2016

Hello again everyone. What I’m about to attempt now is going to take me so long that I have started writing this on the 22nd December!! 2016 was a very eventful year, and I’m going to summarise my perspective of it here on my little blog enmeshed deep in the World Wide Web. It was certainly a strange year, irrespective of Mr. Trump…

Due to various family & work commitments, I couldn’t get out year listing until the 6th January, when Dad & I raced around NW Norfolk, amassing 108 species over the course of the day, including Pallid Harrier, Black-necked Grebe & Short-eared Owl amongst other things. The year certainly started off with a bang.

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One of two Rough-legged Buzzards we saw whilst year-listing in NW Norfolk. Photo courtesy of Marcus Nash.

Later off in January, after the necessary committments to school, I had my first lifer: European Serin. This delightful bird had been frequenting a weedy area on the outskirts of Downham Market, deep in the heart of West Norfolk (almost Cambridgeshire, but not quite there), and we were delighted to see it so well (eventually!!)

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European Serin– the first lifer of 2016. Though I didn’t know it yet, it was to be the first of many…

There followed a fairly dry late winter period- school was bogging me down with committments & work throughout February & most of March- I did manage to see a Hudsonian Whimbrel & a Hoopoe in Cornwall (whilst simultaneously dipping Pacific Diver, American Herring Gull & Chough!!) and two Ring Ouzels at Snettisham late in the month. I was constantly being hindered by colds & a general lack of interest.

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The Hudsonian Whimbrel in Mount’s Bay- this was one of the last photos I took with this camera before I upgraded to a later model.

That was until the 1st April…

I had been slightly sceptical of social media for a long time, as it seemed to be a breeding ground for bullying (indeed, of my two previous social media outlets then, one I never used and the other barely more than that). In a part-experiment, part-exploration, I created my Twitter account; initially it started off with one picture (of the Huddy Whimbrel) and three followers (my dad, a ringer I’d met & a young birder). Now it has amassed over 350 followers from countries as far away as China, with 523 tweets (the best of which has 46 likes, 14 retweets & 3,278 views!). The first trip armed with a Twitter account (and, by this point, a new camera from my dad, a considerable upgrade to my previous model) was to Kelling Water Meadows, for my second ever Blue-headed Wagtail.

I was immediately invited to join the Young Birders Group Chat on Twitter, and I seem to remember the first topic I talked about with them was Eastern Phoebes & whether Lundy was in Cornwall or Devon (but that’s for another time…). At that point it was still fairly small, with just over 30 members, but in my time it grew to 50 (the maximum Twitter would allow!!). Unfortunately, for reasons that are still unclear to me, a part of the group, including many Irish birders, left & formed a separate chat (which, to my knowledge, is very inactive), so the current chat now has roughly 40 members. The dynamic within it is absolutely wonderful, with everyone in the group having their own distinct interest & speciality. This was ideal for the social media sceptic like me. I have also recently established a Flickr account, which, expectedly, is still fairly small.

Then, on 7th April, I set up another formative tool for my 2016: this blog. A blog is a way of expressing oneself through words, sometimes taking the reader through their day-by-day life & journal, or typing random thoughts on their keyboard, or, like me, expressing my views, interlaced with stories & pictures, from my dusty wooden desk in my bedroom with OneRepublic playing in the background. I never thought this website would get as far as it would: it hit 1000 hits just over a month ago (total now 1031 hits) with 566 visitors from as far afield as Qatar & Malaysia. The post that I am writing now is my 25th this year.

So, armed with the camera, and now with an excuse to take photos, I got out far more than I had been doing, seeing Black-winged Stilt & Dartford Warbler amongst other things. I spent a thoroughly pleasing summer, though depressingly lacking in lifers, knocking about at Cley, Titchwell and on the Heaths. This also encouraged me to take a look at the wildlife around me: my first Silver-studded Blue butterfly, Green Tiger Beetle & various dragonflies & damselflies showed for that.

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Black-winged Stilt at Cley early in May.
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An exquisite Silver-studded Blue butterfly on the Heaths.
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A Southern Hawker on my second patch near my house, deep in Central Norfolk

The last weekend of May played host to the inaugural BTO Bird Camp, which I was lucky enough to attend & meet all of the others who I had talked with on Twitter. It was certainly a fun & bird-filled weekend, and further cemented the friendships that we had made over the web. Certainly recommend it for next year (to apply, click here)

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Some of the birders on the BTO Bird Camp 2016. Photo courtesy of Max Hellicar.

I then spent a very fun & bird-filled week on Corsica with the family in early July, several Corsican Nuthatches, a jaw-dropping adult Lammergeier leaving both me & my dad completely speechless, Corsican Finches, Marmora’s Warblers, and a very pleasant island teeming with life.

