Well there was precisely one twitch this year so this has been a really hard one to decide upon. Yes, it's the Rock Thrush in Gwent. Despite this having almost nothing going for it - a massive drive, limited time with the bird and the potential for crowds it turned out to a hugely enjoyable trip. The ratio of time behind the wheel vs time admiring exquisite birds was, it has to be said, poor, but for whatever reason I was in the mood - possibly as I hadn't twitched anything for about 11 months and had withdrawal symptoms. It didn't put me off in the slightest, perhaps a sign of things to come. That said how many twitches have I been on since then? Zero. It's all about being selective. A great bird in a great setting.
I saw many wonderful birds in 2017, there is only one possible choice though - the magical, implausible but not actually made-up I'iwi. I 'dipped' this on Kaui in 2016, a long way to go and be disappointed so there was only one thing for it - I had to go back! Happily this time I got to see several and they were simply astonishing. I mean it can't be real can it?
Best local bird
I managed 111 species this year which is my best effort since 2013. There were some memorable moments, for instance three Red Kites in an afternoon of skywatching from the garden, an amazing male Common Redstart, but the highlight was a series of fantastic mornings vizmigging on Wanstead Flats during October. On not one but three of those days I was treated to a small portion of the UK Hawfinch invasion - the patch tick that everyone was hoping for!
Best bird photo
I'm still finding a bit of time to use the camera, though enthusiasm for using it in the UK continues to wane. There were four serious photography trips this year - two weekends in Cyprus and Greece in April, a weekend in Iceland in June, and five days in South Africa in December. All of these trips were highly productive given their length and it has been remarkably hard to pick out a single image. I've got a post lined up which has a top 10, as well as a separate top 10 post on those photos which did not involve birds (surprisingly many). Here however is the image that I think I enjoyed most - this may also have featured an epiphany moment when for the first time ever the thought crossed my mind that Wheatears might not be the most attractive type of Chat...
South Africa was amazing, Iceland for a weekend of photography was both monumental and shattering, and what can I say about my trip to Maui? But the stand out trip was our family holiday to California where we rented a massive RV and drove a big loop from Los Angeles up the Pacific coast San Francisco, and then back again via Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. It was epic in the planning and out of this world in the execution. All five of us would do it again tomorrow if we could.
No contest on this one, it was my failed trip to Florida to go snorkelling with my daughter. We spent the morning at Heathrow airport whilst The World's Favourite Airline had an IT meltdown of epic proportions and ended up cancelling every single one of their flights. The airport descended into absolute chaos and it was only by a combination of experience and blind luck that we managed to retrieve our suitcase and escape the terminal. We were offered replacement flights a couple of days later, but school holidays put paid to that, and with our family schedule there were no available dates until 2018. There were tears.
In contrast to 2016 there were no hospital visits - this was really important to me given how crappy that year was with seemingly endless complaints and various intrusive tests. However I nearly blew it in December when in a slightly unsober moment I decided it would be a really great idea to get up on the kitchen counter in order to look behind the fridge to see where the builders had put the water filter. Naturally I fell off, straight onto the stool I used to get up in the first place, and I suspect that I may have some cracked ribs as it now hurts a bit when I laugh. I also smashed up my knee and gave myself a bruise on my hip so enormous and horrible-looking that I went to see the nurse at work about it (which does not count as a hospital visit in case you were wondering) as I thought it might be the first step to my whole leg falling off. It was just a haemo something and disappeared after a couple of weeks, but the worst thing about this whole incident was that Mrs L watched me do it...
No contest. This is Mick cowering in absolute fear as an Arctic Skua attempts to nail his head to the tundra with its beak. He has a similar photo of me. What was funny about this bird and its mate was that neither of them cared a jot as you approached them and snapped away. However once you backed away again this triggered the 'must kill' response and the birds got up and were incredibly aggressive. These make Arctic Terns look like ducklings. There were no eggs or young, it was purely a territorial thing - I can only think that you tend to back away with a slightly higher profile than when you crawl towards them. Once you were back on the road it all stopped and the birds landed exactly where they had been and were perfectly content for the next person to crawl up and take their photo again.
So that was 2017. Lots of trips, quite a lot of photos, various disappointments - chiefly at work - and another 365 days gone. I wonder what 2018 will bring? Actually I can tell you. There will be a top 10 bird photos and a top 10 not bird photos, a review of the year on the patch, and something about Madrid and Bologna.