Friday, 16 December 2016

A Christmas Retrospective 16th December 2016

I think from a personal perspective that 2016 will go down as one of the best years ever for seeing so many scarce and not so scarce birds in both Britain and further afield.

Here is a sample of my most memorable encounters with mainly birds but also some other wonderful wild inhabitants that share our planet, Despite my pleasure at seeing such a variety I find myself worrying for how much longer I will be able to enjoy such riches in Britain, Europe and indeed the rest of the world and a feeling of gloom and foreboding takes hold of my soul. The prognosis about bio diversity is alarming with dire warnings about mass extinctions and almost daily news about species in peril, the latest being Giraffes. I despair about the sheer arrogance and hypocrisy exhibited by Governments such as ours where liars are appointed to great offices of state (Johnson), where the vested interests of Tories make sure that illegal killing of birds of prey shamefully remain unpunished and millions of pounds are wasted on killing badgers in flagrant disregard of the scientific facts which conclusively prove that it is a complete waste of time. And now the USA, the most powerful nation in the world has elected a bigot, racist and sexual predator as its next President and who is now busily appointing a nightmare cabal  of right wing, fascist cronies whose moral compass revolves around a gutter running with greed, self interest, and even criminality.

Anyway let us for now move on. 


Virtually the entire month was spent travelling around the Andes in Colombia during which time I saw no less than 731 species of bird and most amazing of all were the antpittas and hummingbirds

Here are some that I had the privilege to see


Chestnut-crowned Antpitta
One of the larger, more showy and colourful antpittas
and probably the most often encountered of the antpittas
in Colombia

Brown-banded Antpitta
The exact opposite of above. Demure and retiring but not without its own
understated special charm. This one popped in and out of a deep dark 
cavern in the surrounding vegetation.
Slate-crowned Antpitta
Tiny and incredibly cute. We saw a pair that came after a long period of waiting
and calling for some worms we put out for them

Bi-coloured Antpitta
The hardest to see and it only gave us the briefest opportunity to see it but it was
well worth the wait.

Rufous Antpitta
'Conchita' memorable for  her amazingly long 'knitting needle' legs
and delicate beauty

Fenwick's Antpitta
By far the rarest of all the antpittas we saw and only found in one small area.
Even so we saw at least five individuals


Crowned Woodnymph
The sheer intensity of the colours in its plumage take your breath away when the 
bird is seen from the right angle the colours flashing on and off as the bird moves
its body

Golden bellied Starfrontlet
Another beautifully coloured hummingbird and quite scarce.Seen in the
romantic surrounds of the swirling mist in the cloud forest

White-bellied Woodstar
Tiny, hardly bigger than a large beetle they would perch at the very tip of a 
high up twig  right out in the open before coming down to the feeders

White-necked Jacobin
A fairly large 'hummer' with a smart combination of colours and a petrol blue head
For once reasonably common and easy to see but no less desirable because of that
Green-bearded Helmetcrest
A scarce hummingbird found only in the paramo at over 4000m in the Andes It was 
easily the most charismatic of the hummingbirds I saw in Colombia, living as it does
in such wild and romantic suroundings

Buffy Helmetcrest
Closely related to the previous helmetcrest and almost as charismatic this 
one also inhabits high  altitudes but lower at above 3000m. This individual 
was feeding at almost ground level on the lower slope of an active volcano

Empress Brilliant
Another stunner flashing its iridescent plumage like a neon sign every
time it moved

Velvet Purple Coronet
Spectacular is an overused word but when the light catches its plumage there
is no other way to describe it.

Sword billed Hummingbird
When I got my first view of this bird I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw 
the extraordinary length of its bill which was longer than the bird itself.
This one is a female

I  just had to include this!

