Monday, 31 December 2012

2012: The Year in Review

2012 - The Year of the Pipit
2012 was a pretty good year for me, with 13 ticks, far more than I expected given I wasn't really going to go on many twitches. Some stonking megas in there for instance a Common Yellowthroat in Gwent? In Feb? With Gwent's reputation? Pretty bonkers. And a Short-billed Dowitcher? Hardly on my radar, nor was the Spanish Sparrow in mid-Jan. But when I'm asked about what bird I most associate 2012 with (a common question, most interviewers ask it....), my answer is Pipits.Three of the ticks were Pipits - first a Tawny at Landguard, then a Pechora on Shetland, and finally an OBP in Essex. But not only these - another Tawny in London at Barking Bay, two Buff-bellied Pipits, one of which was also in London, and then of course all the regular Pipits. The only real misses are Richard's, and Red-throated - I couldn't even invent one on call this year..... Anyhow, I thought rare Pipits were supposed to be difficult, but apparently not. I've never dipped a Tawny Pipit before, nor a Pechora. I once dipped an OBP in Norfolk, but that almost doesn't count as I it was ages ago and back then I didn't even know what one was - I just happened to turn up and missed it by five minutes. I wandered off completely unphased, not knowing that I wouldn't get another opportunity for years. Then of course I dipped one repeatedly on Shetland this year at Toab, and subsequently left the islands about a week before a major arrival when you could have seen five in a day and been completely sick of them. For my tick I simply drove out to Southend, had a bit of a poke around in Gunner's Park, saw it well if briefly, and drove home again - couldn't really have been much easier. It was my last tick of 2012, and now, almost unbelievably, we're about to start 2013. This means that my kids are that much bigger, and far more depressingly, I'm one year older. By the time (Mayans/any other nutters notwithstanding) I write this again next year I'll be 38. Ouch. Worryingly close to 40.

My 2012 goals were to be employed, boring as that sounds, and to win the coveted Golden Mallard, worth at least fifty quid. Well, I'm still employed, which is remarkable, but I'm afraid the Mallard is heading over to Cork. Gutted. I tried quite hard as well, equalling my best ever patch total, but it just wasn't enough. A number of conflicting priorities got in the way of course, work and mild apathy being two, and there were a few extremely near misses such as Wood Lark and Marsh Harrier that could have seen me be a contender. At least I got Waxwings though, in a moment of pure jam. Five patch ticks cannot be sniffed at though: Jack Snipe, Golden Plover, Smew, Mandarin Duck, and SEO, which takes my Wanstead list to 132.

2012 was also comfortably my lowest UK year list total since I started venturing outside of Wanstead. A meagre 258 species, with some stunning gaps - Osprey, Black-throated Diver, Black Tern, Bean Goose..... I guess the two years on the trot when I did 300+ have forever put me off year-listing. In other words, very pleasing news indeed, and good for my wallet and the planet  Everyone has to do it once, but I'm over it now and no longer need to hoon around all over the place completely pointlessly. In a rare moment of computing competence, I've decided to represent this graphically for you. Less competently, and I have no idea if this is even right, extrapolating the numbers since the peak of 2009 the hamsters inside the computer suggest that next year I'll see 236.5 birds. I'm looking forward to the half.....

2013 Goals
Professional Goals
- In order to continue to enjoy world birding and holidays in warm places with colourful birds and a plentitude of fruity drinks, I need to remain employed. I keep telling myself how wonderful it would be to have another long break, but let's face it, I've not yet been back even a year and a half. My previous break followed almost 11 years of slogging, so I'm nowhere near deserving enough. Once you have drunk at the fount of happiness though.....

Personal Goals
- I was going to put "go birding more", but that would likely be doomed to failure. This year has been pretty bad - I've been out on the patch less than ever before, and been on fewer trips further afield. I've been stuck at home as often as not when in fact I wanted to be out. I thought that by working and working and working, I might be able to spend weekends birding, and by and large this has not happened, and not by a long shot. I don't see this changing, so I need to think of something else. I may have mentioned a brief epiphany I had earlier this year, which was that nearing middle-age, I encapsulated into one sentence what I wanted from life - to have a happy family, to see lots of nice birds, and to take increasingly good photos of them. You can probably spot the slight conflict there.....hmmm? So I think that for 2013 I may have to limit myself slightly, and at this particular moment, it's all about the photos. Yup, stuff the kids and wife, just take more photos. You might not think that possible, but believe me it is. I use my camera once a week if I am lucky, and that has to change if I'm to improve, so let's hope that 2013 sees lots of nice light and obliging subjects.
- I also feel the need to be more specific about a goal, else I will just vacillitate and do nothing, but happily for 2013 there is the small matter of my BOU list being now very close to 400. It would be churlish to ignore it, yet I will remain mostly sensible in terms of what I twitch.
Best Birding Moment
I've seen some pretty good birds this year, but all the rarities were eclipsed by one particular day out on the Flats. It was freezing, covered in snow, but I was out there giving it my all - would that I could manage that all year. I had met Steve in the Park, and suggested we head to the Flats where we would have a nice clear view and might possibly see some Lapwings. I ended the day close to 400 Lapwings, almost ten times as many as I'd seen on the patch before, but it was all about a half-hour period by the Alex. With Nick, Steve and Tim, I was enjoying a Med Gull stood out on the ice when a Snipe flew in and disappeared under the overhanging branches. It was then chased out by a Moorhen or something, before skittering back in, during which I managed a brief photo. Looking at the back of the camera I was amazed to see a very very short bill. "Jack Snipe!" Tim could see it from round the other side, and confirmed that it was the first record for over 30 years. Wowzers. But it got better. Once round the other side and enjoying cracking views of it bouncing up and down slightly, I happened to look up and six Golden Plover flew over. Two patch ticks in short order, and a memorable day.

