Monday, December 28, 2015

Special post - the best of 2015

As I do every year, I will summarize here my birding year of 2015. This has been an unusual year. First of all, this was my first full year in the UK. I am busier here than ever with my PhD research, and my fieldwork is very short and concentrated, so my birding capacity has decreased seriously. Personally this is pretty difficult and rather frustrating. I had been working in the field all of my adult life, and this change in my lifestyle is not simple. It leads to pretty funny daily corridor conversations with two other keen birders in my department who are as frustrated as me, about what birds we cannot see and where we'd want to be rather than modelling in R... But I am a grown-up (?) and shouldn't complain too much. So I will try to look back here at the best moments of 2015, and looking back there were many wonderful moments indeed.

From my blog's point of view, this has been my slowest year ever:

Looking at my annual blogging activity patterns, it is apparent what are the normal rates in which I go out birding, and where my two annual peaks occurred - in spring when I did my fieldwork in Spain and Portugal, and in my autumn trip to Shetland. I assume you can see the effect of my first year of PhD has had on me...

And now, let's look at some birds at last!
Winter was mild and birding was fairly slow. After enjoying my first winter in Norfolk by the end of 2014, I got pretty bored of geese... In early January I did find a nice feeding spot near the Great Grey Shrike at Stanton Downham, where lots of pretty and colourful birds came in to feed:

A few days later I had my first WP tick of the year - an inland Great Northern Diver at nearby Rockland Broad:

A well-timed high tide visit to Snettisham in mid January with my mate and regular birding companion James Lowen was awesome:

We had an brilliant day - we paid a visit to Welney's swans as well:

And we also saw briefly a Waxwing at Hunstanton:

Bird-related news was that I got a new Swarovski ATX95 scope that turned me officially into a Swarovski boy - thanks Swarovski Optik Nature!

In February I saw very little in the UK but luckily towards the end of the month I squeezed in a few hours of birding in Portugal and Spain in between meetings during a short visit there. Another WP tick for me was this Glaucous Gull at Peniche, Portugal:

I also enjoyed some Bonelli's Eagle action at Alange Castle, Extremadura. I missed the Black Wheatears there but I settled the story with them later on in spring.

March was still cold and quiet in Norfolk. I had a look at this sweet Iceland Gull at Weybourne:

Towards the end of the month I went to Portugal and Spain for two weeks of intensive fieldwork. I spent most of my time with my Great Bustards. Only on the first morning I sat in a hide at La Serena in Extremadura to get close and personal with them. The rest of my encounters were more typically distant.

I spent all my morning in the  cereal steppes of Extremadura and Alentejo, where I had all of the other expected species, such as Little Bustards:

In the afternoons I had opportunities to explore some other sites and birds. I had several lifers, including Black Wheatear:

And two unexpected Nearctic shorebirds - Lesser Yellowlegs and Long-billed Dowitcher (WP tick):

From Spain I flew over to Israel for a short family visit. It was so good to be in Israel, meet up with friends and family and to see birds everywhere, but I had very limited time for proper birding. I managed to escape one early morning to connect with the long-staying Hypocolius in Ashkelon - cracking bird:

Back in the UK, not much was going on until in late April I went with my regular companions to twitch the 2nd Great Blue Heron for the UK, on the Isles of Scilly. Sadly on the way back we managed to dip on the Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset.

During late May's half term holiday I went with my family up to Flamborough and Bempton Cliffs RSPB in East Yorkshire, and we thoroughly enjoyed it:

It was great to spend time with Martin Garner and family:

In June I did see a Paddyfield Warbler on Blakeney Point but did not get any photos of the shy bird. I tried very hard to find a Greenish Warbler, perhaps my most wanted WP bird at the moment, but with no success. Something for next year.
In mid July I drove all the way to Titchfield Haven in Hampshire to see the long-staying Greater Yellowlegs (WP tick). It was a fine twitch and I really enjoyed the reserve there:

In August my seek after the holy grail (Greenish Warbler) continued without success and I saw nothing of interest. I participated in the BirdFair at the Israeli Ornithological Center stand and had a good time with lots of friends from Israel, UK and all over the world. My boys were excited to meet up with BBR Springwatch superstar Chris Packham:

In early September I participated in the Spurn Migfest - a fantastic event. Birding was sort of on the slower side but seawatching was alright with Balearic Shearwater and three Sabine's Gulls. This Spotted Flycatcher was very popular because of its beautiful perch:

In mid September I saw what was probably 'Bird of the Year' for many birders, the one-day Acadian Flycatcher at Dungeness, Kent, the first for the Western Palearctic:

On the way back added Wilson's Phalarope to my life list at Vange Marshes, Essex...

In late september I went for a week with Martin and Sharon up to Shetland. We stayed in the south of Mainland, and I birded there most of the time, often with some birding legends. Birding was touch most of the time but I did see some good birds, and even found a few semi-decent birds. But as always, the company made the trip amazing, and I had precious quality time with Martin.

'My' Blyth's Reed Warbler

Pechora Pipit 

As it is in recent years, the commonest migrant was Yellow-browed Warbler:

This young male Lapland Bunting was very friendly:

In mid October North Norflok was a real Purple Patch, but I skipped most of the mega-popular rarities and saw only one Pallas's Warbler and the Hume's Warbler, both of which I couldn't photograph.
In November I participated in The EBBA / EBP workshop in Mikulov, Czech Republic. No real birding there but did enjoy this cute Red Squirrel:

In December winter mood settled on me and I didn't do much birding and as a result did not see much... But this fine Red-necked Grebe at Brancaster Staithe was a nice bird to end the year with:

So that was my year. First of all, I want to thank my many readers who continue to follow me despite my slacking rate of blogging. I wish I could do more, and I really hope that in 2016 I will get out more often. It was very encouraging for me to see that during the short periods that I did produce more often, for instance during the week I was on Shetland, many 'dormant' followers returned to read my blog. So thank you all! I am very grateful to my birding friends, especially James and Quentin, for driving me around and keeping me entertained.
And as always, many thanks and lots of love to my wonderful family. I miss Israel very much, especially the birding, but my life here in the UK is full of happiness thanks to you!
Happy New Year and all the best wishes for 2016!

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