Andean Cock of the Rock
One of the undoubted highlights of the trip, their sheer 'over the top' colours, 
shape and behaviour takes the breath away although away from their lek they 
are very hard to locate despite their bright colours

                                                Siberian Rubythroat-Hoogwoud Holland
A day trip from Oxford with my friend Badger to view this beauty seeing out 
the winter not in Asia but in  the unlikely surrounds of  gardens in a 
housing estate an hour's drive from Amsterdam

Glaucous Gull-Dungeness Kent
A day trip with Clackers to see this gull monstering it over the other large gulls
on the shingle wastes of Dunge

Great Bittern-Farmoor Reservoir Oxfordshire
Fabulous views of this strange and secretive bird that moved so slowly 
through the reeds and was constantly on view for an hour at least, very close
to the hide at Pinkhill Reserve
Hawfinch-Forest of Dean Gloucestershire
I got there at dawn and waited to take these pictures from the car window as
this male almost in full breeding plumage came to feed under some Yew trees.
They are incredibly shy and take alarm at the slightest disturbance
Mandarin Duck- Forest of Dean Gloucestershire
So incongruous to see this duck on the unlikely Cannop Pond in the middle of 
the forest but they are always there, year in year out, and I never tire of them. 
No trip to the forest is complete for me without a visit to see them
Red necked Grebe-Farmoor Res Oxfordshire
Back for a second year, making a stopover on its way to who knows where but 
just like last year it remained for some time before departing to its breeding 
grounds and delightfully it was in full breeding plumage so early in the year

Yellow Wagtail-Farmoor Res Oxford
  A welcome sign of Spring.The males at this time of year are an absolute picture
although sadly their numbers are becoming less and less as each year passes

'Channel Wagtail'-Farmoor Res Oxfordshire
Yellow Wagtail x Blue headed Wagtail
Although a hybrid I think you will agree that it is a remarkably attractive bird.
Farmoor seems to have become a bit of a magnet for this hybrid in the last few years

Common Cuckoo-Farmoor Res Oxfordshire
This individual allowed me to approach it quite closely which is unusual.
Grasshopper Warbler-Otmoor RSPB Oxfordshire
A normally skulking species this one had not read the script and sung daily
from exposed perches very close to the track to the first screen giving all and
sundry ample opportunity to see it well

Lesser Redpoll- Stanton Harcourt Oxfordshire
A small flock of this most delicate of finches spent some days feeding below
the Alder trees on the surrounds of Dix Pit

Kentish Plover-Audenshaw Res Manchester
A quick jaunt up t'north with Clackers to see this, my first one in Britain, on a
large reservoir remarkable for its complete absence of birds apart from this rarity

Nightingale-Pulborough RSPB West Sussex
A remarkably showy individual pouring out its lovely song for hours on end in
the beautiful surrounds of Pulborough. There is no finer sight or sound in Spring

Sanderling-Farmoor Res Oxfordshire
A beautifully coloured individual almost in full summer plumage. Many are
far less bright if and when they pass through Farmoor on their migration north

Turnstone-Farmoor Res Oxfordshire
Looking so lovely  in its tortoiseshell breeding colours when compared to its drab 
non breeding plumage adopted for the rest of the year

Dunlin-Farmoor Res Oxfordshire
Another wader species exhibiting  a truly dramatic change from its grey non
breeding plumage into this smart breeding attire.The most regular migrant
wader passing through Farmoor on migration

Knot-Farmoor Res Oxfordshire
For me the ultimate in wader summer plumage. Seen so infrequently in this full 
breeding plumage it was a pleasure to be able to study this bird for the day it 
spent at Farmoor where they are very scarce, especially in this plumage

Siberian Stonechat-Titchfield Haven Hampshire
 Saxicola maurus variegatus (Caspian Stonechat)
An almost unbelievable find, this very rare bird showed its diagnostic half white half 
black tail feathers to good effect. Still considered a sub species of Siberian Stonechat
I feel sure it will soon be accepted as a species in its own right

Pygmy Owl-Bialoweicza Forest Poland
A long wait and then this tiny owl appeared with a half eaten vole near to its
nest hole deep in the forest
Collared Flycatcher-Bialoweicza Forest Poland
Breeding in a hole in a tree just inside the entrance Gate and giving us
exceptional views
Great Reed Warbler-Bialoweicza Forest Poland
Showy and conspicuous with a loud croaking song that can be heard from some
distance away. All the birds showed the distinctive pointed crown

