Sunday, December 28, 2008

Birding Review Of The Year 2008

One thing's for sure - when I spotted my first bird of 2008, a Robin in my garden at 7:54am, I couldn't have imagined that I would end up with so many birds on the year list and so many new species under my belt.

I set out this year with the aim of focusing on quality, not quantity, but once I came back from Scotland in May with 199 birds, it seemed reasonable to try to keep the momentum going and post a good total for the year. I definitely aim to try to beat this total at some point in the future, but not next year, as I'll explain later.

Anyway, here's how the year panned out:

January, February & March

The first month of the year saw me add 76 species to the year list, but no lifers were to be had. My Dad and I had a full and enjoyable day at Upton Warren on 5 January, where we lucky enough to see Jack Snipe, Bittern and Little Egret. A visit to Draycote Water a couple of weeks later meant we were able to add Lesser Scaup to the year list, along with Smew and Great Northern Diver. The remainder of the month's ticks were pretty standard fair.

The Firecrests at Alvecote Pools ensured the first life tick of the year in February, and what beauties they were. The Mealy Redpoll at Upton Warren a little over a week later was also another nice one to clap eyes on.

Later in the month, I went to Devon with my Dad, Dave Lyons and Dave Thomas. We had an unbelievable amount of good fortune here and I bagged seven more lifers in the process, most notable being the Long-Billed Dowitcher that brought both mine and my Dad's life lists up to the 200 mark. Managing to see five species of grebe during our stay was also a highlight, as was what might well be my earliest Swallow for many years to come. Many thanks to Dave Thomas for putting us up for a couple of nights.

In March I unpicked my first bogey bird of the year, when I spotted Mandarins in the Wyre Forest. Later that morning, I had a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker there too. I paid several visits to the Wyre during the year and it has firmly established itself as a favourite place of mine. I will definitely be back in 2009, although I suspect I might be paying as much attention to the butterflies as the birds this time!

The Black Redstart at Grimley almost eluded us on 23 March, but we heaved a sigh of relief when we bagged it at the eleventh hour. The Scandinavian Rock Pipit was also there that morning. I don't tick subspecies, but even so, what a great little bird to see.

On 30 March we spent a day in the Forest of Dean and added Goshawk to the life list, though I hope to get better views at some point in the future. Later that day we visited Frampton On Severn and had an unexpected double in the shape of Garganey and Green-Winged Teal, the latter being another lifer.

The tally had reached 140 as the month drew to a close.

April, May & June

On 4 April I had a day to myself and set out on what was to be one of the greatest birding days of the year. After returning to the Forest of Dean to see Hawfinch, I had a go for my second Great Grey Shrike of the year and was treated to crippling views. My favourite bird of the year? Quite possibly. Two more Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers were seen later that day when I popped into Bittell Reservoirs on the way home. Magic!

Another bogey was unpicked when some fine gen from Pete Walkden got me my first ever Little Owl. Two days later, I was on holiday in East Anglia where another four lifers fell, including Bearded Tit and Nightingale, although my glimpse of the latter was brief in the extreme! Solid year ticks in the shape of Woodcock, Woodlark, Tree Pipit and Twite were also on offer, leaving the total for the year at an impressive 177 at the end of the month.

On a negative note, Grasshopper Warbler was heard at Holkham, but not seen - the first of several elusive birds this year. Also, we dipped on Golden Pheasant at Wolferton, despite hearing them call.

My first ever Yellow Wagtail at Draycote Water was another memorable and beautiful bird. Also at the end of the month I had a great morning's birding, life-ticking Little Gull at Upton Warren and adding Lesser Whitethroat to the year list, before a quick visit to Shenstone resulted in the first of many Cuckoos that I saw this year.

May saw me visit the Wyre Forest again with Max, Kay, Dave Lyons and my Dad. We had a good morning despite a couple of soakings. Kay life-ticked Wood Warbler and we also saw Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Redstart and Tree Pipit.

After a couple of failed attempts, I finally bagged Black Tern for the year at Upton Warren. Another elusive Grasshopper Warbler was heard that morning too.

Next up was the great big Scotland trip and a week's worth of intensive birding. We knew there would be lifers, we knew there would be year ticks, but I still get emotional when I think about the quality of some of the birding we did up there. Seeing Velvet Scoters at Gullane Bay sticks in the mind, as does the Long-Tailed Duck at Gosford later the same day. Just when we thought things couldn't get any better, we stumbled upon Temminck's Stint at Musselburgh.

One of the funniest moments of the year was when a Spotted Flycatcher popped up whilst we were enjoying drinks on the balcony at our hotel one evening. Birding at its best!

Other memorable spots during our stay were Hen Harrier, Hooded Crow, Black Grouse and Black-Throated Diver. Seeing Ptarmigan up on Lochnagar was also a special moment, probably my second favourite spot of the year, all things considered.

