Thursday, 28 January 2016

2015 Year in Review

A year-in-review post? Yes, I think there's just enough time for one before I have two years' worth.  I do seem to make a habitat of being, umm, fashionably late with writing these.
So, how was 2015? Well, it certainly involved more dipping than I'd have liked. A lot more.  Anyone else ever dip two megas in a day before? A suggestion, don't try it.
There was also the odd success here and there, the time I happened to be visiting Scotland while there was a Harlequin Duck in Aberdeen for example...
But for the sake of structure, and in line with a fair percentage of stories, let's start at the beginning.


Ah January, the month that deceived me of the twitching failures awaiting in the coming year, with a spell of unprecedented good luck. By the end of the 2nd day of the year I'd already seen Rough-legged Buzzard, Hen and Marsh Harriers and 5 Short-eared Owls. Although I did miss a Barn owl on the drive home...
Next day, Slavonian Grebe showing exceptionally well at Wanstead, and continuing to do so for a further two visits during the month.
Bring on the 29th, where a drive down to Kent had me successfully not missing a Barn Owl.  By 10am, having got Bewick's Swan a little earlier, I was watching my third lifer of the day - Cattle Egret, in a field which unfittingly had no cattle. The rest of that day held, among much else, the usual Dungeness goodies: Great-white Egret, Bittern, Smew and Tree Sparrow.
January was a good month.


February was the month things started to go a little wrong... but before that happened, let's begin with the 1st, when a spur of the moment trip to the cold of Gunners Park had us freezing to our spines for 3 hours before being rewarded with 2 stunning Serin!
The 9th, I was out twitching again, this time for a bird with yellow legs, it was called a Lesser something or other... and that was it, my first dip of 2015. The first of many.
Just 18 days later, while in Ireland I dipped (not for the first time) the Ballycotton Laughing Gull. Unlike the gull, I didn't find it funny.  A stunning American Wigeon saved the day.
Is it worth mentioning that I dipped Ring-necked Duck too?


Still in Ireland, I began March in a spectacular way.  On the 2nd I headed for the American Coot on Lough Gill, it was out there, Caleb had it in the scope, I looked, and then came the rain, the snow, the hail, the sleet and the strong winds. I could see Coots, but the sudden weather change made it impossible to distinguish which was the American.  I'll file that one as a dip. We then headed to look for the Black Scoter.  Let's just say the 'dipping file' got a little larger.  Later that afternoon, while partaking in lunch a dozen or so miles away, we spotted a single Scoter which seemed... odd.  You know, at the time it seemed to reminisce the look of a Black Scoter. When the photos were posted online several others thought the same. So it was, of course, an unusual Common Scoter.  Now if that's not a spectacular day, what is?
Things did pick up after returning to England, on the 11th I had great views of a female Black Redstart at Brighton Marina, and a day's birding around Newhaven on the 16th brought my first Richard's Pipit and Jack Snipe.
Not only was March begun spectacularly, but March ended rather spectacularly. Thankfully in a very different way. On the 28th we headed up to Scotland, and on the 30th we took a slight 'diversion', which lead us to Seaton Park. Just for a stroll you know.  OK you saw through that, so it may have had something to do with the Harlequin Duck... It was quite a nice stroll too though...
Having driven to Blairgowrie, after the 'stroll', we headed out the following morning to look for Grouse.  And we found Grouse.  By midday we had seen over 20 Black Grouse and 10 Red Grouse as well as a Short-eared Owl!
March was not all bad.


I started the month photographing Grouse, Mountain Hares and walking up a mountain through a foot or two of snow - No, London hadn't changed that much, I was still in Scotland.
On the 2nd I was back in England, and on the 16th I cycled 12 miles to look at a field.  It wasn't even an interesting field. It was interesting earlier that morning of course, as it had a Hoopoe in it then. But when I arrived it was just a field.  Hoopoe-less and birder-filled. Dip.
The next day we headed to Abberton reservoir (thankfully not on bicycles) for what proved a more successful day's birding. An awfully stunning drake Garganey, and after a few hours of chasing sounds and staring at a hedge, a Nightingale!
8 days later, I was once again to spend several hours chasing sounds, this time craning my neck up to the canopy to eventually spot a Wood Warbler.  When it appeared, it made the neck-pain worthwhile.


Grey Wagtail fledglings! Always a highlight of Spring, they turned up in the park on the 1st.
A seawatch a few days later provided Little Tern, as well as Arctic Skua and Bonxie. And didn't, I repeat didn't require an early start. That was an odd seawatch.
On the 9th, after many years of being driven mad ( you might even say Cuc.... No, I won't say it) by hearing them and not seeing them, I finally saw a Cuckoo. Two actually.
Perhaps most surprising though, I got an interesting bird on the patch. Yes, I couldn't believe it either. A Hobby, dashing over and out of the park on the 15th.
On the 25th things changed. On the 25th I went looking for moths.  The highlight was the scarce Commophila aeneana, along with 11 other species. A Eucosma metzeriana was the only other moth of real note for May.
There wasn't all that much birding for the next few months.


