Well, 2013 has been quite a year! Two main birding holidays, plus four smaller weekend trips in the UK, and Jem and I have also managed to find some interesting species and some spectacular sights on various day-trips around and about.
I started the year with a list of five species I wanted to try to find (Hawfinch, Brambling, Hen Harrier, Merlin and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker). I got four of them (LSW continues to elude), but I would’ve had Dartford Warbler as a reserve, and I managed to get that. I started the year with 346 species in my global lifelist and ended with 398, the vast majority of the new ticks were gained during our week in Andalucía in September. Although I’ve seen them in Sweden, Great Grey Shrikes have been elusive for me this year – three different trips failed to bring a sighting – and I still haven’t had a good enough look at a Jack Snipe to include that in my total. Sparrowhawk has surprised me, being a very regular sighting throughout the year, and I’ve seen a lot of Fieldfares recently – far more than in previous winters.
The year started with incredible views of Short-eared Owls at Staines Moor one Sunday afternoon. We saw at least three, and they were also perched in trees which seemed quite unusual for this species. A great Saturday at Bramfield in Hertfordshire brought our first Hawfinch (tick #1 of the year), loads of Yellowhammers, Lesser Redpolls, Common Buzzards, Red Kites, Woodpeckers, Goldcrests and more. The following day we got up early to see Waxwings at South Ealing Underground Station and then two female Bearded Tits in Hyde Park.
After the spectacular start to the year, things could hardly get better…or could they? Our first guided trip of the year was a two-day Norfolk Tour with the Bird ID Company. We saw at least four Barn Owls and two Short-eared Owls, two Rough-legged Buzzards (#2), Taiga Bean Geese (#3), a Merlin (#4) with prey, several Brambling (#5), Long-tailed Duck (#6), plenty of Corn Bunting, lots of waders, etc. A very good tour. We finished the month a good day out at Rainham Marshes, where we put in the year’s first local sightings of Black Redstarts by the Thames. It was also the first time I’d seen them in the UK. A nice end to the month was made even better when I learned that my Eagle Owl photos had won Dyxum’s Photo of the Year – out of more than 160 entries.
March began with our second guided tour of the year: a long weekend in the New Forest. Lots of great birds were seen, notably Marsh and Willow Tits, Bitterns, a displaying male Goshawk, about a dozen Hawfinches and several Waxwings in close proximity in the urban setting of a housing estate in Romsey, Bullfinches, Buzzards, lots of waders, and we finished off with a mega-rare American Green-winged Teal (#7). The month also saw nice Kestrel and Green Woodpecker views on Richmond Park on Good Friday, more Black Redstarts and Water Pipits at Rainham, along with a good sighting of the incredible Rainham Megafalcon, and a trip to Bristol which brought us great views of a high-speed hunting Peregrine near the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
April began with snow, but fortunately the sun got more of a look-in as the month progressed, and Jem and I turned our attentions to birding in Central London. We got good views of Little Owls and Tawny Owls in Kensington Gardens, plus some Redwings in Hyde Park that hadn’t gone home yet, then more Tawny Owls, a flying Woodcock, a pair of Coal Tits and a brief Common Redstart in Kensington Gardens a week later. Then we got a solitary Wheatear in Hyde Park a week after that (the first really warm day of the year), plus Mistle Thrushes, Red-crested Pochards, a Nuthatch and a soaring Buzzard. We also had a first visit to Wormwood Scrubs, but sadly the wind was a bit strong, restricting our sightings to a few Greenfinches and a very brief Common Whitethroat. We also went to Peterborough for the footie, and a pre-match walk along the Nene brought us a fine Sparrowhawk, Green Woodpecker, Blackcaps, and an unidentified warbler – most likely a Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler.
