Where to spot festive wildlife in Cheshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 December 2019
Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography
Escape stress from the festive free-for-all with a little help from the county's countryside and Cheshire Wildlife Trust.
Think of Christmas and wildlife and you might assume the only species you are likely to spot on a Christmas card and in our countryside is a robin. Famed for its red breast and cheery, year-round song, it is undoubtedly the British contribution to Christmas wildlife. They appear on Christmas cards because they share their name with Victorian postmen who wore bright red uniforms and were much anticipated when it came to delivering Christmas cards and gifts.
But the association between robins and Christmas goes back much further than that. It is suggested these lovely little birds were present in the manger when Jesus was born and that one tended the fire as the young Christ slept. The embers suddenly sparked and crackled, lighting up the breast of the bird - giving it the red hue we see today. Whether you chose to believe that or not is up to you. But robins are inextricably linked to Christmas and, for me, hearing their song on a snowy day is about as festive as it gets.
But they aren't the only splash of red you'll see this festive period. Redwings - migrant birds that come to the UK in large numbers over winter from their Scandinavian breeding grounds - are drawn here by our milder winters but also by the vast number of berries on offer. The holly and the ivy will be providing a mid-winter feast for this species and other birds. This makes these plants incredibly important to grow where you can, so, if you have some space in your garden or on your land, consider growing berry-bearing plants for the wildlife to enjoy. You'll be rewarded with a wonderful display of birds feasting in your garden.
If you would like more of a wildlife spectacle, now is the time to see flocks of birds coming together as part of a murmuration. Starlings will be forming huge groups that dance in the sky each night, before going to roost, safe from predators. The swirling balls of birds gather to give each individual protection from predators. Locking on to a single bird from the writhing mass is incredibly difficult for a bird of prey. But the resulting shapes the starlings create are a wonder to behold.
These were once common across the county but are now restricted to just a few sites. This is mainly due to the decline in the populations of starlings in the UK. Since the 1970s we have lost roughly 66% of our starlings - that's one every 3.3 minutes, consistently, for the past 45 years. It's an alarming statistic that as a Wildlife Trust, we are trying hard to reverse.
Whilst we might host feathered Scandinavian friends over winter, their antlered counterparts remain firmly north of our isles. Which means we sadly won't be seeing reindeer trotting through Cheshire - not unless you're lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Santa on his sleigh. However, red deer are a common sight across many parts of the county. Trentabank Reservoir in Macclesfield provides an excellent chance to see red deer in all their glory. They can often be seen on the far bank, grazing in the woodland clearings or drinking at the side of the reservoir. The females will be pregnant following the autumn rut, with the young fawns being born in the warmer spring months. The stags will still be the proud owners of their antlers so they cut a stunning shape set against a snowy backdrop at this time of year.
One of the most wintery species of wildlife, though, is moths. The aptly named December moth is a surefire sign that Santa is on his way. These gorgeous little critters emerge from October and will be around until late December. They have a fluffy cream-coloured scarf over their shoulders, all wrapped up and ready for the mercury dropping. But unlike most of us, they aren't stuffing their faces at Christmas. Due to the lack of flowers out in the winter, December moths don't feed at all as an adult. They will have fattened up as a caterpillar back in the hazy summer days of June, storing enough energy to see them through their short time on the wing.
Wherever you go to escape the Yuletide stress, whether it is your back garden or the snow-covered Cheshire countryside, take the time to discover the wildlife on offer. From hidden little moths, to graceful stags, there is always something to be amazed by.