A few days late, but it’s time for my review of 2014. During the year there was one trip abroad – finally getting to Finland after several years of trying to get out there – and three in the UK: South Devon, North Yorkshire, and Norfolk. The year also saw Jem and I move to Tottenham Hale – right next door to the Walthamstow Reservoirs. It meant we were now within easier reach of Rainham Marshes and Rye Meads, but are now further away from The Wetland Centre and Staines Moor. This year I also decided, more out of curiosity than anything else, to try compiling a British yearlist for the first time.
Staines Moor was where the year began for us in mid-January. Heavy rain through the month meant we didn’t get out for the first couple of weekends, but glorious sunshine finally gave us a chance and we were rewarded with winter thrushes, Goldfinches, Lesser Redpoll, Kestrels, pipits and woodpeckers. I then made an important purchase of a top-quality Gitzo tripod and tested it out the following weekend at Rainham, with flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing being the highlight.
The month ended with a long weekend down in South Devon with Naturetrek. It started with major rail problems getting down to Exeter on the Friday and terrible weather too (but still a surprisingly-good number of species at Bowling Green Marsh), but the Saturday brought us no fewer than four Dartford Warblers and a pair of Raven in the morning, and then the afternoon was spent on a boat trip on the Exe Estuary which brought us unbelievable numbers of waders – of many species – plus Slavonian Grebe, Red-breasted Mergansers and more. The Sunday morning was spent on Dawlish Warren and the western side of the estuary where I had my first two lifers of the year: Great Northern Diver (#399) and distant Velvet Scoters (#400). The highlight for me was getting out to Labrador Bay to see our first Cirl Buntings (#401). A very good tour to get the year properly started.
A quick visit to the Wetland Centre brought us a Bittern skulking in the reedbeds, and we finally saw one of the local Peregrines as it perched on a crane on the Fulham side of the river. A trip to Broxbourne Woods followed, after we’d seen it mentioned in a magazine, but we became disorientated and at one stage found ourselves in the middle of the Hertfordshire Golf Course! Woodpeckers and Pipits were the main sights of the day.
Things improved late in the month. We returned to Thursley Common in Surrey and I finally managed to get Jem her first Great Grey Shrike, and there were also a couple of confiding Woodlarks which I managed to photograph for the first time.
The wet winter was behind us and spring was on its way. Jem and I finally visited Amwell for the first time, bringing us our first Treecreeper of the year and some really nice views of Reed Buntings visiting a feeder and a Kingfisher in the reeds in front of the hide. The next day out was a morning over in Bushy Park in the (extremely-optimistic) hope that we might finally get ourselves a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but to no avail. It was a fine morning though, and the highlights were our first Chiffchaff of the season and some really good close-up (and photogenic) views of at least two Treecreepers.
The first visit of the year to Bramfield turned out to be a fine day out. Amongst the usual Buzzards and Kestrels I finally saw my first Jay of the year, we had Nuthatches, Yellowhammers, Linnets, Red-legged Partridges, and great views of Red Kites. There was also a bird that flew out of a hedge and swooped off away from us low across a field that we’ve still not been able to identify, but the best guess was a leucistic or albino Crow.
Rainham was next and it brought us our first views of Cetti’s Warbler for the year, a very impressive pair of Marsh Harriers, a close-up Kestrel, lots of Linnets, and we heard (but couldn’t see) a reeling Grasshopper Warbler. Reed Buntings and Skylarks were also around and we were lucky to step into the Kingfisher hide just in time to see the breeding pair doing their incubation-hunting changeover.
Next was an evening stroll in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park which brought us our first Little Owl sighting of the year, and on Easter Satruday we revisited Staines Moor in the hope of finding our first Ring Ouzel. We couldn’t find it, and we couldn’t locate either of the two Grasshopper Warblers that had been reported, but it was a nice day out anyway.
On Easter Monday we visited Wanstead Flats for the first time, where we had a nice Sparrowhawk just overhead, Blackcaps, several Whitethroats and our first Willow Warbler of the year. In the afternoon we went for a walk along the Roding behind Jem’s house and found four Little Egrets and a Kingfisher, plus Chiffchaffs and nesting Mistle Thrushes.
April ended with a quick visit to the Wetland Centre which brought us our first Little Ringed Plover and Sand Martins of the year.
One of my favourite months of the year, and it didn’t disappoint this time round. Staines Moor brought us our first Cuckoo, Bullfinch, Common Tern, Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler of the year. There were Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits, Red Kites, Garden Warblers, Red-legged Partridges and Hobbies too. The following day we went up to Kings Lynn because Jem’s dad was in a race, and this brought us another Cuckoo, Common Whitethroats, Greenfinches and a Swallow.
