January Almanac: turning over a new leaf

January might be a quiet month in the natural world but it’s the perfect time to resolve to pay more attention to the wildlife on our doorstep in 2024.

Truth be told there isn’t usually anything new to see in Blackpool wildlife terms in January. Winter visitors remain ensconced, and even the earliest spring movements are still a few weeks off. But as in other walks of life the advent of a New Year is a time for resolutions and new habits, so this instalment of the almanac offers some suggestions.

A 2024 Blackpool bird list

As I hope these monthly almanacs have shown, there is a surprising diversity of birdlife to be seen within the borough boundaries. From seabirds and shorebirds along the front to woodland birds in Stanley Park and freshwater species at Marton Mere there are plenty of things to see year round, and in spring and autumn there are others to be seen including some that also stay to breed.

It can be quite daunting to identify different bird species as a beginner but there is plenty of help available. As well as excellent field guides, the Merlin app can identify birds from photographs and even calls as you walk about. The Fylde Bird Club website includes local sightings so you can get an idea of what’s about, or you can search on eBird for what has been seen locally.

If you’re persuaded to give it a go here’s a suggestion for January. When the tide is suitably high, walk from Gynn Square to Norbreck along the lower Promenade. Check the shorebirds hopefully perched on the outside of the go kart track wall – among the elegant redshank and dumpy turnstone there should hopefully be one or two purple sandpipers. The grass and small sand dunes before Anchorsholme Park harbour an annually returning snow bunting and, if you don’t see that, raven and rock pipits are both possible.

A 2024 Blackpool mammal list

There’s less to go at here than birds, but the rewards can be great. On land there are foxes, roe deer and potentially badgers as well as a range of rodents from rats and mice to voles and shrews. It would have been fanciful not that long ago but otters are now seen regularly at Marton Mere, they clearly aren’t birds but the Fylde Bird Club sightings page often gives details of when they are showing well.

We are also, of course, fortunate enough to have marine mammals on our shores. Grey seals can be seen most calm days, often ‘bottling’ with just their snouts above water. Harbour Porpoises are also present all year round, their small fins and backs just breaking the surface on most views. Come the summer bottlenose dolphins also appear regularly. The Facebook group Blackpool Sea Watchers is a good resource for news on sea mammals locally.

Blackpool panlisting

You may not have heard the term before, but it basically means recording all the species of flora and fauna you can identify in the town. If you’ve ever been to a bioblitz – an event to find and identify as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time – you’ll understand the principle, that you realise more how much nature there is to enjoy around you if you’re prepared to widen your horizons.

Useful resources online for this depend how far you wanted to delve into dragonflies, moths, spiders, flowers, trees, lichens etc. Butterfly Conservation and Lancashire Moth Group both have excellent online resources for this group of insect, known collectively as lepidoptera.

Garden bird listing

Watching the birds in your garden can be very enjoyable and productive, even in a densely populated town like Blackpool. If you provide supplementary feeding the number and variety of species can increase further. Some of the potential highlights can include brightly coloured birds, as names like goldfinch and greenfinch suggest, and potentially great spotted woodpeckers and even sparrowhawks.

This month sees the national Big Garden Birdwatch on 26-28 January. This is a great way to dip your toe into garden bird watching and recording, spending an hour over that weekend noting the birds you observe in your garden. The survey accepts results from parks and other non-gardens, and if you don’t have a garden yourself adopting a local patch where you can observe nature can be equally rewarding. There is a bird feeder viewing area at Marton Mere, several feeders are stocked on the west side of Stanley Park Lake and if you investigate you may find someone is feeding the birds at other smaller parks near where you live.

Daily habits

It can help with mental wellbeing to make a point of observing nature every day. I use eBird and it records your current ‘streak’ of submitting bird records daily. You can keep a nature diary with highlights from being present in the world around you. If you think that sounds a big ask in parts of the resort think again. Even the town centre has peregrines, house sparrows and grey wagtails.

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