Sunday, 8 January 2017

Review of 2016

So it's that time of year once again, time to look back over the last year of Gnome Birding and to reflect on the highs and lows. Certainly by all measures nationally it was a pretty amazing year with a record-breaking number of species seen in the country and with a whole heap of national firsts, including some rather contentious firsts for the country such as the Dalmation Pelican, the Purple Swamphen and the Lammergeir. For this personal review as usual I will divide things up into three categories: Patch birding on Port Meadow, county birding (Oxon and Cornwall) and national birding.

Port Meadow Patch Birding
As far Port Meadow is concerned it was a good solid year. I've written a comprehensive review here but to summarise, we had a reasonable year list total of 133 and the highlight birds were a Spoonbill (seen as a fly-over by one person), a Yellow-browed Warbler (also seen by just one person), a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that I enjoyed excellent views of for about five minutes and a Sandwich Tern which roosted one evening on the Meadow. This last species is only the second ever record on the Meadow, with the last one being back in 1995. There was also an epic fall of waders in May with 66 birds of 9 species all brought down by drizzly weather conditions - it really was spectacular! On the Port Meadow blog I awarded the Bird of the Year award to the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

This was far rarer than either Spoonbill or Yellow-browed Warbler on the patch

Oxon County Birding
It was I think a rather mediocre year in Oxon county birding. The year list total was 211 which was a bit down on previous years and personally I only had one county tick which was the long-staying Purple Heron. There were some frustrating near misses such as the Golden Oriel seen at dawn at the Wittenham Clumps by a lucky few observers though sadly was nowhere to be found when all the county birders turned up. So the Purple Heron was definitely the highlight of the Oxon birding year for me as it was also a personal lifer as well. As usual I did a photo montage of the county birding year set to inappropriately heavy music. For those who haven't seen it yet, here it is again.

Cornwall County Listing
These days I also have my Cornish list to contend with. Whereas with Oxon I'm there almost all the time, with Kernow I'm only there a few weeks a year. Nevertheless my Cornish list surpassed my Oxfordshire one several years ago and continues to move ahead. This year I managed five Cornish ticks: Barnacle Goose, Dalmation Pelican, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Cattle Egret and Franklin's Gull. The Cornish Bird of the Year has to be the Cattle Egret as it was a great self-found on my Pendeen Patch.

The Pendeen Cattle Egret

National Birding
I've been chipping away at my national life list with excursions regularly throughout the year. As usual my twitching distance has been fairly limited though my old rule of two hours has long since fallen by the wayside. My Uni runs up to Durham brought a few good sightings this year though they're starting to tail off now as my eldest daughter sometimes uses the train these days. Apart from these long university trips, I still don't like going too far for a bird unless there's a really good chance of seeing it. In passing, during the year I amassed a year list total of 198 without making any effort on it at all.

Kicking off in January on a Durham run I managed finally to tick a personal sea watching bogey bird with Little Auk though the views were all too brief. The long boring month of February was enlivened by the Wiltshire Hooded Merganser which I went for as a bit of an insurance tick, having the dodgy Radipole bird already on my list. This Corsham bird was duly accepted by the powers that be so it was worth the trip. Talking of listing authorities I'm increasingly inclined to move away from the standard authorities and instead to making my own mind up on what I'm going to count. I'm aware that if one wants to do comparative listing then you need a single standard but I generally only list for myself so the Gnome Rarities Committee (GRC) tends to make a few decisions that rather go against the grain of conventional thinking. As an aside, I'm also increasingly attracted to sub-species (which seem to be being split quite rapidly anyway) and for example am thinking of splitting the likes of Eastern Black Redstart and American Black Tern.

The Corsham Hooded Merganser

On my March Durham run, amongst other things I managed to see the Demoiselle Crane up in the Lake District. This species has yet to make it onto any official lists due to the high number of captive birds and even the GRC is still thinking about this one. That same trip also got me a nice over-wintering Hoopoe, some Hartlepool Shorelarks and a Penduline Tit in Cleveland.

Penuline Tit at Saltholme in Cleveland

After that it got rather quiet for a couple of months. I horribly dipped the Broad-billed Sandpiper at the Goldcliff pools near Newport in April, going there "en route" from a trip up to Durham. That trip was very stressful for all sorts of reasons. June was a better month with a successful twitch of the Titchwell Great Knot and then a revenge trip back to Goldcliff where I managed to get the Broad-billed Sandpiper on my list. I also had another Durham trip which was successful on the butterfly front (see later) but where I managed to dip a whole host of birds that I'd lined up including Roseate Tern, King Eider and Woodchat Strike and in the end only connecting with a Bonaparte's Gull at the end of the day. Fortunately none of those birds were lifers but it can be very frustrating when nothing really works out.

