A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Sunday, 1 February 2015

A (very) belated round-up of the year!

With my computer setting on fire over Christmas, I never had a chance to do a round up of the year and list my favourite birds of 2014. Although it's a month late, without further a do, here are the best birds from the year that was...

Narrowly missing out on the top ten were the Great Spotted Cuckoo in Pembrokeshire back in March, the White-winged Black Tern that dropped in at Cemlyn Bay and the Bridled Tern up in the Farnes. The Farne islands were one of the best birding experiences I’ve ever had and it was great to see the sea birds in abundance along with the classic view of Puffins complete with sandeels in their beaks! Cattle Egret, Ross’s Gull at Leighton Moss, the Black-winged Pratincole that gave us the run around all summer and the male Red-breasted Flycatcher at Beachy Head, Sussex were also all noteworthy additions and great to see.

White-winged Black Tern
Record shot of the White-winged Black Tern at Cemlyn Bay, Anglesey
Bridled Tern
The Bridled Tern on the rocks by the Jetty upon landing on the Farne Islands
Cattle Egret
Distant pic of the Cattle Egret living up to its name...
Red-breasted Flycatcher
The Red-breasted Flycatcher at Beachy Head was truly stunning
Also deserving of a mention was the Snow Goose up in Lancashire. Derived by some and nastily accused of being “plastic” this bird was absolutely 100% legit and it managed to capture a spot in my heart despite the haters….

Snow Goose
Snow Goose!

And now on to the best....

In 10th place for the year was the ever-loved Ring-billed gull down at Gosport Marine Lake in Hampshire. Returning for its remarkable 13th winter, this individual provided close quarter views, offering me an opportunity to really admire his plumage. Having dipped a first winter a couple of years back on an Asda roof in Liverpool, it felt much better to catch up with this cracking adult bird instead.
Ring-billed Gull
"Waldo" as he is known.... I refuse to call him that!

In 9th position were the Cirl Buntings at Prawle Point in Devon. These deserve a mention as this was my first solo birding visit ever (I always prefer to have some company) and it was great to find them on the Clifftop fields with very few people around. Showing well, I timed it just right – ten minutes later a Sparrowhawk dived after the flock which scattered and weren’t seen again!
Cirl Bunting
The Cirl Buntings were little beauties

Coming up in 8th was the Wryneck seen at Spurn during the Autumn. Having never seen one, this was a key target for the year and when told there was one showing really well just down the road whilst we were searching for a Barred Warbler, we legged it down. After giving us the run around for ten minutes, it eventually flew out of the nearby garden and perched in the hedge right in front of me – breath-taking views and great to finally nail one!

7th place belongs to the drake King Eider (affectionately known as ‘Kingy’) up in the Ythan Estuary near Aberdeen. Flying up to Scotland for the weekend this was a completely relaxed long-distance twitch – a complete change to the usual far away goodies. ‘Chequebook Birding’ it may be to some, but this was one of my favourite twitches to date, with the drake showing really well on the sand in front of us for the couple of hours we were there. Complete with the absolutely hundreds of close in Common Eiders, seals, terns and waders, this will be a twitch that will remain firmly in the memory.
King Eider
Kingy chillin' on the beach 

6th place for the year was the Parrot Crossbills at Budby Common right at the start of the year. Arriving as part of an influx, we tracked them down to a tree amongst the heathland. I definitely wasn’t expecting what happened next, as the whole flock of birds landed in the group of trees underneath where I was standing, proceeding to flit almost over my head at eye level, completely surround me, with many even going as far as to take drinks from the puddle in which I was standing. This went on for a good ten minutes, and was a truly amazing birding experience I will never forget.
Parrot Crossbill
The Parrot Crossbills provided a great start to 2014
In 5th position was the absolutely majestic White-tailed Sea Eagle on Mull from our long weekend up there at the beginning of June. Having never been before it was fantastic to see the wildlife up there – Corncrakes, Mountain Hares and Golden Eagles all adding to the magic. Arriving at a well known eagle car park in front of a favourite perch tree by the loch, we were disappointingly told the eagle had just flown off. However, no more than two minute later I turned to see a huge shape soaring low down over the car park to our right, gliding effortlessly along and back in to the tree all the scopes were trained on. A truly amazing and breath-taking sight, and one of my favourite in birding.
White-tailed Sea Eagle
Showing just how huge the wingspan actually is

