Monday, 1 January 2018

Peace, quiet and goodwill to most men

'I'm standing here quietly waiting for some birds to appear which won't appear unless it's completely quiet' would not have been an appropriate response to the dog walker's bellowed greeting 'WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO SEE?', loud enough to flush a chunky bird out of a churchyard Yew as the sun set for the last time on 2017. So instead I patiently explained the basics of Hawfinch identification and behaviour, and my birding year ended as it had begun: with a half-hearted effort which got the reward it deserved. Fortunately, there were some more memorable highlights in between. Specifically:

January: since killjoys invented 'Dry January' to dampen my birthday celebrations this month, mid-life excitement generally comes these days in the form of taking the special day off to do some mid-winter birding. This year was a cracker - glorious sunshine from start to finish, and a rare American double of Lesser Yellowlegs and a Green-winged Teal at Lytchett Bay on top of all the regular Poole Harbour specialities.
Photo of the month for January: male Black Redstart at Chesil Cove
Bird of the month for January: a birthday Lesser Yellowlegs at the Lytchett Field of Dreams
February: my first twitch to speak of in 2017 was not for a bird but for a cetacean - a Humpback Whale which chugged herring for a couple of weeks off Slapton Sands - thanks Steve Smith for the lift to see that, one of the undoubted highlights of the wildlife watching year. A short half-term break in Cornwall provided the opportunity to catch up with the Hudsonian Whimbrel (now relegated from full species status to a mere race of Whimbrel) for the second year running, along with a brace of wintering duck from across the pond (American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal). A singing Desert Wheatear on the way down provided the most exquisite collector's item for the month on the birding front.
My highlight for February: Humpback Whale in Devon
February's photo of the month: Desert Wheatear at Thurlestone, Devon
March: March provided the opportunity to see my first new British bird of 2017 - a male Pine Bunting in Yorkshire. An early start with co-driver Paul Welling was required. Not even getting rear-ended on the way home could dampen our good mood after we re-found the Bunting following a four hour absence on its part.
Terrible photo of a great bird: Pine Bunting in Yorkshire, birding highlight for March
Photo of the month for March: Short-eared Owl on Portland
April: the Easter break brought the chance to team up with another old birding friend in the form of David Bradnum for a two-day trip to the Isles of Scilly. Our main target was a Rock Thrush, my second new British bird of 2017. After success with that, David dropped me off on The Lizard for an idyllic week's holiday with the family. I had to limit my birding after absconding to Scilly at the start of the holiday, but a moth trap kept us entertained at our accommodation on the Bonython Estate.
Rock Thrush, St Martin's: bird of the month for April
April's photo of the month is this female Emperor moth which came to light at our holiday cottage near The Lizard
May: several trips to Portland looking for spring migrants kept me occupied during May. Rare Sylvia warblers were well represented with a smart Eastern Subalpine Warbler being eclipsed only by a Spectacled Warbler - a first for Dorset and my bird of the month for May. Several early morning visits bumping into common migrants like Whinchats, Redstarts and Flycatchers made for a memorable month, while spring butterflies also put on a good show at Cerne Abbas later in the month.
Bird of the month for May: Spectacled Warbler
Photo of the month for May: Whinchats on Portland
June: the first few days of June saw us on yet another family holiday in Scotland, on the west coast shores of Gairloch. The highlights were many and varied: Pine Martens coming to the window of our cottage; Minkes surfacing next to our whale-watching boat; Auks thronging around the Shiant Islands; and my first Northern Emerald and Azure Hawker dragonflies in the forests around Loch Maree. Mid-June also brought the traditional rare bird/wife's birthday/visiting friends crisis, which was resolved in the favour of rare birds with me pelting along the south coast to Sussex to catch up with an Elegant Tern, my third new bird of 2017, which later turned up in Dorset! Several Storm Petrels off Hengistbury Head provided my second Dorset tick of the year.
Highlight of the month was this Pine Marten on our balcony near Gairloch
My photo of the month for June is this Minke Whale, simply because it's not every day you get to photograph a whale's nostrils!
July: July was a spectacular month for Odonata in Dorset, and one site in particular, Longham Lakes, had a red letter month, playing host to Britain's 8th Scarlet Darter, an extreme rarity from the near continent, as well as several Lesser Emperor and Red-Veined Darter dragonflies. I was fortunate enough to re-find the Scarlet Darter the morning after it was discovered by ardent patch watcher Martin Wood (or should that be advent path walker given Martin's penchant for auto-correct?). Seabird migration also got underway and some unseasonably stormy weather brought another Dorset tick in the form of a Great Shearwater to Weymouth Bay - bird of the month for July.
