What to see in December

Go wildlife watching in DecemberTeal flock © Gldzy via Flickr

Winter is well and truly underway come December and our over-wintering bird populations have arrived and settled into their watery residences until the Spring. With a vast array of wetlands and estuaries, the UK and East Yorkshire in particular is a mecca for tens of thousands of wetland birds, both rare and widespread alike.

Humber Estuary

The Humber Estuary is a principal site for overwintering birds and is in the top eight locations in the UK, with around 120,000 birds calling the estuary home between November and March every year. This makes a visit to this area a must if you want to see a wide range of bird species and witness the sheer magnificence of the scale of winter migration.

Key reserves along the Humber Estuary include RSPB Blacktoft Sands, YWT Kilnsea Wetlands, YWT Paull Holme Strays, YWT Welwick Saltmarsh and YWT Spurn Point so you really are spoilt for choice when it comes to wildlife watching in winter! The YWT reserves are all in close vicinity to each other at the mouth of the estuary and the mudflats in this area around Spurn throng with waders including curlew, grey and golden plover, redshanks and bar-tailed godwit as well as mega flocks of more widespread visitors including knot and dunlin. In fact, because of our milder winters, we are now also increasingly seeing less common waders such as the spotted redshank whose numbers across the UK were at a peak in the Humber in 2015.

RSPB Blacktoft Sands is further inland at the start of the Humber estuary and is one of the most northerly inland tidal reedbeds in the country. The lagoons are filled with wintering wildfowl and waders in December including wigeon, ruff, dunlin, snipe, redshank and golden plover to name but a few of the 200 species of birds that are seen at this reserve throughout the year. The hides around the lagoon cater for those with limited mobility to give everyone the chance to see the natural spectacle on offer. However, don’t forget to also keep your eye on the reedbeds too as you may be granted a glimpse of a bittern or water rail. These birds reside at the reserve all year-round but you are much more likely to catch a view of these elusive birds in the winter. Then, to top it all off, winter also presents the opportunity for bird of prey sightings with the reserve a stronghold for marsh harrier, hen harrier and merlin as part of an impressive daily evening roost.

Inland Wetlands

Inland from the Humber, wetlands and waterways are widespread across East Yorkshire with some of the largest wetland areas including YWT North Cave Wetlands, Yorkshire Water’s Tophill Low and the National Nature Reserve in the Lower Derwent Valley which includes YWT Wheldrake Ings.

YWT North Cave Wetlands is a highly accessible site suitable to wheelchairs and buggies and, with four viewing hides and helpful bird identification boards, it makes a great destination for both the novice and expert bird watcher in winter. Winter residents include snipe and jack snipe, pink-footed geese and whooper swans as well as a colourful array of ducks including goldeneye, pochard, shoveler, gadwall and teal. Marsh harriers are also regularly spotted here as are barn owls and large flocks of finches and buntings who take advantage of the feeding stations around the reserve.

Yorkshire Water’s Tophill Low includes two large man-made reservoirs built alongside a patchwork of marshes, ponds, woodland and grassland that were re-landscaped in the 1950’s. With a dozen or so viewing hides there’s plenty of opportunity to look out for the wide variety of wildlife that reside in this area over winter and now, with a brand-new visitor centre open for winter 2016, there’s also a chance to warm up with a welcoming cup of tea after a rewarding day on the reserve.

Your efforts could provide you with a glimpse of the striking smew whose monochrome beauty rivals that of the avocet or maybe you’ll appreciate one of the many thousands of wigeon, teal, tufted duck and gadwall that spend the winter on this reserve. Alternatively, why not look out for the secretive bittern and water rail who spend their winters stalking the reed beds around the marshes. Plus, don’t forget to keep a watchful eye out for otters, barn owls and kingfishers who also appreciate this wonderful wildlife haven in the Holderness area.

Freshwater Lakes

The lake at Hornsea Mere is internationally important for the concentration of waterbirds that reside in the area and, for this reason, has been awarded status as a Special Protection Area (SPA). The mere is Yorkshire’s largest freshwater lake and, in winter, a visit to this secluded spot just inland from the North Sea provides the opportunity to see goldeneye indulge in their pre-breeding neck-jerking displays, with bitterns and otters often lurking in the reed fringes. The harshest weather finds ‘sea ducks’ make their way here, including scaup, mergansers and a variety of grebes and divers.

Alongside Hornsea Mere there is a café which caters for bird and wildlife watchers plus, of course, there’s also the opportunity to sample locally sourced fish and chips with plenty of establishments in the town centre.