Latest wildlife sightings – May 2019

It may have been a wet and rainy few weeks, but there have been some fantastic wildlife sightings across Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, including a few rarities!

Sandpipers, scoters, moths, butterflies and the beginnings of a baby boom, here are some of the latest wildlife sightings in our region.

Mere Sands Wood

The star of Mere Sands Wood in May was undoubtedly the cuckoo. First seen and heard by Mere End Lake at the start of the month, it became bolder and, one particular evening, showed well for staff outside the visitor centre. Here is what they had to say:

“Sometimes it pays to work late. There I was, cashing up, sorting out admin stuff, and a visitor comes knocking on the door to tell me there is a cuckoo just outside the Visitor Centre. We stood and watched her for about 15 minutes, flying around, landing and then surveying the reedbed from different vantage points. Twice she went down into the reeds – on the second occasion having a lively encounter with a coot. So we are expecting baby cuckoos on our doorstep.”

A dingy skipper butterfly resting on vegetation at Warton Crag

Dingy skipper by Janice Sutton

Warton Crag

A spell of sunny days at the end of May saw the rare butterflies of Warton Crag emerge to feed around this special wildlife refuge. Visitors spotted these lepidopteran lovelies on just one bright afternoon:

  • Pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly
  • Mint moth
  • Green hairstreak butterfly
  • Small heath butterfly
  • Speckled yellow moth
  • Dingy skipper butterfly

Middleton Nature Reserve

Middleton Nature Reserve really comes alive as spring starts melting into summer, with butterfly and dragonfly sightings already on the up.

Four-spotted chaser and broad-bodied chaser dragonflies were seen zooming around the pools in May, as well as azure, common blue, blue-tailed and large red damselflies. Butterflies, too, have been flying and feeding in good numbers, with orange-tip, peacock, green-veined white and small heath butterflies all recorded on the reserve. We also had reports of the wonderful Mother Shipton moth, a characteristic grassland species whose forewing patterns are said to resemble a witch’s face. Spooky!

If that wasn’t enough, whitethroat and the scarcer lesser whitethroat were heard singing from the tree tops.

A stilt sandpiper probing the mud for invertebrates at Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve

Stilt sandpiper by David McGrath

Lunt Meadows

Last month black-necked grebes stole the show, and this month? Two rare birds paid our wetland wonderland a visit.

Visitors were treated to great views of a Temmink’s stint: a tiny grey-brown wading bird that breeds in the Arctic and only really turns up on our shores on passage. It probes muddy shorelines for insects and larvae, worms, crustaceans and molluscs with its short bill.

A lovely stilt sandpiper also showed up on-site. This was only the second-ever record for Lancashire (the first being in 1967), and only the 38th stilt sandpiper sightings in Britain. Usually found in the USA, this bird was likely blown off course on migration and has certainly drawn large crowds.

Other wildlife sightings at Lunt Meadows in May included black terns, two ruff, a hobby chasing swifts at dusk, and an osprey fishing on the River Alt near to the pump station.

Little Woolden Moss

It’s been a fantastic month for birds on the Moss. Volunteers and regular visitors have spotted:

  • Swifts
  • Curlews
  • Redshanks
  • Lapwings
  • Skylarks
  • Yellow wagtails
  • Little ringed plovers
  • Grey partridge
  • Oystercatchers

And that isn’t all – a number of beautiful butterfly species have been seen fluttering about, including small copper, small tortoiseshell, peacock, orange tip and brimstone.

The larva of the psyche casta moth encased in grass stalks at Heysham Moss

Psyche casta larval case by Justine Patton

Heysham Moss

Naturalist Justine Patton spotted the larva of a fascinating day-flying moth at Heysham Moss on a sunny day in mid-May. Psyche casta caterpillars construct a protective case from fragments of plant material; most commonly pieces of grass. They live in these cases, feeding on grasses, lichens and decaying plant matter, until they pupate and emerge as adults. The males are a dull brown colour, while the females are wingless and grub-like.

“This is the first time I have found a tenanted case of this species,” said Justine. “They are usually vacant.”

Heysham coast

Staff and volunteer ‘seawatches’ at Heysham harbour have, as usual, offered up a fantastic range of ocean-going species.

At least five grey seals have been seen in and off the harbour, whilst the guillemot seen in the harbour last month is still hanging about there. A great skua was spotted flying out at sea, and at least 106 common scoters were on the water in several flocks of up to 30.

Huge numbers of knot (around 500!) were seen distantly, heading north, with at least 200 in their stunning rust-coloured summer plumage. Other May wildlife sightings at Heysham included:

  • Whimbrel
  • Wheatear
  • Whinchat
  • Rock pipit
  • Gannet
  • Red-throated diver
  • Razorbill (in the bay and out to sea)
  • Linnet
  • Cuckoo (calling from the north side of Heysham Head)

What have you spotted on our nature reserves? We love to hear about your wild experiences and see your photographs from your walks, so why not tell us all about your sightings on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?