European Bison-Bialowiecza Forest Poland
Very rare and only found in the forest it took us some time to find but when
we did we found not one but a whole herd. One of the most sought after
sights in the forest

Barred Warbler-Bialoweicza Forest Poland
A breeding male but I was disappointed it did not appear greyer and more
barred but apparently it is only older males that look like that.This one was
a second calendar year male

Black billed Cuckoo-North Uist Scotland
I never thought I would see one 
I never thought I would see one in Great Britain
I never thought I would see one in breeding plumage
But on one magical day I did


Swallowtail-Strumpshaw Fen Norfolk
A day trip to see this huge spectacular butterfly on a sunny day as it flopped
around a flower bed feeding on the nectar from the flowers. Its wings were
never still

Great Skua-Handa Island Sutherland 
I finally realised a long held ambition to go and see breeding skuas in Scotland.
My visit coincided with glorious sunny weather and this Bonxie certainly put on 
a great performance

Arctic Skua (pale morph)-Handa Island Sutherland
Pale morph Arctics were in the minority but this bird was one of a pair right by
the boardwalk and they mobbed every passerby mercilessly, including me!
Arctic Skua (dark morph)-Handa Island Sutherland
One of a pair further up the island from the pale morph Arctic pair but just as 
feisty and showing little fear.We watched one snatch a snipe chick
and swallow it whole 

Puffins-Handa Island Sutherland
Puffins doing what puffins do, entertaining, loveable and with a gentleness
much removed from the ghettos of auks on the cliff ledges above them

Black Hairstreak-Otmoor RSPB Oxfordshire
Another Otmoor speciality and I always try to seek one out though they are 
the most elusive of the hairstreaks to be found at Otmoor.Sometimes you
are lucky but most of the time you are not!


Silver washed Fritillary-Bernwood Forest Buckinghamshire
Fast flying, spectacular and always a joy to see as they hurtle
down the wooded rides

Purple Emperor- Bernwood Forest Buckinghamshire
I look forward every year to seek out this enigmatic butterfly.Success in seeing
them requires patience and a little good fortune but I usually succeed each year.
You need the right angle of viewing to see the purple iridescence. The ultimate
butterfly to see and we are lucky to have them so close by

White Admiral- Bernwood Forest Buckinghamshire
A delicate, ethereal butterfly that floats effortlessly through the trees and
is sometimes mistaken for a flying Purple Emperor

Turtle Dove-Otmoor RSPB Oxfordshire
The birds that come to Otmoor every year become quite used to people and allow
you to approach closely but they had better beware as many hunters await them on 
their migration across Europe and Africa. I wonder how much longer they will return 
to delight us on Otmoor as they are now declining alarmingly in Britain

Great White Egret-Standlake Oxfordshire
Formerly a major rarity this species is now firmly established and breeding
 on  the Somerset Levels and probably the birds now appearing regularly in
Oxfordshire are from this source. But who knows?
Roesel's Bush Cricket-Otmoor RSPB Oxfordshire
Always a good find when searching for hairstreaks.They are not 
uncommon but easy to overlook as they sit quietly on a leaf 


Purple Swamphen-Minsmere RSPB Suffolk
A first for Britain and as a consequence attracted a large number of
admirers. It subsequently moved north to Alkborough in Lincolnshire

Purple Heron-Otmoor RSPB Oxfordshire
The second for Otmoor and although elusive good brief views could be obtained
with patience.It remained for seven weeks but became increasingly elusive during
its long stay
Brown Hairstreak-Otmoor RSPB Oxfordshire
A speciality of Otmoor and the latest hairstreak to appear each year, bringing
butterfly enthusiasts from far and wide to look for it.They are always a joy to
see when they come down from the trees to feed on flowers, often remaining
on the flowers for long periods and impervious to close inspection
Little Stint-Farmoor Res Oxfordshire
One of two and delightfully confiding. You could walk right up to them and they 
inevitably attracted many admirers during their long stay at Farmoor

