Latest wildlife sightings – January 2020

It’s definitely feeling fresh, but don’t let that stop you heading outside to explore the nature on your doorstep. Not sure where to start? Take a look at our January wildlife sightings in Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.

Mere Sands Wood

This wonderful wetland and its woodlands are still brimming with life at this time of year. A kingfisher was seen regularly from Rufford Hide in January, and one visitor was lucky enough to spot a stoat hunting stealthily through the reeds. Male goosanders looked gorgeous out on the lakes – their rich green heads glistening in the sunlight – but not all of the action was focused around the water. Eagle-eyed visitors saw wrens searching for food in gorse bushes and spotted goldcrests (the UK’s smallest bird at a tiny 9cm long) flitting about in the trees. Our most surprising sighting, however, involved 71 snipe landing on the reserve in just one day!

Scarlet elf cup fungus growing on dead wood at Summerseat Nature Reserve

Scarlet elf cup at Summerseat Nature Reserve

Summerseat

Fungi are undoubtedly some of the best things about winter, and there is a stunning crop of scarlet elf cup fungi has appeared across Summerseat nature reserve in Bury, in Lancashire. These mushrooms grow on decaying sticks and branches in damp spots in the woods, and on the woodland floor, their bright red pops of colour brightening up even the gloomiest winter days. They’re a favourite snack for rodents and slugs, and in European folklore it’s said that wood elves drink morning dew from the cups.

Lunt Meadows

It was another fantastic month for short-eared owl sightings at Lunt Meadows in Merseyside. The owls showed regularly and were even joined by barn owls quartering the adjacent fields on some occasions. Other birds of prey spotted by lucky visitors included a ringtail hen harrier, and a big female sparrowhawk that enjoyed flushing snipe up over the reeds.

Excitingly, bearded tits were seen from the new hide. Contrary to their name, they aren’t actually tits at all but belong to a group of their own. They make a characteristic ‘ping’ call that usually announces their presence.

There are plenty of seasonal specialities still enjoying Lunt Meadows in huge numbers. Teal were counted in excess of 1,000 birds, while one evening a flock of around 100 fieldfares was recorded coming in to roost.

A male goldeneye displaying during a courtship ritual at Brockholes Nature Reserve in Lancashire

Male goldeneye by Kevin Scott

Brockholes

If you haven’t had chance to get to Brockholes Nature Reserve to see the smew, don’t worry! She’s still making herself at home. She’s spotted fairly regularly, splitting her time between Meadow Lake, Number One Pit Lake and the River Ribble.

Other magical wildlife sightings at Brockholes Nature Reserve included a bittern which seems to be spending much of its time in the reeds by the osprey platform. We also had groups of male goldeneye ducks displaying beautifully: speeding through the water and throwing their heads back comically. Our regular birders caught some fantastic pictures of the scenes, as you can see above.

There was still plenty of fungi to be found in Boilton Wood, including King Alfred’s cakes, jelly ear fungus, scarlet elf cup and yellow brain fungus (also called witch’s butter). Some wildflowers began emerging in January, including coltsfoot, butterbur and hazel catkins. Treecreepers and nutchatches showed well as they scampered around tree trunks, while song thrushes foraged about in the leaf litter.

Little Woolden Moss

If you go down to the Moss today, you may just spot a merlin! A very lucky volunteer had a wonderful sighting of one of these miniature falcons (our smallest bird of prey) as they headed off Little Woolden Moss one afternoon. These birds live and breed mostly on the uplands through spring and summer but descend to lowland and coastal areas during winter, often roosting in reedbeds, on bogs and on heaths.

A rare willow tit standing on a tree branch

Willow tit by Adam Jones

Wigan Flashes

Brockholes isn’t the only place to have gained a female smew over winter – there was also one spotted on Turner’s Flash at Wigan Flashes Local Nature Reserve in January.

Elsewhere on the reserve, willow tits are doing really well and were spotted regularly last month. As the UK’s most endangered small bird (their numbers have plummeted by 94 per cent since the 1970s), we’re so proud to see them flourishing in the Great Manchester Wetlands NIA – our amazing staff, volunteers and supporters have played a huge part in this.

Middleton Nature Reserve

There’s still something of a duck bonanza at Middleton Nature Reserve near Heysham. There are plenty of tufted ducks, shovelers, teal and wigeon to be seen, as well as large groups of gorgeous gadwall. Keep your eyes peeled for little grebes, snipe and water rails as you take a tranquil walk, too.

But January wasn’t all about water birds. An unfortunate raven was spotted being harassed by tenacious carrion crows one afternoon, and a barn owl treated us to a fly-through.

A group of pale-bellied Brent geese feeding off Red Nab in Heysham harbour

Pale-bellied Brent geese by Heysham Bird Observatory

Heysham harbour

If you want to catch sight of some really special seabirds and waders, Heysham harbour is the place to head. In January, eider and wigeon were seen bobbing about in Heysham skeer almost every day, while eider ducks also seemed to enjoy the low tide channel. A shag was still feeding regularly in the harbour area while the land around Ocean Edge saltmarsh proved a great place to spot jack snipe, ringed plovers and dunlin: the latter counted in the region of 700 on one day!

Peregrine falcons tried making the most of the wader buffet, with a couple seen targeting knot. It was lovely to see 57 kittiwakes flying into the bay mid-month, while the black redstart we found on Red Nab last month was still putting in appearances.

The most surprising bird sightings from Heysham in January included large numbers of Brent geese. The highest count of pale-bellied Brent geese was 86 in a single day, and they were even joined by a handful of dark-bellied Brent geese on a couple of occasions. The best places to spot the geese are the inshore skeer (viewed from Knowleys Road), and from Red Nab.

Heysham Moss

Heysham Moss looked beautifully atmospheric in January as fog and mist drifted through on chilly winter mornings. Roe deer were spotted regularly by quiet visitors enjoying a peaceful walk, while turkeytail fungus offered a fungal treat and some subtle splashes of green and purple colour.

Can’t wait 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.