Thursday 30 December 2021

Missed in 2021

 As mentioned in my review of 2021 time in the field has been limited meaning my year list is quite low at 241 (as at 27th December). But when I look back at the missing ticks on my year list it has some massive gaps as listed below.

              NB added Dipper after putting this list together whilst twitching the Pacific Diver

I mean what happened? No Whooper Swan! No Black Tern! No Manx Shearwater! No RCP! Very limited coastal trips and no Scotland again.

You get the idea was a bad year!

In terms of rares I have listed what I think are all the reported Life ticks I need (strange word because I don't really need any of them but I'd like them) 

I already regret not going for the Red-necked Stint the Green Warbler and the Two-barred Warbler.

I dipped Tawny Pipit and Eastern sub-alpine Warbler but there wasn't much else I could have chased due to how fast it moved on or how far away it was.

Bufflehead, Sociable Plover and maybe the Kent Eyebrowed Thrush would be on my list if we weren't restricted by Covid lockdowns. I'm pretty sure I'd have had a go at all three anyway and the Varied Thrush got me as close as I've been to twitching off mainland but I managed to hold strong much to the relief of my wallet.

I struggle each year to chase down Cackling and Snow Goose and the Black Scoter is just a bit too far but I'd chase them all if I found myself in the general area for sure.

The above doesn't include the Belted Kingfisher that I still have an eye on....maybe I'll find the time and the motivation before the bird departs.

Wednesday 29 December 2021

Best images of 2021

So I've done a review of the best (or rarest) birds seen in 2021 but this post is about the best birds of 2021 and as always some will be because they are just great to see like Rollers and Bee-eaters and others will be because they showed well and let me get some good images.

Had a wonderful six months with these local Owls

A Water Rail gave me good views in the Valley during lockdown

I enjoyed watching these Wrens set up territory in the valley

The American Herring Gull was by far the most camera pleasing bird of all my new birds

A nice day watching Little Gulls in the spring in Hertfordshire

A proper poser of a Rock Pipit

Two days at Bempton to enjoy the sea birds again

A showy Gropper at Titchwell was a delight

watching a flock of Bee-eaters in Norfolk was a fabulous day out

Had another cracking day out to watch this beautiful Roller in Suffolk

Had some fun in the garden too at times with the Robins always happy to entertain

Another year where we connected with Napolean at Oare

Oare also gave me this encounter with a Cuckoo which was memorable

Had a couple of days where the Sparrowhawks visited the garden again

Not very often the male stays long enough for a picture

This Purple Sandpiper at Titchwell was probably the most obliging bird I saw in 2021

My personal "bird of the year"

Pacific Diver at Port Talbot

I've been itching to try for the Pacific Diver at Port Talbot for a while but circumstances prevented the twitch until yesterday when I collected the Jims and headed down the M4 into Wales. We covered the 200 miles in darkness and it rained for most of the journey as we arrived at first light. We got some advice from another birder on site about where to go to best view the reservoir and a after a short walk we were scoping the water and found the Pacific Diver within seconds as it was in the closest corner to us and showed really well allowing for some images although they are still quite heavily cropped.

I picked up a bonus year tick too when I found a Dipper along the edge of the reservoir but despite seeing the bird several times I was unable to get the Jims on it to their frustration.

So with these two birds I now find my life list has jumped to 426 and my year list to 241.

Still got one eye on the Belted Kingfisher but hoping it settles into a nicer routine than the current muddy walk to line the farmers pocket only to see the bird at great distance. I notice today it's moved further south so hopefully it'll relocate to a place where viewing is easier and closer.

Monday 27 December 2021

Review of the year 2021

Well if I thought 2020 was a strange year then 2021 was every bit as challenging. My wifes care needs are taking more of my time and limiting my options for getting out birding to a point where 2021 saw me lucky if I got more than a day or two a month in the field but having said that we started the year intent on not letting that or Covid prevent us from at least trying to chase a reasonable year list. We started the year still in a national lockdown and remained in a stay local requirement until the end of March so the first three months were really difficult. I started my year list at Lee Valley park and visited a couple of other local areas to try to keep the numbers ticking over but in truth I really missed the coastal outings we'd usually be undertaking at this time of year and of course variety was well down on previous years. The Short-eared Owls that wintered in the local park departed in March but gave me a very welcome distraction through the stay local months.

