Saturday, 31 December 2011

Review of 2011

So after the final a'noon of the year, discovering that the Rotherhithe Egyptian Goose had grown to 4, getting a Greylag Goose ring and recording my 2011 high for Shoveler (24), as well as completing my species accounts for the 2009 LBR - perhaps it's time to look back at what has been a really excellent, bird-filled year. I've seen a lot of good birds, found some nice stuff too and had a damn good time on my travels lapping up as much as I can. Hope everyone reading this has enjoyed the year as much as I have. Best wishes to all for 2012.

After spending the New Year in a 'dry' country, I spent the first couple of days of 2011 birding in Kuwait with the Belgians (Vincent L, David M and Fred V), where Ashy Drongo, Indian Roller and some of the usual Kuwait specials were gladly seen.
Ashy Drongo
Locally, the 4 Scaup that I'd found in December lingered throughout on the dock just outside my flat.

I eventually managed to catch up with what may or may not get accepted as Britain's first Slaty-backed Gull mid-month, and just a few days later I was packing my bags again and off to those magical islands in the mid-Atlantic with Josh J. We had an excellent time, spending it on Terceira, Sao Miguel, Faial and Pico where a whole host of yankage was seen with a bit found too - Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Great Blue Heron, 2 Pied-billed Grebes, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, American Coot, 7 Blue-winged Teal, 3 American Wigeons, 4 Ring-necked Ducks, Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, two Lesser Yellowlegs, two Bonaparte's Gulls, American Herring Gull and 28 Ring-billed Gulls. I rounded the month off with a visit to Chipping Norton, enjoying the Oriental Turtle Dove.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron

While I headed back to school after the Azores, JJ went over to Ireland with Staines and found a first. This made me pay a visit to the glorious coast of County Kerry where the drake Stejneger's Scoter was seen in all its glory, as well as a couple of wingers nearby (in what was again a poor year for them in Ireland). Locally things were very quiet.
Stejneger's Scoter

Iceland Gull
I was off again - with JJ and Staines - and had a quality few days birding in Portugal and Spain early in the month. The Ruppell's Vulture at Vila Velha played ball while birding the Spanish steppes near Trujillo took me back to an area where I'd been to with my parents back in the day. Great and Little Bustards, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Eagle Owl plus many, many more made for a really enjoyable trip.
Little Bustard

Ruppell's Vulture
With a bonus day of holiday for the Royal Wedding, I made the most of this and had a quick trip over to Santiago, Cape Verdes - with Mick F and Rick M - where there was a treble of WP herons for me. They all showed themselves (three Intermediate Egrets, two Black Herons and a single Black-headed Heron) at Barragem de Poilao, while it was really good to get in on a few of the island's endemics again. Red-billed Tropicbirds on the cliffs at Praia were memorable, and the close views of Fea's Petrels at sea, just before night fell and they come inland, were decent too.

Black Heron

Red-billed Tropicbird

Black-headed Heron
All was quiet locally, with Sand Martins and Common Terns having returned to breed on the patch. Late in the month, I headed off with Peter A et al to the Azores again, where we were to spend some time on boats off Graciosa. When we eventually got it right, views of Monteiro's and Wilson's Storm-petrels were fantastic, as was the usual bit of wader action in the quarry on Terceira, while the skuas we saw left us scratching our heads albeit with the opinion they may just be immature Bonxies.
Wilson's Storm-petrel

Monteiro's Storm-petrel

Semipalmated Plover

White-winged Black Tern
As soon as I got back from my Azores trip, I made a quick trip up to Hartlepool for a proper, old school British mega - a White-throated Robin.
White-throated Robin
Local birding was predictably slow, just with breeders, although I did manage to find a singing Black Redstart. In the middle of the month, I made the long trek up north to Aberdeenshire and had remarkably decent views, albeit in dire weather, of an immature drake American White-winged Scoter, as well as a nice King Eider on the Ythan Estuary.

The month started off with a very pleasant day in Provence with JJ, where we had point blank views of the Red-footed Booby.

Red-footed Booby
With it being holidays at the month's end, and news that the mythical WP bird, Brown Fish Owl, had finally been tracked down, I headed off to Turkey with JJ, Chris B and Andy H where we had lovely views of 2 adults and 2 juveniles. A memory that'll last a lifetime for sure, and we made the most of our trip with a visit to Birecik where Striated Scops Owl and Iraq Babbler were highlights, while Nemrut Dagi was excellent for Red-tailed Wheatear and Cinereous Bunting amongst a host of other decent eastern fare.
Brown Fish Owl

Striated Scops Owl
I enjoyed a fantastic three weeks in Asia, starting off in Hong Kong where I spent a few days birding before Karen joined me for the rest of the trip. Birding was tough in the heat, but I managed to see Black-faced Spoonbill, record an array of waders and also marvel at the Chinese Pond Herons.
Chinese Pond Heron
Then I headed off to Indonesia, where the first stop was eastern Java to see Mount Bromo as well as a few birds too for sure. The time then spent on Bali was brilliant, both as an all round holiday but also for seeing some excellent birds - particularly one of the last truly wild Bali Starlings, Java Sparrows, Javan Banded Pitta, Javan Plover, Rufous-backed Kingfisher and many, many more.

