Average. Distinctly average. This describes both my effort and the birds! Remarkably I got two new patch ticks, Greenshank and Marsh Harrier. New birds here get harder every year of course, and I actually thought that I wouldn't get any at all after a bumper year in 2018, so a pleasant surprise. The Greenshank was found by Nick when I was at work. This made for a nervous few hours during which I very nearly cracked and rushed back home, but on that particular day my absence would have been noted and I there was nothing I could do. I managed to rush to the park in the dying light of the day, and of course it was still there. In fact it subsequently stayed for something like ten days, and towards the end of its stay was briefly joined by a second which was just absurd.
The Marsh Harrier was a flyover on the Flats in October, a huge grip back from years ago when I simply couldn't get on another flyover. I knew it would fall eventually but it took seven years. I spied it through a gap in the brooms as I walking alongside Long Wood with a couple of the guys, and basically started yelling. The views were less than stellar, but when we started adding it all up we all arrived at Marsh Harrier. Some crappy record shots later confirmed it once the colours and tones had been dialled right up.
Away from these new birds I had three "seconds" - a Garganey on the Jubilee Pond, a rather too friendly Mandarin on Alex, and a flyover Osprey exactly a week before the Marsh Harrier, but the rest of the year has been slim pickings and my list is one of my lowest ever. The misses probably stand out more than the hits. No Common Sandpiper, no Common Tern. No Shelduck! The latter usually always fly over the patch in early spring, but you have to be on the spot and I simply didn't put the effort in this year.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the patch, but unless I commit to it 100% the misses are going to be the story going forward. And I think we all know by now that I won't. It's a great place to have on my doorstep, but the world of birds is far larger and there is a lot of interest further away, although not that far. I had a great walk around Rainham a couple of weeks ago to remind me what UK birding was like away from Wanstead, and all my eBirding of late has reminded me about many of the fantastic sites in East Anglia. Why shackle myself to a single place where I can only see so much? There is some nobility about it of course, the humble patch-or-die worker elevated to sainthood status, but it would drive me mad in the end. No, I am happy with how I go about it.
I am less happy about how little UK birding I've done this year. I once saw 300 species two years running. That was nearly ten years ago and I don't want to do that again, but when my UK year list is only 140 species with only 34 outside Wanstead, and just 23 outside of London... well that's not very balanced. I've taken the liberty of describing what has been happening in a simple graph.
It looks like there was a slight reversal of the trend in 2016, but otherwise it has been a steady slide. And one that I don't think will be hard to reverse. In an interesting parallel I once saw 140 in a single day in Suffolk and Norfolk! But of course something will need to give, time is ever limited and if anything becoming scarcer. That something is likely my non-UK birding ambitions. Perhaps this is not a bad thing.
This year I saw just over 500 birds worldwide, of which 213 were in America. Four brief trips stateside netted far more species than a whole year in Wanstead. Who would have thought it? It was fabulous actually, but if I'm to see more in the UK then that probably means I have to see less in the US and elsewhere. Birding new places sustains me like almost no other pursuit, so I won't, can't, give it up. There are already plans afoot, some just around the corner in fact. But I have done so little birding in the UK for the last five years that my hope is that it will feel new and exciting, and I am prepared to give it a go.
Perhaps even as early as New Year's Day.