The year began well, with days out at Rainham for Marsh Harriers and Short-eared Owls, Thursley Common for Great Grey Shrike and Dartford Warbler (and a surprise Red Kite floating past Dev’s flat in Woking), Strumpshaw Fen for Marsh Tit, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll (and Barn Owl and Red-legged Partridge nearby).
A morning at Tower Hamlets Cemetery brought us a Firecrest, and the afternoon back at the reservoirs added Greater Scaup and Goldeneye. The following weekend we had a short afternoon walk at Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, which brought us a surprise second Firecrest, plus a Little Owl, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Green Woodpecker and a Black Swan on the Serpentine. We also got to visit Vange Marsh and Wat Tyler Country Park in Essex for the first time. Here we had Black-tailed Godwits, Avocet, Sparrowhawk, Snipe, Kestrel and two Barn Owls in nest boxes. The month ended with a trip to Rainham, but it was too windy for the owls to show. Fieldfare, Dunlin and Pintail were noted.
A day out at Amwell brought us a skulking Bittern and good views of a Cetti’s Warbler. Then it was out for our first holiday of the year: a three-day guided birding tour of Ceredigion in mid-Wales. Highlights were our first UK Choughs and Glossy Ibis, hundreds of Red Kites, a couple of Black Redstarts, a Starling murmuration, two Dippers, Common Scoters, some Purple Sandpipers, my first ever Stoat, Red-throated Diver, Shag, Ravens, a Gannet, Fulmar, Guillemot, Kittiwake, and we finished off with our first Wheatear of the year. A very good trip. We finished the month with another day at Rainham, where I finally managed to get some reasonable photos of the Short-eared Owls in decent light.
April began with a day out to Bramfield in the cloud – and even some rain – but we were rewarded with a late-staying Hawfinch in a Goldfinch flock, and a singing Yellowhammer. The weather had vastly improved the following weekend, and a visit to Russia Dock Parkland and Stave Hill brought us a nice male Redstart. Rainham was the next place to be visited and we finally caught up with Grasshopper Warbler (at least two of them), to bring my lifelist up to 452. Lots of seasonal warblers were around, as well as a Little Gull and Arctic Terns on the Thames. The next day took us to Regent’s Park to get a fine male Pied Flycatcher. The final weekend of a productive month took us to Staines Moor, with the bird of the day being our first Hobby of the year perched nicely on a fencepost.
The Bank Holiday weekend saw Jem and I oversleep and miss out on a trip to King’s Lynn with her dad, but we made use of the fine weather with a productive wander around the reservoirs. Swifts, Peregrine and Wheatear were the highlights. We also visited Fairlop and Claybury with Jem’s mum later in the day. We got up early for a dawn chorus walk on the Monday, and we were rewarded with prolonged close-up views of a singing Grasshopper Warbler on Tottenham Marshes. The following weekend brought a walk around Stocker’s Lake (Red-crested Pochard being the most notable species), and then two after-work walks around the reservoirs for Garganey, Black-necked Grebe and Sanderling.
Then it was time for our main holiday of the year: a week in the Spanish Pyrenees. It consisted of both countryside walks in the foothills and higher-altitude walks in the mountains. We got pretty much everything we came for: Lammergeiers, a Wallcreeper, and a Eurasian Eagle Owl, along with seven other lifers for me: Alpine Chough, Citril Finch, Western Orphean Warbler, Western Cattle Egret, Thekla Lark, Melodious Warbler and Western Bonelli’s Warbler, bringing the lifelist up to 462. The only target we failed with was Alpine Accentor. There was plenty of great scenery, flora, and other wildlife too. If only Sheffield Wednesday had won the Play-off final on the Saturday, it would’ve been one of the best weeks of my life…
June was basically empty. We took a few weeks off from birding after Spain, and didn’t really get back into it until July (aside from a brief afternoon visit to the reservoirs dominated mainly by gulls)…
Rainham was the first day out in July, bringing us a fleeting glimpse of a female Cuckoo and a brief circling Hobby. The big event was the report of a male Rosefinch on Walthamstow Marshes one Sunday evening. Jem and I put the effort in, getting up early to try to find it before work, and then going back out after we’d got home. It took us until the Friday morning before we finally got to see the bird (having heard it once or twice). It stayed on a TV aerial for about thirty seconds, and that was all we got. Still, it was #463 on the lifelist. We also had an attempt for Nightjars on Ashdown Forest, but all I got was a fleeting momentary view as it proved too breezy for them. A day out with Jem’s parents to Wicken Fen followed. A scorching morning brought us very little – until I found a Honey Buzzard floating overhead. Should get my name in the Cambridgeshire Bird Report! We also managed Willow Warbler and our first Bearded Tits of the year. Kensington Gardens was visited so I could test out a zoom lens I’d recently acquired, with a female Blackcap being the highlight of the day.
