Everybody else is doing it so why shouldn't I?
As we all know now, 2020 has been a difficult year. I have three main hobbies and interests. Football, and one team in particular where I've held a season ticket for 38 years, was decimated by the Virus outbreak. The last match I attended was at the start of March and not being able to get my regular release and prevented from meeting up with longstanding friends at the games has been tough. I also love music and although nothing has stopped me from listening to it, live music has been curtailed as well so I've not seen a single band live since March either. The one constant in my life, other than my admirable wife, has been my birdwatching which nothing can stop. I've never been so glad to be a birder and, despite Lockdowns and Tiers, birds will always be there to lift the spirits whether its a humble garden bird or a rarity.
Those of you who know me or those of you that read this blog, whether regularly or just now and again, will know that I struggle to keep any account short so this may ramble on a bit. Top 3's extend to Top 5's and then 10's. There will always be exclusions and glaring omissions when compiling lists and I bet when I read this back I'll remember a few that I should have included.
My thanks to all of my birding friends for putting up with me whenever we've met this year and for their help on ID's, site details and other birdy stuff. Big thanks to anybody who reads Old Caley's Diary and those that just look at the photos. Biggest thanks have to go to Mrs Caley, my almost constant birding companion, who puts up with a heck of a lot!
The Old Caley Year List
Mrs Caley and I acquired the year listing bug a while ago now but have really stepped up our efforts in the last couple of years. Creating a year list makes every bird species seen important and adding a Lesser Redpoll on Otmoor in November is as exciting as twitching a Desert Wheatear in Norfolk at the start of January. They both count the same on a year list. In 2019 we tried hard to reach the "big year" total but ultimately fell just short and ended on 289. I think without the Coronavirus outbreak then we may have reached the magic 300 this year but with holidays and many twitching days denied to us we've finished with a respectable 242 (see the full list here). Of those 10 were life ticks (Asian Desert Warbler, Black-bellied Dipper, Caspian Tern, Citrine Wagtail, Collared Pratincole, Desert Wheatear, Lammergeier, Laughing Gull, Radde's Warbler and Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin) nudging that list closer to the 400 number that is considered a decent total. Surprisingly there was only 1 county tick (Hoopoe). I'm planning a New Year's Day sweep already.
The Old Caley Awards (click on the bird names to be directed to the relevant blog post).
Old Caley's Bird of the Year
The bird of the year, whether the purists accept it as being genuinely wild or not just has to be the Lammergeier that spent a couple of months in the Peak District. We travelled three times to see that bird and in the end got the views we desired.
Old Caley's County Bird of the Year
Again the purists won't accept my favourite bird seen in Oxfordshire because the Great Bustard seen near Wantage had originated from the Salisbury Plain reintroduction scheme. It is a stunning bird though. The female Red-footed Falcon discovered on the East-West Railway workings near Piddington ran it a close second and would have won if it had been more accessible.
Best Personal Finds of the Year
I found a Citrine Wagtail at Slimbridge. However I didn't realise what I'd found until after somebody else had posted news of it out. But I was the first to see it so I found it! It's mine. I also found a Long-eared Owl but managed to cock that one up! Locally my best find was a Jack Snipe during lockdown.
The best twitch, and the longest, has to be the 600 mile round trip to Holy Island in Northumberland on my birthday to see the Asian Desert Warbler which included a stunning Rose-coloured Starling as support. Knackering but what a proper twitch is all about.
The jammiest twitch would be lucking in on the Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin. We were in Norfolk on the way to see a Red-flanked Bluetail (which we did see later in the day) when the news broke!
The worst twitch was going to see the Wilson's Phalarope in Hampshire. Superb bird that showed brilliantly but the antics of the Twitcherazzi totally spoiled the moment. In any case the Wilson's was upstaged by a couple of Grey Phalaropes.
The most grateful twitch was just a few days ago when we grabbed the chance to add our final bird for the year, and one of our favourites, in the shape of a Yellow-browed Warbler. I haven't blogged that one yet. I'm still hopeful though that a Capercaillie will walk across my lawn on New Year's Eve. Mind you I have been drinking Whisky.