Short-eared Owl at Gunpowder park Lee Valley 

April came and with it a nervous relaxation of lockdown so we could now travel but whilst many birders had already broken lockdown and seemed to be sharing cars again we kept to the guidelines which meant I was still birding alone but on the very first day the rules were relaxed I set off in search of some excitement which came in the shape of the Devon Mockingbird and the Cornwall American Herring Gull. Two big fat life ticks that I'd been watching and hoping would still be present when the rules allowed me to travel and by mid April I'd bagged another life tick in the form of the White-throated Sparrow in Sussex but at this point I was still travelling alone which was both expensive and less rewarding than sharing the days with the Jims.

Northern Mockingbird in Devon my first lifer of the year after three months of local lockdown

American Herring Gull at Newlyn in Cornwall

White-throated Sparrow in Balcombe for my third new bird of 2021

We nervously shared a car again for the first time in months on 29th April where we enjoyed a trip to Titchwell which was just a joy to be out birding together again and of course Titchwell is a favourite of ours too. Now we had our mojo back and May saw us travelling again with days out at Frampton and Bempton along with dipping Tawny Pipit in Dorset and Eastern Subalpine Warbler at Spurn but the year list was moving again and we were at least out enjoying the hobby together again.

June saw me grabbing another life tick with the River Warbler down in Somerset a bird I saw twice as I returned to take the Jims a few days later. I also picked up three Collared Pratincoles, eight Bee-eaters and a Roller in June in what was a very rewarding month although people were still very nervous with many still wearing masks even outdoors and most keeping a good distant from each other although the site of the bird would usually test peoples resolve to remain distanced. At the end of June we made another long distance twitch back to Bempton hoping that yesterdays Black-browed Albatross would stay for us and it did giving us great views after a long cold and damp wait but has to be my bird of the year and one I never expected I'd see in the UK.

River Warbler in Somerset

My personal bird of the year Black-browed Albatross at Bempton

I almost missed July save twitching the Western Sandpiper at Snettisham I didn't leave the house for one reason or another with my wifes health issues the primary reason keeping me at home.

August saw us make just four trips including getting the Jims a lifer at Frampton with the Black Stork along with a day out at Minsmere and a couple of trips to Oare but the month was otherwise difficult as was September which only saw me make it to Wanstead for a Wryneck otherwise it was just garden birding that kept me going.  September had us twitching again as we headed north for the Long-toed Stint but was otherwise quite dull and uneventful. 

Twitching the Long-toed Stint 

In October I took the Jims to Norfolk to grip back Short-toed Lark on me which was Jims 400th BOU tick and this was followed by a trip to Yorkshire where Jim and I managed to tick the Taiga Flycatcher just before my car died on the return leg and with it any chance of much birding to end the year. The year came to a disappointing close with just a couple of trips with the Jims to Abberton and Wallasea and with the new Omicron variant of Covid 19 running fast through the population it remains to be seen how the new year will pan out but here's hoping and praying we have a better 2022.

Taiga Flycatcher in Yorkshire 

Year list just levelled my worst ever of 239 (my worst ever was 2010 with 239)

Life list now 426 with seven new birds this year

In non birding news 2021 saw us celebrate my parents 60th Wedding anniversary although Covid lockdown prevented a party we made up for it for Dads 80th outside of lockdown later in the year.

Mum and Dad married in 1961

In 2022 I'd like to think there'll be a few new bird opportunities within a reasonable distance and on a personal note I'm expecting my second and third grandchild in the spring with both my daughters in law growing them at the moment. I have my 40th Wedding anniversary around the corner and Mrs A has a big birthday towards the year end too. 

Onwards and upwards and may the new year bring you health and happiness.

NB: I'm posting this on 27th December and still have an eye on the Pacific Diver and Belted Kingfisher but with both being 200 miles away the time getting there and back may not be available to me given my commitments at home but I remain hopeful that a) the birds will stay and b) I will find time.