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Adult male Corsican Nuthatch– a prized acquisition to the European birder’s list.
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Stunning adult Lammergeier (or Bearded Vulture) dwarfing one of the resident Red Kites.
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Adult male Corsican Finch sat on a road high in the mountains of the Col de Sorba
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And the scenery!! The sheer views topped off this adventure of a lifetime on this island nestled deep in the Mediterranean.

Having returned from our holiday, we fell into the lull of late July in North Norfolk. It was extremely uneventful. That was until the very last day of the month, when this happened…

That morning, my dad & I had made one of our regular trips to Cley to see my second & third Cattle Egrets. All was well, the visit was pleasant, and we returned home in good time. Dad had a meeting for most of that afternoon, which didn’t help when we reached 2:34pm. Staff at Minsmere RSPB received reports of a ‘Purple Gallinule’ on one of the pools: apparently it was ringed, so it was assumed that this was another escape. That was until 3:05pm, when a tweet from RSPB Minsmere changed all that: the bird was unringed, wary & still on the pool. The twitch was on.

Finally, after a two-hour drive down to the reserve, I got my first ‘first’: what was being considered to be Britain’s first wild Western Purple Swamphen. It hung around for several days, then it disappeared, then it or another was seen in North Lincolnshire. Only time will tell if this record gets accepted, and put on my life list. In any case, it was my first UK lifer for over four months (in hindsight, it would have been wiser to have travelled down early next morning, which would have also got me Honey Buzzard, another lifer, but they’re quite common so I wasn’t too annoyed).

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Britain’s first Western Purple Swamphen, in Suffolk. It or another was then in Lincolnshire later on.

August & September was another action-packed period, with several very good birds making their way onto my year list, including Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck & Red-breasted Flycatcher. August also marked my first ever Birdfair (and probably the first of many), where I met more great people, attended some great talks & even got to chat with Chris Packham!! I’ll be sure to go back again, especially for the social aspect!

This was also the first period where I got stuck in to Patchwork Challenge- luckily for me, my patch stretches all the way from the West Bank at Cley as far east as Kelling Water Meadows (with some careful adjustment…). I ended up doing fairly well, closing at the last count with 153 species & 215 points having failed to add Twite & Caspian Gull in the dying days of December, though my score includes Desert Wheatear, Black-winged Stilt, Dusky Warbler, Blue-headed Wagtail, Shorelark, Temminck’s Stint, Cattle Egret, Pectoral Sandpiper, Red-breasted Flycatcher & Black Brant. I am extremely lucky to have such a magnet for birdlife so close to home. Through this period, though, my best was yet to come… October & November would soon sort that.

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The Red-breasted Flycatcher at Salthouse- my second ever.

October 2016 may well go down in history as one of the greatest months for Sibe vagrants ever: a long easterly airflow originating deep in Eastern Siberia soon sorted that out. The first rumblings of something incredible came when an Eastern Crowned Warbler turned up in Yorkshire, itself a remarkable record (only the fourth ever). By this point, several Siberian Accentors had turned up in Scandinavia. However, we were still only getting Brown Shrikes & the odd White’s Thrush. That was until the 9th October…

Hugh Harrod & Jed Hunt of Shetland Wildlife were exploring a disused quarry when they spotted a small bird flicking around. Sure enough, it was a Siberian Accentor. But it was the first ever for Britain, beating Black-throated Accentor to the post (only one of the latter actually turned up: in Finland with a Siberian Accentor!!). That was the opening of the flood gates. What followed was the greatest influx of Siberian species ever seen before.

Three Pine Buntings were found together on Fair Isle, as well as a Black-faced Bunting on Shetland (Britain’s sixth; the first since 2004). The first Isabelline Wheatear turned up on Shetland on the 16th: this was followed by birds in Yorkshire, Cornwall, Aberdeenshire & Norfolk. It was seen by so many that RBA downgraded it to ‘very rare’ down from ‘mega’!!

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Isabelline Wheatear 1: Easington, Yorkshire
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Isabelline Wheatear 2: Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk

Two more Pine Buntings turned up, in Dorset & Yorkshire, followed by a Brown Shrike & Eyebrowed Thrush late in the month. A Dusky Thrush was later found in Derbyshire, undoubtedly part of this huge influx. Along with this, umpteen Dusky & Radde’s Warblers, Pallid Harriers, at least two Lanceolated Warblers, PG Tips, Black-throated Thrush x2, and much much more was seen, all alongside record numbers of Yellow-browed Warblers. But the star of the show were undoubtedly the Siberian Accentors. After the first in Shetland, the most widely twitched one turned up, in Yorkshire, which proceeded to stay for five days & delight thousands of observers (including me, but that will come later). This was swiftly followed by more elusive birds in Cleveland & County Durham in the next few days. Northumberland got one on Holy Island, and a new bird then turned up in Shetland (Fair Isle this time). The latter (or another) was reported from the same site two days later, on the 22nd October, as well as another Shetland bird on Unst. Orkney got its first two days later, swiftly followed by the same Holy Island bird (or a different one) on Holy Island again! Shetland hosted yet another, on Fetlar, and Northumberland hosted a bird at Newbiggin. The last salvo, however, was not until 6th November, when one was ringed in the Scottish Highlands, at Avoch. But the UK barely got the brunt of the accentor-fest. In Europe alone, there were 237 recorded: a massive 79 were seen in Sweden. Amidst all this chaos, how did I do?