Photo of the month for July: a rare view of the upperside of a Purple Haristreak at Alners Gorse
Scarlet Darter at Longham Lakes was the wildlife highlight of July
August: high summer saw me back on the Isles of Scilly, sloshing around on three Sapphire Pelagics - the third of these enabled me to finally photograph a long-standing target species, Cory's Shearwater. On the way back to the mainland later that day, Scillonian III encountered a feeding frenzy involving many Common Dolphin, a Minke Whale and rafts of Shearwaters as far as the eye could see, to make it my best birding day of 2017. August turned out to be surprisingly good for rare birds - I bumped into Bee-eaters and a Rose-coloured Starling on a family holiday to Yorkshire and no sooner had I got back to Dorset than an American Yellow Warbler performed for one night only on Portland - bird of the month for August.
Yellow Warbler: bird of the month for August
This Common Dolphin was my photo of the month for August
September: an extraordinary month for waders in Dorset saw me add four new species to my Dorset list: Least Sandpiper (a first for Dorset), Stilt Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper and Red-necked Phalarope. A Spotted Sandpiper also gave close views at Abbotstbury, but the wildlife highlight of the month was a Queen of Spain Fritillary in Sussex, which encouraged me to make my first butterfly twitch for over a decade.
Photo and bird of the month for September was this juvenile Long-tailed Skua which performed on a golf course in Northumberland as we headed north for Shetland
This ragged Queen of Spain Fritillary was my wildlife highlight of September
October: traditionally one of the best months for bird migration and rarities in particular, I spent the first week of October on Shetland - a superb introduction to the islands in autumn with David Bradnum, Howard Vaughan and Bob Vaughan. The weather could have been better but the birding could hardly have been so: Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was a new British bird for me and my bird of the month, while a supporting cast of Buff-bellied Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Rustic Bunting, Red-flanked Bluetail, Parrot Crossbill, Little Bunting, Short-toed Lark and Red-breasted Flycatcher kept the camera busy. Risso's Dolphin off Sumburgh Head was also my second new cetacean of 2017. Shortly after returning home Dorset delivered the goods again with a Two-barred Greenish Warbler just a few miles from home representing my second British tick of the month. I was then confined to barracks for the rest of the year, penance for the Shetland trip, but time at home with the moth trap was well spent when my first Merveille du Jour came to light towards the end of the month. Another sign perhaps that Lepidoptera would soon loom larger in my life...
Terrible photo of a special bird: Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler - I saw the white tail corners of the 'PG Tips' in flight
Red-breasted Flycatcher on Shetland: my photo of the month for October
November: still grounded after my Shetland trip, birding highlights were few and far between but I eventually caught up with the Hawfinch invasion - an easy winner of the accolade of bird of the month and an over-due Dorset tick.
Hawfinch: bird of the month for me and many others in November following the major irruption event which started in October
A dashing male Merlin at Middlebere is my photo of the month for November against not very stiff competition!
December: December was lost in a blur of work, career planning and last minute shopping. For the first time in a very long time, I don't think I took of photo worthy of publication all month! Creating space, then, for a couple of bonus highlights which didn't make the grade earlier in this post:
Cory's Shearwater: I finally got to photograph this species on my thirteenth pelagic
Parrot Crossbill on our last day on Shetland: a suitably monster bird to bring to an end a monster trip
Merveille du Jour: probably the most exquisite creature to come out of my moth trap in 2017
So despite the duties of work, parenting and the ever-present pressure to do something more useful (?!?) with my weekends, I still managed to see half-a-dozen new birds in Britain (and six new for Dorset), four dragonflies, a couple of cetaceans and a butterfly which I had not previously seen in this country during 2017. The numbers matter to no-one but me of course, and are in any case a poor measure of the absorbing, satisfying and educational time I have spent watching and photographing wildlife this year. If you were there to share it with me, my thanks; if you were neglected while I went searching for it, my apologies. Many thanks for reading - and Happy New Year!
One of my favourite photographs of 2017 taken at one of my favourite places: Marbled Whites at Durlston
Perhaps my best rare bird photo of 2017: a Little Bunting on a lichen covered wall in perfect light on Shetland: a fitting memory of a great trip 

1 comment:

  1. Peter thanks for a wonderful review of 2017. I trust your birthday this year will be blessed
    For me my year has begun quietly other than a frozen pipe. My birding is restricted to caring for my flock of garden sparrows who are constant in their desire for bread in this cold weather.