Next came our big holiday of the year: Finland. Only four days long, but it was fantastically owl-heavy with two Tengmalm’s, one Pygmy, a pair of nesting Great Grey, a Ural in a nest box, loads of Short-eared, and my first pair of Hawk Owls (#402). The trip also brought us Ospreys, Buzzards, Marsh Harriers, Kestrels, Cuckoos, Black Grouse, Capercaillie, Waxwings, Ruff, Wood Sandpipers, Arctic Terns, Yellow Wagtails, Fieldfares, Snipe, Goosander, Black-throated Divers, Black Woodpeckers, Pied Flycatchers, Common Redstarts, Wrynecks, Crested Tits, Ortolan Buntings, Black-tailed Godwits, Slavonian Grebe, and my first Little Tern (#403). Sadly, Jem was unwell on the final morning and we missed out on lots of potential lifers that the rest of the group managed to get (but that just means I’ve decided to return this year). We also somehow managed to miss out on Lesser Spotted Woodpecker yet again, as it flew through the hotel car park in Oulu just as Jem and I were in the reception checking out. I also managed to miss out on Hazelhen, having missed out on it twice in Sweden previously.
June began with disruption as we moved into our flat in Tottenham, but we soon used the new location to our advantage and chose a hot Saturday to see the breeding Black-necked Grebes up the rail line at Rye Meads. We also had the best Kingfisher views I’ve ever had, and I managed to get some photos that I’m very happy with.
This month we also took some time to explore some of our new local patches, which included the Paddock reserve just across the street and the Lee waterway alongside Walthamstow Marshes.
Our next trip of the year was a short tour of North Yorkshire from a base near Scarborough. Bempton Cliffs brought us plenty of good coastal species, including Puffins, Gannets, Razorbills and Guillemots, plus some Tree Sparrows, a Corn Bunting at Flamborough, and Barn Owls, Common Scoters and Eiders at Filey. The North Yorkshire Moors were visited in damp conditions which made it a struggle, but we managed to get our first Red Grouse (#404), a Wheatear, and a few Golden Plover. The Raptor Watchpoint from the edge of Wykeham Forest got us a nice female Adder and a very distant and brief Honey Buzzard (which we were watching whilst just missing out on a Goshawk). Unlucky conditions in the evenings meant we missed out on our first Nightjars, but we did get a flushed Woodcock.
Following this trip we explored the Walthamstow Reservoirs next door for the first time, bringing us a brief Kingfisher. We also had two Sunday evening trips to Ashdown Forest (thanks to my dad for driving us) to try for Nightjars. On the first attempt I got a split-second glimpse of one as we were leaving, but we were much more successful the second time. At least three were seen displaying at close quarters (#405). A couple of days later we did our first ‘twitch’ because there was a Spotted Crake at Rye Meads – a bird we’d wanted to see and it was only 20 minutes away after work. It showed fairly well, but only really by scope (#406).
More reservoir exploration followed in August, with Hobby, Peregrine, Common Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Sparrowhawk, Common Whitethroat, Little Egret, Common Tern, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler noted.
After a trip up to Rutland Water for Birdfair, Rainham was next on the list. Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Common Whitethroat and Linnet were all seen on the way down towards the river wall, and Common Sandpipers were found along with a seal. Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Sparrowhawk were also seen.
A return to Amwell came up next. It was a quiet day, but we did get some brief Kingfisher action, plus Common Whitethroats, Lapwings, Shovelers, Blackcaps and Buzzards.
September began with a return to Wanstead Flats where we got our first Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat and Whinchats of the year, although we missed out on Common Redstart.
We’d booked a tour in Norfolk specifically to see the waders at Snettisham, but Marcus had to cancel because he’d unfortunately managed to break his ankle. Rather than spend the week I’d booked off work moping around, we made full use of it. We started with a trip back to Bramfield, which brought us young Swallows preparing to fly south, an awesome Peregrine, Buzzards, Kestrels and a Red Kite. Woodpeckers and a Yellowhammer also added to the day’s sights.
Next was a guided walk around Wormwood Scrubs with David Lindo. Buzzard, Kestrel, Red Kite (rare at this location) and Hobby were seen, along with Reed Warbler, several Whinchats and lots of Meadow Pipits.
The Tuesday saw us visit Dungeness RSPB for the first time, with my parents finally meeting Jem’s parents. Great White Egrets, Ruff, Pintail, Kingfisher, Marsh Harrier and a ridiculous number of Kestrels made it a fine day of birding at a new site for us.
