Latest wildlife sightings – January 2021

Snow, hail, floods, sunshine, gales – we had every weather imaginable last month – not that the wildlife seemed to mind! Here are the latest sightings from our nature reserves.

Mere Sands Wood

Last month Mere Sands Wood was already busy with bird activity. Kestrels were spotted resting inconspicuously amongst the tree branches and mixed flocks of great tits, long-tailed tits, coal tits and blue tits roved noisily around the reserve, filling up at the feeding stations. The great tits in particular started calling louder and more regularly – breeding season is just around the corner!

A roe deer standing on a snowy path at Brockholes nature reserve, bordered by frosty tree branches

Roe deer at Brockholes by Steve Laycock

Brockholes

Boilton Wood filled with some of our favourite winter fungi last month: scarlet elf cup, jelly ear and yellow brain fungus adding colour, texture and a satisfying wobble! Redwings and fieldfares fed on berries across the reserve, bullfinches and reed buntings busied themselves at the Guild Wheel path feeding station, and a couple of less common birds even turned up to seek refuge in this wetland wonderland – redpolls were sighted close to the feeders and linnets were spotted at the motorway end of the reserve.

One of the most uplifting sights, however, was the snow. It completely transformed Brockholes and made everything look ten times more beautiful, as you can see from Steve Laycock’s stunning photograph above. The frozen conditions attracted more birds to the lakes, with waterbirds, ducks and wading birds congregating on the ice-free areas of Number One Pit:

  • 750 herring gulls
  • 232 teal
  • 200 coots
  • 155 gadwall
  • 42 wigeon
  • 40 tufted ducks
  • 40 mallards
  • 34 goldeneye
  • 27 shovelers
  • 20 pochards

Water rails and Cetti’s warblers were also spotted from The Lookout hide, though this is closed to the public at the moment to comply with current COVID-19 restrictions.

Middleton Nature Reserve

You can also rely on Middleton Nature Reserve to deliver guaranteed sightings of delightful ducks and wonderful waders. In January, visitors and staff noted good numbers of teal, gadwall and shovelers on the ponds and pools, as well as a little grebe. The reserve’s Cetti’s warblers certainly weren’t shy and announced their presence with either calls or fleeting glimpses. Water rails also called regularly – they sound like squealing pigs, so you can’t miss them!

A pair of dark-bellied Brent geese standing in a pool in a green field

Dark-bellied Brent geese by David Tipling/2020VISION

Heysham harbour

We started the new year as we meant to go on at Heysham harbour, with lots of lovely sightings of winter favourites. Merlins were regularly seen hunting out from Ocean Edge foreshore, joining marauding peregrine falcons in their spooking of the huge groups of knot. With up to 3,400 of them roosting at any one time, we don’t blame these impressive birds of prey for seizing every chance they have.

Heysham skeer was a hive of activity, with some of the top January sightings including:

  • 500 pink-footed geese
  • Up to 58 pale-bellied Brent geese (the highest count so far this winter)
  • More than 70 eider ducks
  • A dark-bellied Brent goose (the first record this winter)
  • A handful of red-breasted mergansers

The skeer wasn’t the only place to settle down and watch the birds though. Rock pipits fed regularly along the foreshore, picking off plenty of tasty morsels; a grey seal popped up in Number One Outflow on more than one occasion; and 153 wigeon gathered behind Number Two Outflow. There were still lots of birds feeding on the saltmarsh – including snipe, jack snipe, grey plovers, ringed plovers and turnstones – as well as a dog fox diligently following a vixen on her outings. It’s likely these two will mate, with the female giving birth around March.

Wigan Flashes

It was a busy month at Wigan Flashes, with the team working on the butterfly rides at Horrocks Flash, Turners Flash and Bryn Flash ready for a summer of fluttering colour. Not that there isn’t plenty of colour to be seen even in the depths of winter – scarlet elf cups popped up across the reserve in January, alongside yellow brain fungus, delicate little oysterling fungi and some very early hazel catkins! Gadwall and tufted ducks even started pairing up on Horrocks Flash. Is spring closer than we think?

Lunt meadows flooded January 2021

Flooding at Lunt Meadows by Adam Graham

Lunt Meadows

January got off to a decidedly icy start at Lunt Meadows; freezing most of the pools so that impressive numbers of wildfowl congregated on the only available watery areas. Wigeons, gadwall, teal, shovelers and pochards gathered in double figures, with a few goosanders and even some whooper swans joining the crowd on occasion. Raptors, too, showed off for visitors, with several kestrels, common buzzards, sparrowhawks, peregrine falcons, the odd merlin and a couple of marsh harriers seen most days. This was in addition to three or four barn owls and, of course, the short-eared owls, though this year these spectacular birds are proving a little more elusive than usual. So too is the bittern that’s taken up residence at Lunt Meadows, but with some patience you may catch a glimpse of it as it flies in to roost.

Of course, we couldn’t mention January at this reserve without also talking about the floods. Unfortunately Storm Christoph wreaked havoc on the embankment separating Lunt Meadows from the River Alt. It couldn’t withstand the pressure of the water and was badly damaged as water poured into the reserve. This means that Lunt Meadows is closed to the public at the moment, but the wildlife is still right at home with barn owls hunting of an evening, hundreds of lapwings displaying and greylag geese swimming across the fields in which they normally graze.

Astley Moss

It seems you can’t move for scarlet elf cup fungi across Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside this winter, with clusters of it spotted at our Astley Moss nature reserve in Tyldesley too. Our conservation team also found hoof fungus, which can be used as tinder for lighting fires. Otzi, a 5,000 year-old preserved iceman was found in a glacier on the border of Austria and Italy, carrying three pieces of hoof fungus with him which were thought to be for tinder use.

Staff and volunteers also busied themselves with preparing an area of ground for large-flowered hemp nettle. This beautiful, stingless species of nettle was discovered on the margins of Astley Moss last year, and it’s hoped this new work will encourage more stands of this rare plant to flourish.

We hope this has you excited for your next local adventure. We’d love to see your pictures and hear all about your sightings on our nature reserves, so don’t forget to tell us all about them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Click one of the icons below to find us on social media.