August began with Hen Harrier Day at Rainham. A lovely hot sunny day, and we had great views of Marsh Frogs and a Water Vole. We could;t stay around because we were returning to Ashdown Forest in the evening to look for Nightjars again. Despite perfect conditions, all we got was some brief churring and calling, and no sightings. Birdfair was the next highlight, and while trying out expensive scopes from the top of the Swarovski Tower we got add Great White Egret to the yearlist. We also got to catch up briefly with David Lindo, and we met Chris Packham and woodpecker expert Gerard Gorman, before enjoying the Bird Photographer of Year Awards. I’d tried to enter the competition myself but the registration system wasn’t working properly and my message to customer service went unanswered. I’ve entered for this year instead though, so we’ll see how that goes.
A good month, which began with great views of Spotted Flycatchers and a Dunlin at the reservoirs. Fine-tuning the autofocus with my long lenses also proved to be one of the smartest things I’ve ever done! Then it was off to Norfolk for our annual break. Jem and I found our own Short-eared and Barn Owls in Wells the first evening, plus a smart Grey Plover. Then we experience the waders at Snettisham at long last, before a nice afternoon at Titchwell. We had a day off to wander Wells Woods and find a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers and a Wheatear, before we were taken back there by Marcus on the Friday to see more, plus Pied Flycatcher, Garden Warbler and Treecreeper. On the last day we got our first UK Caspian Gull at Cley, along with great views of Marsh Harrier and Snipe. It was another very nice trip, although I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t get any lifers: Dotterel and Red-breasted Flycatcher had been around but we missed them, plus what would’ve been our first UK Wryneck. There’s always next year though.
A quiet month, birding-wise, but we managed an afternoon around the reservoirs where a Peregrine dropped a freshly-severed Little Grebe head from the pylon above me and just missed my head. Beachy Head was visited for Rob Young’s stag, and this brought me some great views of Wheatear, Rock Pipit, Stonechat, Willow Warbler and at least two squabbling Peregrines overhead. Lots of Stonechats and Meadow Pipits were seen at Staines Moor the following weekend, along with a Grey Wagtail and two Short-eared Owls.
Jack Snipe was my main target for the year, and by November I still hadn’t come close to finding one. Jem and I tried the Wetland Centre one Saturday morning as we were in the area for football match anyway but although there had been four of them the previous weekend, none were showing this time. We did get Green Sandpiper, Common Snipe and Kingfisher instead though.
The end of the year was a good one. Straight away we finally got our Jack Snipes: three of them at Ruislip Lido (#464). We also had several visits to the Reservoirs, although we struggled with the often-reported Goosander and Goldeneye. Scaup, Peregrines, Sparrowhawks, Green Sandpiper and Kingfishers were all noted. A Friday at Rainham brought Barn Owl, Buzzard and Marsh Harriers, but we missed a juvenile Hen Harrier. Kensington Gardens brought us Goldcrest, Coal Tit and Nuthatch. Rye Harbour was also visited before Christmas, with Golden Plover, Curlew, Skylark, Little Egret, Redshank and Turnstone seen. Dad took us to Old Lodge on Ashdown Forest on Boxing Day, where we added Woodlark to the yearlist, nudging it past 2014’s total of 166. We also tried and failed for Smew at Amwell, but we did get a surprise pair of Chiffchaffs. The year ended with a fine morning at Wallasea Island. Three Hen Harriers (male, female and juvenile), Kestrels, Marsh Harriers, Corn Buntings, Dunlin, Redshank, Brent Geese, Sanderling, Curlew and Kingfisher were all seen, and there was even time for a final lifer for the year: a small group of Twite (#465)! Pretty good.
So, the year was a good one in all. Fourteen species were added to the lifelist: Western Cattle Egret, Lammergeier, Jack Snipe, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Alpine Chough, Thekla Lark, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Western Orphean Warbler, Wallcreeper, Common Rosefinch, Twite and Citril Finch – which brought it up to 465 in total. Gropper, Jack Snipe, Twite and Rosefinch were all seen in the UK, bringing my British list up to 227. With the late additions in December, the yearlist ended on 170 – beating 2014’s worst of 166 and well behind 2016’s best of 185. By late spring the yearlist was doing very well and I wondered if I might even beat last year’s total, but it fell off dramatically in the second half of the year. The notable absentees this year were Tawny Owl (heard, but never seen), Water Rail, Red-breasted Merganser, Grey Partridge, Bullfinch, Whooper Swan, Mandarin, Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Crossbill, Woodcock, Whimbrel, Rock Dove, Yellow-legged Gull and Tree Sparrow. First time in years that I haven’t managed to get either Tawny Owl or Water Rail onto the list. Of my list of five targets for the year, I successfully found Jack Snipe, Twite and Gropper, missing Little Auk and Corncrake. I haven’t yet decided on the three new additions for 2017, but Dotterel will definitely be one of them. I just hope it doesn’t become my next ‘nemesis’ bird…