Bali Starling

Rufous-backed Kingfisher

Javan Plover

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
I returned back to London - and then, shortly after, went on my annual trip to the Bridges of Ross. The seabirds were quiet but waders were already on the move, and I managed to see an adult Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Shannon Airport and a nice juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper on the beach at Doonbeg that was found by Alan C.
Semipalmated Sandpiper
I returned home and found my first Redstart in Rotherhithe on the last day of the month.
With rapid low pressure systems tracking across the Atlantic, I spent a couple of weekends in Ireland. I managed to see a couple of Buff-breasted Sandpipers in Kerry the first trip, but the following weekend the weather was bang on the money and way out west in windswept Mayo, I managed to find a couple of juvenile Baird's Sandpipers on Achill Island and just hours later, an adult White-rumped Sandpiper at Roonagh Lough. Chuffed to bits with those. The following day, I saw over 35 Sabine's Gulls before breakfast at the Bridges of Ross, as well as a flock of 9 Buff-breasted Sandpipers nearby, a Common Rosefinch too and then a Blue-winged Teal back at Shannon Airport.
Baird's Sandpipers

White-rumped Sandpiper
An after work sojourn to Weir Wood Reservoir, East Sussex, midweek gave me some decent views of my only British/Irish lifer of the autumn - a Long-toed Stint. Disgruntled about not being in Ireland, the following weekend was spent closer to home searching for rares. It paid off, as John A and I were on fire and found Kent's 2nd ever Semipalmated Sandpiper (the first was in 1984) at Cliffe Pools on 25th (then being seen regularly on the other side of the Thames in Essex a week later), and returning to London we found 2 Roseate Terns at Crossness, gross birds in the capital indeed. 

A Sandhill Crane at Boyton Marshes was a nice way to start the month, while the following weekend was spent in Ireland again where, along with a longstaying Semipalmated Plover, I managed a couple of juvenile American Golden Plovers in County Kerry but that was all sadly.
Sandhill Crane
And with little going on nationally, local birding mid month was nice but unproductive. And then it was onto the main event, with the final week of October spent on the Azores. I had an incredible time, with probably my birding highlight of the year being when I found a White-tailed Tropicbird on Corvo, having previously dipped it on the neighbouring island of Flores for a couple of days. Arthur G had never heard so many English swear words, as I clapped eyes on it.
White-tailed Tropicbird
And if this wasn't enough, a Summer Tanager was fantastic value too, while I managed to find my first Nearctic landbirds in the WP in the form of an Indigo Bunting and a Common Yellowthroat. The trip was padded up with Buff-bellied Pipit, Chimney Swift and a drake Wood Duck with decent credentials on Flores. There were only four of us on Corvo late in the month, and we needed more eyes, so if you want to join the late October fun here in 2012 just let me know.
Indigo Bunting

Summer Tanager
The highlight was undoubtedly a cracking male Eastern Black Redstart found by Barry Hunt on Thanet, Kent.
Eastern Black Redstart
A morning out the next weekend in Somerset was excellent value, with a juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, 2 Long-billed Dowitchers and a Spotted Sandpiper all within a 360 spin at Chew Valley Lake. Locally though, the Mediterranean Gull arrived back at Burgess Park and a Long-tailed Duck showed really well near Bromley.

It wasn't quite as relaxing as I thought it would be, especially as a brief trip to Fuerteventura was in order when an Allen's Gallinule was found early in the month. Lee G and I had a quality time, enjoying good views of the target bird as well as re-acquainting myself with Canary Islands' Chat, Berthelot's Pipits as well as more vagrants such as a Blue-winged Teal, a Bittern and a Spotted Crake.
Allen's Gallinule
Pre-Christmas week was spent as far away from Oxford Street as I could, so I went to Canada with Karen and enjoyed a stunning week of good birds and company. Thanks to Jean and Willie especially for being so helpful, and of course Karen for being so ever tolerant. Highlights in Toronto and Niagara were loads of gulls (Thayer's, Kumlien's, American Herring, Ring-billed and Bonaparte's) so I was more than happy, as well as huge numbers of wildfowl and breathtaking views of a Snowy Owl.
Snowy Owl

Ring-billed Gull

Long-tailed Ducks
I rounded the year off with a day out in Norfolk with John A and Graeme S, enjoying views of the Western Sandpiper, Lesser White-fronted Goose and a slightly interesting Great Grey Shrike.

More of the same in 2012 please!

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