Probably the last spot of birding I did before August, a trip to Lakenheath for the Little Bittern.  The Little Bittern which sat there calling the whole time.  To avoid confusion, let me adjust that. The Little Bittern which sat there out of sight calling the whole time. Need I say it? Dip.
Throughout June my garden played the afternoon resting spot of a rather 'chill' fox. With the views it gave, I wasn't complaining!
There were a lot of moths in June, to save keyboard wear, I'll summarise it to - There were some cool moths in June.


An appropriate summary of July however would have been - There were a lot of cool moths in July. An awful lot.
Towards the end of the month we headed to Wales for a week's camping. After two days I was successfully put off camping.  It's never nice to wake up and find that rain's been sneaking in your tent all night.  Never.  The moths were worth it though.  Many, many hours of walking around, day and night, and we managed 95 species, including two county firsts.


On the 3rd I headed off for a month or so in Ireland.  The only birding we did were two Pelagic trips, and, other than the constant worry that comes hand-in-hand with being out at sea for 5 hours with a stomach of a somewhat weak constitution, I found that I like Pelagic's...
Storm Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Grey Phalarope, Bonxie and Long-tailed Skua, are all thing that are 'likeable' I would say. A small pod of Minke Whale and a load of Dolphin aren't half bad either.
And of course, there were some moths in Ireland too. Through the endless Square-spot Rustics, Agriphila straminella and Blastobasis adustella, I managed to see around 140 species.


After Ireland, I was back on the patch on the 12th, when I had my 2nd Hobby for the park this year.
On the 19th, I was rather surprisingly awarded the ZSL Animal Photography Prize 2015 Junior winner.  Not sure what happened there...
The 21st held A Grey Phalarope that 'only' showed down to 17 foot, at Cuckmere.  On the 25th I finally mixed things up,  managing to do a successful twitch. Yes, an actual successful twitch. I wasn't sure it was possible either, but the hyperactive blob could be nothing other than a Wilson's Phalarope.  A few Little Stint were a nice bonus!


October... October, what happened in October? Hmm, well I dipped a Yellow-browed Warbler, took a lot of photos of Grey Wagtails, and umm... oh yes, spent an excellent £2.25 to see an Osprey at Southease.  That was October.


Rather embarrassingly, I dipped a butterfly two days running. What a way to kick-start the month. It turns out Long-tailed Blue aren't that easy to see.
I also at last got myself a moth-trap, a little late in the year, but I still had a fair amount turning up.
To answer your question, no, I did no birding.  I did have a regular Firecrest in the garden however, and garden-ticked Treecreeper.


The final month of the year (I'm sure you know that though...). Not exactly a bird-filled month, but it did hold my first ever Caspian Gull on the 11th, so not bad, not bad at all.
A trip to Rainham on the 3rd was intended for birding, but I got distracted by a few Agonopterix alstromeriana - my 400th moth species of the year.
So, there we have it, a rough overview of my year as an extremely successful dipper. That's something to aspire to, right?

Saturday, 16 January 2016

What...Err, Pipit?

Excluding the patch, it'd been quite a while since I was last out birding. That stunning 1st winter Caspo was the last time I'd ventured away from the park for birding, and even then it was still just down the road. That being the case, I welcomed a trip out to Rainham Marshes on Friday to properly start the year's birding. It didn't disappoint: birds, sunshine (yes that does still happen), more birds and a good ol' dollop of stringing. What more could you want? I suppose a Glaucous-winged Gull wouldn't have gone amiss...
Having travelled by public transport I met up with Jean-Michel Blake (a new London birder, recently moved here from the probably much more bird-filled Zimbabwe) at Purfleet station, before we headed to the marshes.
 The unseasonable mildness we had been experiencing with the weather of late, has now gone. Very far away. It was a bit 'chilly'.
 Having scanned some of the ducks we headed round to look for the Dartford Warbler, which has seemingly ended up on the wrong side of the river. We were greeted with the cursory 'It was here ten minutes ago', and followed this up by giving it a further fifteen minutes to show itself.  The wait, although brief was not in vain. No, sadly the warbler did not show, but we had a Barn Owl pointed out, as this photo oh so clearly shows, so I'm not complaining.

We completed the circuit of the reserve, getting several great views of Marsh Harrier, a few Snipe, a flash of a Kingfisher and a total of 45 species.
Then, after a hot beverage had been consumed, it was time to look for Short-eared Owls along the Thames path.  There was a slight delay, caused by me losing, and subsequently (a hundred or so metres back the way we'd come) finding half of my scope's eyepiece... But no need to worry, ten minutes later a Short-eared Owl took up in front of us! Always such stunning birds to see.
With the train service home being rather infrequent, we began the walk back along the edge of the Thames to Purfleet. It was during this walk I picked up on what, from their call, I expected to be a pair of Rock Pipits, as they took up from the shoreline. I fired off a few photos as they went over. Now let the stringing commence. Upon reviewing the images, the birds seemed paler than I'd have expected, and the eyebrow was pretty strong too...hmm. Thoughts of Water Pipit started to creep in.

Having narrowly caught the train, and once the arduous experience of being a sardine on a bus was through, I got the photos up on the computer, where they looked even better for Water Pipit. There was even a white outer-tail feather. I daringly braved posting the images online, and thankfully was rewarded with several agreements to my suspicion. Water Pipit! Sure, it's not a rare species, but it's one which I'd long wanted to see.
Good company, good birds, terrible photos.

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