The Titchwell Great Knot actually showed far better than this photo suggests

July brought me another long-overdue tick when I caught up with the Collard Pratincole at Ham Wall in Somerset. August was a productive month with a mad dash over to Suffolk for the Western Purple Swamphen (GRC-accepted already) where I managed to get it at last light on the Friday night before it disappeared overnight. That was incredibly lucky as it would have been horrible to have arrived too late to see it and to then have dipped the next morning.

August also saw a family holiday in Cornwall where I finally caught up with the controversial Dalmation Pelican (also GRC-accepted) as well as adding the Hudsonian Whimbrel to my Cornish list.

It took a number of attempts to get the Hudsonian Whimbrel

September was very quiet with no major excursions but the start of October was another Durham trip to Spurn where I finally managed to get another sea watching bogye bird, namely Long-tailed Skua on my list. I also had a failed trip to Norfolk where I dipped Radde's Warbler though had a Great Grey Shrike and Olive-backed Pipit as compensation. After that was a trip back to Spurn to pay homage to the amazing Siberian Accentor that was part of an unprecedented invasion in this country. I was really lucky when a bonus Isabelline Wheatear was found right next door the same day.

Siberian Accentor at Easington

My annual October Cornwall trip was rather a low key affair with the Cattle Egret and a Franklin's Gull the highlights. There was nothing of note in November at all but December really came up with the goods with a couple of Mega thrushes. The first was the Dusky Thrush at Beeley in Derbyshire which I managed good views of though the huge crowd somewhat spoilt the experience.

The Beeley Dusky Thrush

Then in the last few days of the year an amazing Blue Rock Thrush was found at Stow-on-the-Wold just over the county border in Goucestershire. There seems to be some debate on the provenance of this bird though the GRC are happy to accept it.

The Blue Rock Thrush

Finally, on the last day of the year with just a few hours of daylight left, I managed to see the Mousehole Eastern Black Redstart, a lovely bird and a great way to end the year.

Mousehole Eastern Black Redstart, soon to be split?

So there you are, a pretty good national year. The coveted national bird of the year award has to go to the Siberian Accentor because it just summed up what an amazing birding year 2016 was.

Regular readers will know that I while away the summer months with plants and insects and this year was no exception. This year I was determined to finish off my UK butterfly list which had been languishing near the finish line for some years now. With a concerted effort I managed Swallowtail at Strumpshaw Fen, Mountain Ringlet at Irton Fell, Heath Fritillary and East Blean Woods, and finally Lulworth Skipper at Durlston CP, thereby completing the set.

Mountain Ringlet

Heath Fritillary

Lulworth Skipper

I also made a real effort with my Odonata list and nearly got there, at least as far as non-Scottish ones are concerned. I made trips for Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly, Southern Migrant Hawker and Scarce Emerald (though in the end I'm not sure that I got the latter so I'm not counting it), Common Hawker and finally Willow Emerald. Just left on my list now are a confirmed sighting of Scarce Emerald, Southern Emerald and the two Scottish ones, namely Azure Hawker and Northern Blue Damselfly.

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly
Southern Migrant Hawker

Common Hawker

Willow Emerald

My mothing this year was rather low key and half-hearted. I always have problems with my rather urban garden setting and with the poor weather this year was worse than usual so I more or less gave up by the early autumn. That's not to say that I'm not going to carry on for next year but it will perhaps be more in the background than before. 

I did go and twitch this Clepsis dumicolana - a new immigrant from abroad that had formed a colony outside a house in Longwick Bucks

As my mothing interest has waned so my interest in plants has grown. Looking out for interesting plants has become a regular part of any outing that I go on, especially in the summer months and I expect to do more of this next year as well as going on dedicated botanising trips rather than just doing it en passant.

I enjoyed finding this Alpine Lady's Mantle on top of a 3000 foot mountain in Scotland

Looking Ahead
So there you have it, a good year of chasing after birds, insects and plants and then blogging about it. For 2017 expect more of the same though with less butterflies (as I've done them now). In my sights I now have 400 for my BOU UK list (with some GRC additions) though if I decide to split loads more things then I'm already there. Finally I'd like to wish a belated Happy New Year to all my readers and here's to a bird-filled 2017!

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