Wednesday 31 December 2014

2014: retrospection and introspection

So that's it then, another year gone, and what to show for it? Well some fond memories for starters; a creaking hard-drive full of fair to middling bird photos; 8 new ticks for my British list, taking the total to 443 (BOU); and, subject to the due process of official rarity recording, a possible footnote in Dorset birding history for turning up a county sub-species first. Which makes it 'better than average' by any objective assessment. Highlights below.
Bridled Tern: Bird of the Year? Read on...
Ticks: a pretty good year by recent standards for my British list with a tick per month from January through to July. First up a flock of Parrot Crossbills in Nottinghamshire (Jan); followed up by a mammoth Myrtle Warbler twitch (Feb); and an even more mammoth American Coot twitch (March). Excellent company on the first and last of these (with family for the Parrots, and new friends Dave, Andy and Chris for the Coot). April produced a Baikal Teal twitch (with Jol) which I haven't officially 'counted' yet pending the final verdict on its provenance. May looked like breaking my run of luck until Paul Morton came up trumps with the Short-toed Eagle on the last day of the month. June saw me heading off to Norfolk for a long-staying Spectacled Warbler and while I was unable to get away for the Norfolk Great Knot at the start of July, I still managed a tick that month by heading back to the Farne Islands for the returning Bridled Tern.
Eastern Crowned Warbler, Cleveland, October. 3rd record for Britain.

With the onset of high summer it was always going to be difficult to keep up the rate of a tick-a-month, and sure enough when my August pelagics failed to turn up the hoped for Fea's Petrel (there was one on the Monday before I arrived on the Friday) it was back to the listing doldrums. September added nought and October looked like doing likewise until an Eastern Crowned Warbler rocked up at its fag end to provide a timely reminder that despite the pressures of work and duties of family, there will still be times when the stars align to grant me time off for a monster twitch. One more lifer this year to bring up 444 would have been nice, but unless the dull thud I just heard outside was not a firework but a wandering Little Bustard hitting the French windows I think we can safely say that's going to have to wait for 2015.
Oh go on then, for Auld Lang Syne: Northern Harrier/Marsh Hawk, Portland, April.
Finds: pretty duff, as usual, though my first nationally significant one occurred in April, even though I didn't know what it was at the time: the Portland Northern Harrier generated a lot of interest despite the fact I was the sole observer. It was only identified thanks to the sharp eyes of Martin Cade after I sent him a heavily cropped shot of what I had dismissed as a common or garden Hen Harrier. My second best find wasn't even a bird: it was a butterfly, an exquisite and rare aberration of Painted Lady, known as rogeri, which caused a stir among lepidopterists.
Painted Lady, aberrant form rogeri, Purbeck, July
County list: this was always going to have to slow down one year after a run of good years since moving down here in 2007. And 2014 was that year. I just about kept it from flat-lining with relatively easy, nay borderline embarrassing, Dorset ticks like Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Great White Egret and Honey Buzzard which had thus far eluded me. Slightly rarer but still not nationally big news were a Temminck's Stint, a Hooded Crow, a Caspian Gull, a Goshawk and a pair of Tundra Bean Geese, while pride of place went to a Dusky Warbler and, of course, the Short-toed Eagle. If the Marsh Hawk gets elevated to full species status one day that will be a nice one to add from the armchair.
Short-toed Eagle, Morden Bog: bird of the year for many, and not just in Dorset.
Dips: I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention, almost: just 3 involving any distance in fact. First, to Kent in March with Brett and Ken for a Chinese Pond Heron which may or may not make it onto the British list some day. And then Cornwall, so kind to me last year, but not so this: a luckless solo jaunt in search of a Terek Sandpiper in spring (which relocated to Lincolnshire and showed ridiculously well on the concrete apron of a reservoir); and a vain attempt with Paul and Ant for a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in October - an American vagrant which would have got the autumn half-term off to a flying start had it not flown off.
Kumlien's Gull, Littlehampton, February
Bird of the Year: Well, there are three for me this year as I just can't chose between them. The Northern Harrier has to be up there, simply because of the part I played in its discovery. And of course the Short-toed Eagle, not least because it's the only lifer this year that's on my bike list. And, finally, the Bridled Tern, not just for its great rarity, beauty and elegance, but for the sheer effort involved in finally getting to see it at the second attempt.