In addendum: I did manage a trip to Port Talbot for the Pacific Diver and bagged a year tick with Dipper too so the year list has ended on 241. See seperate post for details of the trip.
Pacific Diver at Port Talbot

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Twitching the Walthamstow Dusky Warbler

This morning when the Jims asked me to go and see if we could find the Dusky Warbler at Walthamstow marshes I accepted the challenge. We arrived just after 10am and searched the area the bird was reported to be around yesterday and whilst Jim steaked out the favoured area I walked the whole area finding just a couple of Stonechats of any note. After a couple of hours our enthusiasm was slipping and we decided to head back to the car park. I thought it was worth a look along the hedge line on the car park side of the railway before we left and a short way in I bumped into another birder who said he'd heard the bird in this area so I called the Jims and we sat it out for another hour hearing the bird regularly but it didn't show for a good hour and then gave great views in the bins for all of us. Glad we made the effort in the end as the views were very good. I did have the camera with me but chose to watch the bird and not focus on trying to get any record shots.

This is my 239th bird species of the year so 2021 surprisingly won't go down as my worst year list total (which is 238 in 2010)

A goshawk on a house in Coppermill Lane

Area we found the warbler in 

more wall art

Still got one eye on the Pacific Diver (Port Talbot) and one eye on the Belted Kingfisher (Lancs) but with the car being out of use both may pass me by unfortunately.

Wednesday 15 December 2021

More Essex birds

Dad picked me up this morning and we headed down the A127 to Wallasea Island arriving at 7.30am to find the reserve already open. Scanning from the car park we saw a few Marsh Harriers and a very distant Hen Harrier before starting to walk out to the hide at about 8am. On route we found some very confiding Corn Buntings on the sluice fence and picked up the three Twite as they flushed and flew out onto the marsh. At the hide we found three Spoonbill and watched as a male and two female Marsh Harriers put the vast numbers of waders and wildfowl up time and time again. We'd picked up several Common Buzzard and Kestrels sitting around on the marsh before a male Merlin was found sitting on top of a small bush in the distance.  As we exited the hide I picked up another ringtail Hen Harrier and as it was closer and brighter we managed to get great scope views as it hunted low over the river wall. Surprised not to see any Shorties today but I suppose you can't have everything can you.

The Black Guillemot had been reported again at Gunners Park so we made the short diversion and picked up the bird straight away as we walked up to the sea wall left of the barge pier. This I believe is my first Essex Black Guillemot and I do find the winter plumage quite special too. Lot's of Sanderling and Turnstone entertained on the shore below us and we headed home with the four ticks bagged that take me level with my worst ever year at just 238. Home in time to sort lunch for Suzanne but I did need the small fix of birding for my own well being.

Now can I find a way of getting to Port Talbot whilst that Pacific Diver is still there or will the Belted Kingfisher get pinned down anytime soon? There's also a Snow Goose and a Cackling Goose around that are all life ticks if I could find the time and motivation to go.

Onwards and upwards.

record shot of my first Essex Black Guillemot (12th record for Essex)

Wish the Twite had posed like the Corn Buntings

Sunday 12 December 2021

At last another year tick

At last I managed a few hours away to catch a year tick. I haven't been out since the trip to Abberton a few weeks ago but when the Jim's asked if I fancied a couple of hours at KGV I found the motivation to agree and within an hour we were on the banks of the reservoir with a small group of nine others looking for yesterdays Red-necked Grebe.

The large crowd ...12 of us in all and that's a large crowd for KGV

We scoped the south basin finding three Great Crested Grebes and three Little Grebes before a smart looking Slav Grebe popped up close to the dabchicks. With no joy looking for the Red-neck we walked on and eventually found the Great-northern Diver the Jims needed for a late year tick. Next we ticked Harry, Neville and Stuart along with a few other locals. As we got back to the towers we scoped again and found a Black-necked Grebe in the distance before getting the scope on a sleeping Grebe that at first I had put down as just another Great-crested Grebe until a Coot swam by and made me rethink as it looked small next to the Coot. I put the Jims on it and eventually it lifted its head and revealed itself to be the fifth Grebe of the morning as a Red-necked Grebe and at last my year list was on the move again.

I must admit I had an eye on the Pacific Diver in Port Talbot but being 200 miles away and reports saying No access I decided to wait on further news of access. A few birders got into the reservoir this morning before security arrived to police the area and escort visitors off site so I was pleased I hadn't made the long trip. Hopefully the bird will stay and access arrangements can be made at which time I'll rethink the twitch.

Year list 234 and four short of my worst listing year of 238.

I'm still hoping I can get a day or two out before the year end and chase down another four ticks with the likes of Whooper Swan, Bewick's Swan, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Tundra and Taiga Bean Geese, Red-crested Pochard and even a wintering Barred Warbler in Norfolk giving me a little hope.