Latest wildlife sightings – December 2020

December brought beautiful snowy landscapes, a chance to recalibrate and, of course, lots of wonderful wildlife sightings at our nature reserves in Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.

From impressive gatherings of winter ducks to busy songbirds adding colour to the frosty trees, there was so much to see in December.

Mere Sands Wood

Mere Sands Wood is just as wonderful for winter walks as autumn ambles, with plenty of birds and fungi to spot. In December, the lakeside hides were still the best places to see kingfishers as they perched on nearby tree branches. The great white egret stuck around and was seen feeding amongst the reeds alongside little egrets. One delighted visitor even spotted a mandarin duck adding some exotic flair to the reserve.

Not all of the action takes place on the lakes though. Make sure you take a moment to enjoy the songbirds flitting to and from the bird feeders and feeding tables – bullfinches, long-tailed tits and dunnocks all visited them regularly last month.

A female stonechat standing on a tree branch at Brockholes Nature Reserve in Preston

Female stonechat at Brockholes by Alison Bamber

Brockholes

Winter at Brockholes is really special, as our December wildlife sightings illustrate. Murmurations of up to 10,000 starlings danced over Meadow Lake and Number One Pit most evenings, our winter bittern skulked around the perimeter of Meadow Lake and impressive numbers of ducks paddled, dove and dabbled. We loved the variety of colours, shapes and behaviours that the goldeneyes, tufted ducks, shovelers, gadwall, pochards and teal added to Brockholes last month. Number One Pit is the best place to watch them.

Stonechats were seen on the reserve with increasing regularity and showed particularly well in the car park in December. It was also lovely to spot siskins in the alder trees and redpolls along the Guild Wheel Path. Visitors enjoyed watching fieldfares dining on berries, bullfinches filling up at the feeding station and countless songbirds adding colour and activity.

Reed buntings, long-tailed tits, goldfinches and chaffinches were all seen regularly in December. Male chaffinches are particularly active in winter, a trait that has earned them the nickname ‘bachelor bird’. This is because male chaffinches tend to stay closer to their breeding areas in winter, with females moving further afield. This is called ‘differential migration’.

Winmarleigh Moss

December was a month of firsts for Winmarleigh Moss. After discovering golden bog moss on the nature reserve back in October, Joshua Styles of the North West Rare Plant Initiative (NWRPI) uncovered soft bog moss (Sphagnum tenellum). It’s a rare species in Lancashire but is living happily at Winmarleigh – yet another indicator of a healthy, diverse peatland habitat that shows our restoration work is paying dividends.

If that wasn’t enough, Joshua also found ferruginous bog moss at Winmarleigh Moss. Not only was this the first record for our nature reserve, but the first ever record for England! That’s what’s so amazing about our peatlands – the more you delve into them, the more amazing things you find.

A female red-breasted merganser swimming through water

Female red-breasted merganser by Amy Lewis

Heysham harbour

Heysham harbour is a winter bird wonderland. There were so many fantastic sightings last month, including a count of 2,000 knot! These roosted regularly on the heliport and created a swirling, shimmering spectacle when they were spooked into the air by marauding sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons.

Redshanks, grey plovers and ringed plovers were also seen fairly regularly around Heysham harbour in December, with common snipe and jack snipe both feeding on the saltmarsh. Numbers of pale-bellied Brent geese started climbing, with a high-count of 34 seen feeding on the gutweed in the south-east corner of Heysham skeer. The skeer was also a great area to see eider ducks, great-crested grebes, little egrets, turnstones, redshank and even a couple of red-breasted mergansers. These birds look very similar to goosanders but can be distinguished by a few key features:

  • Female goosanders’ head colour finishes abruptly halfway down the neck. In red-breasted mergansers this head colour fades out gradually.
  • Male goosanders have a white neck and breast, whereas male red-breasted mergansers have a thin white collar and orange-red breast.

Other December birding highlights at Heysham harbour included thousands of dunlin feeding out from the saltmarsh and flying towards Potts Corner; too many wigeon to count; and turnstones feeding regularly at the base of the south sea wall.

Middleton Nature Reserve

Middleton Nature Reserve lived up to its reputation as a duck hotspot in December. Gadwalls, mallards, tufted ducks, shovelers and teal all paddled happily around the pools alongside little grebes. Water rails were heard regularly, snipe were seen and a Cetti’s warbler sung proudly from the central marsh. There were also some less common bird sightings including a raven, a stock dove, a woodcock and the first ever record of a male goosander on one of the reserve ponds.

Excitingly, Nicola Garnham recorded an important invertebrate. She found an Armadillidium nasatum woodlouse – Middleton Nature Reserve is right at the northern limit of its known range.

A willow tit standing on top of a frosty bird table

Willow tit by Adam Jones

Wigan Flashes

As well as some breath-taking snowy scenes, Wigan Flashes was a great reserve for a spot of birdwatching in December. Large numbers of blackbirds and robins ensured there was plenty of activity in the trees and the leaf litter. And while the bare trees may sometimes feel bleak, they make it incredibly easy to spot the reserve’s resident willow tits. The willow tit is the UK’s most endangered small bird, and Wigan Flashes holds a really important chunk of the country-wide population.

What have you seen at our nature reserves? We’d love to hear all about your sightings. Click one of the social media buttons below to tell us all about them.