Friday, 3 January 2014

That Was The Year That Was

Yes, it's that time of year ago when all bloggers start looking back over the year and assessing how it's been for them. By all accounts it's been a pretty amazing year for mega rarities in the country though as the majority of them have occurred in the furthest reaches of the country they haven't troubled me much. Still I have had a very good year by my standards with twenty one new birds to my name though of course this is relatively easy for a low-lister such as myself though if I carry on at this rate I'll find myself with an almost respectable tally. I'm not in a great hurry to see everything though: it's a law of diminishing returns and I'd like my enjoyment of this great hobby to last as long as possible.

My birding divides naturally into three parts: my regular local patch birding on Port Meadow, county bird in Oxon and my regular out of county sorties. Taking each in turn...

Port Meadow
It's been a funny year for the Patch. We had a fantastic start to the year, picking up almost everything that we could hope for in the first five months before the floods unfortunately dried up for the summer. After this it all ground to a halt with very little to do until the floods re-appeared in late autumn. During the flooded period we managed all the rare gulls that we were likely to get including several Caspians, Iceland, and even an adult Glaucous Gull, a very rare age for this gull in the county.

Some of the top Gulls from Port Meadow for this year

Wader action was rather muted this year with some spring Avocets probably being the highlight. Sadly, we didn't even manage a Wood Sandpiper this year - normally we get several each year. There was a near-miss in June on Port Meadow with a couple of what were almost certainly Spoonbills on the last of the floods though sadly I never got enough on them to be certain. However, the highlight of the year on the patch was undoubtedly the Yellow-browed Warbler that I managed to find at the start of October, this being only something like the fifth or sixth for the county. It managed to stay around for a few days so that plenty of people got to see it, which was nice. Of course like buses, two more appeared in quick succession in the county after the Meadow bird in what was a great autumn across the country for this species. Nevertheless it was a really special moment for me when I heard it's call as I was trudging back from a fruitless tramp around the dried-up Meadow. Once the floods returned in November it was back to class birding with three more Caspians and an Iceland gull to round off the year.

The Port Meadow Patch bird of the year for me (c) Roger Wyatt

County Birding
I normally devote quite a few column inches in the blog to moaning about county birding though this year I can't really complain. By many counts it's been a rather quiet year in the county bird wise with a below-par county year list total and no real national Mega's to get one's juices going and to draw in out-of-county twitchers. One possible exception would be the Dix Pit Falcated Duck though of course we all saw it (I presume it's the same bird returning) last year and at the time of writing it seems to have buggered off after less than 24 hours. However, it's been a good county birder's year, if you know what I mean. Lots of hard to see county birds have turned up especially at Farmoor which had a spectacular autumn: Great Skua (a singleton and a party of four), Arctic Skua, Gannet, Ring-billed Gull, Red-necked Grebe and Velvet Scoter all turned up this autumn though sadly some of these were untwitchable. Added to that in the county there were several Yellow-browed Warblers and even two Wrynecks at least one of which was easily twitchable - the other was technically so as I did it but only by a matter of ten minutes. All in all, it's been a good autumn, at least for those in the lower half of the county list table - the county elders of course have seen all these birds before.

Some of the highlights of this autumn in the county

I think that my personal county bird of the year would have to be between the Yellow-browed Warbler again and the Otmoor Wryneck that somehow I managed to get by the skin of my teeth after missing the easy one a few days earlier. Since the Warbler has already got one award I'll give it to the Wryneck who sadly can't be with us to collect it today as (hopefully) he's somewhere much further south for the winter.

There is also of course the annual county bird review video which I do each year for the Oxon Bird Log. I thought that I'd include it here as well as it provides a good round-up of the year's birding in the county.

