still wildlife to be seen. In December, we spotted roe deer and barn owls feeding on Heysham Moss, as well as some fantastic looking hairy curtain crust fungus growing on birch. If you look at this fungus using a macro lens or magnifying glass, you’ll notice the spiky-looking hairs covering its surface.

The fields bordering Heysham Moss offered up one of our favourite winter wildlife spectacles in December: hundreds of pink-footed geese gathering to feed.

Heysham harbour

With so much migratory activity in the bird world during winter, it’s little surprise that Heysham harbour offered so many great wildlife sightings in December. A tiny firecrest was ringed, a black redstart was spotted near Red Nab and a juvenile long-tailed duck was recorded off Heysham Head. On 16 December, more than 10,000 knot were counted on the heliport at one time!

Other sightings around Heysham harbour included:

  • Rock pipits flitting between the north wall and Ocean Edge saltmarsh
  • A shag feeding regularly at different points around the harbour
  • Eider ducks in the low tide channel
  • A jack snipe on Ocean Edge saltmarsh
  • A purple sandpiper on Ocean Edge foreshore
  • Around 30 linnet on the saltmarsh
  • Scaup, red-throated diver, red-breasted merganser and goosander out from the harbour
Upper Coldwell Reservoir in Nelson photographed during winter

Upper Coldwell Reservoir in winter

Upper Coldwell Reservoir

Upper Coldwell Reservoir is rugged, windswept and really wild at this time of year. Staff and volunteers who carried out conservation work there in December were delighted to spot teal making the most of the reservoir, and sparrowhawks whizzing overhead on the hunt for lunch. Just rewards for toiling away in the rain and biting wind!

Mere Sands Wood

The winter months tend to offer some of the best kingfisher sightings at Mere Sands Wood, and a regular visitor was lucky enough to spot a particularly obliging kingfisher during a Boxing Day walk around the reserve. It sat on a twig and called while he watched from Marshall Hide.

Teal, tufted ducks, little egrets, long-tailed tits and siskins also showed off for visitors throughout December, the latter’s black and bright yellow plumage unmistakeable amongst the bare trees.

A short-eared owl flying over Lunt Meadows

Short-eared owl by Mike Graham

Lunt Meadows

December was definitely the month to spot short-eared owls at Lunt Meadows in Merseyside. These beautiful birds showed incredibly well for visitors, with as many as eight flushed into the air by marsh harriers at one point! We’ve loved seeing your wonderful short-eared owl pictures on Twitter.

But December wildlife sightings at Lunt Meadows weren’t just about the shorties. Barn owls, merlins and a hen harrier also dropped by, as well as a bittern, Cetti’s warblers and odd groups of whooper swans. A juvenile long-tailed duck was also sighted on the Pump Pool. These gorgeous little ducks only occasionally drop by on passage during winter, so it was lovely to have one at Lunt Meadows.

Insects weren’t left out of the picture in December either, as John Sisk & Son helped us build some brand new ponds. We can’t wait to see how the ponds develop and benefit dragonflies, damselflies, amphibians, plants and other creatures as 2020 progresses.

Chat Moss

Characteristic of peatlands at this time of year, the Chat Moss area of Greater Manchester was fairly quiet on the wildlife front in December. Staff and volunteers spotted the odd roe deer, brown hare and barn owl, and we spotted some really impressive and encouraging clumps of sphagnum mosses flourishing on Little Woolden Moss. It’s so encouraging to see our restoration work there paying off.

Elsewhere on Chat Moss, a number of cross-leaved heath plants were still decorated with their delicate pink flowers. Cross-leaved heath is a vital source of nectar for the incredibly rare large heath butterfly, which we’re reintroducing to a handful of Manchester’s mosses this year.

Are you ready and raring to spot some of this amazing wildlife on your next outdoor adventure? We’d love to see your pictures and hear about your sightings, so don’t forget to tell us all about them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Simply click one of the icons below.