Thursday, 3 January 2013

Review of 2012...

The year 2012 has ended and of course the world has not so it's time to review my last year and what a year it has been. It wasn't until looking back over the past year's blogs that I realised just how much I had done during the year. Most of the year was again spent at my home in the Highlands from January to August but included trips to the Dornoch area for the weekend, Carrbridge, The Cairngorms, a week in Forsinard in the North Highlands and a couple trips (one of 3 weeks) to Northumberland where I stayed with my Dad near to Alnwick. Of course the biggest event of 2012 was my student exchange to Finnish Lapland for four months from the end of August right through to Christmas.

I spent a good couple hours today checking my lists of species seen from BirdTrack and my own lists to make sure the totals were accurate. Overall I managed 133 species in Britain this year, up 10 from last year's 123. I found out today that last year's total of 119 was incorrect. I also managed the 133 species in only 8 months as I spent the other four months of the year in Finland. I recorded a total of 24 new species including Glaucous and Iceland Gull, Green Woodpecker, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Nuthatch, Slavonian Grebe, Tawny Owl and Tree Pipit amongst others. Interestingly there were 16 species that I saw in 2011 that I didn't manage to see in 2012. Some of these were expected like Chough, Great Northern Diver and Little Egret as I was just not in the right areas for these species for the most part but some were fairly easy and common and I was a little disappointed not to have seen them. These included species like Fieldfare, Golden Plover, Sanderling and Sedge Warbler.

My trip to Finland added 9 new species to my overall life list and I did manage to see some of the species I missed this year in Britain such as Fieldfare and Sedge Warbler. My British list is now up to 149 species (I wonder what number 150 will be?) and my life list up to 158, still fairly minimal but I am still proud of it and it contains many wonderful bird encounters.

So if you are bored and have read all you need to know already now is the time to leave. I will now go through some highlights of my year roughly month by month. It could be fairly long but I will be as brief as possible and try to include as many photos as I can. I will write a seperate post dedicated to my time in Finland later so if you are more interested in that stay tuned, it will be here soon. As you might have seen I have added a couple new pages, tidied up the Useful Links page and added a new banner. The bird in the photo (taken by me in Lemmenjoki National Park) is a Siberian Jay, one of my most favourite birds that I had the chance to see a handful of times in Lapland and although it is obviously not a British bird it is one of my greatest birding encounters so far.

Just a note, all pictures shown are from the actual encounters that I will be describing.

So to the highlights...

The start of the year during January was in the middle of a white-winged gull invasion across the whole of the Britain. Many numbers of Glaucous and Iceland gull were being recorded everywhere and here in the Black Isle was no exception. I saw my first ever Glaucous Gull, a 1st-winter bird, at the local fish factory in Dingwall and a 2nd-winter Iceland Gull just a week later. Both birds were seen several times over the following few weeks.
1st-Winter Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus)
2nd-Winter Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)
Iceland Gull in flight.
I also managed to see my first Scaup, a group of about 30 birds close into the shore at Arturlie Point in Inverness.

Scaup (Aythya marila)
A lot of fuss was caused during January by a mega-bird located near Loch Fleet. It was a Greater Yellowlegs, a North American vagrant, and it stayed around for quite some time. A couple weeks after it had first been found and was still being reported I decided to go on my first twitch to see if I could find it. Unfortunately I didn't but I still had a great day seeing my first ever Red-throated Diver off Embo pier and my first Purple Sandpipers on Dornoch beach. I also saw my first Common Scoters offshore.

Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)
Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata)
During February I had a very nice day out at Chanonry Point and Rosemarkie beach on the South side of the Black Isle. I saw groups of Common Guillemot and Razorbill fairly close to the shore, more Red-throated Divers and a Grey Seal that was lounging on the beach.

Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)
I also had my first experience with the Highland Ringing Group. I joined some members of the group on a outing to the Moray Coast looking to ring and GPS tag some Purple Sandpipers as part of a long-term study. We saw a group of about 30 but the weather was awful and the birds weren't co-operating unfortunately. As part of one of my modules at college our class went on a field trip to Landmark in Carrbridge where I saw my first Common Crossbills from the top of the fire tower as they sat on top of the surrounding Pine trees. I finished the month with another first. A small group of Pintail ducks off the old pier at Redcastle on the Black Isle.

