Thursday 26 December 2019

Review of the year 2019 "my best ever"

Well that was some year! I beat my previous best year list total of 286 with a very satisfying 303.
(as at 26th Dec.)

My thirteen lifers included some real crackers....

American White-winged Scoter at Musselburgh in Scotland
Ortolan Bunting at Abberton in Essex
Whiskered Tern at Dungeness in Kent
Black-headed Bunting at Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire
Little Bustard at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire
Red-eyed Vireo in Easington East Yorkshire
Sooty Shearwater from a seawatch in Porthgwarra Cornwall
Great Snipe at Kilnsea in East Yorkshire
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler at Farlington in Hampshire
Black-eared Wheatear at Pilling in Lancashire
Brown Booby off Kynance Cove in Cornwall
Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Walberswick in Suffolk
Black-throated Thrush at Whipsnade

Black-throated Thrush

The Brown Booby at Kynance Cove
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler in Hampshire
The pending Pilling Wheatear
I went through the 400 LIFE mark with the above and now sit at 410 and I'm quietly very pleased to have made that landmark especially as they are all mainland ticks. No Scilly and no Shetland thus far for me although I have to say I very nearly caved in this year so next year will be a bigger test for me. I have nothing against people going and I would happily have gone before with more time and money to spare. Maybe I could arrange a family break around migration? Anyway I digress so back to reviewing this year. I visited Scotland for a week and cleaned up apart from Parrot/Scottish Crossbill and Caper. I managed to bag the Strontian Duck and a Blue-winged Teal whilst there and on the way down connected with four flavours of Scoter and a King Eider so a very rewarding trip. I had another holiday in Wales and added a day trip for the Bustard at Slimbridge. Three days in Cornwall over two trips gave several year ticks mostly from seawatching which I really enjoy but we did twitch the Booby too.

The Strontian Black Duck
We visited East Yorkshire more than usual but this year it was kinder to us delivering three lifers.
We birded in twenty one different counties of England and passed through all the others at some point on our travels which makes the hobby a great way to see our fantastic countryside too. Apart form the annual week in Scotland I also took holidays in Gloucestshire, Laugharne and Cumbria with the family.

The Black-headed Bunting twitch
Bird of the year this year well that's a difficult one again.
A favourite was the very confiding Garganey on the pond at Wanstead and I have fond memories of laying in Goose poop trying to get some decent images of the bird as day trippers wondered around the pond with their dogs completely unaware how well this duck was giving itself up. I also had a very confiding Great Grey Shrike which  the camera enjoyed and likewise a Sparrowhawk was a nice surprise in the garden allowing for some decent images but the best bird would have to be the Dark-throated Thrush that eventually showed really well for me.

Garganey at Wanstead
Great Grey Shrike
Garden Hawk

Star bird

As for rarities well I suppose a first for Britain would take some beating so the Brown Booby in Cornwall gets that award and Kynance Cove isn't too bad a place to sit it out for a day either.

Kynance Cove
Best days would probably be one of the sea watches at Porthgwarra or Cley as both had it all and we enjoyed good company and banter at both although the Cley one probably edged it with 28 Poms and 3 Little Auks plus it  was only two hours from home and we didn't get wet.

Seawatching at Porthgwarra
Seawatching at Cley
The dips included Bobolink, Brown Shrike, Collared Flycatcher, Broad-billed Sandpiper and Bluethroat. Golden Pheasant gave us the run around but we finally connected in December and we missed a couple of Richards Pipits and a Red-breasted Flycatcher late in the year. We gave three days up trying to connect with Honey Buzzard in Hampshire and Nottinghamshire but although we saw some possible distant birds nothing was seen well enough to add it to the year list and Montagu's Harrier proved impossible to connect with again whilst Ruddy Duck get harder every year but otherwise it was a special year. We belatedly went after the Pied Crow and missed it the day it flew to Holland so I won't be too disappointed when it's not accepted. The Eagle Owl at Winterton was dipped in a half hearted search a couple of days before it was said to be wearing a leg ring.

