30 Dec 2008

Thoughts for the end of 2008

That time is once again upon us. The time of year when birders pack away they’re current year lists and get ready to start all over again in the New Year. Everything seen in 2008 will be history but with so many good birds it seems churlish not to remember some of the star birds and great moments. New Years day will see me doing my own thing and walking off the previous nights excesses by seeing how many species I can see locally. You never know, with a repeat of last year’s performance, I could even end up enjoying a hair of the dog at home whilst watching Brambling and Blackcap in the garden.

So what of 2008? Well I decided to do a ‘Cheshire year list, spurred on by Frank’s record-breaking endeavours of 2005. I ended the year on 227 ( 223 BOU recognised species and three recognised races – Dark-bellied Brent, Blue-headed Wagtail, White Wagtail & ‘Siberian’ Chiffchaff). This year was certainly a good one for county listers with a good number of BBRC rarities if not a ‘mega’. A twitchable Cattle Egret was long overdue and one was duly discovered in the very first month of 2008 on the Wirral followed very soon by another one near Poynton. Other firsts include a potential American Herring Gull at the gull mecca of Arpely tip – it appeared at the same time as record numbers of Glaucous, Iceland, Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls. All picked up by the gull fanatics of Seaforth.

Cetti’s Warbler(s) settled at Neston Old Quay and with a bit of patience showed well for most of the late winter and spring period. Spring proved eventful on Hilbre with their first ever Bluethroat and a flyover Woodlark. Both county firsts for me. A summer plumaged male Black Redstart in the gardens of the old peoples home along Stanley Road was also a county first and was complimented by an autumn bird a post Christmas bird at the same place.

Who can forget Pods amazing discovery of a pair of Black-winged Stilts at Neuamans Flash. I certainly won’t after receiving his phone call at 06.20 on the morning we were due to travel down to Norfolk for Groucho’s stag-do.

Temminck’s Stint is not a major rarity but still a good bird for Cheshire and with record numbers in the UK during the spring hopes were high we’d get one – eventually! It took Steve Menzies to dig one out at Frodsham No. 6 tank.

Next up was Mays Whiskered Tern that graced Inner Marsh far for most of the month. I’ve seen more Whiskered Terns in Cheshire than White-winged Black Terns – one of which appeared over Shotwick Pools with occasional forays into Cheshire in the autumn.

Inner Marsh Farm provided another county lifer when the long staying Merseyside Glossy Ibis decided to pay a visit before returning back to Southport. With a supporting cast of Cheshire’s only Pectoral Sandpiper of the year as well as several Black Terns, Spoonbill and breeding Avocets it was a case of the Carmargue comes to the Wirral. Scarce waders were, well, scarce, so a phone call from Frank just after the last of my daughters wedding guests had departed to say he’d got a Semi-palmated Sandpipier on Frodsham No 6 tank had me scurrying down just before dark and catching up with it and yet another Spoonbill. A good move as the peep buggered off overnight much to the consternation of those that turned up Saturday morning.

As usual sea-watching off the Wirral was only occasionally productive but a couple of Velvet Scoters amongst the 3000+ Common Scoters were a good find by the President of the Wirral sea-watching association. Another county lifer for me but we still failed to find either a Balearic or Sooty Shearwater. A decision has to be made as to whether the articles of association (an empty polystyrene cup) should be changed to incorporate our like-minded brethren at nearby Crosby but the acronym ‘WANC’ sea watching association could be a bit off putting and discourage members who’d then be known as WANCers.

A major highlight of the year was Novembers Rough-legged Buzzard re-found by Mark Turner and was just reward for his persistence in carrying on the search when most of us had given up. Yet another county lifer.

The final icing on the cake was a self found Richard’s Pipit at Parkgate in December (the Dee Estuary is beginning to become a regular winter haunt for this species with a number of December records in recent years) and a small flock of Twite reported at Thurstaston and followed up by a couple of cynical bastards who assume every Twite seen on the Wirral is a Linnet. Am I glad we followed this one up!

So what nationally? The long staying White-crowned Sparrow in Cley was my first lifer of the year and a lucky strike with Lincolnshire’s Audouin’s Gull was one of the major highlights. Especially as it was so frustratingly unpredictable and elusive. Another was catching up with the Blakeney Trumpeter Finch and dragging Mark Payne down there the day before he was due to go on honeymoon. Another bogey laid to rest after not moving fast enough for the Landguard bird and missing the Kent bird by one day. Others include finally banishing the nightmare and catalogue of near misses that was Red-eyed Vireo, catching up with Dark-eyed Junco after contriving to miss Rich Bonsers’ Chester zoo special, almost completing my British Shrike list with both Brown Shrike & Steppe Shrike (all I need now is Long-tailed……) and potential UK firsts in the form of Fair Isles Citril Finch and Cornwalls Alder Flycatcher. I end the year with 10 ‘lifers 4 of which are American passerines.

So what of 2009? I still need to see Lanceolated & Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers so Shetland will be a ‘must’ during the Autumn. A Cheshire Ring-necked Duck or Lesser Scaup has to be a good bet for one of the minor rarities whilst a repeat of Hilbre’s Yellow-breasted Bunting would be well received not least by the Obs Chairman!

Final shot of 2008 - female kestrel Neston Reedbed.

Here's a toast to 2009 and whatever it may bring!

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