Into March and I was fairly successful with Geese as there are always good numbers around this general area and there were huge groups of Pink-footed geese seen regularly on the Cromarty Firth.. A bit of exploration in the woodland and fields just 1km away from my house resulted in a surprise encounter with my first confirmed Pink-footed Geese and European White-fronted Geese not 10 metres away as I climbed to the top of a steep bank at one of the field margins.

Pink-footed & European White-fronted Geese
Pink-footed Geese (Anser brachyrhynchus)
European White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons albifrons)
I also had a nice first down at my local river in Conon Bridge in the form of a pair of Goosander. The month was generally quite quiet as college work had started to build up and I finished the month with a conference for students in Carrbridge on Integrated Land Use but unfortunately no time for any birding down there.

Into April and the Spring properly and the Blue Tits had started nest building in the newly located bird box in garden.They came and went for the next couple weeks and I observed them coming and going with plenty of food too but there was no sign of any fledging for some reason.

In the second weeks my girlfriend and I decided to take a trip down to the Cairngorms as I had never actually been to the top even though I have lived up here for over 20 years. On the way a stop at the infamous layby 151 to check for Ring Ouzel (a real bogie bird that I hope I can see in 2013) but no luck but I did see my first Peregrines, two infact. At the top of Cairn Gorm there was white out conditions and lots of snow so no birds but I did also see my first Red Grouse from the carpark. Two days later 3 Ring Ouzel were recorded in that very same carpark, typical!

Back to local birding and I started to explore the Heights up behind Dingwall for the first time. It's really beautiful up there and I visited a few times during April. One trip with perfect clear sunny weather I managed to see my first Wheatear of the year, a pair but it proved harder to get a record shot. Also had some great views of Red Kite. My first ever Red-legged Partridge were seen crossing the road on the drive home.

The Heights - Dingall
Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
The end of April saw my girlfriend and I spending a weekend at Dornoch & Embo and what a great weekend it was. We visited several local areas including the Falls of Shin. Great views of Dipper and Grey Wagtail were had at the Big Burn Walk in Golspie and two Osprey nests spotted in the area. An inland colony of Fulmars and another single Osprey seen over Loch Buidhe. Wheatear and Common Sandpiper also seen. We came across a dead Puffin on Dornoch beach and I hoped it wouldn't be the only one I saw this year.

Male Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
Osprey on nest in Dornoch / Golspie area.

May was very quiet due to coursework becoming pretty intense again but I did have one trip to Glenmore where I had good views of Willow Warblers and I did decide to create a small patch of wildflowers in the garden from free seeds that were on offer from several campaigns. Unfortunately I didn't get to see the results this year as I had to leave for Finland. The Swifts were also back screaming above the houses.

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
In June college was finally over and I had passed my HND. It was also time for our end of year Forestry tour to the South of England. We were based in Newbury, Hampshire and visited various neighbouring sites. We visited the New Forest and I heard my first Cuckoo of the year and managed my very first Green Woodpecker a bird I wouldn't get the chance to see up North. Our campsite for the week was next to a small woodland copse and I was lucky enough that it was full of Nuthatch, another new bird for me that I couldn't see back home.

Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)
Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
In my own time I visited Greenham & Crookham common nearby hoping to see Dartford Warbler. I didn't, but I did see more Green Woodpeckers, Kestrel, Stonechats and my first Common Whitethroats of the year.

Male Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)
On the final day we visited Langley Wood Nature Reserve managed by Natural England and I was able to see Poplar Hawkmoth, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Broad-bodied Chasers, Brimstone and Mistle Thrush.

Female Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
Pearl-Bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne)
By this time during June I found out that I had been accepted at the University in Finland and my exchange was going to happen. Plenty to sort out, organise and research for the trip!

I had an interesting outing to Ferry Point, Dingwall in mid-June. Plenty of Lapwings, Gulls, some unseasonal Whooper Swans, summering Canada Geese and a great view of a lone Osprey right over my head.

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

The month finished with a trip down to the local river and me seeing my first ever Spotted Flycatchers, a pair catching flies believe it or not around one of the very old Larch trees down there.

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
In July I undertook my first visits to my new WeBS survey areas. I applied to take part before I knew I was going to Finland thinking I would be able to take part when the survey restarted properly in the coming Autumn and Winter months. I had been assigned some small starter sites that included Loch Achility, Loch Kinellan and Kinellan Scrape. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm. I started at Loch Achility that was quiet but after took a walk through Achility Oakwood where I saw my first ever Tree Pipit. Moving on to a circular walk around Loch Kinellan, a small loch at the back of Strathpeffer, and I saw my first ever Slavonian Grebes and Whinchat.

