Wednesday 28 December 2016

Best Trip of 2016

Lucky so-and-so that I am, by my own admission I have been a lot of trips this year. I knew that this was likely, nonetheless I have surprised even myself by quite how much I have travelled. As usual it has been a healthy mix of birding trips and city breaks, either solo, with some or all of the family, or with a friend.

Taking these latter first, I had four fun trips with friends – Cyprus in January with Andrew M for Finsch’s Wheatear, a daring Rubythroat twitch to Holland with Bradders, a photographic long-weekend in Iceland with Shaun in late May, and then after a long gap, a few days in Shetland during the autumn mirgation with Bradders, Bob and Howard. All four were enjoyable in their own way, but if I had to pick one to repeat it would the Icelandic jaunt. I wasn’t very well during the trip (this is the new norm I suppose), but the landscape and the photographic opportunities are almost unparalleled, and travelling with “I need a cup of tea” Shaun was a lot of fun. I’m planning another trip next year focused on a very specific area and just a handful of species, but nothing is booked yet. As for Shetland 2017 I am undecided at the moment – a waning enthusiasm for rare birds so we’ll see what transpires. I am taking one of my daughters to Cyprus in the spring though…

There have been a lot of family holidays too - nothing long range this time, just European cities mainly. We went to Extramadura and Seville in the spring for a wonderful half-term break, a week split equally between the two locations. In particular I would move to Seville tomorrow, a wonderful city, east meets west architecture and culture, with fine food and a laid-back atmosphere. We also had a summer holiday split between Budapest and Vienna, exploring these two capital cities. Mrs L and I had been to the former last year and had wanted to bring the kids back, and none of us had ever been to Vienna. We enjoyed this very much, especially the vast slabs of cake, and later in the day the wine from the Wachau valley. We also had our traditional Scottish break in the summer with my parents, and then for larks went to Hamburg for the day earlier this month to buy some new Christmas decorations.  We also tend to go places in smaller groups; Mrs L and I went on quasi-romantic trips to New York and Prague, Henry and I went to Texas for a manic birding break in October, Mrs L and middle kiddo went on another trip to Scotland, there was a cycling holiday in Suffolk, and I took various combinations of girls to Athens, Bordeaux and Provence.

And then of course there are my solo forays, which this year took me mostly westbound to America, with a couple of shorter diversions in Europe such as to Malta and Istanbul. The big trips were New York for wader and skimmer photography, to the UAE for Wheatear photography, to Arizona for an exploratory birding trip, and then a wonderfully ridiculous trip to Hawaii. Of these four I know which I would most prefer to repeat! New York was OK, I came back with some of what I wanted, but overall it was let down by poor weather and a poor choice of accommodation. Abu Dhabi was a lot better until I fell over, with wonderful weather and light, and at least one target Wheatear was present and correct. Arizona was out and out birding – the pressure was off in other words, and I could just enjoy myself. I just love going to new areas with brand new birds – just me and a field guide. Four days was just enough for a taster of this wonderful area, dipping into some key sites close to the Mexican border, and I came back with a handful of pleasing photos too. 

But it is the long weekend to Hawaii that I keep smiling about. Mostly that I was daft enough to do it in the first place, and that it went off without a hitch including a flying visit with my Aunt and Uncle on the way. But also that once I got there it was simply a stunning place and I got to stand on a mountain ridge with amazing views and with Tropicbirds drifting round. I mainlined on fruit, swam in the pacific, walked along sandy beaches and hired a convertible. A mid-life crisis perhaps, but rarely have I felt as relaxed as that first evening lying in my hammock between two palm trees looking at the stars and swigging on a cold beer. I don’t think I took a single photograph I would even consider publishing on my bird website, but that was never the aim and this is a trip I would do again in a heartbeat. Stupid unashamed fun.

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