My review of the year starts, with unswerving commitment to neat chronology, in January, when the Hawfinch invasion of late 2017 continued to dominate the birding scene. Rural Dorset churchyards continued to receive many optic-bearing visitors not normally seen on hallowed ground as these chunky finches congregated wherever there were Yews. A couple of trips to Stanpit hoping to improve on my average pictures of the long-staying Stilt Sandpiper, which had relocated there from Lodmoor via Brownsea, proved unsuccessful towards the end of January though I did at least see it.
|Bird of the month for January: Horned Lark, Staines Reservoir
|Wildlife highlight of the month: Humpback Whale in Chesil Cove
February was a month for gull connoisseurs, with a dozen species available for viewing in the Dorset/Hampshire area. The rarest of the lot, a putative Thayer's, currently regarded as a sub-species of Iceland Gull, was enjoyed on a short-range twitch to Blashford Lakes with my good friend Steve Smith, taking a break from his punishing schedule of globe-trotting wildlife junkets to slum it on the south coast with the rest of us. A Ring-billed Gull kept company with the Thayer's Gull in the same late afternoon roost.
Thayer's Gull, Blashford Lakes. What do you mean, underwhelmed?
With no disrespect to the Thayer's Gull (a rather drab juvenile), it was eclipsed for beauty if not rarity by one of the most sought after species from its family later in the month with the arrival of an exquisite adult Ross's Gull in Weymouth. This bird first arrived at Lodmoor where it proved difficult to catch up with but by the weekend it had relocated to Radipole Lake where Jol Mitchell and I, plus our respective sons, were delighted to catch up with it.
|Ross's Gull, Radipole: my first Dorset tick of 2018 and bird of the month for February
March was a month of contrasts with icy 'beasts from the East' sandwiching the first signs of spring in the middle of the month. The cold snaps brought a Firecrest to my tiny urban garden, and a pair of hungry and unusually confiding Hawfinches down to feed in the graveyard of my local church in Wareham for a sought after patch tick.
|American White-winged Scoter (left-hand bird), Musselburgh: March's bird of the month
Easter saw us hopping on to a ferry in Portsmouth for a week's family holiday in Brittany. The beach and marshes at Suscinio turned out to be the top birding spot of the trip with Fan-tailed Warbler, Bluethroat, Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover all within a short walk form the car park. Serin, Firecrest, Cirl Bunting, Short-toed Treecreeper and Crested Tit exemplified the theme of the week: apparently common species in Brittany which are all rare or range restricted birds at home.
|Camberwell Beauty, Le Parc naturel regional de Briere
|Male Kentish Plover, Suscinio
Back in Dorset a Bonaparte's Gull returned to Longham Lakes continuing a good run of records of this American rarity. During the course of its stay I visited a few times to see the mottled feathers on the head moult into a fully dark hood within the space of a week.
|Bonaparte's Gull, Longham Lakes: April's bird of month
Cuckoos are easy enough to hear in the spring but seeing one really well is another matter as they can be very shy. So when other commitments took me past Thursley Common early in the month I took the opportunity to pay homage to an exception to this rule - an unusually bold returning male which has become a photographer's favourite in recent summers. Concerns have been expressed about whether the mealworm diet supplements laid on for it have been doing it any good - but it hasn't stopped it getting to and from Africa over the last couple of years so I guess it can't be causing too much harm!
|Cuckoo, Thursley Common
|Duke of Burgundy with Dingy Skipper, Cerne Abbas
|Swallowtail, Strumpshaw Fen
|Rose-coloured Starling, Portland Bill: bird of the month for May
June began with some lepidopteran highlights: an Eyed Hawkmoth was a first for the garden moth trap, and a professional visit to Northern Ireland provided an opportunity to see my last UK butterfly species - the Cryptic Wood White - at Craigavon Lakes.
|Cryptic Wood White, Craigavon Lakes: my wildlife watching highlight for June
|American Royal Tern, Church Norton: my second new British bird of 2018 and bird of the month for June