30 Dec 2012

Review of the year 2012 - the year the blockers fell.

This year has seen some major blockers fall and some major milestones our lives. In January Jan & I became Grandparents when our daughter, in Australia, gave birth to a gorgeous little bundle called Elizabeth Rose. We travelled as a family a couple of weeks later and spent two weeks with Amy, Lachlan and the baby. Just before we left news broke of a Common Yellowthroat in S Wales. Plans were hatched to drive straight from Manchester airport when we arrived home at 14.00 on the Friday. Realising a) I wouldn't get there before dark and b) I'd be completely knackered I saw sense and took Phil Lockers offer of a lift from J15 of the M6 early Saturday morning. Jet lag meant I was awake early doors anyway! A cracking bird and good views eventually although I got a bit pissed off when the bird popped out right in front of me, as I was crouched down with the camera only for some numptie to almost bowl me over as he rushed forward and blocked my view.

I had to wait until April for the next potential lifer when a punitive Thayer's Gull turned up in Lincs. Travelling with Fred Fearn we had good views of this bird and await with bated breath to see if it's ever split and accepted as a full species.

A good Cheshire bird and a County lifer in the form of a Black-winged Pratincole at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB was the next good bird. Found on 3rd May Steve Williams & I convinced ourselves the bird we picked out partially obscured as the sun set wasn't the Pratincole as that had been seen flying away in the opposite direction. Next morning a dawn trip to Hilbre was hurriedly postponed as a 6.20 phone call announced the Pratincole in the same place as the bird we'd dismissed the night before. To be fair we could only see its head at about 1/2 mile range in fading light.

A trip to Norfolk to celebrate Mark Payne's birthday in May turned up some good birds with Red-backed Shrike and  Red-breasted Flycatcher but star bird was a cracking male Blue-throat on the way home at Doxey Marshes, Staffs.

No sooner had we got back from Norfolk on Sunday night then the next biggie of the year turned up in Herefordshire - an adult Cream-coloured Courser. No hesitation with this one after missing the previous two UK records. A stunning bird in a stunning location. Anyone for golf?

No sooner had the dust settled on this bird then I was off again. Orphean Warbler at Hartlepool headland in the same area as last years White-throated Robin and caught by the same ringers!!! A one day bird and a major grip back being only the 6th UK record and the only twitchable one since the Scillies bird in 1981. I say twitchable advisedly - it only stayed one day.

The next mega turned out to be a lifer and a County tick! Little Swift at New Brighton. A lifer 20 minutes (well it was that day!) from home. A fantastic little bird that showed down to centimetres (literally!) in the pouring rain. I missed the Derbyshire bird by 20 minutes and wasn't in the country for the last long stayer in Notts.

Great stuff. What more would the Year of the grip back bring? Well I had to wait until September for Rich Bonser to give the heads up on a 'Long-billed Dowithcer' photographed at Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset. Sure enough it turned out to be the UK's 2nd Short-billed Dowitcher and the news broke as I was on the way to Devon for a meeting. Happy days!

With news slowly filtering through of at least 9 male Baillon's Crakes singing in the UK during the spring (the majority were picked up during a national survey of singing Spotted Crakes) my hopes were high for a twitchable autumn bird. Sure enough a juvenile was found at Rainham Marshes RSPB and thanks to Howard Vaughan and his band of volunteers we were able to get into the hide by 07.30 on the 12th November. Boom.

Towards the end of September I was on a business trip to Sweden. It always happens. A phone call from Steve ' have you heard about the peep'. Allan Conlin had found either a Semi-palmated Sandpiper or Western Sandpiper at Hoylake. B*llocks. Luckily for me the bird stayed until Friday but not only that a White-rumped Sandpiper was found the same day. Another two good birds for Cheshire despite the torrential rain.

Once again I embarked to Shetland in early October hoping for a Lanceolated or Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler. Once again I got a kick in the proverbials as a Lancie was present for almost 3 weeks on Fair Isle but a combination of bad weather and plane breakdowns prevented us getting there. There'll be another.............................................................

Following on from Shetland I spent a weekend on the Scilly's with Mark Payne and Pete Antrobus where we met up with Malc Curtin to help celebrate his 60th birthday. With Al Orton, Robbo, Ian Barber, Allan Conlin and Steve Williams all on the islands it made for a good few days birding, reminiscing and enjoying a few beers.

As I write this I'm currently in Australia enjoying Christmas and New Year with the three girls in my life. I wonder what 2013 will bring.

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