The silly misses include only Barred Warbler but there are numerous we could / should have gone for which include Red-breasted Flycatcher at Landguard, Spotted Crake at Bowers Marsh Essex, Pied-billed Grebe whilst in Scotland, Night Heron in Gloucestershire, Kentish Plover in Cleveland but the biggest regret is not going for the Gull-billed Tern in Cheshire although the Paddyfield Pipit in Cornwall if accepted (and it's a big IF) will be a bigger regret just like the Pelican especially now that DNA has come back to confirm it to species.

Not twitching the islands prevented me from connecting with some of the following.....
Tengmalm's Owl, Steller's Eider, Yellow Billed Cuckoo, Hermit Thrush, Greenish Warbler, Short-toed Lark, Cackling Goose, Turkestan Shrike and Sardinian Warbler to name a few but saved me a small fortune too.

I lost two birds from the life list this year when the BBRC decided my Richardson's Cackling Goose wasn't good enough for them despite accepting many others and my Steppe Grey Shrike from 2014 has now been lumped back in with Great Grey Shrike but that's how the cookie crumbles I suppose. I sit here now on a life list of 410 having just achieved my very best year list of 303.
I can't compete with the island hoppers and if truth be told I don't think my level of OCD quite matches theirs so It's less about time and money and more about motivation summed up with the Steller's Eider and although I wanted to go seeing people taking six days out of their life to tick this scruffy first year duck gave me a pinch of my priorities and with a young grandson to consider I'm never disappointed saving those days for him.

There's not much that stops me birding these days....but this little fella is an exception.
Onwards and upwards and here's to a great 2020 to all who know me and all who don't.
Be good to each other and enjoy the birds you're lucky enough to see wherever you are.

Life list now 410
Year list for 2019 now 303

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Black-throated Thrush at Whipsnade revisited

I made another trip to Whipsnade this morning hoping the Black-throated Thrush would show better for me and it didn't let me down. From the minute I arrived at 10am until I left around 1pm it showed in the Cotoneaster tree by the Pig field or in the Pig field giving me the chance to actually see it at close range and grab a few  much desired images.

I'm so pleased I returned again today.

Merry Christmas to all who read the blog, have a good day tomorrow but I've had my present a day early for sure....see below!

Black-throated Thrush
What a belter of a bird
It even sat on the fence for a second for me to get this single shot
Feeding among the daisies

Dropped into the logs once or twice too
Just a superb day 
Black-throated Thrush at Whipsnade
Great to see it well and even better to have grab some pleasing images at last
Feeding well today..will the berries last into 2020 though
All gone
Token Redwing

Saturday 21 December 2019

Lost a Steppe Grey Shrike

With the recent lumping of Steppe Grey Shrike I've removed the bird I saw at Burnham Norton in 2014 as this bird is now recorded as the same taxon as Great Grey Shrike.

The life list now drops back to 410 and obviously I lose a bird from my 2014 total too......I'm waiting for the day something gets split in my favour!

The offending bird was a Steppe Grey Shrike now lumped with Great Grey Shrike

Tuesday 17 December 2019

The County bounty

I have taken a moment to review where I've picked up this years ticks.
I have visited 25 counties in my quest to break 300 for the first time. On these travels I have passed through well over half the counties of Britain stopping to bird a few without adding year ticks to the list below but have still had some good birding encounters along the way.

The top county is Norfolk but I expected that as it's where I start my list most years but I was quite surprised to see just 28 from my home county of Essex although when heading to the coast I do favour Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk.

Holidays in Scotland and Wales made up for eight of the county lists and most outside of these holidays were within a two hour drive apart from the big twitches in Cornwall, Lancashire and East Yorkshire which were mostly for Life ticks.

There's always something interesting when you review the annual adventure but I'm mindful that it's not over for another two weeks and I feel there's still another bird out there for 2019.

So if you're planning on testing yourself against the 300 target without visiting the Islands the above might give you a taster of the effort involved and I should add that these 25 counties accounted for over 100 birding days in the field and again Norfolk leads the pack with 15 days spent birding the county this year. (15% of the effort for 44% of the reward)

The most productive county for new ticks was East Yorkshire which accounted for 3 of my additions.

onwards and upwards!