Curlew Sandpiper-Frampton Marsh RSPB Lincolnshire
This autumn saw a spectacular arrival of this elegant species and there were 
over 250, mainly juveniles at Frampton, so it was too good an opportunity to miss

Royal Tern-Co. Mayo Rep of  Ireland
A long trip with Justin to see this rare tern which was of the African race rather
than was originally thought the North American race. It led us a pretty dance
before finally coming to roost on the sands at high tide with Sandwich Terns


Black-necked Grebe-Farmoor Res Oxfordshire
It was behaving very strangely, swimming around with its wings held aloft for 
long periods for no apparent reason but a good opportunity to get an interesting 
and different photo

Wryneck-Church Norton West Sussex
I waited some hours to finally see it in the open before it dived back into cover
never to be seen again which is typical behaviour of this species
Temminck's Stint-St Mary's, Isles of Scilly
Creeping about on the mud like a mouse it came ever closer showing no fear
Lesser Yellowlegs-St Mary's Isle of Scilly
Frequenting the same pool on the same day as the Temminck's Stint.
The North American counterpart of our Common Redshank but to my mind much
more elegant on those long, thin yellow legs
North American Cliff Swallow-St Mary's Isles of Scilly
A true mega and the main reason for my going to St Mary's with the added bonus
of another 'American' in the form of the Lesser Yellowlegs and not forgetting the
Temminck's Stint - all in the one place at the same time

Dotterel-Sheringham Norfolk
It spent its time resting on a golf course by the sea for a few days.There were 
originally two but Sparrowhawk killed and ate the other one

Red-backed Shrike- Newhaven  East Sussex
Incredibly tame and could be approached to within feet as it perched looking
for prey.It was impossible to not get a good photo

Whinchat-Spurn East Yorkshire
There were up to twenty of these migrants feeding from a wire fence, spaced out 
along the wire and dropping down into the grass below to seize prey and then
flicking back up onto the wire

Jack Snipe-Spurn East Yorkshire
One of my favourite birds and Spurn is one of the best places to see this normally
secretive bird feeding out in the open in broad daylight.They feed whilst bobbing 
their body up and down on flexed legs


Booted Warbler-Llandudno Wales
A long awaited tick and this bird was very obliging, seemingly unconcerned about 
all the attention it was getting. It looked incredibly pale against the dark green of
the gorse bushes it favoured

Eastern Crowned Warbler-Bempton Cliffs RSPB North Yorkshire
The second one I have seen in Britain but easily the most obliging
giving great views as it fed ceaselessly in the trees. An absolute gem
and an absolute mega!

Yellow-browed Warbler- Bempton Cliffs RSPB North Yorkshire
Found whilst looking at the Eastern Crowned Warbler and as usual  it was 
hyperactive and hard to pin down.This autumn has seen very large numbers 
arrive in Britain

                                                                   Brambling-Bempton Cliffs RSPB North Yorkshire
                                      The Scandinavian version of our Chaffinch but so much prettier. The males
                                                                 in any plumage are a real delight to see.

Siberian Accentor-Easington East Yorkshire
For just about everyone the Bird of the Year.
This caused one of the biggest twitches ever seen in Britain. as it was so much
more accessible than the first one for Britain which was seen on Shetland a few 
days earlier and pressaged an unprecedented invasion of over two hundred of this 
species into Western  Europe
Tree Sparrow- Bempton Cliffs RSPB North Yorkshire
A small population exists on this reserve frequenting the
feeders around the visitor centre and delighting one and all

Shorelark-Kilnsea East Yorkshire
As usual very confiding despite all the attention it got from photographers some 
of whom approached it far too closely

Grey Phalarope-Farmoor Res Oxfordshire
I found this while wandering around a deserted reservoir one afternoon and it
remained for a number of days delighting one and all who came from far and
wide to see it. They have become something of a Farmoor speciality in the last
 few years



Black Parrot-Praslin Island
Only found on this one island and the National Bird of the Seychelles. Its not 
really black but brown

Madagascar Fody-Bird Island
Ubiquitous everywhere you go and on Bird Island totally fearless.

