Saturday 22 December 2018

2018 - The year in review

There is still over a week to go, but I have very few birding plans before the New Year, indeed very few plans at all, and so with that in mind I am setting down my review of 2018 now without any worry that it might be considered premature. Plus everybody else is doing it, blogging does have a slight herd mentality to it at times. Anyway, I have had another fun year of birds, travel, gardening, taking photos, and errr, work. Lots of work. Best not dwell on that, I should just be thankful I have a job that allows me to do lots of the former. In fact, that I have job at all. This time next year after the country has jumped off the Brexit cliff who knows where I'll be. 

So, to the usual...

Best twitch
Well this is particularly easy this year as I didn’t twitch anything! My UK list has thus increased by precisely zero, which is somewhat of a watershed moment for me being the first year that this has happened since I developed a taste for rare birds. There were plenty of rarities I could have gone for but I didn’t, and I don’t regret it despite the definite buzz associated with this. This also means that I have avoided all of those tense crowd situations, and all the angst and crappy behaviour that comes along with that. I didn’t avoid that entirely of course, as although I didn’t twitch anything for my UK list I did make a couple of attempts to see a local Bittern. Technically these count as dips of course, and I do not intend to write about that experience again here as there has been quite enough furore. If somehow you missed it, here is the link. So what will 2019 bring? I am going to stick my neck out and say nothing whatsoever as I did not miss the UK twitching scene one little bit.

Best bird
There are a couple candidates for this coveted prize, sadly neither of them are the subject of a gloriously artistic photograph. The first was Crab Plover, which I finally caught up with on my third visit to the Middle East. The birds were miles away on mudflats in north-eastern Oman, and the whole experience was slightly tempered by getting yet another hire car stuck in the mud, but on balance these were just superb and scratched a long-standing itch. I regret not having a scope but this was an unashamedly photographic trip. Having finally seen them, now I want to really see them. For my other candidate there were no such worried – I got amazing views of Blue Nuthatch in Malaysia, so fantastic in fact that I had a bit of a wobble and failed to get any kind of image. This is the way it should be. What a bird, simply incredible. I’ve seen many brightly-coloured birds this year, including Resplendent Quetzal, however this one was breathtaking and also completely random. Mrs L and I were in the Cameron Highlands on a short break a deux, and were walking one of the many trails that cross the area when we stumbled on a bird wave. Mrs L actually saw the bird first and assigned it to the Nuthatch family, whereas I merely proposed the name “Blue”. I still remember it as if it were yesterday, where the bird was, the branch it was on, what it was doing. Truly memorable and despite the thrill of Crab Plovers the prize belongs to Sitta azurea.

Here is piss-poor shot that does it no justice at all!

Best local bird
Local birding has been confined almost exclusively to Wanstead and it has been a fantastic year here. I’ve had five patch ticks versus only one in 2017. Given how long I have been birding here this is nothing short of remarkable. They were Great White Egret, Black-tailed Godwit, Barn Owl, Red-backed Shrike and Rustic Bunting. Of these, the Rustic Bunting, particularly in a London context, is nothing short of astonishing, but given it caused hundreds of people to trample all over the patch for a week, including one gentleman who returned several times and simply could not be convinced not to walk directly at the bird, I cannot in good conscience recommend it as the best bird. The Red-backed Shrike was long overdue, as was the Egret, but my favourite local birding experience for the sheer excitement of it was actually the commonest, Black-tailed Godwit. I chanced upon it early one morning on the side of one of the local ponds and it is without shame that I tell you my legs turned to jelly and I could barely type out the news to the other patch birders. As a bonus it remained on the Alex for several hours allowing quite a few of us to connect, and is recounted here.

