Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Perfect Year

So here we are, almost at the end of another birding year. If you've been reading my blog regularly, you'll know that my approach to birding this year has been fairly laid back. Despite this there have been many highlights. Self-found lifers are always remembered fondly, so adding Arctic skua and short-eared owl to the life list in 2009 was particularly rewarding. Finally putting snow bunting to bed in Norfolk in February was also a highlight, so thanks to Steve Jones for finding them for us.

Sticking with self-found birds for a bit, there were many more during the year, including willow tit, marsh tit, tawny owl, brambling, Mediterranean gull, lesser whitethroat, grasshopper warbler and common crossbill, but none of these were lifers. Still great birds though.

Other highlights were two red kites seen in and around Wythall, most of the birds seen in Islay in May, the Slavonian grebe seen in breeding plumage in Devon, the hat-trick of black tern, American black tern and white-winged black tern at Farmoor Reservoir in August, and the Sabine's gull at Upton Warren.

Most of 2009 was dedicated to walking the patch. In doing so, I clocked up 110 miles and saw a grand total of 79 different species. As usual, I was birded-out come November, which meant that I didn't get out as much as I would normally. If I had, I think I could have bagged another few birds for the list. It might be something I try again in a few years though.

Despite all this top-notch birding, I think I will remember 2009 mainly for the butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies. The week I spent in Devon was a real eye-opener in this respect. Watching a female golden-ringed dragonfly ovipositing on Aylesbeare Common was both fortunate and brilliant, as was finding a pair of azure damselflies in a nearby pool just moments later.

Pearl-bordered fritillary, large skipper, marbled white, common blue and grayling were amongst my favourite butterflies, but I couldn't summarise the year without mentioning the influx of painted ladies to the UK, which never became boring no matter how many times I saw them.

What next?

Normally I would now be considering a few goals for the coming 12 months, but I have decided to take something of a sabbatical until 2011. That's not to say that I won't be out and about doing some birding here and there, but I think it will be very low key. I will continue with the blog, which I really enjoy doing, but don't be surprised if you don't hear from me quite so often. The plan is to update the blog on a monthly basis, with the occasional trip report thrown in for good measure, and perhaps an ad-hoc newsflash here and there if I've seen something particularly good.

With this fresh approach to things, I think it's time to give the blog a bit of a facelift. Look out for that in January.

Finally, I would like to wish a Happy Christmas to anyone who has read the blog this year, or those that I have met out in the field in 2009. I hope 2010 brings you everything you wish for.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

That's What Friends Are For

I ventured out with my newly-fledged birding chum Boyley on Sunday morning. Boyley works at Blythe Valley and was keen to have a poke around to see what we could find there.

Before that, however, we paid visits to a few other sites. Starting with Hopwood, we finally managed to track down the little owl that eluded us a few months ago. Also here were many redwing, with a few fieldfares dotted amongst them. Moving on to Bittell, the best spots included goosander, wigeon, kingfisher and a great black-backed gull, but not the goldcrest or treecreeper that I had hoped for.

Little owl

Little owl pic courtesy of Boyley's Nokia 5800

On the way to Blythe Valley we stopped off at the Hungry Horse field near Earlswood Lakes, which has held golden plover in recent weeks. Sadly the field was empty on this occasion.

Finally we had an enjoyable stroll around Blythe Valley. The habitat here looks very similar to that at Pearl Group where I work, but on a much bigger scale. In terms of birds we saw green woodpecker, long-tailed tit, kestrel, song thrush and bullfinch amongst others. Definitely some potential here for better birds come the spring, and I would expect an excellent range of butterflies too. I will certainly be back next year.

An enjoyable morning was topped off with a coffee at Sainsbury's. A good bit of birding.

Boyley and I have been out a few times now, and he's already seem some excellent birds. I feel a bit like the ambassador, spoiling his guests with the Ferrero Rocher pyramid at his party.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


On Friday I met up with a few of the Islay crew and my brother for a few pre-Christmas drinks in and around Birmingham. It's something we do most years and is always a good laugh.

A few years ago, I had noticed several references to birds in some of the various pubs we frequented, so I thought it would be fun to incorporate this into the day's proceedings. You know how it is though - after three or four pints I had other things on my mind, so the best I could manage was the following picture, plus a pretty feeble list of actual birds that I saw on the day.

Spot of the day

Spot of the day

After lunch in the Black Eagle, Dad produced the quiz and did a passable impression of Jeremy Paxman, whilst the rest of us split into two teams of three. Rounds included cinema, television, nature and sport, after which the scores were neck and neck. Well, truth be told, my brother, Aiden and I calculated that we had just shaded it by a few points.

Dad seemed keen, however, to deploy his tie-breaker. Not wishing to disappoint him, and suspecting it might be bird-related, we agreed. First up, each team had to give the common name for the following birds - otis tarda, lullula arborea and locustella luscinioides.

Initially thrown by the first one, I suddenly had one of those flashes of inspiration that you only get when you've consumed a few ales, and confidently scribbled down great bustard on the answer sheet.

On the opposing team, Leapy had no trouble with the second, but nor did I. It was woodlark. A bit too easy that one, Dad!

The last one again had me scratching my head, but I could see Leapy wasn't doing any better. I knew it was a warbler, but which one? Luckily, I know how my Dad's mind works and realised it's a bird that we have joked about before. Savi's warbler was penciled in, completing a hat-trick for team Telescope.

Oddly, despite the fact that Leapy, Ivor and Steve had only got one of the three right, Dad worked out it was still a tie, so it was sudden death. Up came the final bird - nyctea scandiaca. I initially wrote down snow bunting, but quickly realized it was snowy owl and corrected myself. At that point we decided we'd had enough quizzing for one day, and Dad had seemingly run out of questions, so that was that.

Amongst other highlights was a short recital from Roger's Profanisaurus IV: The Magna Farta. Most references were unfit for inclusion in the blog, but we did enjoy Nana Kournikova - a female that looks hot from behind, but is actually old and wretched.

Dad and Leapy enjoy the Magna Farta

Dad and Leapy enjoy the Magna Farta

Steve told us one of his legendary jokes, which went down well, there was an interesting discussion as to whether Eric Clapton is actually a good guitarist or not, the World Cup draw kept us entertained for a few minutes, and Leapy, Ivor, Steve and I spent the last hour or so talking birds - a typical boys' day out really.

For his final trick, Dad managed to lose his wallet on the train back to Solihull. To cut a long story short, he was reunited with it an hour or so later. Many thanks to Mrs Reg who dropped him back at the station to collect it from the chap pictured in the background of the next shot.

Dad is reunited with his wallet

Drunken fool!