Saturday 14 December 2019

Black-throated thrush at Whipsnade

I missed the Thrush yesterday when it was showing down to a few feet in the pig pen at Whipsnade as I was otherwise engaged at Westfield so having seen all the stonking images of the bird last night I decided I'd go first thing and see if it would do the honourable thing and stick around for me.

A welcome at the free car park
I joined a small que to pay and once relieved of my £26 entrance fee I walked hastily to the area of the pig pen and before I'd even stopped walking I was looking at my first ever Black-throated Thrush sitting in what I think was a Cotoneaster next to the pen. It was grey windy and raining heavy and the bird was mobile so as it flew off over the coffee shop we headed for a little cover to see out the worst of the rain.

Some of the crowd waiting for the Thrush to return
Redwing showed a little better than the Thrush today
Once the rain stopped we watched the bird return to the tree and drop briefly into the pen for a few seconds before flying high over the coffee shop again. The bird was reported an hour later further back beyond the next car park and on arrival I was able to locate the bird tucked into a distant bush much to the satisfaction of the few present. A call to the Jims made sure everybody back at the pen got the news and within a few minutes I was busy putting more people onto it. It seemed to prefer this area today and stayed distant eventually being lost to view around 1pm and as far as I know was not seen again all day.

Tucked in where I refound it away from the Pig pens.
And eventually gave great scope views to the crowd
It was great to meet and chat to many familiar faces again in what was on the whole a very warm twitch which must be raising a few thousand pounds for the ZSL and their work. Most members of the public showed interest and the zoo as you would expect warmly received the extra interest. Being at a zoo we took the chance to spend an hour or two wondering the grounds admiring a few exhibits.

Year list now 303
Life list now 411

Mara run free everywhere in the grounds
Red Panda
White Rhino
Magpies enjoying the open wounds a little too much
Whipsnade.....A home to Lions, Tigers and Bears
A good day with good company and a life tick to boot....that's what it's all about!
It was also nice to finally meet Anthony G too today  who looks to have been this years biggest year lister.

Red arrow first sighting today blue arrow last sighting today hope it helps if you're going for it

Thursday 12 December 2019

When bored......head down to Wallasea

With a couple of days heavy rain and strong winds I thought yesterdays calmer dryer weather might help bring out a couple of hungry Short-eared Owls at Wallasea Island so with nothing else on the agenda I packed the camera in the car and headed down the Southend road arriving around 1.15pm.
With only two other birders out on the reserve things were quiet for a few minutes but then up came the first Owl and it spent about five minutes hunting along the sea wall before flying out onto the reserve to hunt in front of the new viewing screen where we were standing.

Over the course of the next two hours I saw at least five Short-eared Owls, two ringtail Hen Harriers, a pair of Marsh Harriers, two Great Egrets a Sparrowhawk and dozens of Corn Bunting to make it another top afternoon birding in Essex.

What a bird
eyes fixed on the prize
Fab encounter again
Found him on the ground as I drove out in the fading daylight
Always a nice bonus to have Hen and Marsh Harriers about too (the pheasant has the right idea)
Two Great Egrets flanking a Little Egret in the distance 
Year list stuck at 302 but there's a Black-throated Thrush in Bedfordshire so fingers crossed!

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Wallasea Island

I made yet another trip down to Wallasea Island today and wasn't disappointed as at least six Short-eared Owls, two Hen Harriers, a pair of Marsh Harriers, a Merlin and a couple of Great Egrets all showed well from about 1.20pm until the light dropped around 3.30pm.

These afternoons just sitting in one place watching great birds are a nice balance to the chasing around for year ticks and I'm pleased I get a good mix of both.

Year list still 302

Short-eared Owl at Wallasea
Short-eared Owl
Lunch time
Short-eared Owl
Hen Harrier not quite as accommodating at the Owls
Distant Hen Harrier
There are worse ways to waste an afternoon than watching these crackers.