Our top 10 wildlife sightings for December

This month it's all about birds! We've been joined by many species that have come to the UK to escape the colder winter on the continent. From lakes and rivers, to hedgerows and car parks there is always somewhere to see some bird life.
Brambling

Bramblings

Bramblings can look like a chaffinch at first glance, and often form large flocks mixed with chaffinches so they can be tricky to spot.

Keep an eye out for them in beech woodland where they feed on the beech mast, as is the male brambling in the photo above. Try woodland reserves in the Chilterns, such as Warburg Nature Reserve and Dancersend

Goldeneye

Goldeneye

These distinctive ducks are seen on large lakes and rivers. Keep an eye out for them at Hosehill Lake and Calvert Jubilee.

Goldeneyes nest in cavities in trees so their chicks have to perform a great leap of faith the day after hatching to leave the nest and reach the ground! The population increases massively in winter due to migrants from the continent.

Goosanders

Goosanders by Margaret Holland

Goosander

Goosander catch fish with their long, serrated bills - they are often called sawbills - including trout and salmon. Young goosanders need to eat over 30kg of fish before they reach adulthood. Their scientific name, Mergus merganser, roughly translates as plunging goose as they are often diving under water to hunt for fish. 

Calvert Jubilee and Foxcote Reservoir are great places to look for a whole range of water birds.

Hawfinch

Hawfinches

Hawfinches are the UK's largest finch and are easily identified, once you find one, by their very large bill.

The number of hawfinches increases in winter as birds arrive here to find food so keep an eye out, particularly in woodlands. Follow the HawfinchesUK Twitter account for the latest news!

Pied wagtail

Pied wagtails

Pied wagtails are very distinctive as they walk along the ground with their wagging tails searching for food. At dusk in winter they gather in large flocks to roost. You can often see this in urban areas as the roost in trees near offices and shops.

Pochard

Male pochard by Tom Marshall

Pochard

A small number of pochard live in the UK all year round but you will see many more during the winter when the numbers increase as birds arrive from the continent. Pochards are on the British Trust for Ornithology's red list as a bird of conservation concern as numbers are falling. 

College Lake is one of the best sites to see a whole range of wintering birds in the Buckinghamshire. 

Short-eared owl

Short-eared owl

Unlike many species of owl, you may see short-eared owls hunting during the day as well as at dusk.

In the winter our resident birds are joined by more from the continent. Look out for them hunting small mammals, and occasionally small birds, over wetlands and marshy grassland such as Chimney Meadows.

They have piercing yellow eyes and streaky feathers that camouflage them well against the grassland. Their 'ears' are actually tufts of feathers.

Starling murmuration

Starling murmurations

Starlings form large flocks in winter as British birds are joined by others from the continent. They roost together in huge flocks and as they gather at dusk they form huge murmurations. Watching a murmuration of starlings wheeling and whirling across the sky is one of winter's highlights.

In our area Thatcham Reeedbeds can be a good place to spot them as they gather at dusk before roosting.

Waxwing

Waxwings

Waxwings love berries! Later in December, look for these birds in hedgerows as they tuck into hawthorn and rowan. You may even spot them in supermarket car parks where they eat the berries of cotoneaster and pyracantha.

Every few years there’s what’s known as an irruption, when large numbers of waxwings arrive in the UK. Irruptions happen when the continental population is too large for the amount of food available, generally because there has been a successful breeding season. The birds flock here instead in search of food and we get a real winter treat. The WaxwingsUK Twitter account has all the latest sightings.

Wigeon

Wigeon

Look for 'whistling' wigeon on lakes, reservoirs and rivers and listen out for their distinctive whistling call. The males have a bold orange stripe along their heads while the females have a browner head and back. They eat vegetation and are often seen feeding on damp, marshy areas next to rivers and lakes.

Get started identifying different ducks and geese at College Lake, where you can ask reserve staff for help to tell them apart.