Tuesday 9 July 2019

My Half Year Review January - June 2019

Six months of the year have already passed and here are some of the highlights I have enjoyed during that time. It is by no means comprehensive but these images are of birds that have stuck in my memory either because of their attractiveness or for the pleasant memories they engender.

I should add these are the successes but there have been, inevitably, some notable misses over the period such as a Myrtle Warbler this June on Ramsey Island off Pembroke. If you will chase rare birds you must be prepared for the occasional failure.  

However not all the birds that give me pleasure have to be rare. Twitching and chasing rarities can be a lot of fun but is just one facet of my passion for the natural world, especially birds and thankfully I can and do get just as much pleasure from seeing commoner and less unusual birds as well.

Wherever you go in either Great Britain or anywhere in the world there are always birds to see and watch, often in the most unlikely of places such as the centre of cities but also in the most beautiful and romantic of locations.

Another advantage of birding and one not to be taken lightly is that it often brings you into contact with other forms of wildlife that can give just as much pleasure and I have included some of these in this piece to illustrate this.

I do hope you enjoy my selection

Slender billed Nutcracker - January

Undoubtedly one of the main highlights of my birding exploits in 2019 so far. I
have always wanted to see this bird but it has not been seen in Britain for over
50 years so it was a 24 hour whirlwind trip to see this individual in someone's 
backyard in The Netherlands accompanied by my birding pal Moth. We spent 
nearly the whole day there just admiring it as I know it will be a long time, if 
ever, before I see one again. It should return eventually to its normal home in 
the endless pine forests of northern Russia but so far has shown no inclination
to do so and remains in its favourite garden with a regular food supply.
Rose coloured Starling - January

A total surprise to find this adult bird eating fallen apples in a small
Oxford back garden many miles away from its normal home in eastern 
Europe and in southern Asia. Although seen annually in Britain it is an
extremely rare visitor to my county of Oxfordshire so provided a thrilling
start to the year and especially as it was an adult and not a drab juvenile. 

Waxwing - January

Always a firm favourite and although not a vintage year for them arriving from
Scandinavia there were enough around this winter to more than keep me happy
This was one of a flock of eleven frequenting a supermarket car park in Totton
which is near to Southampton in Hampshire.
Great Northern Diver - January

This juvenile is in its immature winter plumage.It will not adopt the spectacular
plumage of an adult until its third year of life - see the bird below. Most spend
the winter around the coast of Britain but some such as this one venture inland
 to visit larger rivers, lakes and reservoirs.This bird frequented the River Thames 
near Pangbourne in Berkshire but would also swim upstream into the adjoining 
county of Oxfordshire

Great Northern Diver - May

Here is the same species on the coast at The Isle of Arran in Scotland but is 
an adult in full summer plumage. Its winter plumage is very similar to that 
of the juvenile shown above, being dull and an unremarkable grey

Quite a transformation into a creature of great beauty I think you will agree.
Jack Snipe - January

Normally this species is very shy and is rarely seen in the open but this bird was
abnormally bold and delighted all comers at Slimbridge WWT in Gloucestershire 
It remained faithful to a small area of mud and reeds for weeks and was generally
viewable throughout its prolonged stay. I and many others made the most of it.

Common Crossbill - January

A very long wait ensued until they came to briefly drink from puddles at
Parkend in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire but it was worth it to get a
view like this.They only remained for a minute before flying back into the 
 trees but that was enough for me to feel fulfilled. Others did come later.

Snow Bunting - January

A confiding individual that spent some winter days on the large
shingle beach near Goring on Sea in West Sussex.Nothing seemed
to trouble it and it allowed you to approach to within feet without
showing any alarm whatsoever.This is often the way with this species.
Tengmalm's Owl - February

Every year there is one bird that stands out above all the rest and this is it.
A mega in twitcher terms and very much on the radar of every birder who
twitches rare birds and even on those who do not.Finally one turned up on
Shetland, the first there for 30 years. It took a heroic effort to see, spanning
four days. I finally saw it with time rapidly running out, a last chance before
I had to go to catch the ferry departing for Aberdeen two hours later. Every
twitcher can recount tales of similar close calls. Its half the fun of twitching

Black Redstart - February

This bird spent a week on the walls of Christ Church in Oxford during a snowy
and freezing spell of weather. It fed on berries and invertebrates that it gleaned
from the building and went generally un-noticed by the hordes of visitors and 
tourists that come to this forever popular venue.The roads were so bad I had to 
take a train from my Cotswold home into Oxford to go and see it. I am glad I 
did as views like this are exceptional. Especially in Oxfordshire!

Kingfisher - February

A local pair of this spectacularly coloured bird would come to a small pool  at 

Farmoor Reservoir near Oxford during February giving me a great opportunity
 to watch them closely from a  hide. They breed on the nearby River Thames but
 it is unusual to be able to see them so regularly and reliably although sometimes
the wait could be hours before they appeared but with views like this who could
possibly complain?

Bearded Tit - February

A lovely male that was the first of three superb species of bird I saw in
one day at Weymouth in Dorset.This was at RSPB Radipole feeding in
its traditional fashion on the swaying reedmace. A delightful subject to
watch and photograph with my pal Moth 

Ring necked Duck - February

The second of the trio of good birds we saw and also at RSPB Radipole.This
transatlantic visitor was around for the whole winter and allowed very close
approach. I always think the drakes look so much smarter than our similar 
looking Tufted Ducks.

