Bedfordshire Birding in December
December is a month in which most winter visitors have arrived but surprises are still to be found as birds move around to seek best feeding and sheltering areas, particularly in response to adverse weather conditions. The holiday season gives an opportunity for many birders to spend some more time in the field with the Christmas Bird Hunt and maybe filling the last gap on the year list when weather and daylight allow.
Visits to most of the recognised pits around the county should be rewarded with a good selection of waterfowl and regular visits will show the changes in numbers as birds move from one area to another. Shallower waters will hold attractive Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Wigeon while the deeper pits may attract Goldeneye, Goosander or even Smew which becomes more likely towards the end of the month. One North American ducks species is an obvious gap in the county list and one lucky birder will eventually be able to celebrate the discovery of a Lesser Scaup.
Divers and Grebes are also potential visitors in the colder and more unsettled periods while the development of ice will make it more likely that a wintering Bittern will be discovered. The last few years have seen an increase in numbers and any reedbed in the county has potential to hold this species. Most sightings have been as birds move to roost or when extreme cold forces them on to the open ice in search of food.
December is also a good month for arrival of the scarcer grey goose species and these will often linger with the more established groups of feral birds that are widespread particularly in the middle of the county. In 2008/09, a group of Tundra Bean Geese were with us for some months though a group of White-fronted Geese is more likely to be discovered.
Now that the leaves have left the trees, woodland birds become easier to observe and a quiet frosty morning with no wind can be good conditions to observe Nuthatch or the now very scarce Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which may be located by listening for the tap of a feeding bird on a high branches. These species and Treecreeper may join tit flocks moving through their feeding areas. Ivy covered trunks provide good feeding and shelter for Goldcrest and wintering Firecrest is also possible in this micro-habitat. The month is also a good time for locating a group of wintering Hawfinch in some of the county’s parklands or estates where there is remaining suitable open hornbeam and oak woodland.
In the fields and hedgerows, game strips provide a focal point for birders searching for Tree Sparrow, finches and buntings. Any good feeding area should produce Brambling and Reed Bunting amongst more numerous species such as Chaffinches and Yellowhammer. A Little Bunting was found with Reed Buntings near Great Barford in 2017 while nearby inland counties have records of Pine and Rustic Bunting in recent years so maybe there is one to be found in Bedfordshire soon.
A Merlin dashing through these flocks in our fields is possible as these fine raptors become more widely reported in winter while the increasing Peregrine is more likely found around our wetlands or possibly chasing pigeons and moving to roost in a sheltered and elevated town centre location.
Quality county rarities reported in this month in previous years include two out of five records of Eider (1982 and 1995), Velvet Scoter in 1985 and 1986 and Rough legged Buzzard in 1997.