Friday, 1 January 2016

So That Was 2015

Another year has come to end and it's time to reflect back on it all in a rather self-indulgent manner. My overall feeling is that it's been a good year birding-wise for me - I've certainly enjoyed it and seen some good things. As usual I'm going to split things up into various categories and award "bird of the year" prizes in each.

Starting off with Port Meadow, my local patch, I've done a detailed review on my Port Meadow patch blog so I'll be reasonably brief here. It was a rather poor year on the Meadow with a meagre total of just 123 on the year list, at least 7 below what I would normally hope for. This is chiefly down to the state of the floods which sadly dried up too soon in the spring and re-emerged too late in the autumn. In terms of rarities we did just manage to scrape by on that front with a 5 minute single-observer (sadly not me) Wryneck on Burgess Field but that was it. In terms of the Patch Bird of the Year award I'm somewhat loathe to award it to a bird that I didn't see myself (i.e. the Wryneck) though it should of course get some recognition so I'll jointly give it to the Wrneck and a 1w drake Goldeneye that turned up right at the end of the year. This was almost certainly a Patch first and certainly brightened up a dull winter's day.

The surprise Goldeneye

Next we have county birding. As regular readers will know I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with county birding. I find it immensely frustrating that one can go so long without anything happening on the listing front and the cost of being out of county when something good comes along can be really harsh. I managed to miss out on the first twitchable Dartford Warbler since I've been birding the county which turned up at Otmoor this year whilst I was down in Cornwall - that will take
some time to get back. Still I managed to get three Oxon ticks this year which I can't really complain about. First off was a remarkable flock of four Ring-necked Ducks that turned up at Standlake at Pit 60 in April. This was an almost unprecedented count of this rare American duck, especially for an inland location so it was great that our humble county was graced with these birds. I went the morning that they were found and was rewarded with a shiny new Oxon tick for my troubles.

Two of the four Ring-necked Ducks
Next was a blitzkrieg twitch on my VLW's birthday to see a Red-necked Phalarope that had popped in at the Bicester Wetlands reserve. Normally I would never have been able to twitch something on such an important date but unfortunately she'd been ill so wanted to take a birthday nap whilst I took the children. They tolerated a 10 minute stop-off at the reserve whilst I ticked the delightful Phalarope before we went off for some more family-friendly activities instead.

The third county tick was a real Black Ops affair. A group of the county's finest rendezvoused at a nondescript car park in Abingdon during the summer months. We were bundled into a van with blackened windows before being taken to an unknown destination on the Downs where we were made to walk for half an hour before our blindfolds were removed. There we were rewarded with some great views of a pair of Nightjars on territory - a great county tick and very welcome news to have this enigmatic species breeding once more in the county.

Apart from these three county ticks there were a few local trips including to Farmoor to see the Grey Phalarope and to Otmoor for the Great Grey Shrike. As far as my personal county bird of the year award, it goes to the Red-necked Phalarope because it was such a close shave as far as getting to see it was concerned and also because I really like Phalaropes!

Of course these days I also indulge in Cornish county listing. There were two main trips down there of note: a trip in February gave me no less than four Cornish ticks (Little Bunting, King Eider, Ring-billed Gull and Mandarin Duck) and my usual October trip where I managed five ticks (Alpine Swift, Pallas's Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Ring Ouzel and Crossbill). So nine ticks this year, a pretty good haul! Cornish bird of the year has to be the jointly self-found Pallas's Warbler.

Cornish Little Bunting

Cornish Ring-billed Gull

Moving on to national birding now, my main aim with this is to further my modest national life list. I say modest but I am now actually getting reasonably close (two more years should do it) to the 400 level at which point I suppose that I can no longer consider myself to be a low-lister. I've certainly already got the point where I can no longer expect heaps of lifers to turn up all the time - I managed 14 new birds this year which I'm pretty pleased with. It all kicked off in February when I ventured northwards to see the long-staying Laughing Gull in New Brighton.

The Laughing Gull
There was also a trip (or more accurately two trips as I dipped first time) over to Shoeburyness in Essex to catch up with the Serins there.


The best trip of the year in terms of lifers was when I went over the border to Scotland in April after dropping my daughter off at Durham University. I managed to catch up with the female Harlequin Duck at Brora, the White-billed Diver at Portsoy and finally mopped up the two Scottish specialities that I was still missing, namely Capercaillie and Scottish Crossbill.

Brora Harlequin Duck

May and June provided a great trio of rare American waders with the Hudsonian Godwit at Meare Heath, the Greater Yellowlegs at Titchfield Haven and the Hudsonian Whimbrel at Church Norton. All good stuff!

Titchfield Haven Greater Yellowlegs

The autumn provided a fine trio of trips, starting off with a mini fall of rarities at Spurn coinciding with my trip to take our daughter back to University. There I managed to see my first Citrine Wagtail as well as a Pied Wheatear, Great White Egret and countless Yellow-browed Warblers.

Spurn Citrine Wagtail

Spurn Pied Wheatear
Next off was a mad race over to Slimbridge where I managed to get five minutes of Little Crake views before it disappeared never to be seen again. Finally I had the great autumn trip down to my beloved Cornwall that I've already mentioned where the Alpine Swift was a new bird for me.

Cornish Alpine Swift

In November I made a trip north to Chesterfield where sadly I managed all of thirty seconds of Crag Martin views. The next month was better with a trip to Norfolk to see the Pallid Harrier which performed beautifully for me.

Norfolk Pallid Harrier

Apart from the blatant and filthy twitches listed above, there were of course also my twice-termly trips up to the North East for my daughter's university runs. There's always something to see up there and I've continued to enjoy getting to know this part of the country. Highlights have included Iceland and Viking Gulls, a summer trip for Northern Brown Argus, and a flock of Twite and a Surf Scoter.

In terms of my national bird of the year, it's rather a tricky call as there are so many good birds to choose from. I think in the end it's going to go to the lovely female Harlequin duck, partly because it was such a wonderfully remote location and such a long way from home.

There have also of course been insects to occupy me during the summer months and I've managed to add a few more butterflies and odonata to my british life list. In May I managed to catch up with a local speciality, Club-tailed Dragonfly for the first time. June brought me my first Glanville Fritillary, White-faced Darters (and Large Heaths) at Whixall Moss, Northern Brown Argus up near Durham, as well as some local Damselflies (Variable and White-legged). Insect of the year award goes to Club-tailed Dragonfly as I was so lucky to find one emerging when I did.

Goring Club-tailed Dragonfly

So all in all it's been a full and productive year for me which I've enjoyed greatly. I've no particular plans for 2016 as yet: I'll be going back and forth to Durham still, there will be regular trips down to Cornwall no doubt, I've got more insects that I want to see in the summer and apart from that it will just be waiting to see what turns up.

Finally, it only remains for me to wish my readers a very Happy and Birdy New Year! I'll leave you with my traditional end of year round-up of Oxon county birds, as usual set to somewhat inappropriate hard rock music.

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