The first real indication of the carnage that I would witness came on the 15th October, when I managed to see Barred Warbler, Olive-backed Pipit & Radde’s Warbler in the same day (I also dipped Dusky Warbler, Pallas’s Warbler & another two Radde’s but I wasn’t overly concerned).

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The Radde’s Warbler at Warham Greens
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Olive-backed Pipit at Wells Woods

Two days later, on the 17th October, Dad & I decided to go to Spurn for the Siberian Accentor which, remarkably, had stuck around. It showed beautifully in the Easington gas terminal. Whilst we were there, an Isabelline Wheatear was discovered just down the road. With Glossy Ibis & Bean Goose also on the list, the day was gathering in intensity. The hike down to Spurn Point revealed my first Dusky Warbler, remnants of the remarkable eight birds that were discovered here earlier in the week (though no Olive-backed Pipit). Finally, a visit to the pub yielded a Pallas’s Warbler: my fourth lifer that day.

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Siberian Accentor posing very nicely
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Dusky Warbler showing uncharacteristically well

We were then in the Isles of Scilly for the week: I missed a further seven lifers (though only one I could get to on time: one was found dead, three were seen by one observer, and two disappeared before I could get there). I did, however, get one lifer (Pallid Swift), and we saw three Olive-backed Pipits, three Little Buntings & a host of other migrants such as Short-eared Owl, Black-necked Grebe & Pied Flycatcher.

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One of two Black-necked Grebes that hung around St Mary’s for the whole of our stay

And then, the day after we got back was spent watching another Isabelline Wheatear, as well as a Desert Wheatear & a Dusky Warbler on patch. 2016 held a very promising half term indeed.

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Desert Wheatear showing exquisitely on the beach at Salthouse

November brought yet more surprises, including a self-found Black-throated Diver off Cley, an overwintering Spoonbill around the patch & a very showy flock of Snow Buntings. Then, on the 20th November, Mistley & the Stour Estuary were put on the map by a visitor from America…

Early in the afternoon of the 19th November, a message was posted to the Essex Birders Group forum of an interesting tern seen off Mistley Quay on the Suffolk/Essex border that day. Investigations revealed it to be what had been suspected by the inital finder: it was the first Forster’s Tern in Britain since 2003. Many Suffolk & Essex birders rushed over there that afternoon: fortunately enough, it stayed until the following day, when Dad & I went down to see it. Luckily, it showed very well for us, flying within just a few feet. The tern was found at Felixstowe a couple of days later, and was then seen in Kent briefly before disappearing, presumably towards France. Meanwhile, Dad & I made the trip to Needham Market for the Black-bellied Dipper that had been hanging out there. 2016 was, for the time being, over.

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Forster’s Tern in the musky Essex air.
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My second Black-bellied Dipper, this one in Needham Market- photo courtesy of Marcus Nash.

December was very quiet in Norfolk: the lures of a Dusky Thrush in Derbyshire failed to draw us away. My second Iceland Gull, a very sickly bird, was found on the scrapes at Cley: a Todd’s Canada Goose, a very nice subspecies tick, was at Choseley & Docking. The spectacle of 70 Long-tailed Ducks at Titchwell was quite a sight, too. This was the year’s last salvo, complete with a Red-breasted Goose to match.

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The Todd’s Canada Goose which roamed widely around Norfolk, pictured here at Docking.
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The lovely Red-breasted Goose, again a wide roamer, pictured here at Docking. Photo courtesy Marcus Nash.

And then, Christmas passed by us all, and 2016 will soon be over. 2016 was an odd year in more ways than one: Trump, Brexit & twelve Siberian Accentors all in the same year. Could a year quite as extraordinary as this one be repeated?

I think not.

And now, as I sit here tapping away on my laptop, condensing a whole year into 3000 words, I ponder all of this: what would my life be like without birds? Most of the year’s highlights for me were bird-related (although being cured of two allergies was pretty cool). Most people take birding as a hobby, something you do in your spare time. But it isn’t: it’s a way of life, a methodology, a whole culture even. Without it, I don’t know where I’d be now.

I am now armed with a brand spanking new camera (still bouncing off the walls about it, even on December 31st!!) a notebook (trying to be a more proactive lister), and the whole of 2016 for me to use. 2016 was good, but I think we can make 2017 better. With trips to Cyprus, Scotland & possibly Spain on the cards for me next year, I think that could well be possible. Don’t you?

Bring it on.

 

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