Seychelles Magpie Robin-Aride Island
An endemic brought back from the brink of extinction and now doing well on a
number of uninhabited islands where introduced predators have been eradicated
Its population is still very low with 200+ individuals

Seychelles White Eye-Mahe Island
Another endemic species also brought back from the brink of extinction and
now thriving due to its protected status with a population of about 2500+

White-tailed Tropicbird -Aride Island
The undoubted prima donna of the seabirds.Supremely attractive, exotic and elegant 
in flight as they sail majestically around in the forever blue sky
Greater Frigatebird-Bird Island Seychelles
Huge and menacing with an enormous hooked pink bill and long
wings and forked tail.They make any skua look positively benign!

Sooty Tern-Bird Island
Up to 700,000 breed here in the peak of the breeding season.

Aldabra Giant Tortoise-Bird Island
They lumber slowly around the island and are not averse to being gently tickled   
under the chin

Paradise Flycatcher-La Digue Island
A beautiful bird  with now only about two hundred and fifty left and much threatened
by habitat loss on this the only island they inhabit although measures are being taken
to provide reserves and translocate some to other islands where possible.
Fairy Tern-Bird Island
Undoubtedly the favourite with everyone.Their whole demeanour
and lifestyle making them irresistible to one and all

Crab Plovers-Bird Island
These three tired migrants arrived on the third day of our stay and were joined
by two others the next day. I was delighted as it has always been my desire to
see them
Red-headed Bunting-Bird Island
A first for the Seychelles that was discovered while we were there and a lifer for me
Who would have thought I would see my first one miles off course on an island 
in the Indian Ocean.

Ghost Crab-Bird Island
They live in sand burrows on the beach and are not averse to snacking on
any dead birds they find
Hawksbill Turtle-Bird Island
We watched this female for two hours as she hauled herself up the beach to dig
a nest hole in the sand and lay her eggs before returning, exhausted, to the sea
Apparently they can repeat this process four times and often nests get washed
away by storm tides. They are now fully protected on Bird Island. Another of
my life's long held ambitions now achieved as I have always wanted to see one


Masked Wagtail-Camrose Wales
In fact a sub species of the widespread White Wagtail but this particular sub
species should be wintering in southeast Asia and not in chilly Pembrokeshire!
An attractively patterned plumage made it well worth the visit even if it cannot
be ticked

Desert Wheatear-Normans Bay East Sussex
Putting in a typically late appearance this delightfully confiding male spent a few
days on the beach before moving on to its normal wintering area in North Africa

Rose-coloured Starling-Crawley West Sussex
A juvenile in transitional plumage, just getting some of its adult feathers
It will be interesting to see it next year if it survives and remains in the area
when it should be mainly in pink and black adult plumage
Dusky Thrush-Beeley Derbyshire
A great way to end the year with a true mega from Asia that attracted huge crowds 
to this small out of the way village in rural Derbyshire


  1. An enjoyable reflection on a very good year, excellent birds and photos. I hope 2017 proves as successful for you although I share your sense of gloom.

  2. Thanks for all the effort you put into these posts. Also the adventurous birding they report! Best wishes for much more of the same in 2017.

    1. Hi Nick
      Thank you for your kind comments.Its no effort really as I enjoy it.If and when I don't I guess I will stop. Wishing you all the best for 2017

  3. You certainly did get around again in 2016 Ewan. I like your humour and honest thoughts that many of us share but perhaps are not brave enough to say!! Lets hope there is still a future out there. All the best for 2017.

    1. Best wishes Bob and hope to see you and Matt in 2017

  4. Thank you for a year of entertaining, erudite, and inspiring posts from around the world.


    1. Thank you for your kind comment Colin and all the best for 2017. It certainly will be an interesting year!