The biggest dip was one of the most painful days out in my birding life. Missing a Ross's Gull by mere minutes after driving for four hours. If only I'd walked more quickly. Still there'll be another one day. Obviously I don't have a photo of that one!
The most thrilling was when the Lammergeier soared closely past us. A truly spectacular and wow moment which was absolutely awesome!
The dodgiest moment was getting to see the Red-footed Falcon. You ain't seen me, right.
The worst was being told that the Ross's Gull had flown off just a minute ago. Ah, bugger!
Personal Photo Selection
It's impossible to pick just a few favourite photos, indeed it's difficult to remember all of the photos I've taken but here's my attempt at picking a top ten and I've left out photos that are included above. As you'll see it's actually an Old Caley dozen. Told you I can't stop once I get going!
1) Common Swift; first time out with my new camera and lens at Farmoor. My best ever capture of one of the hardest birds to photograph. Must have been first time lucky!
2) Sanderling; visiting Farmoor and Otmoor kept us sane during the lockdown. This small group of Sanderling was some of several that passed through in May. They were disturbed by a jogger but luckily flew right past me.
3) Waxwing; one of only two Birdguides NP's that I received this year, for this Waxwing bathed in white berries. Even though I considered my photos to be an improvement on my previous years efforts my success rate plummeted!
4) Alaskan Yellow Wagtail; this was actually taken on the 29th December 2019 in Norfolk but was processed too late to make last years review, which wasn't published anyway. This photo also gained a BG NP.
5) Grey Phalarope; taken at the Wilson's Phalarope twitch where the poor behaviour of many photographers had us seeking solitude with its less rare cousins. I have lots of photos of Grey Phalaropes but really liked the colours of the water on this one.
6) Bearded Tit; we were actually hopeful of twitching a Spotted Crake at Westhay Moor in Somerset and ran into a small flock of Beardies by chance. I secured my best set ever of the little beauties.
7) Grasshopper Warbler; one of the birds that I just have to see every year to stay happy. I feared I would miss out because of the spring lockdown but then found one at Otmoor closely followed by a pair feeding young along the Thames at Farmoor.
8) Wood Sandpiper; at Slimbridge, it was the presence of this Wood Sandpiper that clouded my judgement over the Citrine Wagtail. I was so immersed in watching and photographing the Wood Sandpiper that I forgot all about the "funny" wagtail!
9) Rose-coloured Starling; a welcome diversion on the way to twitch the Asian Desert Warbler. An adult Rosy is a thing of gaudy beauty.
10) Purple Sandpiper; taken after a camera disaster while twitching a Radde's warbler at Southwold in Suffolk. It was pouring with rain but this lone Purple Sandpiper still took a rock bath and then preened and cleaned as we watched on. One of my favourite wading birds.
11) Slavonian Grebe; seen on New Year's Day at Farmoor, this winter plumaged bird was part of a concerted effort at a big year which was dashed by the Virus outbreak. Sadly we didn't get to see the species in summer dress this year.
12) Gannet; the only seabird to make the cut. We missed out on holidays so didn't get to Scotland or Cornwall in 2020 so the only place we went where there are seabirds was Bempton Cliffs. A day too late for the Black-browed Albatross but the Gannets proved worthy substitute entertainment.
13) Blyth's Reed Warbler; my only BG Photo of the Week was for an image of a Blyth's Reed warbler taken in Aberdeenshire in June 2019. Usually a skulking species this remarkable bird pitched up at Far Ings NR on the banks of the River Humber and proceeded to regale thousands during its stay.
14) Dunlin; we see lots of Dunlin at Farmoor but it's so much nicer to see them scuttling along a sandy beach. We watched a flock of them, in tandem with some Sanderling, at Dawlish Warren in Devon after twitching a Melodious Warbler.
I could have included so many more, for example the Red Kites that I take for granted but which kept me entertained while locked down in the garden, or the diminutive Goldcrest that brightened up a local walk. Maybe they'll make next years selection.
HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you who have taken the time to read my blog. I'll still be blogging in 2021 and my resolution is to get them out more quickly so that they are more topical.