Best bird photo
I’ll devote a separate thread to a top ten or something similar, however my absolute favourite photo this year is the following of a Paddyfield Warbler in Bulgaria. I was revisiting a spot I had been to many years ago, but with the benefit of better equipment, more skill, and crucially, more time. I had an image in my head and for once I got it - beautiful light but immensely hard work in high winds. For the usual reasons I was not able to get as much bird photography as I wanted done in 2018, and I am gradually wondering if this is to be a permanent situation if I wish to maintain everything that I do. Work really gets in the way, but actually so does living in the south east of England. You cannot go anywhere or do anything without the crowds, especially for popular birds or well-known locations. Abroad is where it is at for me these days.

Paddyfield Warbler, Durankulak

Best trip
Although my trip with Mrs L to Malaysia and Japan was incredible, especially Japan, any year in which I go to Costa Rica on a birding trip means that any other locations are going to struggle. There is simply no contest. Bob V and I spent a week in this magnificent country back in March and in a mere six days saw nearly 400 birds, mostly exceptionally well. I’d never been on a bespoke birding trip with a guide before and it was incredible. The odd day here and there as part of a wider holiday, but a trip devoted exclusively to birds… well I have seen the light. Bob and I had a private tour with a sensationally talented guide – no minibus full of geriatrics, no late starts and early finishes, we caned it each and every day. Exhausting but exhilarating, and I want to do it again. The trip report can be viewed on the following pages: Itinerary1 2/2 3/3 4 5 6 7 8

Worst trip
Let me first start by saying that no trips are ever truly bad, I enjoy them all, and because I plan quite carefully they rarely if ever go spectacularly wrong (although had our Omani 4x4 disappeared under the incoming tide whilst bogged down on the Al Hadd mudflats I might be typing something different!). So all my 2018 trips were a lot of fun and all went rather well. Instead I have to look at a trip that I planned but did not manage to go on – Iceland in June. Everything was booked, everything was paid for, I knew where I was going and what I was targeting. And then work went and got in the way. A very important external client, in fact THE most important external party in my line of work, booked a four hour meeting for the day I was due to return. All of the prep work for this meeting was then subsequently booked for the time I was away and I could not miss it. Sometimes that is just what happens, and I guess I have just been lucky to date. With a heavy heart I cancelled my flight, took the hit, and returned to my powerpoint presentation. Mick carried on, and his blog post when he got back was very hard to go through, knowing that I was supposed to have been there too.

Stupidest moment
2018 has been a remarkably sensible year actually. No injuries, no hospital visits, onlytwo camera repairs.... which means that the stupidest moment does actually have to go to pointing the 4x4 towards the shoreline in Oman and assuming we would get there in one piece. A fail of almost of epic proportions. We bogged it well and truly, and it took an hour to get out using bits of old carpet, plants, sticks, whatever we could find. And then once we had it out I very nearly sank it again. All this with the tide rising and threatening to submerge the car, or so I thought anyway - it's good to panic. I've got cars stuck everywhere - Norway, Lithuania, Dubai, Morocco, and now Oman can be added to the list. To add insult to injury I also didn't realise that there was a mileage cap on the rental, and so added a few hundred quid to my bill. Very sadly there is no photo of this particular moment, so instead let's talk about a worthy second place. This goes to Bob, who woke up on the first morning of our Costa Rica trip having already lost his binoculars. The birding trip of a lifetime and within a few hours of arrival the most critical piece of equipment needed has done a runner. Happily they were traced to the restaurant from the previous evening (I can only assume he wanted a really good look at his food) and luckily were still there. Over the course of the week he lost quite a few things, including his plug adapter and cable (the following day), and after I lent him mine, that too. Luckily he still has his marbles....

So that's it for another year. Amazing really, they go so fast these days. I cannot believe that it is 2019 in only a few days. Once again, thanks for reading. Next up, a post sinking under the weight of bird photographs....eagle-eyed readers may notice they have seen them all before....


  1. Blue Nuthatch? Couldn't agree more Jono. Even though the last time I saw one was in 1994 (Fraser's Hill) the images are still freshly burnt into my retinas. All the best for 2019!

  2. If only I had taken a shot of you and the Oman 4x4 .. yet another great trip memory

  3. A emotive summary Mr L... more memories for the brain bank