Sunday, 2 February 2020

End of Year Review

For reasons that I have already outlined previously, I have very limited time at present so it's only now that I am able to write my end of year review. I expect that most people have already tired of such indulgent look-backs but personally this is the first opportunity that I've had and it's a good chance for me to reminisce on the past year. As usual I will divide it up into various categories and award "Bird of the Year" awards to each.

Patch Birding
As in previoius years I've done a more comprehensive annual review on my Port Meadow birding blog (see here) so I'll just give an executive summary here. It was a rather quiet year in many respects with a below average year list tally of 125, reflecting the poor county year that we've had generally. When doing the review I was reminded of what a good winter's gulling we had at the start of the year with no less than 7 Caspian Gulls and 3 Med Gulls. This was in no small part due to the efforts of Thomas Miller, a young and very keen birder who works the patch with me. His enthusiasm reminds me of how I used to be when I first started out on the Meadow. Gradually the years of toil grind you down though!

The highlight for me and Patch bird of the year was the Grey-headed Wagtail that was found (by Thomas) in May there. Other notables were Merlin and Wood Warbler, neither of which I personally saw.

Grey-headed Wagtail courtesy of Thomas Miller
I suppose that I should now include my London Patch of Regents Park in this review. The only bird of note at all was the errant Red-throated Diver that turned up there so that would have to be the London Bird of the Year. For your information, my Regents Park life list stands at a princely 54 now with a Water Rail being one of the nicer recent additions.

London Bird of the Year
National Birding
This year I managed five UK national lifers, which was pretty much in line with last year. Due to the law of diminishing returns, ticks are only going to get harder and harder to come by though thankfully the current trend for splitting loads of species is helping to ease the situation a little, with more on offer each year and the possibility of some armchair ticks to boot.

In the spring the only sortie of note was the dash over to Slimbridge to see the elusive Little Bustard. After a frustrating three hour wait in sweltering heat that was hot enough to get the legendary LGRE to remove his shirt (not really what you want to see when out birding!) I finally managed to get reasonable views of its head sticking out of the long grass. A lot of hard work for less than crippling views but hey, a tick's a tick!

There were no other national trips after that until the Autumn when I had to take Daughter Number 2 up to Edinburgh for the start of her term there. A lunchtime stop en route for a mystery Wheatear made for a pleasant diversion which was made all the more special when some days later it was finally identified as a Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, a fine UK lifer no less!

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear at Pilling
After dropping off my daughter I then made a trip up into the Highlands in absolutely perfect weather to pay homage to the Strontium Black Duck. After a shaky start I managed to nail it down properly and enjoyed my second lifer of the trip. I'll remember the second part of the trip as much for the glorious weather and wonderful scenery as anything else.

The Strontium Black Duck
It was only a week later that an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler turned up down on the south coast at Farlington Marshes. This was close enough to be a "must go" trip and fortunately the bird was pretty cooperative for me though it never stayed still long enough for a decent photo.

There then followed a trip to drop Daughter Number 1 off at Durham for the start of her PhD. With no great rarities on offer I settled for some nice second tier birding with a White-rumped Sandpiper at Tophill NR the star of the trip, with a Yellow-browed Warbler plus a few bits and bobs at Spurn making for a pleasant enough outing. 

Given my full-time work that began in October I had been thinking that that was going to be it for the year but right in the last couple of weeks an Eastern Yellow Wagtail (of the Blue-headed race) was found over in Norfolk. With some enforced time off work it seemed rude not pay it a visit. In terrible light and a nasty wind my views were worse than subsequent visitors seemed to have but I was happy enough with what I saw.

Blue-headed Eastern Yellow Wagtail
Whilst there news broke of a possible Grey-bellied Brant which I managed to see quite well.

Possible Grey-bellied Brant
On the way home I decided to stop in to see the long-staying Black-throated Thrush which, after a bit of searching, eventually showed nicely for me.

Black-throated Thrush
So all in all a grand finale to the year.

In terms of National Bird of the Year, this has been a tricky one but (perhaps controversially) I've decided to give it to the Strontium Black Duck. This is partly to do with the elation when I finally managed to nail it down after what had been a very long trip to see it and partially because the weather and scenery were just so perfect.

County Birding

As mentioned above, it was rather a low key year here in Oxon with a below average year list of around 200. There were a few good birds that turned up though which I managed to see. It started off in January when a trip to see the Ring-necked Parakeets in the University Parks turned up a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Sadly the bird was just passing through and had gone after 20 minutes but I managed to see a nice Black Redstart as part of the trip as well.

The Black Redstart, gracing the southern wall of Christ Church College
In April a lovely  Bonaparte's Gull turned up at Blenheim, which was well worth a visit. I've already mentioned the Grey-headed Wagtail that was found on Port Meadow in May. It's a shame that it was only a sub-species as otherwise it would have been an excellent county tick.

Also in May was the wonderful Red-rumped Swallow that was found up at Grimsbury Reservoir. This showy bird ended up staying for quite some time but I managed to see it on the morning it was found.

Red-rumped Swallow
The only Oxon tick of the year came in September when a Manx Shearwater turned up at Farmoor. This was a great grip-back after missing the only other twitchable bird during my time as an Oxon birder which as also at Farmoor back in 2009.Whilst this should make it an automatic shoe-in for my Oxon bird of the year to be honest I got more pleasure from the Red-rumped Swallow so controversially I'm going to award it to that little beauty instead.

I only made two trips to Cornwall this year, both of which were very low key in terms of good birds. In fact the best bird of the two trips was a Glossy Ibis - that's how bad it was. For that reason I shan't award a BotY award for Cornwall this year. For those who are interested the trip reports are here:
spring, summer.

Other Stuff
As regular readers will know in the summer months I tend to diversify into flowers and insects. Whilst this year was fairly low key in that respect there are still a few trips to report.

The first was a trip to see the Early Spider Orchids at Durlston Country Park down in Dorest. After bumbling about in the wrong direction a bit I eventually found them with a nice supporting cast of Early Purple and Green-winged Orchids

Durlston Early Spider Orchid
 My next trip was in June to catch up with the Man Orchids at Totternhoe Knolls.

Totternhoe Knolls Man Orchid

 That was sadly it for Orchids this year and the only insect trip of note was that as part of my summer visit to Cornwall I managed finally to see a Red-veined Darter at Drift Reservoir.

Red-veined Darter at Drift Reservoir
So that's it for my belated annual review. Being still very much in London work mode presently, I'm not sure how much I'll be able to do this year but I hope to have some time to enjoy the wonderful wildlife that this country has to offer.