Lesser Yellowlegs - February

This is the third and last of the trio of good birds we saw at Weymouth.
As with the Ring necked Duck  it is also from the USA and opted to stay
for the winter at RSPB Lodmoor which is very close to RSPB Radipole.
I can think of worse places for a lost bird to spend the winter.
Wild Boar - March

I fancied something different and Mark put me onto a place in The Forest of
Dean where I could find some of these normally shy animals that were willing 
 to pose for the camera.

Great Spotted Cuckoo - March

A rare vagrant from southern Europe that overshot on its northward
migration and ended up on the coast at Ventnor on The Isle of Wight. 
This shot  has caught it in the act of feasting on the larvae of the very 
rare Glanville Fritillary which is only found at Ventnor. This was a bit 
unfortunate to say the least and caused great concern amongst the 
local lepidopterists!
Water Rail - March

I am indeed fortunate to be able to see these on a regular basis at Farmoor
Reservoir near Oxford, during the winter months, before the reeds and sedge
.grow too high in summer. I never tire of seeing them but they can be skittish
and it is always a lottery as to how long they choose to remain in the open
European Stonechat - April

This male provided a more than adequate support act for Colin the
Cuckoo see below, coming to share in the bonanza of mealworms spread 
out on the grass for Colin by many of the photographers

Common Cuckoo - April

This cuckoo is extraordinary in that it is unbelievably confiding and has now
become nationally famous as a result, attracting birders and photographers
from the length and breadth of Britain. Affectionately named Colin he has
now returned to his favoured Thursley Common in Surrey for his fifth year.
Quite remarkable and long may he survive

Common Redstart - April

Surely one of the loveliest of our summer visitors.This male was taking
advantage of all the mealworms put out for Colin the Cuckoo at Thursley
Common and provided entertainment while we waited for Colin to put in
one of his sporadic appearances
Emperor Moth - April

My thanks to Bob for taking me to see this spectacular day flying moth on my
beloved South Downs in Sussex.This is a male, one of two we saw on the day
and living up to all my expectations.

Red rumped Swallow - May

An unexpected but very welcome overshooting migrant from southern Europe that
chose to spend a few days in the less than salubrious surroundings of Grimsbury
Reservoir in Banbury, Oxfordshire.This was the fourth record for Oxfordshire and
attracted a lot of attention from birders both local and from more distant parts.

Otter - May

Whilst staying for a week at Catacol Bay on The Isle of Arran, in Scotland I was
so very lucky to see this Otter eating a fish on the rocky shoreline opposite our
cottage and just a short distance from me. It remained for about an hour and was 
easily the best and most prolonged views I have ever had of an Otter. So far!

Brown Hare - May

A couple of these spent a few minutes running around on the shoreline of
Catacol Bay on The Isle of Arran, Scotland. Not the usual habitat in which
to see them but nonetheless a welcome sight on an early morning stroll by
the deserted seashore.

Pearl Bordered Fritillary - May

I go to Sussex in Spring of every year to see this, one of the first of the fritillary
species to commence flying.It is a joyous communion with both a beautiful and 
rare butterfly and a county still managing to retain areas of great beauty despite 
the ongoing threats of development and environmental degradation. 

Sedge Warbler - May

I went to a water park in Mansfield Nottinghamshire to see and photograph
Water Voles see below but whilst waiting for the Water Voles to appear spent
my time watching this very confiding Sedge Warbler that was singing lustily 
from vegetation right by the busy path that runs around the lake.

Water Vole - May

Now very much endangered due to predation by Mink and habitat loss
these delightful creatures are now confined to secluded hidden ditches
and streams.This one was in an unremarkable ditch right by a public
path near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. I had to wait an awfully long
time to get to see it but it was certainly worth it as I had not seen one
for a very long time
Adonis Blue - June

I go every year to see this sensationally coloured butterfly on the chalky slopes
of Aston Rowant NNR which lies just within the Oxfordshire county boundary. 
The blue of the male is unbelievably bright, shining in a way that no other blue 
butterfly species, native to Britain, can replicate.

Sanderling - June

In Spring this little wader arrives in varying numbers at Farmoor Reservoir
in Oxfordshire.They are often coming into their attractive summer plumage
of chestnut and black chequered upperparts, orange washed face and breast.
They are always a delight to see and rarely present for more than a day.

Black Hairstreak - June

Quite a rarity as far as native butterflies go  and found only in four
English counties, one of which is Oxfordshire. This one was  seen
and photographed in a blackthorn wood near Grendon Underwood 
in Buckinghamshire, just over the border from Oxfordshire
Swallowtail - June

Now only found in the Norfolk Broads you have to make a special
trip  to see them. A sighting is by no means guaranteed but usually
I can get lucky at either Hickling Broad or Strumpshaw Fen which
is where this one was seen. A really spectacular butterfly.

Puffin - June

A favourite with birders and the general public alike their colourful bills and
sociable demeanour endear them to one and all. This one is having a rest on 
The Farne Islands where there are just under 44,000 pairs breeding