4th place for the year goes to the Surf Scoters at Pensarn back at the end of January. Having failed to connect with these for FOUR winters, it was about time I broke the curse of the Surf Scoter. Having been promised views by a certain individual who failed to deliver (TWICE!) I went with my Dad on the third attempt of the New Year, in perfect calm and bright conditions. A local birder from Chester managed to find two drakes and got me on them – and just like that the curse was broken – Surf Scoter – FINALLY!! I even managed to pick them out and show them to someone else myself later in the afternoon!
Scoter flock
The dreadful view of distant scoters in the scope...

In bronze position (somewhat ironically given the name) and 3rd in the best birds of the year was the majestic Golden Pheasant at the Wolferton Triangle just before Christmas. Arriving in the pitch black ready for a dawn vigil on the quiet Norfolk Lane, it was looking bleak until 9am when we spotted him at the side of the road feeding on the seed we had laid out the previous night. Relief – he was there!! Showing right in front of us for 10 minutes, it was great to see him in all his fiery glory – a real high!

Golden Pheasant
He was there. 

The runner up and achieving second place was the brilliant Shore Lark that rocked up at Rossall Point in Lancs for the winter. Having wanted to see one since my childhood and with it being my ‘most needed bird’ according to BUBO, nothing was going to stop me, and within minutes of arriving we were enjoying views of this charming little horned wonder on the shingle beach in front of us. A long anticipated bird and one that was well worth the wait!

Shore Lark
Shore Lark!!!! 

Claiming the top spot and the unquestionable bird of the year without a shadow of a doubt was the remarkable Short-toed Eagle in Dorset. The first twitchable mainland bird ever coupled with the individual in question going to roost in a pine tree on the day it was found meant an overnight drive down to Morden Bog in Dorset and me arriving at the car park at around 4am. Approaching the site in the dense mist, seeing the silent figures of a steady line of twitchers all heading to the ridge had a complete air of magic about it, and is something I will never forget. With daylight revealing the shape of the bird in its pine tree as the mist slowly cleared, the views got better and better throughout the morning, with the bird remaining sat until around 11:30am when it eventually alighted and displayed its magnificent wingspan for the assembled crowd to admire, before disappearing off in to the distance. If this bird hadn’t been relocated in Hampshire (and later Sussex) and become twitchable for the best part of a month, then this would truly have had the potential to be one of the all-time greats and one of the best British birds of all time.
Short-toed Eagle
The magnificent eagle
Eagle Crowd
Waiting for the mist to clear
Eagle Crowd
The Eagle crowd - this photo really doesn't portray just how many people were there!

My international bird of the year was without doubt the Wallcreeper in the high Pyrenees. The ultimate birding highlight to date and in the breath-takingly beautiful settings of the Spanish mountains, we were incredibly lucky to track down a male that had set up home on the rock face in mid-April. After a scenic treck along the mountain trail we arrived at the cliff face, and before long Chris had spotted the bird flying across the rocks, leaving that magnificent call of     in its wake. After another fly-by, we located the bird further on, busy feeding on the rocks and affording amazing views relatively low down in front of us. We watched in awe for a good 20 minutes as the bird went about its business, often showing off the amazing crimson butterfly-like wing patterns and admiring the remarkable long curved bill. In such beautiful surroundings and with an accompanying cast of Lammergeiers, Griffon Vultures and Rock Buntings amid the stunning settings of crystal clear rivers and waterfalls, pure white snow and delicate alpine flora, this was one of the best days birding ever and will stick in the memory for years to come. 


The Wallcreeper - best bird I have ever seen!
Griffon Vulture
Griffon Vulture
Rock Bunting
Rock Bunting
The beautiful view
Absolutely beautiful view in the Pyrenees 
A perfect trip

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