One bird which I never grow tired of seeing is peregrine. This stocky raptor is the epitome of a bird of prey, with its muscular build and rapid flight, and is certainly one of those birds guaranteed to grab a birdwatchers attention! The peregrine is the world’s most widespread raptor, but has suffered from persecution and more recently the effects of organochlorine pesticides such as DDT, which caused thinning of the eggshells in many raptors resulting in increased nest failure. After the Second World War, when the use of these substances was at its height, UK populations plummeted by over 80% but since these compounds were banned in the 1980s, populations have bounced back, with almost 1,800 pairs in 2014 and nesting took place on the reserve for the first time in 2016. The name itself comes from the Latin word for ‘pilgrim’ or ‘wanderer’ and this species was so called because juvenile birds for falconry were usually taken on migration rather than from the nest.
Numbers of golden plover (above) remained high during December, with around 2000 on Flat Beach on the 30th the highest count, while lapwing numbers peaked at around 650 on the 2nd and the maximum count of curlew roosting on the reserve was 311 on the 8th. Other than this, it was somewhat sparse on the wader front, with records largely relating to familiar species such as oystercatcher, dunlin (below), redshank and grey plover. Highlight was a spotted redshank on Harbour Farm on the 8th, with three ruff at Castle Water on the 2nd and up to eight black-tailed godwit (also at Castle Water) also of note. As with the waders, waterfowl records largely related to the ‘usual suspects’, with up to 544 wigeon, 197 gadwall, 148 pochard, 143 teal, and 79 shoveler recorded during the month. Waterfowl highlights included spoonbill on Harbour Farm, with three birds present on the 2nd, a great white egret at Castle Water on the 4th and a black-necked grebe on Long Pit on the 17th, 20th and 26th, while up to four goldeneye were present on Harbour Farm. In addition, a dead kittiwake was found on the Beach Reserve on the 15th.
Raptors included regular marsh harrier, with at least three (and perhaps as many as five) on the 4th, peregrine on 16th (Harbour Farm) and 19th (Beach Reserve), merlin on Harbour Farm on the 12th and a buzzard at Castle Water on the 16th. In addition, a short-eared owl was spotted over Ternery Pool on the 8th and barn owl was present on Harbour Farm on a couple of dates. Passerines included regular stonechat, several small flocks of ‘winter thrushes’, with 10+ fieldfare at Castle Water on the 2nd and a small group of redwing on Castle Farm on the 16th, a kingfisher on Harbour Farm on the 19th and two raven over the Beach Reserve on the 26th. Undoubtedly the highlight was a group of three twite (below) on Flat Beach near the Gooders hide from the 28th to the end of the month, the first records here since 2004.
While sightings were few and far between there were still a few invertebrates active during December, with red admiral and common darter recorded on the 4th and a peacock on the 5th. Plants in flower included red valerian, viper’s bugloss, common ragwort, common groundsel, lesser periwinkle, daisy, dandelion, sea mayweed, red deadnettle, gorse and annual mercury (below).