Golden plover has become something of a feature of the reserve in the last 10 years, with large flocks frequenting Flat Beach Level in particular during the winter, and this month was no exception with counts regularly exceeding 2000 and with a maximum of around 3000 on the 17th. In Britain, this species breeds in upland habitats during the summer, moving to lower level during the winter where flocks may be joined by birds from northern Europe. It is largely nocturnal, perhaps because gulls are less likely to steal their meals at this time of day, feeding on invertebrates in grassland during the night and roosting during the day, with birds moving as much as 10km between feeding and roosting sites. In addition, while daytime gatherings can number in the thousands, giving many eyes to spot potential predators, night-time flocks are usually fewer than 10 birds.
As well as good numbers of golden plover, lapwing numbers peaked at around 1000 birds and this month also saw good counts of curlew, with 485 on the shore on the 19th, and snipe with 61 on the Beach Reserve on the 4th, this flock also containing at least three jack snipe. On the shore counts included at least 150 dunlin on the 18th, 72 sanderling on the 30th and 53 grey plover on the 31st, white at least 36 knot were on Flat Beach Level on the 13th, and 20 ruff at Castle Water on the 1st. Still good numbers of waterfowl on the reserve during December, despite the relatively mild weather, with counts including up to 1050 wigeon on the Beach Reserve and Harbour Farm on the 29th, 194 shoveler on the 13th, 190 teal at Castle Water on the 3rd, and 81 gadwall here on the 3rd. Notable sightings during the month included bittern on several dates at Castle Water, up to three great white egret, two smew
on Ternery Pool on the 4th, black-necked grebe on Long Pit on the 13th and the first goldeneye of the winter on Harbour Farm on the 13th. In addition, a super male mandarin (above) on Castle Water on the 21st was something of a surprise! Raptors included regular marsh harrier, with two at Castle Water early in the month, regular merlin, peregrine on the 8th (Beach Reserve) and 10th (Castle Water) and a buzzard at Castle Water on the 1st. In addition, short-eared owl were present over the Beach Reserve on the 4th and Harbour Farm on the 12th, a barn owl also being here present here on this date. Passerines included swallow over Harbour Farm on the 4th, our latest ever record, regular stonechat and rock pipit (below) and up to 35 skylark feeding in the new saltmarsh. At Castle Water at least 10 bearded tit were seen on the 8th, chiffchaff on the 1st (two) and 22nd, and small groups of bullfinch on the 1st and 3rd. Probably the best of the bunch were three firecrest feeding in a mixed flock with five goldcrest and 15 long-tailed tit at Castle Water on the 1st and three raven over Harbour Farm on the 11th.