31 Dec 2013

2013 - what a year!

Well the end of the year is nigh and what a fabulous year it’s been for rare birds. A real year of grip-backs. I missed a few – the White-throated Needletail debacle hurt and the Suffolk Pacific Swift coincided with a business trip to Bahrain and we dipped the ‘hybrid’ Dusky Thrush in Margate but I still managed to creep 8 birds closer to the 500 BOU mark and ended the year on 492 suggesting 2014 could be the year I reach the magic number.
With large movements of Pine Grosbeaks being reported throughout northern Europe in the autumn of 2012 we were disappointed none made it to the UK. But, unbeknown to everyone, one did although it wasn’t ‘discovered’ until early 2013.
The next new bird was, predictably, back ‘up north’ – somewhere.  I was returning to after visiting my parents in Somerset. A text from Stu Taylor saying he was watching a male Harlequin Duck had me initially texting him and asking if he was in Iceland. At this time the news hadn’t broken that it was actually on N Uist. I pulled over into the services and made a few calls and a plan was made to drive up to Uig and get the ferry across. Stu arranged the accommodation and met us at the site and led us in convoy to where the original finder was sat looking at the Harlequin. With a supporting cast of Ring-necked Duck, 2 Snow Geese, small race Canada goose and White-tailed Eagle it was a great two day trip.

Next up was the discovery of a Rock Thrush at Spurn. The news broke early one weekday morning & luckily I was in a position to leave almost immediately.
 I was playing golf with my wife when news of the Bridled Tern on the Farnes broke and so was completely oblivious to the myriad of missed calls until I got back in the car! Luckily for me Frank Duff knew I’d want to see this bird and arranged for my name to be on the list for the first charter boat leaving Seahouses the following morning. Top man.
 Jase Atkinson & I spent a few days ringing (or trying) at Marazion Mars has part of a project looking at Aquatic Warblers during August. Unfortunately heavy rain put paid too much ringing but we did end up seawatching off Porthgwarra. A few people were there in the morning and it was fairly successful with Cory’s & Balearic Shearwaters being seen amongst the hundreds of Manx Shearwaters streaming past. A lunchtime meeting meant we had to return to Marazion to meet up with the ringer in charge of the project but we decided to go back to Porthgwarra in the afternoon. It’s just as well we did. Just before we packed up I picked up a Fea’s Petrel flying in from the east past the Runnelstone before heading off out towards the Scilly’s! Little did I think I’d be back in Cornwall for another lifer later in the year……….
I love Shetland and look forward to my now annual autumn trip with optimism. I still haven’t seen Lanceolated, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler or White Thrush in the 7 years I’ve been making the trip but I’m eternally optimistic. This time I did strike lucky. We were bashing the bushes around Hoswick when Jase Atkinson phoned at the only spot in the entire village where I probably had phone reception! Thick-billed Warbler, Geosetter. Less than 10 minutes away. The news spawned the immortal line yelled across the Swinister Burn to the others at the top of my voice ‘get in the F***ing car now!’ What a brilliant decision. Shetland was also memorable for a very showy Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and a ridiculously tame Arctic Warbler as well as an influx of Great-spotted Woodpeckers from Scandinavia.

No sooner had we returned from Shetland then a Semi-palmated Plover was found at South Hayling Island near Southampton. It settled into a bit of a pattern and with both Fred, Malc & me all having unavoidable work commitments for a few days we couldn’t go until the weekend. A tense couple of hours at its usual spot ensued as it didn’t show. Not surprising really with the numpties actually on the spit it had been roosting on. Luckily it had been relocated the previous day at another spot after leaving the roost and we decided to head the couple of miles back into town and check it out…..just is the bird flew in!
 I had a feeling I’d be back on Shetland & I wasn’t wrong. Mike Pennington found a Cape May Warbler and this proved to be the first twitchable UK record. Work commitments mean I don’t have the luxury of spending 3-4 days travelling there and back so an offer of a place on charter flight late the same night (cheers Danny boy) was well received and meant we were back the same day having only missed 1 day off work.
 Finally a Hermit Thrush was discovered at Porthgwarra coincided with me having to go to Cornwall on business. What a result!
County-wise there were some good new birds as well with Blue-winged teal & Lesser Scaup at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Semi-palmated Sandpiper on the Wirral and a cracking inland Caspian Tern discovered coming into roost by Gill & Steve Barber. Last but not least was Eddie Williams’ stonking Buff-bellied Pipit at Burton. What a year!

So that's it. Tomorrow will be another year. Many thanks to all my mates who have made so many trips so enjoyable this year and to the lads and lasses from Hilbre Bird Obs and SCAN ringing group.

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