Wednesday, 10 January 2018

A Look back on 2017

Every year is different and 2017 felt like a year that started well and then bird wise petered out into a bit of a damp squib in the autumn. Below are a few highlights of my bird and wildlife watching year based on the Norfolk Coast with the occasional foray further afield.

Boat dashboard in a Norfolk harbour
January and I can still see the scene a brute of a Glaucous Gull on the Fresh Marsh at Titchwell eating the corpse of a Herring Gull. It really did stand out from the large numbers of Herring Gulls present even from a distance. The fact that it had a food source also meant that it hung around and was easy to find.

Glaucous Gull and dinner at Titchwell
Each year I get a "volunteering day" at work and this year I decided to carry out two Beached Bird Survey sections on Sunday 26 February. This meant walking the tideline from Old Hunstanton to Holme and from Titchwell to Thornham Point. I found just three dead birds on this long stretch of coast the most interesting being a Common Scoter. I unfortunately also found a large number of shoes: single kids welly's, deck shoes etc and a large number of sealed dog poo bags abandoned by their owners and washed up on the beach. 

Dead Common Scoter during Beached Bird Survey
The birding was good with the best birds being a small flock of Snow Buntings just east of Old Hunstanton and single Merlin and Peregrine resting on the shingle bank that is forming off Holme

Spring and my Great Aunt died and I decided to do a day trip to west Yorkshire to attend the funeral. Before the service I had a brief walk on the moors and saw some Red Grouse. In the late afternoon I went down to the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey to clear my head and had a wonderful walk the air full of hirundines and on the river Mandarin Ducks and Dippers to set me up for the long sugar fuelled drive home to Norfolk.

The first of a trio of Rares that I saw in the spring was a very unexpected Red Flanked Bluetail at Titchwell on the evening of Sunday 26 March. Given given how poor the autumn was a doubly good bird to get. Then on the 6th of May I joined the crowd at Choseley to watch a Red Footed Falcon hunting over the fields for a couple of hours before it suddenly disappeared. Saturday 6th May and I spent an enjoyable hour in the car park at Holme watching a stunning summer plumage Red Breasted Flycatcher. 

Red Flanked Bluetail, Titchwell

Red Footed Falcon, Choseley

Red Breasted Flycatcher, Holme
But much of my time in the field these days is spent in the company of my family and at Whitsun half term we had a weeks family holiday on the Northumberland Coast. On the first of June we booked on the whole day excursion to the Farne islands landing on Staple Island and Inner Farne and had a simply amazing time watching Puffins landing with beak full's of sand eels running the gauntlet of Herring Gulls and the crazy antics of nesting Arctic Terns on Inner Farne perched on our heads and crapping down our backs. 

Arctic Tern making memories for the boys on Inner Farne
In early June a work trip took me north to Speyside and a chance to briefly revisit some of my old haunts, places that I have visited and loved on and off for the last 35 years. What struck me most as I looked out of the Osprey Hide at Loch Garten was the amount of regrowth of the forest with the view changed considerably since my first visits back in the eighties. Bird wise it was a little quiet [and very wet] but the prize for least expected bird of the year probably goes to a male Woodchat Shrike in the Findhorn Valley a pretty good but not quite adequate consolation prize for not seeing a Eagle here.

Forest Regeneration, Glen Feshie

My oldest son was eight this year and old enough to accompany me on a evening visit to Dersingham Bog in search of Nightjars, we invited his friend and his dad to join us. Labelling this as a Nightjar walk was in hindsight a mistake as we had one of the worst evenings for them that I can recall [we did get very brief views and heard them churring] But the kids loved their night hike and especially the large numbers of Glow worms around the boardwalk. 

Another wildlife highlight shared with the kids was at Holkham Pines in early August when we realised that we were in for a great butterfly day with the boys enjoying stalking them and trying to catch them by hand. A Dark Green Fritillary was the best of the day for me. 

Dark Green Fritillary, Holkham
As a family we spend a lot of time on the beach and in mid August I enjoyed slithering on my belly in the wet sand along the edge of the sea getting close eye level views and photographs of Sanderling freshly arrived back from the Arctic and sharing the beach with holiday makers.

Sanderling, Gore Point, Holme

Back at Holkham in September we "found" an Osprey [well we didn't know it was there] and watched it diving into the Lake several times before being seen off by a Red Kite. Not a sentence I would have imagined writing when I first moved to Norfolk over twenty years ago.

With the wind in the west for pretty much the entire autumn I saw very little in the way of unusual migrants this year. But In Early November I enjoyed a great day out with some former work colleagues on a boat on the Blackwater Estuary in Essex, looking at areas of managed realignment from the sea and marvelling at what an amazing wild place it was. We also saw the incongruous sight of a Clouded Yellow butterfly and Glossy Ibis on the same day that we watched hundreds of Brent geese.

Our Boat on the Blackwater
On the last day of the year my oldest boys friend who joined us Nightjar watching in the summer accompanied my two sons, wife and me to Welney to watch the swan feed and as well as the pleasure to be gained from bird feeders dripping Tree Sparrows and flocks of Whooper Swans it was great to see all three kids enjoy the spectacle and comparing the photos that they were taking of the bird's.

Welney, New Years Eve dusk
So not a bad year with some great memories and I even managed a respectable 202 species on my year list. Here's to more memories in 2018.

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