30 Dec 2011

Review of the year 2011

I can't believe the year has gone this fast. So much has happened since the 31st December 2010. Jan & I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in June but went to Australia over Easter to meet up with Amy & Lachlan and dive the Great Barrier Reef. We then found out Amy was pregnant so will be Grandparents early next year! Joe graduated from York University and managed to get a job almost straight away and we lost our beloved Labrador, Molly, in August.

Amidst all this I've even had time for some birding!

The year started well with stunning views of an Oriental Turtle Dove in an Oxfordshire garden followed by a mad dash later in the spring for the (in)famous Hartlepool White-thraoted Robin but it wasn't until June that  I got my next UK 'lifer' in the form of a White-winged Scoter off Aberdeen. August saw me returning to the Scilly's after a few years absence to try my luck on a couple of pelagics. No new birds but great views of Wilson's Petrel and Great Shearwater. The trip was very poignant for me as Molly died whilst I was away. I knew before I got on the 'Sapphire' she was seriously ill after having a major stroke and it was devastating that I couldn't be there for her at the end although Jan gave her some of my clothes to rest on so she could at least smell me. She is sorely missed as she was virtually my constant companion over the last 3 -4 years of her life coming to the office and Hilbre with me and enjoying walks in Stanney Woods and Rivacre Valley. I haven't been to either of these places since she died.

A trip to Scilly's again in September for Black & White Warbler and Solitary Sandpiper was only marred by the disappointment of missing the elusive Northern Water Thrush. Still, Groucho & I couldn't complain with two out of three and a supporting cast of Blue-winged Teal, Semi-palmated Sandpiper & Lesser Yellowlegs thrown in.....................that attitude lasted about a week as the news came out almost daily on the Waterthrush. Unable to join the mid-week crew I went the following weekend with Al Orton. Success!

October saw us setting of for our annual trip to Shetland with anticipation running high. Surely this would be the year I finally got to see at least one of the Shetland specialities I hanker after? A great trip with 5 BBRC rarities seen - Pallid Harrier, Isabelline Shrike, Olive-backed Pipit, Buff-bellied Pipit and Black-headed Bunting. BUT, still no Lanceolated, Pallas's Grasshopper, White's Thrush or Yellow-breasted Bunting. Arse! Oh well it gives me an excuse to go back next year. I love the place and the flights booked already.

As usually happens something good turns up on Shetland AFTER we leave but this time it had the decency to leave it a week or so. What happens whilst I'm in Sweden? A frigging male Siberian Rubythroat turns up at Gulberswick that's what. The holy grail for a whole generation of aging birders and newcomers alike. It had to be done so I booked flights and set off for Glasgow airport for the flight to Sumburgh. Luckily I got news from Russ Hayward the bird was still there as I sat in the airport.
With such a Sibe 'mega' under the belt was there time for any more surprises? Yep. A Veery on the Isle of Muck Where the f*ck is Muck. Google proved its worth but, arse, another remote and virtually inaccessible Island. Where there's a group of desperate birders involved there's always a solution and luckily Pete Fowler enterprisingly put his catamaran the Orion at our disposal. Another major grip back after two turning up on Shetland the THE DAY WE LEFT three year ago!

So what of Cheshire? Well the year has been equally stunning starting off with two new birds in the form of Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Broad-billed Sandpiper on the same day. A case of East meets West or East meets East?

A phone call from Steve Williams in June to say he'd caught a Blyth's Reed Warbler on Hilbre made up for the rejected one from Red Rocks.  With the bird in the hand and a full wing formula taken there's no arguments about this one.

 For sheer excitement and 'value' the Red-flanked Bluetail on Hilbre in October will take a lot of beating. Not only was it a first for Hilbre & Cheshire but also the first for the N W region and after being caught and ringed it stayed and performed to around 60 birders who waded across as the tide ebbed.

As the November ended thoughts turned to winter but there was still time for a couple of surprises. Scott Reid saw a Little Auk flying off Hilbre and I was lucky enough to be the only one in the Obs and relocated it briefly on the west side before it flew off. Not a Cheshire 'lifer' but a Hilbre one though.

Steve Hind came up trumps again with two Common Cranes on the salt marsh off Riverbank Rd, Heswall. I've missed several Cranes over the years including one that was seen over Marbury last year. This time I got there in time - 10 minutes before they flew! A small flcok of European Whitefronted Geese seem to have taken up residence at the RSPB's new reserve at Burton Mere Wetlands (BMW) and are a welcome addition to the Cheshire wintering avifauna. Whitefronts are scarce in Cheshire after the demise of the wintering flock on the Gowy Watermeadows in the 70's.

There's the year in a nutshell.  Eight UK  'lifers' with five of them being 'yanks' and one a sought after 'sibe' and five county 'lifers'. So what of 2012? We'll become Grandparents for the first time and have already booked to go to Australia in February. Good planning by Amy & Locky as I won't miss any of the spring migration on Hilbre! Hopefully Hilbre will turn up another spring goodie. Perhaps a Sardinian Warbler or an American sparrow of some sort.

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