Latest wildlife sightings – January 2019

Winter is far from grim up north. There has been a flurry of activity over the past couple of months, with some really exciting wildlife sightings at our nature reserves and nearby sites.

Middleton Nature Reserve

Our stunning mosaic of scrub, fen and grassland habitats weaves its way around a network of peaceful pools that host winter migrants, hungry waders and wonderful waterfowl during the winter months. Staff and volunteers have spotted secretive woodcock and snipe standing camouflaged against the browned vegetation. Water rail have also made appearances, while out on the water, teal, gadwall and shovelers have been dabbling.

And that isn’t all – we’ve had meadow pipits and even a singing Cetti’s warbler on-site.

A barn owl hunting over our Heysham Moss nature reserve

Barn owl by Tom Dullage

Heysham

Heysham Nature Reserve, Heysham Moss, Half Moon Bay and Heysham Harbour form a really interesting network of sites supporting incredible wildlife at any time of year. January has been particularly interesting for seabirds, with scarcer species such as shags seen from the Harbour.

Common scoter and a stunning red-throated diver were seen out at sea, while 240 eider ducks were spotted bobbing along the low tide channel.

Nearby, jack snipe were seen feeding on Ocean Edge salt marsh, while just south of here, a huge group of 6,000 knot were counted. Most exciting of all, we had Brent geese feeding on the gut weed found on the salt marsh and Red Nab.

Heysham Nature Reserve itself has also seen some unusual activity, with a green woodpecker heard calling close to the reserve office. Just a five-minute drive away, at Heysham Moss, barn owls have been hunting and roe deer photographed picking their way through the vegetation.

Lunt Meadows

Lunt Meadows has, as ever, been a hotbed of activity through January. More than 2,000 lapwings have been feeding and pee-witting around the pools alongside redshank, goldeneye, black-tailed godwits and little egrets.

Elsewhere at Lunt, visitors, staff and volunteers have spotted a golden plover, stonechats, a Cetti’s warbler and around 3,500 pink-footed geese. Bearded tits have been flitting about in the reeds and, up in the sky, a fantastic selection of raptors have been making their presence known: barn owl, short-eared owl, sparrowhawk and peregrine falcon.

Mere Sands Wood

While our coasts, marshes, estuaries and wetlands see an influx of birds during the winter months, don’t discount woodlands. Mere Sands Wood is a wonderful place to walk and has been full of busy birds over recent weeks.

Bullfinches, long-tailed tits, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers have all been spotted by eagle-eyed visitors and staff, and have been particularly active at the bird feeders next to the visitor centre. We’ve also seen a sparrowhawk taking advantage of this hungry crowd!

A male goldeneye duck swimming in the evening light

Goldeneye by Fergus Gill/2020VISION

Seaforth

Love is in the air at Seaforth, with male goldeneye ducks performing their courtship ritual. They choose a female and then swim after her, neck outstretched, before throwing their head right back and making a sound like a broken squeaky toy.

Summerseat Nature Reserve

Our Summerseat volunteers have been very busy clearing and planting through the cold weather, and were rewarded with sightings of bluebell shoots as well as the gorgeous scarlet elf cup. This species of fungi might look like it is adorned with warning colours but it is actually completely edible, though pretty tasteless.

Brockholes Nature Reserve

January has been very exciting at Brockholes as we have had a bittern on-site! It has been showing well in the reeds on both Number One Pit and Meadow Lake.

There are still redwings and fieldfares making the most of the fruits and berries at Brockholes, while great-crested grebes have been spotted gulping down fish. The reserve’s resident kestrels have, as always, been incredibly obliging, while meadow pipits, kingfishers, nuthatches, siskins, bullfinches and the UK’s smallest bird, the goldcrest, have all put in appearances.

A hawfinch standing on moss next to a pool of water

Hawfinch by Andy Morffew

Wigan Flashes

Wigan Flashes teems with waders during winter, but January saw something completely out of the ordinary stop by for a visit… a hawfinch.

Hawfinches are scarce, very elusive and the UK’s biggest finch, sporting a formidable bill which they use to feed on cherry, holly and plum stones. In fact, these supersized finches can exert the equivalent of 150 pounds per square inch of power using their powerful beaks.

Little Woolden Moss

The UK’s mosslands tend to quieten down during winter, but last month a solitary merlin was seen flying over Little Woolden Moss. Merlins eat lots of small mammals so the Moss is a great place for them to hunt.

Seven Acres

There is always plenty to see at Seven Acres, with January being no exception. Goosanders, dippers and kingfishers were seen on the water while buzzards and sparrowhawks were busy stalking the skies. But Seven Acres isn't just about the birds - fantastic fungi like the yellow brain fungus was recorded, as well as hardy winter wildflowers including butterbur and marsh marigold.

What have you spotted on our nature reserves? From brilliant birds and magical mammals to pretty plants and interesting insects, let us know on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!

What to see during winter