Saturday, 19 December 2020

Review of the year 2020

Yes the review is early this year but let's face it there won't be much to add following yesterdays announcement from the government regarding us moving back into a full lockdown. (Essex is now in Tier four which is a full lockdown with non essential shops closed, no travel and no meeting other households) and so to the review......

I started the year on a high after recording my best annual total last year of 303. By the end of January and well into February I was happily chasing down another big year with the Jims aware of the Covid virus issues in the east but not for one minute thinking we'd have the year we've had.

By the end of February the virus had reached Italy and was starting to become more of a concern at home, my father in law was rushed to hospital in early March with heart problems and was checked for Covid-19 only to test positive.I still think this was a false positive and have encouraged my father-in-law to carry on as if he hadn't had the virus. Having sat at the hospital for hours with my father-in-law I then had to isolate before the national lockdown on 23rd March when any hope of a big year evaporated but happily I never developed any symptoms of the virus. My father in law recovered from the heart trouble and later had a pace maker fitted and is currently doing well, he showed no typical Covid symptoms at the time of the test or since. We reluctantly admitted my mother in law to a care home in July this year which was also a difficult call made harder by the concern of Covid infection in care homes nationally although the home we chose has to this date still not had a single case in residents or staff which gives us comfort. Visiting the care home has been challenging but a hardship worth tolerating to help maintain the Covid free environment there.

We sadly lost my daughter in laws grandfather to the virus late in the summer. He was in poor health and at 96 years old was always vulnerable to this nasty infection. My brother and his wife tested positive but showed mild symptoms and my Daughter in law found it challenging being a deputy head teacher but has helped keep the school open throughout the year and in the main we managed to keep contact with our grandson although much of it was outdoor contact during the summer months.

As for the impact on birding well readers of the blog will know I usually travel with the Jims (My dad Jim and my brother Jim) Because of the guidelines on car sharing and my general concern to protect Dad from any extra risk we made an early call not to car share so since the first lockdown we've not travelled together. 

During the first heavy March lockdown I walked locally building up a small lockdown list and finding some pretty good local birds like Kingfisher, Red Kite, Skylark, Stock Dove etc but in truth I couldn't wait to get out in the car to the coast for some real birding. I added just three year ticks during the lockdown and when restrictions eased a little I was back in the car but at first travel was still restricted to local so I visited Lee Valley hoping to find a few spring migrants. I added nine year ticks in the second half of May. By June the government came under economic pressure to open things up and with that came the ability to travel again.

My first outing was a trip to the New Forest and I had a blast just sitting on the hill watching Goshawks but sadly didn't see any Honey Buzzard but I did add several woodland migrants to my year list and it was a great venue in terms of social distancing.

In June I twitched again meeting the Jims in Hertfordshire to share a delightful Marsh Warbler followed by a cracking Red-footed Falcon at Fen Drayton. A couple of good days birding at Abberton and Minsmere added some energy to my year listing before I travelled up north to twitch the Asian Desert Warbler, a trip I aborted half way on negative news but I did enjoy a bonus afternoon with close views of Honey Buzzard at Welbeck. I was able to enjoy a night in the Brecks with the Jims watching Nightjar but we had to travel in two cars and at the end of June I picked up my first Life tick of the year with the Gull-billed Tern at Dungeness. I was later to see my second Gull-billed Tern in Suffolk.

Gull-billed Tern

I added a few year ticks whilst dipping the Yelkouan Shearwater at Portland but had a cracking day there and followed that with a good day out at Frampton in July. I also travelled to the Peak District in July where a 20km walk delivered wonderful views of the bird of the year ...The Bearded Vulture! 

Stunning location and magnificent bird and a day that will stay with me forever.

Vulture country "the peak district"

In August I decided on a two day trip down to Cornwall and during a lengthy seawatch I finally had good enough views of both Cory's and Great Shearwater to tick them both. I really do enjoy these days and it's a real shame it's so far away. I managed to get some sleep in the car between staring out to sea and added seven year ticks and two lifers. On the journey home I took another break for a sleep in the car which goes to show that finally as I get older these longer journeys are testing me a little more.

The Porthgwarra massive.....A great day which I long to repeat next year

September saw me travel to Norfolk in the hope of connecting with a Greenish Warbler. The day before the north Norfolk coast had seen a mini influx and I managed to connect with one after a couple of hours at Holme NOA. to give me my fourth life tick of the year. Later in the month I managed to connect with another bogey bird when a  Brown Shrike was found in Norfolk. Another great days birding was enjoyed whilst adding this much desired tick. On the way home I managed to divert and add Short-toed Lark to my life list.

A socially distanced twitch at Warham Greens

Things a little quieter at Holme for the Greenish Warbler

By October things were turning again with the virus on the rise but we held on to our freedom to travel but with restrictions still in place for indoor gatherings. I twitched Radde's Warbler in Suffolk and Wilson's Phalarope at Keyhaven marshes but whilst on a general days birding in Norfolk I jammed on the biggest twitch of the year when a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin was found at Stiffkey. I was on site within minutes and saw the bird well before the crowds arrived although I did watch the fun and games from Stiffkey woods for a while as the crowds arrived and I got a second look at the Robin when things slowed down later on. At one point I abandoned social distancing to pull an elderly gentlemen from a ditch he'd fallen in out on the salt marsh whilst others walked by ignoring his plight. 

Radde's Warbler

Wilson's Phalarope

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

The Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin twitch 

October also saw me connect for a second time with the summering Lammergeier this time giving much better views and only a short distance from the car. A great day spent with a great bird and it will go down as one of the best days birding I've ever enjoyed.

Bearded Vulture.......My bird of the year

I added just two birds in November during another heavy lockdown and after a slight relaxation in December I added two more with a trip to Thursley Common. The fact that we had a couple of Short-eared Owls within a couple of miles of home really helped me through this second lockdown stage.

Short-eared Owl at Gunpowder park Lee Valley

So the year list that started so well has slowed to a modest 271

I added seven British life ticks to take the life list to 418 (BOU)

Saturday 19th December and the final blow of 2020 is delivered as the government announced that London and the South East would be immediately moved into a new fourth Tier meaning non essential shops close again, no travel unless essential and most devastating of all no meeting family indoors for Christmas with us now only able to meet one other person in a public space.

I long now for normality and being able to enjoy days out with the Jims again, I am thankful to have survived this awful year and live in hope that the imminent roll out of the vaccine will bring an end to the pandemic and it's effect on our lives.

I have a tree with a stack of presents under it that will now stay put until my grandson can visit again.

See you soon little man x

Not much stops me birding but this little guy has found the secret

Just leaves me now to wish you all a very happy "little" Christmas and a much better 2021 

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