Friday 27 December 2019

2019 - The year in review

Well here we are again, another year gone. I swear they go quicker every time. Next year is 2020 which is a rather scary thought - where on earth has the last decade gone? I have a 16 year old son - when I started this blog he was six.... I've had another fun year in very much the same vein as previous ones, that is to say I've almost totally ignored birding in the UK and spent a lot of time pursuing other hobbies instead. Nonetheless it has not been a total write-off...

Best twitch
I went on precisely one UK twitch in 2019, and for a very dull bird indeed, an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. However as this is the only time I engaged twitch mode there is nothing else to pick. Seems a little lame really, which it was. Luckily my twitchy instincts are not restricted to the UK, oh no. I also twitch birds abroad. Only as part of already scheduled trips you understand, I don't jet off to see the latest Western Palearctic wonder or anything like that. But if I've got a few days in America I will have a little peek at what is around to see whether I might bump up my puny ABA list by a couple of goodies here are there. So it was that early one Saturday morning in mid November I found myself standing by a golf course mid-way down the Florida Keys, having been shackled at my desk in London the prior day. This was rather a last minute decision. Although the bird, an Antillean Palm Swift, had been hanging around Sombrero Key for a few weeks, when I got on the plane there had been no reports of it for 24 hours. Happily upon landing there was fresh news, and so in the darkness of the Florida evening I pointed my car south. The weather early morning was rather trying, and a small group of dippers from far and wide - as is often the case with ABA rarities - mooched around the eighth tee for a while. I had travelled the furthest, but not by much! Missouri, Connecticut and Michigan were all represented such was the rarity of this species. One of these birders had an ABA list of over 800, but then again this diminutive Swift was only the second for the USA, the first having been in 1972 when this man was just starting his twitching career. Happily when the sun came out late morning so did the bird and it was magnificent. I could scarcely believe that Canary Wharf on Friday afternoon could morph so easily and successfully into the Florida Keys on Saturday morning, but such is modern life I suppose.

Antillean Palm Swift, Marathon, Florida

Best local bird
AS I outlined in the previous post there have not been many local birds to choose from. It would be tempting to simply go with the Greenshank, it was a lovely bird in a nice location and waders in Wanstead are extremely hard to come by. However at the annual Christmas local get together at the Holly Tree pub, we agreed that the spring adult male Garganey had been the best bird of the year (being a tick for almost everyone) and who am I to argue? The location was less lovely - Jubilee Pond - which attracts birds far and wide and yet to human visitors looks like (and is generally treated as...) a toilet. Rob found it early one morning and I rushed out to have a look. The light was a little suspect but later on I returned with a large camera... It was only my second sighting on the patch, the first from years ago of a pair on Heronry which I can barely remember now, and I think you will agree that it was rather a looker.

Best bird photo
I've actually done more birding than bird photography this year in a bit of a reversal. Two trips that were supposed to be photography heavy reverted back to birding trips when Mick had to pull out, and the one trip that we did manage together was made rather difficult by the weather. I did manage some photos in Florida in November once I had got all of the twitching out of my system, but even though this was over a month ago I still have not managed to look through them all. There may be some absolute gems to be discovered! However I remain very pleased with this Olive-backed Sunbird which I took in the Singapore Botanic Gardens in March. Normally I try and get a close in as I can, but for this one I backed off as I wanted the whole flower in the image.

Best trip
As a birding destination Taiwan is fantastic. I went by myself after Mick unfortunately had to drop out and it turned into a four day dawn to dusk search for the endemics. As it happened the photography was really hard work but the birding was amazing, and frequently in stunning scenery. I drove a loop of the northern half of the island, spending most of my time in the central mountains. I missed very little all told, whereas most birding trips to the island need close to two weeks to guarantee all the endemics. In case you missed it, the blog write -up starts here. There is also a full version on Cloudbirders. Very little can touch Taiwan as an exotic yet safe birding destination that is easily done without a guide. Great people, great food, awesome scenery and tons of brilliant birds that are found nowhere else.

Taiwan Scimitar Babbler

Worst trip
Last year I cancelled Iceland as I was busy at work, so that was easy. No such unfortunate happenings this year, although I probably worked harder than ever. Look, does there even have to be one? I've done a nice mix this year. Family holidays in Europe, a few weekend city breaks, a great trip to the landscapes of the American south-west with my son, and then a few long haul birding trips - I've enjoyed every single one of them. The trip to Bulgaria perhaps wasn't as successful as it might have been, but it was still a great weekend. I think I'll just reiterate that in 2020 I plan to go on fewer trips and instead do some more birding in the UK.

Stupidest moment
I spent a whole morning searching for Morrison's Fulvetta in Taiwan without finding one. I did however keep seeing a small flycatcher with an eye-ring that I'd seen on almost all previous days and managed to get a few photos of it. As I was writing up my notes on the plane home I searched the field guide for a match and was staggered to discover that I'd spent several days consistently mis-identifying the Fulvetta and had wasted a morning birding the mountains of Wulai when I could have nipped back down to the coast and seen a whole host of new birds. I guess you can't be good at birding all the time and looking back it is pretty funny. On the plus side I did not hurt myself in 2019, did not break any cameras, and did not sink a car into deep mud or sand. Long may that continue....


  1. Great overview of the year - looks like Taiwan needs to be added to the travel list!

    1. You could do a lot worse Nick, I really enjoyed it.