How to plan a year full of wildlife fun in Cheshire
- Credit: Andrew Parkinson
A new year and a whole new year of wildlife spotting beckons, writes Jo Darlington from Cheshire Wildlife Trust
The start of a new year is an exciting time. What I especially love about it is the opportunity to start a clean sheet for my wildlife spotting; what things will I discover this year? I love to see the old favourites which act as markers for the year just as much as any calendar, but I also hope to add some new sightings to my wildlife highlights. Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to going out to see.
This season could be seen as the most exciting. Many birds are returning to the UK to breed and it can feel that every day there is something new to add to your spotting book.
Our woodlands come into their own at this time of year from yellow primroses and wild daffodils through to carpets of bluebells. Everything seems to be growing and starting anew.
At the start of May, Dawn Chorus day is marked and wow, what a celebration of bird song that is! A joyous day for trying to learn bird song – look out for Cheshire Wildlife Trust events if you don’t mind an early start. It’s an experience not to be missed.
Meres and ponds come alive too and are a perfect location for spotting courting grebes performing their elaborate dance, or newts, frogs and toads visiting the water to spawn.
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It’s also the chance to see the first moths and butterflies of the season. I look forward to what my first sighting of the year will be. It’s not always a brimstone, as you might expect. In fact the warm weather in 2018 acted like a call-out for butterflies with numerous species all taking to the wing at once.
Springtime in Cheshire
Visit the Trust’s woodlands in spring to enjoy the best of nature. Try Warburton Wood, near Frodsham or Pumphouse Wood near Weaverham. Some places, such as Combermere Abbey, near Nantwich, run guided walks in the Spring.
We all have fond memories of school holidays, enjoying the long days of sunshine and playing outdoors. Our local landscape provides plenty of opportunities to take this enjoyment into adulthood. Why restrict the pursuit of rock-pooling or enjoying the feel of grass under your bare feet to your childhood?
It’s a time to enjoy meadows as more plants like orchids, knapweed and yellow rattle come to life. Bees and butterflies love this time of year when nectar and pollen are aplenty and Cheshire Wildlife Trust has been working to restore this traditional grassland favourite. The Trust is a couple of years into an ambitious Pollinating Cheshire Project to restore 100ha of meadows in 10 years. It’s a project to turn around the alarming statistic that Cheshire now has only 1% of its traditional meadows left.
What I love about summer is the variety of wildlife you can spot during a day. It’s all around you if you take a moment to listen and watch. Our 30 Days Wild mission each June is the perfect reminder that we should all make time to value nature however big or small the experience might be. Not only does this help us to know what we need to be protecting but it’s good for our health too. Last year over 1,500 people in Cheshire took part – will we reach 2,000 this year? I’d like to think so.
Our creatures love the sunshine too – common lizards enjoy basking in the sun at heathland nature reserves such as Cleaver Heath and Danes Moss. A visit to Marbury isn’t complete without hearing a kingfisher ‘peep’ along with its blur of blue as it flies by and bats start to zip round the Trust’s wooded reserves too.
Summertime in Cheshire
Head off to the coast to see some of our rarest plants. The Red Rocks nature reserve near Hoylake, hosts an array of coastal specialities, or take the short walk at low tide over to Hilbre Island for a close encounter with seals.
Wild berries are starting to ripen and there’s nothing better than a blackberry and apple pie or homemade jam; just make sure you leave some for mammals and birds to enjoy too.
From the scarlet red of holly through to the deep purple of elderflower, they all join in the show. Trees offer another reward too with leaves creating a beautiful array of colours from burnt oranges through to vibrant reds.
For most of our mammals it’s a time to start making reserves to last through the winter. Whether this is fattening up for hibernation or storing nuts and seeds in the ground, it can be a busy few weeks for them.
Autumn in Cheshire
There is very little lowland heath left in Cheshire, but you can still see purple swathes of heather at Cleaver Heath Nature Reserve on the Wirral or on the Bickerton Hills. Or head for the Peak District in September for a heather spectacular on the moors around Axe Edge.
You might think wildlife is harder to spot during winter. But just because it is tempting for us to stay indoors, the same can’t be said for many creatures.
From November, it’s an amazing experience to listen out for redwings and fieldfares arriving and watching a starling murmuration is truly something to behold. Seeing them gather in large numbers, and swooping in elaborate patterns, you could be forgiven for thinking they look like a huge swarm of bees.
The Wirral coastline also makes a great place to visit. You might not think about a trip to the beach on a winter’s day but trust me it will be worthwhile to catch sight of huge numbers of wading birds feeding on the wet sands. On your way there or back you might even catch a glimpse of a fox or badger crossing the road. If you don’t feel like going far, make sure you keep your bird feeders and bird baths topped up. Your garden residents will appreciate the easy food when things are getting scarce and you could be in for a treat if you attract a group of long-tailed tits or a redpoll.
Winter wildlife in Cheshire
The Trust’s headquarters at Bickley Hall Farm is a great place for seeing migrant birds. Starling murmurations are frequently there and at their nature reserve at Bagmere. Park at Parkgate on the Wirral to watch the world of waders and wintering birds on the Dee estuary.