Each year, as winter sets in, weather conditions worsen and outdoor ventures become fewer and further between, I find myself fondly reminiscing over the previous year. As such, it has become almost a tradition to create a end of year blog post counting down my highlights from the past 365 days. Whether at home or abroad, this year will be no exception though I have chosen to break it down into two separate posts, if only to save me from excess typing and drag the ordeal out a little longer. With this in mind, I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane showcasing my first five wild highlights of 2015..
10 – Northumberland Winter Bird Race
The first addition on my list is also the most distant. Right back at the beginning of January I took part (for the first time) in Northumberland’s annual winter bird race. Joining a team with some fantastic local birders the day was spent racing around the county with the aim of seeing as many birds as possible in a single day. Although we didn’t win, we did however notch a pretty impressive tally and the day itself was full of truly fantastic birds. Among these some memorable highlights of Great Grey Shrike, Glaucous Gull and a remarkably showy Black-Necked Grebe. Elsewhere other goodies such as Slavonian Grebe, Long-Tailed Duck, White-Fronted Goose, Great Northern Diver, Whooper Swan, Puffin and Hen Harrier made for superb winter birding. An enjoyable day had all around and for me, a introduction to the fun yet competitive realm of birding racing. Can’t wait to take part again in 2016..
9 – Adventures in Speyside
Looking back to February now and a job interview in Inverness provided me and the then partner an opportunity to spent some time in the wilds of Scotland. Although I was unsuccessful in the interview, we did manage a three day stay in a lovely cottage in Aviemore, from which we were able to explore a great deal of wonderful locations. A personal highlight here was my first encounter with Crested Tits on the roadside feeding station at Boat of Garten, a species I had wanted to see since a very early age. The 3-4 individuals noted certainly did not disappoint and all showed down to a few meters allowing for some rather terrible photos on my rather shoddy camera owned at the time. Also up here I managed to explore Mar Lodge for the first time, enjoying close encounters with a number of Black Grouse and also spent time exploring Abernethy and Cairngorm. With other treats such as Red-Throated Diver, Common Crossbill, Golden Eagle and a rather bewildering but utterly brilliant Reeve’s Pheasant, this is one outing I will not forget in a hurry.
8 – Great Shearwater, Newbiggin
A much more recent one now and only a few months back I was lucky enough to catch up with none other than a Great Shearwater a few miles from home at Newbiggin. Returning from a day in Yorkshire with friends, news of the bird passing further up the coast sent us hurtling north in the hope of overtaking the shearwater and hopefully picking it up somewhere on the North-East coast. Things looked all but lost as we made it home to Northumberland however as the scarce seabird remained one step ahead of us the whole time. Thankfully, at the last minute we decided to try one last site and low and behold, mere minutes after arrival, the shrieks of delighted birders sounded the arrival of the bird. Truly, I could not have wished for better views as the bird flew rather lazily past relatively close to shore. A lifer for me and not a bird I ever thought I would see in the local area though for me the real thrill this day was the adrenaline rush derived from the prolonged race prior to connecting.
7 – Fuerteventura (Operation New World)
Back to February again and I found myself lucky enough to land a place on an ecological surveying course focussed on a myriad of things from Phase 1’s to visitor impact assessments. All well and good in itself though the cherry on top of this all expenses paid, wonderful, course courtesy of Operation New World was the fact that it took place on Furteventura. Prior to this I had never visited the canary islands and as such found myself getting rather excited at the prospect of some new and exciting species. Obviously, the trip was work related and as such spare time exploring was limited somewhat, though despite this some memorable encounters were to be had. Among the avian highlights; numerous Berthelots Pipits, Southern Grey Shrikes, Ruddy Shelducks and Kentish Plover, all new. Better still was the addition of 6 Egyptian Vulture, one of the best birds I have seen anywhere to date and a pair of endemic Fuerteventura Chats outside my bedroom window! Elsewhere Spanish Sparrow and Black-Crowned Night Heron were nice to see while local Haria Lizards and Algerian Hedgehogs proved most enjoyable. All in all, a fantastic trip, both educational and exciting. Thank you Op New World!
6 – Patch Delights
Much closer to home now and 2015 proved to be an outstanding year on my local patch at Stobswood, Northumberland. Though work commitments meant I could not visit as often as I would have liked, the visits I did manage produced a host of cracking birds, many of which had never been noted at the site once during my eight years of diligent watching. I fear we would be here all day if I listed all my Stobswood highlights and as such I will settle with a mere handful. Hen Harrier and Bewick’s Swan spring to mind instantly, both scarce birds in the region as does the Iceland Gull I found roosting on one of the pools during April. The latter coming as quite a surprise! Also here an extravagant looking drake Mandarin gave cause for celebration, marking a county tick for me no less while the long staying Ross’s Goose showed well throughout the earlier months. – I still firmly believe this to be genuine vagrant! Aside from these, other goodies such as Slavonian Grebe, Avocet, Long-Eared Owl, Short-Eared Owl, Willow Tit and an almighty female Goshawk helped make 2015 one of my best years to date in my humble corner of Northumberland. Now that I have departed Stobswood for my new patch at Blyth, I wonder what 2016 will bring..
and there you have it, the first half of my routine festive countdown. It will take an awful lot to top some of the things listed above..