Sunday 21 December 2014

The shortest day, the shortest year, the best bird

Hard to believe we're here again, but here we are. A year ago, more or less, I was lying on my front in a Yorkshire puddle whilst photographing an Ivory Gull. I had thought that would be it for the year, but a week later I was in the south-west for a Dorset-Devon double-header, with first Brunnich's Guillemot and then a White-billed Diver. Looking back, it was a fabulous three weeks, and this December hasn't lived up to it at all, though there is a Blyth's Pipit knocking about that I cannot get excited about, fabulous inland find though it undoubtedly is. No, this December I've been content to knock around Wanstead, and most weekend days have been spent at home doing not very much. That's fine by me, my schedule can be pretty gruelling and some slack days are much appreciated. Not long to go before 2015 kicks off, and as from tomorrow the northern hemisphere starts its slow tilt back towards the sun. Normally I get a little sad as the year passes away, the trigger is usually when the clocks go through their autumn change, and that following Monday I'm sat at my desk bemoaning the 4pm darkness.

This year I've barely noticed the long march towards winter, engrossed in other things I suppose, but if you look at it in bird terms, it has been very quiet indeed compared to last year. In 2013 I gained eight lifers from October onwards, including four in December. In 2013 that number has been zero. Two in September, a Rustic Bunting on Shetland and a smash-and-grab raid on the Spurn Masked Shrike, and then nothing since. The two years could barely have been more different, and that late surge meant that 2013 was a lot more profitable than this year has been. 15 vs 10 is the final score, unless something dramatic happens. These days it is unlikely that my annual lifer total will start going up, but that's still a pretty hefty decline, and one that if projected sees me fizzle out on 429 in 2017, and then add a bird per decade. I'll hit 500 when I'm 500. Mind you, by that time a decent yearlist will be about 25 as most things will be extinct apart from Parakeets.

I usually do this in one post, but I make eke it out over the course of a few and thus up my steadily shrinking post count. Favourite bird of 2014? Last year the UK prize went to an Izzy Wheatear. This year it could easily go to the Kent Desert Wheatear, but I think for sheer buzz it has to be a rogue male Caper that I stopped in on between the American Coot and the American Black Duck. Odd that neither of those two should feature.... Many many people went to admire this amazing bird as the news spread (not from me I should add) - in my case I went in February before the breeding season kicked off and before the bird got too crazed from rising testosterone levels, but it was still a terrifying experience and I was left in absolutely no doubt as to where his territory was and where I should stay. I crossed that invisible line and was resolutely chased off, but if I stayed a short distance up a certain slope, only a few metres back, I was no longer viewed as a threat or a mating prospect and he strutted off to elsewhere on 'his' turf. An amazing experience with magnificent bird and one I'll not forget for a very long time.


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