The Oxon County Birding Review of the Year 2013

National Birding
Most of this blog is devoted to my occasional sorties out beyond the county boundaries in order to work on my meagre life list. As I mentioned at the beginning, it's been a good year for me on that front. Some of the birds that I've seen this year include: Pallas's Warbler, Golden Pheasant, Black-bellied Dipper, Pied-billed Grebe, Roller, Savi's Warbler, King Eider, Little Bittern, Pacific Golden Plover, Caspian Tern, Lesser Grey Shrike, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Isabelline (Daurian) Shrike, Bonelli's Warbler, Short-toed Lark, Dusky Warbler, Two-barred & Parrot Crossbills, Ivory Gull & Brunnich's Guillemot I've been up to Scotland, across to Norfolk, down to Cornwall, in the Midlands and up to Humberside. I've been particularly pleased that I've managed to catch up with all three species which are having a bit of a mini-invasion this autumn, namely Two-barred Crossbills, Parrot Crossbills and of course Ivory Gulls.

 Some of the highlights from the year

There has also been my increasing interest in insects which got me through the lean summer months. Highlights include Black and White-letter Hairstreaks, Large Blue, Wood White, Chequered Skipper as well as countless moths from my Garden Moth Challenge effort.

I was very lucky to connect with the Chequered Skippers in Scotland, 
especially as I only had a two hour window to find them

The Cot Valley Death's Head Hawk Moth was very memorable

So now we come to the highlight of this posting, the coveted National Bird of the Year award. With so many birds to choose from it's been a rather difficult decision. Special mentions should go to: the Cornwall Bonelli's Warbler for being so difficult to see - I reckon that it took me nine hours of trying before I managed to nail that one; the Roller was a great bird to see but unfortunately it was rather distant and hazy; Golden Pheasant just for having taken so many tries before finally seeing one; Caspian Tern is always a hard bird to twitch so to have one stay put and give such good views was great; the Pallas's Warbler livened up an otherwise very long and cold winter; Savi's Warbler is always a hard bird to see but I got great views at Lakenheath as I did too of the Staffordshire Dusky Warbler, normally another very skulking species; Brunnich's Guillemot for offering such close views of a Mega Rare. All these birds have contributed to a good year and are worthy of a mention. The judges have narrowed it down to two finalists, firstly the Ivory Gull which certainly comes in the "I never thought that I'd ever get to see one" category and was definitely a great bird though sadly I never got to see it at point blank range and secondly the Pendeen Daurian Shrike, not because it's particularly rare but because, as an adult male it was so subtly beautiful, it showed well often at close range and it was of course in my beloved Pendeen. In the end I couldn't decide between these two so they're going to share the award this year.  Sadly neither of them could be here this evening but I'm sure they're very grateful wherever they are.

Blog of the Year
I don't normally include this category but I feel that I have to give a special mention to what has been one of the most exciting and gripping (in the traditional sense) blog that I have read in a long long time. Neil Hayward embarked on a "Big Year" (an American year list) this year. His blog is entitled "Accidental Big Year" as he only started part way through the year when he realised just how much he'd happened to have seen already at the beginning. I managed to stumble across this blog in the summer and have followed with fascination as he closed in on Sandy Komito's seemingly unassailable total of 748 (the subject of the "Big Year" film). The dust hasn't yet settled on the final total as there are three outstanding birds that need commitee approval. Two of those should be straight-forward leaving him with a total of 748 or in fact 749 if he decides to include Aplomado Falcon which Sandy counted in his total but apparently which is rather dodgy for some reason which escapes me. I ended up reading every single entry in the blog and would wait with keen anticipation for each new update. Truly how blogging should be!

Some Stats
As I mentioned I managed to see 21 new birds this year which is above my target minimum of 18 per year (derived from 1.5 a month). I clearly won't be able to keep this rate up for ever but I hope to have a few more years before I've seen too much to be able easily to find new birds to see. This year I went on two major trips (Scotland and Cornwall), a couple of minor Cornwall visits and 12 day sorties (plus several butterfly and dragonfly trips). My year list total, over which I made absolutely no effort at all, came out at 222

So there you have it, another great year's birding is over and it's time to scrub off the year list and start a new one. I've not got anything in particular planned for next year so we'll just take it as it comes. Thanks to everyone who actually bothers to read this blog. As I've said before, I actually write it for myself so I can remember my birding exploits but it's always nice when people stop me and say how they like (or at least read) my scribblings. 

A Happy and Bird-filled New Year to my readers! See you at the next Big One.

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