Best UK Trip
I am struggling this time around, for my twitching antics, and indeed birding trips more generally have been few and far between. There have been no silly dashes to Scilly for instance, and though my one sea-watching trip to the SW was a good'un, with plenty of big Shears, there was no particular 'wow' moment like last year. Shetland was a good laugh, but is slowly losing its mystique, so what does that leave? Can I count the family holiday to Mull? Of course I can! Hen Harrier whilst eating breakfast, House Martins nesting in the eaves, roadside Eagles and much much more. Seeing my youngest daughter marvelling at a Puffin sat looking back at her, no more than three feet between nose and bill, remains very special, and it was a fantastic week of wonderful weather, beautiful scenery, cricket in the garden, and setting ourselves very very modest goals. Opening various bottles of vino was perhaps the most difficult thing I did all week....

Best Bird
2012's best bird is brought to you by the letter "C" and the number "3".Three letters all the same. Three magic words and a little hyphen. Cream-coloured Courser, May 22nd, 2012. I knew even then that no bird would better this one, and that I would be writing about it in this section six months later. The timing was quite awkward, but I bravely took an afternoon off mid-week, and with Tim, Tony and Shaun enjoyed a successful and spectacular twitch - an amazing bird in amazing surroundings. Pretty poor ratio of time behind the wheel to time watching the bird, but for once I'll say that I didn't care!

Worst Bird
Pechora Pipit, Unst, Shetland. Possibly one of my worst views of a rarity ever. Incredibly skulky bird, with various issues surrounding access and the like, some I-really-want-to-see-the-bird-but-I'm-not-going-over-the-fence-oh-go-on-then-you-go-over-fantastic-seen-it-can't-believe-you-went-over-that-fence etc, some pissed-off locals - all things that contribute to a great birding moment, and best of all, crappy views of the bird as it flew away. Nice. Not surprisingly, there are no photos.

Worst UK Trip
Once again a very tough one this year, but ultimately a very easy choice. It concerns driving back from Scotland with the entire family in tow, taking a massive detour and not seeing a Roller that had been there for a week and was there again the next day. 'nuff said. No photos of this one either..... Dammit.
Best Foreign Trip
Easy-peasy. Finland and Norway were great, Bulgaria was a real eye-opener and fantastic, birding as it ought to be here. But none of those places have Collared Trogons. Tobago does have Collared Trogons, and so Tobago wins. And it doesn't just win, it blows them all away. What a place, one of the best holidays I can remember (sorry kids!). The beach was yards away from our room, it was warm every day, there were Hummingbirds, and the Rum Punch flowed freely. About the same price as Shetland as well.......

Best Domestic Moment
Hiring a cleaner. And a gardener. Inspired move on my part, but it has to be said that Brownie Point-earning possibilities have gone downhill since this happened. You would think that as the provider, ultimately, of said services, that all related glory would pass to me, but no. Still, I'd rather have no BPs that have to do cleaning or gardening, so there you go. I made a really good boeuf bourginon the other day, is that any use?

Worst Domestic Moment
As above really. I have been absolved of all responsibility, so the opportunities for massive screw-ups have all but vanished. When I tell you that the other day I sharpened every single pencil in the house and gave myself a blister, perhaps you'll agree that it's time to relegate this particular category to the annals of history, or at least until such time as I'm unemployed again?

Most Amusing Photograph
Sadly fewer candidates than last year. The photo of Lee at the Hornemann's is quite amusing, but I only posted it a couple of week ago. No, the funniest photo actually precedes the one I'm going to put up, but unfortunately nobody had the presence of mind to take it, and so here instead is the one from the following morning. I forget exactly what happened, but it was something along the lines of our entire flat on Shetland being incapable of shopping for anything other than beer. We very reasonably asked Bradders and the Prof, still out flogging deceased horses, to stop by a shop and souce some toilet paper for us, and content in the knowledge that our good friends would come through for us, carried on drinking. Unfortunately the feeling in the Bradders/Prof camp was that we could bloody well buy our own toilet paper, so they drove straight past two toilet paper specialists and an Andrex factory and came straight back. In town later that evening we purloined two whole rolls from somewhere, and despite our acute need, proceeded to waste one on their car, which was wrapped most pleasingly in pastel white. The weather on Shetland being what it is, the following morning mere shreds remained, but it was still extremely funny to think of the guys having to pick soggy toilet paper off the wipers and door handles before leaving for their next Yellow-browed Warbler session.

And that's it! Thanks for all the comments and stuff this year, I hope 2013 delivers for you in every way. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!


  1. Jono, great photography all year. Will look forward to next year. Happy new year to you and yours.

  2. Happy new year to you too Jono, and thanks for the entertainment throughout the year.

  3. Congratulations on another award (on my blog) although you may not agree with my comments!

  4. Factor, you are too kind, really. Much as I love photography, I also love writing. Blogging about birds (mostly, ahem) is the perfect combination. My one regret is that I have to do a real job which gets in the way of both!