Here are some great sites around the country to visit this December to help give a final lift to your #My200birdyear list. As anyone who has seen Bird Watching magazine before will know, we feature 10 Go Birding sites every month, and have done so since May 2000. So, that would be nearly 200 sites just for December, around the country! There are far too many great sites to list them all, so here are just a few from the different regions of the country to get you thinking about December’s riches.
This small fishing village on the Moray coast is one of many north-facing sites along the Moray Firth which offer opportunities to see the riches of birdlife on the sea. Yes, it is cold on this north-facing coast of north-eastern Scotland, but the birdlife is abundant in midwinter. Look for seaducks including both regular scoters and Long-tailed Duck, divers and Slavonian Grebe, a speciality of the area. Eiders are common, and there is always a chance of a King Eider, here.
Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire
Once upon a time in UK Bird Sightings, BW ‘included’ Lincolnshire in the Midlands. But now it has settled into its home as a southward extension of the North East, we feel completely exonerated in nominating this flagship east coast RSPB reserve for this selection of sites. Frampton is simply superb at any time of year. Winter should see plenty of Brent Geese and wildfowl as well as a smattering of winter waders, and the chance of good raptor- and owl-watching over the marshes looking toward The Wash. Always rewarding.
Caerlaverock Wetland Centre, Cumbria
The WWT’S site on the Solway Firth is rightly renowned, in particular for its vast numbers of wintering geese. Chief among these are the 40,000 Barnacle Geese which come here each year. These are joined by large numbers of Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans to provide a wonderful spectacle as well as a brilliant opportunity to add one or two species to your year list.
WINTER SHOULD SEE PLENTY OF BRENT GEESE AND WILDFOWL AS WELL AS A SMATTERING OF WINTER WADERS, AND THE CHANCE OF GOOD RAPTOR- AND OWLWATCHING OVER THE MARSHES LOOKING TOWARD THE WASH
Rutland Water, Rutland
In addition to the excellent reserve(s) on the site, the reservoir itself is one of the great ‘magnets’ for birds which are generally very scarce inland. There will surely be a selection of divers (mainly Great Northern) and scarce grebes, as well as ‘sea-ducks’, such as Red-breasted Merganser and perhaps scoters.
Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire
Much visited by members of the Bird Watching team, we couldn’t leave out this excellent Rspb-managed site east of Peterborough. These days, Cranes are just about guaranteed throughout the year. A visit to the Eldernell car park and viewpoint is usually your best bet; there have been 30-odd birds seen in recent winters! Eldernell also has a reputation as an owl and raptor site. Marsh Harriers have been wintering here for at least the last decade or so, and there may be several Short-eared Owls seen hunting right in front of the car park. Hen Harrier and Merlin are possible, as is Bittern, if a wintering bird happens to pass over at dusk. Depending on the extent of flooding (which varies greatly from year to year), there may be thousands of dabbling ducks on show (or very few!), which may include huge numbers of Wigeon as well as a substantial amount of Pintail. Waders include thousands of Lapwing and Golden Plover in winter.
Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, Powys
Thinking of Welsh winter bird sites, Gigrin Farm is one of the first that comes to mind. The site is synonymous with Red Kites, and particularly kite feeding. Meat is put out for the kites every day, and up to 300 individuals can come down to feed, all in easy view of the five hides.
Exe Estuary, Devon
The sites around the Exe Estuary offer wonderful winter opportunities to watch good numbers of wintering ducks and geese (including plentiful Brents) as well as wintering birds of prey, Cetti’s Warbler and a decent number of Avocets even in the ‘coldest’ months. South Devon is of course the last great stronghold of the extremely restricted Cirl Bunting in the UK. If you haven’t paid a visit yet this year, this month is your last opportunity to add this lovely little bird to your UK year list.
Isle of Sheppey, Kent
There are many places in the south-east of England which can deliver the goods in mid-winter. Sheppey is among the best, with some of the best raptorand owl-watching in the region. Harty Ferry is a key site, where Buzzards and wintering Marsh Harriers may be joined by Rough-legged Buzzard and Hen Harrier, with Merlins featuring, as well as good chances of Shorteared and Barn Owls. There are Corn Buntings, Stonechats and much more to search for, too, as well as the coastal birds, such as Brent Geese, Shelduck and wintering waders. Don’t forget to visit Elmley NNR, for more owls, waterbirds and more.