I ticked Scottish Crossbill too, but there is always that sense of lingering doubt as to whether it was or it wasn't. I am happy to keep it on the list based upon what I saw, although I appreciate that identification is difficult without analysing calls.

Either way, the year list took in 199 species once we had returned.

Apart from the birds, it was great to see Red Squirrels and Arctic Hares during our visit.

Onto June, where a Turtle Dove at Throckmorton became the 200th tick of the year. A great milestone and a super bird to see relatively close to home.

Whinchat, Chough, Puffin and Black Guillemot were all nice ticks in Wales, but the highlight of the month was seeing the Nightjars on Cannock Chase. Thanks to Richard and his friends, Pete, Kay and Max for a memorable evening. We had another Woodcock that evening too, plus a few Cuckoos and a Hobby. A great night.

Halfway through the year and the list stood at an impressive 206 birds.

June also saw the birth of Worcestershire Source. Many thanks to everyone who contributed news to the site in 2008. Please continue to support us and help the site to grow. Thanks also to Kay who has done a fantastic job keeping the news flowing over the last six months.

July, August & September

A Great Skua on Criccieth beach was an unexpected bonus. It took some sorting out mind! My first experience of skuas of any kind. Hopefully I might get more in 2009.

A Tawny Owl spotted from my garden at the end of the month was equally surprising and equally as welcome. Another bogey bit the dust.

Two lifers in the shape of Red-Necked Phalarope and Yellow-Legged Gull ensured that the year list kept ticking over, although doubts were cast over the identity of the latter.

The highlight was perhaps seeing the Silver-Washed Fritillaries in the Wyre Forest in July. This kick-started my interest in butterflies and dragonflies, so in many ways may have been one of the most important moments of the year.

At the end of September, I was fortunate enough to see my very first Badger, during our holiday in Devon.

October, November & December

A few enjoyable twitches to Buckinghamshire resulted in two life ticks, Ferruginous Duck on 12 October, and Ring-Necked Duck on 26 October. Both were great little birds. The Shore Lark at Upton Warren was an unexpected year tick and a smashing bird for the Midlands, taking the total to 216.

A bona fide Yellow-Legged Gull at Stubber's Green in November was nice to see, meaning no more sleepless nights regarding the potentially dodgy tick earlier in the year!

There were still a few birds to be spotted as proven by the Whooper Swan, Purple Sandpiper and Merlin in Wales, but there was also disappointment when we failed to find Snow Buntings at Pensarn.

A fine Smew on 1 December at Bittell Reservoir was a good tick on a local patch. Five days later, we had a second stab at Caspian Gull at Stubber's Green. The debate continues to rage as to whether we saw a second-winter Caspian Gull or not. I have elected not to tick the species for the time being.

Then, just as it seemed the birding year had drawn to a close, there was the small matter of seeing my first Waxwing near Upton Warren. A fitting way to finish.

Final tally, 220 birds on the year list, including 38 lifers.


So, onto my plans for the coming year. As I stated in an earlier entry, the focus is very much going to be on patch birding. At least once a month, I intend to walk the lanes of Wythall and the surrounding area compiling a list of all the species I can see. I've set myself a target of 75 species, but bear in mind this will take in at least a couple of excursions to Earlswood Lakes. Basically, if I'm birding on foot and I see something, it will make the list.

Aside from this change of direction, I have some other personal goals that I would like to achieve. They are:

To find a Pied Flycatcher in the Wyre Forest.
To photograph Silver-Washed Fritillaries in the Wyre Forest.
To see a Corn Crake in Islay.
To see pure Rock Doves on Islay.
To photograph a Kingfisher to a reasonable standard.
To see Golden Oriole and Montagu's Harrier in Norfolk.
To add at least 5 butterfly species to my life list.
To photograph the Little Owl in Hopwood properly.
To photograph an adult drake Smew.
To walk my patch at least once a month.
To see Tree Sparrows at Shustoke Reservoir.
To see Nightingales at Paxton Pits.

No doubt at some point I will feel inspired to have a pop at my own record of 220 species in a year. I'm sure this could be easily beaten if I put my mind to it, but I will probably wait until I can get back to the highlands of Scotland before I do so. The birding up there is just in a different league.

Until then, the emphasis is firmly on quality, not quantity, and I am really keen to devote more time to butterflies and dragonflies next year.

Whatever your goals are, or even if you don't have any, have a great New Year and enjoy your birding. Because when all's said and done, that's what it's all about.

This is Reg The Birder logging off until 2009.


Jo said...

Hope the new year brings all that you hope for Reg. Thanks for a year of very interesting and enjoyable reading and looking forward to more of the same next year. Take care in the meantime.

Kay said...

Very nice summary of what turned out to be an action packed birding year.

I look forward to hearing how you get on with your regular patching around Wythall.

Max and I are also starting on our new patch in the new year, which could be interesting.

Happy New Year and Happy Birding!