May Bank Holiday gave us a dawn chorus on Wimbledon Common and with a nice Marsh Tit with a couple of Coal Tits. The Monday took us to Rye Meads RSPB in the hot sunshine. We got great close views of a singing Sedge Warbler, plus a Great Tit mimicking a telephone. Good views of Kingfishers were a highlight from the Kingfisher Hide, and we also heard our first Grasshopper Warbler (although we didn’t see it). May also saw another brief visit to Wormwood Scrubs. Again the weather was against us, although we did get a very nice hunting Kestrel. We went to the London Wetland Centre for the first time in a few months and got great views of a Little Ringed Plover, and lots of Swifts overhead. We also went to Bushy Park, where we failed to find Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers (again), but did get great views of Skylarks, a Treecreeper, and a Long-tailed Tit nest. I returned to Rainham in bad weather to get good views of the male Kingfisher bringing food to the nest – although it was soon to be found and destroyed by a predator – as well as good views of a Common Whitethroat, and some Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone on the river. We finished a full-on May with a two-day guided tour of the Somerset Levels. Day One saw awful weather – cold, grey and very windy, although we did get views of a couple of Hobbies, Buzzards, a Peregrine, nesting Great Crested Grebe, a Cuckoo, Yellow Wagtail, lots of good Dragon- and Damselflies, and Marsh Tits and Coal Tits at a heronry. The second day saw an early start for the dawn chorus at RSPB Ham Wall, and then we returned to the same reserve later on. Loads of Bittern were seen, Great White Egret, Spotted Flycatcher, Cetti’s Warbler (#8, seen at last), Garden Warbler, Common Whitethroats, Kingfishers, loads of Hobbies, Marsh Harriers, and a couple of Sparrowhawks too. Another good trip. On our return we just missed out on a Red-backed Shrike that had been showing well at the LWC.
June began with a day out at the RSPB’s Cliffe Pools reserve on the North Kent Marshes. This brought us hundreds of Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, Common Redshanks, Common Whitethroats, a tatty Kestrel, a distant Buzzard, several singing Nightingales, and a Cuckoo. Lots of insects too. June also saw a rainy walk in Hainault, a fairly dismal walk in Bushy Park (still no LSWs), a day out at Wimbledon for the tennis, and a good day’s birding at Rainham which got us good close-up views of Dunnocks, Reed Warblers, Reed Buntings, a hunting Hobby, a late calling Cuckoo and a brief Kingfisher.
We began this month with a wander around the Leg o’ Mutton reserve near Barnes, which got us good views of House Martins, and the following weekend brought me Coal Tits, Common Buzzards and Swifts whilst Jem was doing a Parkrun at Wimbledon Common. The following weekend we walked around Valentines Park and got a family of Green Woodpeckers, Pied Wagtails, a nice overhead Sparrowhawk and some nasty verbal abuse from a middle-aged bench-dwelling drunk. The month ended with visits to Fulham Palace Gardens to get some macro shots of insects, and a few hours at the London Wetland Centre, which got us views of a Sparrowhawk and a Kingfisher, plus lots of good dragon- and damselflies.
August saw a stroll around Brompton Cemetery, which brought us a nice singing Wren, juvenile Rooks, and some interesting Feral Pigeons. We went to the final day of the Ashes Series at the Oval, which brought nice views of an overhead Sparrowhawk, not once but twice. We also returned to the LWC to see my first Whinchats in more than four years, plus a nice Common Sandpiper. The following weekend we went out to Essex for a meal with Jem’s extended family and dropped into Old Hall Marshes RSPB on the way. It was a hot day, but we got a bold Wheatear, Kestrels, Buzzards, a Curlew in flight, Marsh Harriers, and lots of interesting insects. We also just missed out on a nearby Wryneck.
This month saw our first big holiday of the year: a week in Andalucía for the raptor migration, led by Peter Jones. Far too much to talk about in this summary, but I’ll list the 37 new ticks I added during this week: Cory’s Shearwater, Greater Flamingo, Black Stork, Glossy Ibis, Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Kentish Plover, Collared Pratincole, Slender-billed Gull, Audouin’s Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Monk Parakeet (technically, I’d seen these before in Green-wood Cemetery in New York, but hadn’t ever ticked them off), Alpine Swift, Pallid Swift, White-rumped Swift, European Bee-eater, Iberian Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Iberian Magpie, Red-billed Chough, Calandra Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Eurasian Crag Martin, Iberian Chiffchaff, Zitting Cisticola, Spotless Starling, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Common Rock Thrush, Rock Sparrow, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Rock Bunting. We finished the month off with a day of birding in less-than-ideal conditions at Rainham, with the highlight being a nice close-up Wheatear by the river wall.
