Friday, January 01, 2016

2015 Review

2015 has had many highlights with visits abroad to Spain, France and America. Several 'Away-Days' to various sites around the UK with the Brandon Marsh team were also possible, thanks to the use of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust's minibus and for this I'm grateful.

The first 'Away-Day' took place on February 9th with a visit to Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, stopping first at Burn Coppice, Deenethorpe for a Great Grey Shrike, then moving rapidly on for Short-eared Owls and Cranes at Eldernell. The rest of the day was spent around the North Norfolk coast and in particular RSPB Titchwell, a reserve I managed to visit a number of times throughout the year.

Laughing Gull at Birkenhead - A rare 'twitch' for me!
On March 23rd the second 'Away-Day' of the year saw the team visiting the Forest of Dean and here the highlights were the delightful Mandarin Ducks at Canop Ponds, Hawfinch at Park End and fabulous Goshawks at New Fancy Viewpoint. March also saw the amazing Spring Equinox Eclipse, where I spent the entire morning at Brandon Marsh photographing the once in a lifetime event. I also managed a rare for me 'twitch', when I stopped off in Birkenhead on route to Liverpool for a long staying Laughing Gull. Managing also to record Purple Sandpiper and Long-eared Owl, the latter at RSPB Burton Mere.

Alpine Swift - Always a challenge to snap!
At the start of April Dee and I spent a week in Spain celebrating my birthday, staying with my lifetime buddy Dave in his stunning villa high up near Mijas overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We visited a number of sites during our stay which included Guadalhorce, an excellent reserve near Malaga Airport, Ronda and Fuente de Piedra. Too many highlights to choose from during our weeks stay which included Booted Eagles, Short-toed Eagles, Griffon Vultures, Egyptian Vultures, Alpine Swifts and Red-billed Chough to name a few. Closer to home another 'Away-day' on the 20th, this time visiting Paxton Pits for Nightingale and Cavenham Heath National Nature Reserve for Stone Curlew and singing Woodlark on a wonderful day out!

Western Grebe - Klamath Falls
Nearly the whole of May was spent on the West coast of America. Here Dee and I flew into Seattle and then drove the amazing route 101 along the stunning Oregon coastline to the Californian border, stopping at Tilamook and Coos Bay. Our return journey to Seattle took us inland stopping at Upper Klamath Falls, Bend and Hood River covering an amazing 2000 miles.

Ash-throated Flycatcher - Oregon 2015
Total Species Count 174 - With 25 New North American species including: Lewis Woodpecker, White-headed Woodpecker, Tufted Puffin, White-tailed Kite, Snowy Plover, Snowy Egret and Red-shouldered Hawk. Only a single new mammal to add to our North American list, when Dee discovered a Porcupine roosting in a tree! Sadly very few Butterflies or Odanata due to the weather, so no additions there.

This summer plumage Grey Phalarope caused a major 'twitch' at Brandon Marsh in June!
On June 2nd one of the major highlight of the year was a stunning summer plumage Grey Phalarope, which graced Brandon's East Marsh Pool for several hours, bringing birders from far and wide in a frenzy of activity. June's Brandon Marsh mid-summer 'Away-Day' took us to RSPB Blacktoft Sands in Yorkshires East Riding, where we managed to connect with a ♀Montague's Harrier, sadly no sign of the residing male, which managed to elude us.

Cirl Bunting at Teignmouth Devon
July and August settled into the usual quandary, with most birds on their breeding grounds and little movement, but Dee and I had a few extra 'ticks' for the year when we spent a few days in Devon. Firstly we managed to catch up with a small group of Cirl Buntings at Teignmouth and a stunning summer plumage Slavonian Grebe at Cockwood Harbour.

Griffon Vulture on migration!
September was a busy month with visits to Spain and France. Firstly a visit to Spain, where Dave and I drove down to Gibraltar and Tarifa to witness the amazing raptor migration. Apart from the shear numbers of birds crossing 'The Straits', including 1000s of Honey Buzzards, Booted Eagles and Griffon Vultures there was plenty more to rave about, including a superb Rüppell's Vulture. Later in the month a visit to Dee's parents in France gave us the opportunity to take in some of our favourite reserves including the La Brenne region and La Pinail, a great place to see Dartford Warbler, which duly obliged. We also discovered a few new reserves for us including station de lagunage near Rochfort and further around the coast Natural Reserve Moëze-Oléron. While in France we also managed some spectacular views of the Luna Eclipse and with little light pollution the blood red moon was simply stunning!

Isabelline Shrike at Beeston Common
October and yet another Monday 'Away-Day' led us to Norfolk, managing excellent views of an Isabelline Shrike at Beeston Common. In fact on the Friday of that week I returned to Norfolk once more and bagged a second Isabelline Shrike at Holkham Pines, plus Short-eared Owl, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pallas's Warbler and Yellow-browed Warbler on an unprecedented days birding.

Red-billed Chough - Ireland
The beginning of November saw Dee and I in Southern Ireland and after spending a few days sightseeing in Dublin we spent a wonderful week within the Dingle peninsula on the south-west coast. Stunning weather throughout our stay and highlights included Red-billed ChoughSpoonbill, Little Gull, Lesser Scaup, Glossy Ibis, Black Redstart and Gull-billed Tern! Our final 'Away-Day' of the year for the Brandon team took place on Monday 23rd and stops at Eldernell and RSPB Ouse Washes finished our travels. Water Pipit was one of the finds of the day but to finish with some superb views of a Short-eared Owl was a great end to the year.

Gorgeous Smew at Draycote Water
December was a quiet month for me on my birding travels but with the nearby Draycote Water producing some nice finds, including Smew, Scaup and more than one Great Northern Diver, there was little need to travel. Having said that, currently staying in our rented cottage in Lincolnshire did offer us the opportunity to visit RSPB Frampton Marsh on Tuesday, our final destination of the year, managing to record Merlin, Peregrine, drake Scaup and Grey Phalarope, a brilliant end to a superb year! Here's to 2016