Month-by-month highlights as follows - including a new feature for 2014 befitting of my general demeanour, 'Moan of the month':

Bird of the month - Parrot Crossbill, gripped back after being out of action with broken collarbone thus missing the initial invasion of late 2013.
Photo(s) of the month - Purple Sandpiper at Sandbanks, just pipping the Kimmeridge Grey Phalaropes.
Moan of the month - flooding.
January: Purple Sandpiper, Sandbanks
Bird of the month - Myrtle Warbler, my second longest twitch of 2014, edging out Kumlien's Gull, the first I have seen in Britain.
Photo(s) of the month - Little Gulls at Cogden.
Moan of the month - silent Siberian Chiffchaffs.
February: Little Gull at Cogden
Bird of the month - American Coot. Under-rated, IMHO.
Photo of the month - probably the American Coot, though mainly due to absence of alternatives.
Moan of the month - shrinkflation.
March: American Coot. A Coot, but American, making it, well, cool.
Bird of the month: the Marsh Hawk, surely, especially as I haven't mentioned it much yet. But Great Spotted Cuckoo and Baikal Teal also deserve a mention.
Photo of the month -  Glaucous Gull in Cornwall, snapped when I should have been at Swineham enjoying the Black-winged Stilts.
Moan of the month - apart from being in Cornwall when the Black-winged Stilts were at Swineham, it has to be acquisition of pets without consultation.
April: Glaucous Gull, Cornwall
Bird of the month - easy: Short-toed Eagle, just 3 miles from home.
Photo of the month - also easy: migrant Wood Warbler at Portland Castle.
Moan of the month - I was obviously having a bad month so take your pick from sporting disappointment, dipping Bee-eaters, or going to the beach. Let's face it, Jesus isn't going to want me for a sunbeam, is he?
May: Wood Warbler, Portland
Bird of the month - Spectacled Warbler. It was freezing for June but who's complaining?
Photo of the month - Bitterns at Ham Wall.
Moan of the month - camping. Notable mainly because it took until June for me to moan about it. Bad backs also featured, not entirely unrelated to camping.
June: Bittern, Ham Wall
Bird of the month - Bridled Tern. No contest.
Photo of the month - Arctic Tern chicks on the Farne Islands. To quote Gru's adopted daughter in Despicable Me: 'It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!'. If this high cultural reference passes you by, check out the Youtube clip here.
Moan of the month - difficult questions.
July: Arctic Tern, Farne Islands
Bird of the month - adult Sabine's Gull from a pelagic out of St Mary's.
Photo of the month - Great Shearwaters on a Scilly pelagic.
Moan of the month - new job cramping birding style.
August: Great Shearwater, off St Mary's.
Bird of the month - Masked Shrike. My second, but who's counting? A good day out with Steve.
Photo of the month - probably the Masked Shrike, again mainly through absence of alternatives.
Moan of the month - patch neglect. More a confession than a moan, but close enough.
September: Masked Shrike, Spurn.
Bird of the month - the Eastern Crowned Warbler: head and shoulders above the not very stiff competition provided by the rest of October.
Photo of the month - AGP in Cornwall. A classic drive-by shooting.
Moan of the month - dipping.
October: American Golden Plover, Cornwall.
Bird of the month - toss-up between Portland Dusky Warbler and Hengistbury Issy Shrike.
Photo of the month - probably the Dusky Warbler, on the basis that any photo of a Dusky Warbler is a good one.
Moan of the month - opulent coastal defences.
November: Dusky Warbler, Portland.
Bird of the month - not sure, either the Portland Barred Warbler or the Swineham Bean Geese. The former definitely more obliging though.
Photo of the month - again, spoilt for choice, but probably between the Portland Barred Warbler and the Swineham Beardies. To the uninitiated, the latter are birds, not Morris dancers or ramblers.
Moan of the month - Swineham. A harsh and unjustified critique really which, in retrospect, says far more about me than it does about Swineham. Take no notice of me, Swineham, I'm just a miserable old git. New Year resolution is to be a bit more positive about you and life in general. Just a bit though.
December: Bearded Tit, Swineham
That's 2014 done then. A big thank you to all the lift-sharers, co-drivers, navigators and fellow dippers whose company I had the pleasure of sharing on the outings documented here - and, of course, to my ever tolerant family for letting me get away with it all. And, last but not least, thank you all for reading. If you are still awake after all that a very Happy New Year to you!

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