October began with a day out in the Lea Valley and some hide-based photography at Fisher’s Green. Lots of Great Tits, Blue Tits and Chaffinches, and surprisingly-good views of a Cetti’s Warbler right in front of the hide. We also looked for – and failed to get – Jack Snipe at the LWC one afternoon, and then I had a week off which gave me a day at Rye Meads RSPB. Lots of Common Snipe (but still no Jack), plenty of Lapwing sent up by a Sparrowhawk, but that was about it. The weather was poor that week, but I also took the time to walk along the Regent’s Canal in search of a reported Red-legged Partridge, but it failed to appear for me, plus a morning on Kensington Gardens in better conditions where I photographed various gulls and a skulking Grey Heron.. The highlight of October was undoubtedly the three days in Norfolk with Stuart White again. We got flocks of Golden Plover, lots of thrushes, Marsh Harriers, Red-throated Diver, Red-breasted Merganser, a Brown Hare, Gannets, Brent Geese and my first Mediterranean Gull (#46), plus Jem and I got what we’re pretty sure was a Merlin flying overhead and out to sea. The second day in Holkham brought us Curlew, Sanderling, Buzzards, Kestrels, Marsh Harriers, Oystercatchers and Redshanks, plus lots of Grey Seals at Blakeney. The third day got my first Grey Partridges (#47), lots more Golden Plover, Common Snipe, both Godwits, Long-tailed Duck, Avocet, Dunlin, Little Stint, and the highlight of the trip: a Shorelark (#48) at Thornham Point.
The penultimate month of the year saw a couple of good day trips for Jem and I. Firstly, we returned to Bramfield in Hertfordshire to see if it was as good as it had been back in January. A very quiet start as we walked from Hertford North Station in the sunshine was suggesting they we’d just been lucky on our last visit, but once we got close to the the village it all came good. Common Buzzards and Red Kites were in close proximity (especially the kites), Fieldfare and Redwing were flocking, Reed Buntings were seen, along with lots of House Sparrows. Chaffinches, Greenfinches and a Green Woodpecker were also seen. The following weekend we had our second attempt of the year to try to find a Great Grey Shrike (for photography purposes for me, for a new tick for Jem). Somehow we managed to not see it, despite lots of good reports throughout the day. We did instead get Lesser Redpolls, Stonechats, Coal Tits, hundreds of Fieldfares, Meadow Pipits and Green Woodpeckers. There were also reports of a Dartford Warbler, but we didn’t find that either. The following weekend saw a short walk at Fairlop Country Park. More Fieldfares, lots of Lapwing, and an extraordinary number of Cormorants were the highlights. A day down in Dorset for work was also had, and great views of Red Kite and Little Egret were seen from the train, followed by Song Thrushes and perched Common Buzzards at the studio.
It was a fine end to a fine year. Jem and I went to Serbia with David Lindo to see the spectacular sight of more than 800 Long-eared Owls, a Little owl, a Barn Owl, loads of Buzzards, several Marsh Harriers, several Hen Harriers, lots of Pygmy Cormorants, a few White-tailed Eagles, tens of thousands of geese and Common Cranes, plus some exciting new ticks: Caspian Gulls (#49), Penduline Tits (#50), and Red-breasted Geese (#51). This trip wasn’t about ticks though – it was about spectacular birding sights, and that’s exactly what we got. I was fully prepared for that to be the end of the year’s birding for me, but I had one day of annual leave still to take. I went to Richmond Park on the off-chance that a Dartford Warbler that had been reported back on the same day as we’d gone to Thursley Common might still be around and with the tips that Peter Jones had given me back in Spain I actually managed to find it (#52). A pretty decent end to a fine year.