Monday, 7 January 2019

The end is nigh..., not the end of the world (not quite yet, anyway), but the end of my review of 2018, broken down into two bite-sized chunks, of which this is the second. And if you're thinking 'well it's a bit late for all this', you'd be right. I spilt a bottle of water over my laptop over the Xmas break, and it took a while to recover the hard drive and procure a new one before I could bring these musings to you.
Purple Emperor, Bentley Wood
But back to 2018, and we pick up where we left off in July and the middle of the long, hot summer. The first day of the month saw me over the border in Wiltshire at Bentley Wood, well known for its population of Purple Emperor. It didn't disappoint, and a pristine male feasting on dog dirt provided some exquisite if smelly photo opportunities.
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly
My summer search for rare Odonata continued and I was lucky to catch up with Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly on a local heathland just before the last of its breeding pools dried up in the baking sun. Even more exotic was a mini-invasion of Southern Migrant Hawkers - I travelled to Somerset to see my first only to find that the first for Dorset had turned up at Lytchett Bay when my back was turned.
Southern Migrant Hawker, Priddy Mineries, Somerset
The first half of August saw us in the French Alps for a family holiday. Two trips to the Col de la Colombiere provided some of the highlights of the trip - a couple of close encounters with Lammergeier, the first just above the car park at the col, the second a reward for an arduous climb to the ridge above the col.
Lammergeier, Col de la Colombiere
The col also held an excellent selection of butterflies, most notable among which were the rare Apollo and Mountain Clouded Yellow. We also enjoyed close encounters with Ibex and Alpine Marmot and a long list of new butterflies for my European list including, Alpine Heath, Lesser Mountain Ringlet, Meadow, Mountain, Shepherd's and Niobe Fritillary
Apollo, Col de la Colombiere
Second only to the Lammergeiers for mountain majesty was a Short-toed Eagle which sat in a pine tree watching us as we got our of the car just below the Col de la Colombiere. My children continue to remind me how I babbled excitedly at complete strangers parked next to us about this and forced them to marvel at it through my telescope. Well I still maintain it was genuine interest they were feigning.
Short-toed Eagle, Col de la Colombiere

Back in Dorset and autumn migration was well underway with many common migrants passing through one of my favourite local sites, Greenlands Farm near Studland. Yellow Wagtails, Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers were present on every visit along with the occasional Osprey. 
Spotted Flycatcher, Greenlands Farm
The end of the month saw me teaming up with David Bradnum, Howard Vaughan and Bob Vaughan once more on the long road north to Shetland. Before boarding the ferry we had seen a Woodchat Shrike and a Rose-coloured Starling at Barns Ness, and the American White-winged Scoter at Musselburgh - my second encounter of 2018 with this bird.
Woodchat Shrike, Barns Ness

Our week on Shetland was perhaps not a classic but we still saw some excellent birds - Citrine Wagtail, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Pied-billed Grebe, American Golden Plover, Common Rosefinch, Marsh, Melodious and River Warbler being the highlights.
River Warbler, Unst
While the Eastern Yellow Wagtail was a tick for all four of us, views were brief and distant compared to a very obliging Citrine Wag which was present on Bressay during our stay. This bird allowed a close approach and when we had got as close as we dared it started walking towards us!
Citrine Wagtail, Bressay
Back on the south coast October was passing uneventfully - until the 15th that is, when news of a Grey Catbird in Cornwall got the birding world asking 'will it stay until the weekend?' Fortunately it did, and Jol Mitchell and I couldn't resist the lure of adding this stellar American rarity to our British lists. A jolly day with Messrs Bradnum and Lowen for company.
Grey Catbird, Land's End

After the excitement of Shetland and the Grey Catbird in Cornwall in October, I didn't get out much in November - but there was still time for the birding world to throw up a few more surprises in 2018. Chief among these was a late Little Swift. I had promised myself that the next time one of this species roosted on a building at dusk I would go and see it come off the roost at dawn. This one went to roost under a streetlight, allowing me the luxury of twitching it in the dark on arrival, staying over in a local motel and going back in the morning to photograph it in glorious sunlight.
Little Swift
Little Swift
Continuing the November swift theme, a Pallid Swift at Chesil Cove late in the month enabled me to add this species to my Dorset list, putting to bed the ghost of the Christchurch bird a few years ago which was taken by a Sparrowhawk just minutes before my arrival.
Pallid Swift, Chesil Cove

If November saw me not getting out much, December saw me go almost into hibernation, as opportunities to get out and about trickled to a halt. Just a couple of highlights spring to mind: a Mandarin Duck, a proper Christmas Cracker of a bird, which took up residence in Poole Park; and my last Dorset tick of the year, a very co-operative Little Bunting which spent a few days grovelling on the verge of a Portland side-street.
Mandarin, Poole Park
And so there you have it, a year in memories and pictures. With thanks as usual to all those who shared them, and particularly those who I neglected while searching for them!
Little Bunting, Chiswell

1 comment:

  1. You have to be thankful that some of the wacky ideas from 10-20 years ago never made reality. I remember the idea that you would be able to enjoy the smells as you watched a film. I never understood why that idea would ever catch on & good it didn't - having the smell sensation of your Purple Emperor blog would have been grim.