Woodberry bird highlights: December 2020

Aziz Rahman

Chris Farthing gives his latest update on recent bird highlights at Woodberry Wetlands

A mid-winter month which is lacking in severe weather generally means that few unusual birds are seen here. As it happened, we had to wait until the last day of the month for the December highlight. During a period of low water levels, a jack snipe was seen on ‘the beach’, the expansive area of mud which forms along the northern edge of the reservoir when the water is low. This tiny wading bird is notoriously difficult to see, and although likely to be present here throughout every winter, seeing one is a different matter. The previous sighting was in January 2019. This was the 103rd bird species seen here in 2020, which is very close to the average for the last five years.

great black-backed gull

© Chris Farthing

lesser black-backed x herring gull

© Chris Farthing

Gulls and ducks are usually where the interest here lies in a mild December. A second winter great black-backed gull (above photo) got into a habit of visiting in the first half of the month, and was seen almost every day on the gull pipes, often staying around for a few hours. A hybrid lesser black-backed x herring gull (left bird in photo) was seen on the 28th, and posed a bit of an ID problem. The bird had adult mantle and scapular feathers a shade of grey roughly midway between those of the two pure species, but with a streaky head which ruled out yellow-legged gull. The leg colour was also midway between the two pure species. Whilst no unusual ducks were seen here in December this year, the flock of around eight teal were seen all month with shoveler less frequent, a pair being seen on a few occasions.

Two areas of habitat provided special interest in December. On the beach, as well as the jack snipe, a good number of common snipe could be seen, with a maximum count of eight. With snipe species always difficult to see, it was useful to have a water rail frequenting the same area, as this bird would invariably wake the snipe up as it ran around aiming its sharp beak at anything in its way. The area of cleared reed-bed on the eastern side of the reservoir was also good for seeing water rail, especially during periods of higher water.

December is usually a good month to see kingfisher here, and they were seen fairly frequently along the New River as well as near the water inlet and outlet. Peregrine and sparrowhawk were the only raptors seen in the month.

Thrushes are a feature of winter here and song thrushes could be heard singing every day through December, with redwing frequently being seen flying over as well as a few fieldfare. Warblers are not a bird family associated with winter in the UK but Cetti’s warbler and chiffchaff were easy to see or hear on any day, with blackcap also being seen occasionally.

The total number of bird species seen here in December 2020 was 58, slightly down on the average from the previous four Decembers of 60.