Tices Meadow on the edge of Aldershot was next. Sparrowhawks, Kestrels, Common Sandpipers and Buzzards were the main highlights, including a male Sparrowhawk sat obligingly on a TV aerial in the suburbs.
On my birthday there was another wander around the reservoirs, which brought a Kingfisher, Grey Herons, Great Crested Grebes and a nice Grey Wagtail.
Staines Moor was the fitting end to a work of hardcore birding. In glorious sunshine we got the usual Kestrels, Buzzards, Woodpeckers, etc, and lots and lots of Stonechats with a handful of Whinchats thrown in for good measure. It was a particularly good day for photography and I got some of my favourite shots of the year.
Back to Rainham and it was more of the usual – a good day, although not spectacular. Kingfisher, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Buzzard, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit were the notables.
Then came probably the least successful day of birding we had all year. We went to Wanstead Flats to look for the Lapland Bunting that had been seen for the previous two days, but it obviously gone by the weekend and we failed. In fact, aside from various ducks on the Alex Pond and a Kestrel, we got very little else in gloomy and damp conditions.
The following weekend was much more successful as we went out to visit Dagenham Chase for the first time. I’d heard there had been a few Ring Ouzels seen in a particular area of the site, and although we had quite a long wait, we were eventually rewarded (#407). It’s a nice site too, so I’m sure we’ll be back before long. Sparrowhawk, Common Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit were also seen on this morning.
We started November with a plan. We went all the way down to Pagham Harbour to see the Short-eared Owls that had been there for several days. Conditions were perfect, but a local unwittingly sent us to the wrong part of the reserve and we managed to miss out. A great day of birding anyway with Spoonbill, big flocks of Brent Geese and Dunlin, Buzzard, Peregrine, Kestrel, Kingfisher, Red-legged Partridge, loads of Curlew and a Grey Plover being the highlights.
A visit to the new Thurrock Thameside reserve at Mucking in poor conditions brought us distant waders, a Green Woodpecker, Little Egrets and a few Avocets. I’ve no doubt this’ll be a good place to visit in the future though – it was just too wet for good birding on this particular day. An afternoon at Staines Moor followed a couple of days later as I hoped for a Dartford Warbler, but on this occasion I had to content with Stonechats and Kestrels.
Next it was the final tour of the year, to Norfolk. We still managed to fail on Short-eared Owls, but there was plenty of other great stuff on offer. a genuine Black Brant, Surf Scoter (#408), Velvet and Common Scoters, Peregrines, Marsh Harriers, my first ever male Hen Harrier, Snow Buntings (#409), Slavonian Grebe, Rough-legged Buzzard, Bearded Tits, our first winter thrushes of the season, and a couple of Barn Owls made it another good Norfolk tour.
A couple of short trips to Rainham finished the month off, including a nice afternoon in the sunset at the Rainham end of the Marshes where I enjoyed Stonechats, Kestrels, ‘murmurating’ pigeons, and flock of Starlings moving off to roost.
The Waterworks Nature Reserve and Essex and Middlesex Filterbeds were visited on a Sunday afternoon. Poor conditions meant there wasn’t much on offer, aside from a Kingfisher at the Lea Bridge Weir.
Next was another trip to Staines Moor, and this was another huge success. It was cold but clear, and following the Stonechats got us our Dartford Warbler, and hanging around as the sun went below the horizon finally got our first Short-eared Owls in the UK for almost two years. No good photos, but a fine day anyway.
The following day we learned of a Greater Scaup on the reservoirs next door, so Jem and I got up before work to see it and get ourselves a bonus final lifer of the year (#410).
I finished the year with a morning back in the reservoirs where I got a nice Kingfisher and a Peregrine on the pylons, and then a brief visit to Staines Moor again on New Year’s Eve in the hope that the owls would be back out, but it was ultimately unsuccessful.
Overall, a pretty good year’s birding. My British yearlist ended on 166 species, which was better than I was expecting. I was surprised to miss out on a few species that I would normally have expected to find over the course of the year: Common Redstart, Black Redstart and Marsh Tit, for example, and it was also disappointing to come back from a trip abroad with only two new ticks, but it was heartening that ten of the twelve lifers I’d amassed over the year had come in the UK.
2015 will see us go on at least three tours: a short break to Scotland in February and a week in Lesbos in April being the main two, but I am also going to be returning to Finland in May in the hope that I might get a few of the species I missed last time round. Maybe I’ll finally get that Hazelhen…