Monday 31 December 2012

2012: rain and all that

It's the last day of 2012 and, fittingly, it's peeing down. By the end of March, when drought was forecast, and we had already spent a couple of weeks walking around in T-shirts, you could have been forgiven for anticipating a long hot summer. The birding also boded well as by Easter I had already seen three of what turned out to be six new birds for me over the course of the year: a Sparrow from Spain (or thereabouts), a Yellowthroat from over the Atlantic and a Warbler from a Paddyfield. With hindsight, however, all three were probably good birds from 2011 which managed to survive the winter rather than new arrivals in 2012.

Paddyfield Warbler in Sussex - the 400th species I have photographed in the UK (Feb 2012)
I found myself posting about torrential rain in April, then again in July, and on and off right up to Christmas. The sun did occasionally put his hat on, most memorably when I caught up with my other three ticks of 2012: a Greater Yellowlegs on a long weekend in Scotland (May), a Roller in East Yorkshire (June - my longest day trip of 2012), and, closer to home, Britain's second Short-billed Dowitcher in Weymouth (September).

Lodmoor's long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher - one of 6 new birds for me in 2012
My Dorset list passed the minor landmark of 250 during the course of the year - almost respectable after 5 years of residency - with Black-winged Stilt, Purple Heron, Great Reed Warbler, White-rumped Sandpiper, Siberian Stonechat (the stejnegeri sub-species) and Daurian Shrike joining the Dowitcher on the county list. The Shrike was a good bird to bring up the 250. Similarly, the Paddyfield Warbler was a good bird with which to reach another landmark of 400 species I have now photographed in Britain.

Daurian Shrike - one of a run of rarities on Portland in October 2012
There are a number of contenders for best birding day of 2012: a February morning when I saw and photographed three major rarities (Paddyfield Warbler, Spanish Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco) in full sunlight and within the space of a few hours; a bright December day which started with the sun rising on a Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll in Suffolk and ended with it setting on a Buff-bellied Pipit in Berkshire; or a perfect day on Skomer with the family which made up for the disappointment of not getting onto the island a few days before. Bird of the Year for me though was either the Dowitcher or the Yellowthroat. The former took seven visits to get a shot I was happy with; and the latter took a while to pin down on my first visit but gave brief but superb views on my second - long enough to get the picture below at least.

Common Yellowthroat in Gwent - my favourite rarity photo of 2012
Locally, time spent on the patch with the camera paid dividends with close views of Short-eared Owl and Marsh Harrier among the highlights, and a fine selection of waders taking advantage of the unseasonal availability of all-year round puddles. All sorts of ducks also made themselves available at Swineham - it was, after all, nice weather for them.

Short-eared Owl at Swineham - patch-tastic
Happily there were no spectacular dips in 2012, a function of (i) being picky about what to go for (ii) spending a bit more time birding locally and (iii) continuing restrictions on the opportunities to get out among other responsibilities. Most enjoyable among the latter is my officially-most-important-role-in-life as father to George and Rowan and husband to Claire, and I really should put on record my thanks to them for being so tolerant of my peregrinations, and of me implying via the pages of this blog that they will stop at nought to prevent me going birdwatching. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, and there are times when, for reasons I can only guess at, they seem almost glad to see me go. By way of a thank you, as well as reaffirming my now annual resolution to be less tolerant of dog-walkers, I resolve to get out birding even more often in 2013. Purely out of gratitude to them, you understand.

My ever-patient family sometimes follow me to Swineham to make sure that I do actually go there when I say that's where I'm going. And no, the dog isn't ours.

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