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)
Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)
The rest of July and the first week of August was spent down at my Dad's near Alnwick on the Northumberland coast. When I wasn't working at the hotel I spent most of spare time taking walks along the coast lots of birds, butterflies and flowers. A trip to Cullernose point near to Craster allowed to me see a breeding colony of Kittiwakes and Fulmar up close plus plenty of Gannets diving offshore.

Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)
Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)
I visited Low Newton and the nearby scrape a few times. A blog I follow from a local birder of this area shows this area to be very productive if the conditions are suitable for waders. There were plenty of Swallows, House Marting and Swift around the houses. My first visit gave me my first Shoveler ducks, Greenshank and Black-tailed Godwits of the year.

Black-Tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa)
Low Newton scrape.
The scrape was very productive during my time down there with Pectoral Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and Little Egret all reported and believe it or not I did not seen any of them. A Stilt Sandpiper was also seen two days after I headed back North. Although some very distant, heavily cropped photos from one trip caused an interesting discussion on Birdforum with some pretty sure I had recorded at least one Pectoral Sandpiper and Ruff but not enough to be conclusive for me so I didn't count them. Just a reminder of how much a beginner I still am to all this and a call for more wader ID practice. At the end of July I also recorded my first Jays of the year (little did I know that this was not the only Jay species I would see by the end of 2012) on a day out at Hulne Park.

Moving into the first week of August and my third week in Northumberland I was joined by my girlfriend for the week and we booked a boat trip around the Farne Islands and we really lucked out with the weather, it was sunny, warm and as still as you could imagine. We departed from Seahouses harbour. There will still plenty of birds to see even though it was a bit late in the season. On the way out to the islands I saw my first (live) Puffins of the year plus plenty of Shag on the rocks.

Puffin (Fratercula arctica)
Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)
Had a very close encounter with a colony of Grey Seals, loads of them lounging on the rocky islands and swimming all around the boat.

We landed on Inner Farne itself for an hour and had very close encounters with Arctic Terns (first of the year), Sandwich Terns, Kittiwakes and Shags, some with young birds still.

Sanwich Terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)
Into the second week of August now after returning home to the Highlands I had just enough time for one more mini adventure before setting off on the big Finland adventure. I was off to the Forsinard Flows RSPB reserve in Sutherland, a couple hours North of my home in Conon Bridge, for some residential volunteering.

I had a really great week, learning a lot and meeting some great people including Will and Paul, long-term dedicated volunteers who I was sharing the cottage accomodation with. I spent the week working on various tasks from installing dipwells, to monitoring water levels and constructing the dipwells themselves. For more details on what I was doing there see my original post HERE. I managed to see my first ever Hen Harrier (albeit a very brief sighting), added Snipe to my year list and the highlight of my week was seeing a family group of 3 Merlin through a top of the range scope which was superb! I was originally supposed to stay for two weeks but again I had applied for this well before knowing about Finland.

Stunning and globally important habitat.
And so this brings me to the end of August and my Finland adventure. I set off from my Dad's about 2:00am to get my first flight to Helsinki from Manchester and as we left my Dad's hotel a large bird was sitting on one of the hedgerows lit up by the car headlights giving a great view. It was my first Tawny Owl! A nice bird to leave the UK on. I would be in staying in Lapland, Northern Finland for 4 months as an exchange student. In terms of birds it was fantastic. I didn't see a lot of birds (it was Winter after all) but the bird encounters I did have were truely amazing and I will never forget them. There is far too much to write here on a post that is already quite long! I will be posting a review of my time over there soon so come back again if you are interested or even made it this far without getting bored.

As I mentioned near the start I added 9 new species to my life list including some of my most favourite birds in the world. The 9 were as follows: Bluethroat, Common Redpoll (I tried really hard for Arctic but no luck), Hazel Grouse, Lesser Whitethroat, Nutcracker, Pine Grosbeak, Siberian Jay, Waxing and Willow Tit. Another great record for me was seeing the Northern race of Long-tailed Tit. But as I say more on all of this in another post.

Male Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)
 So, looking back now, it has been a really varied and interesting year for me. I have really enjoyed it and feel like I have learned so much. This next year is shaping up to be another interesting one with possible visits to Poland and maybe Czech Republic and I finally finish my degree and who knows where I will end up after that but I am sure I will be writing it about it here.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the journey, I sure did! 

All the best for 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I feel inspired to put a little more effort in than seeing what is landing in the garden, keep up the good work!