The year started quite well though not in Kent. For something interesting I had to travel to Hove for the grey phalarope, which after the rain cleared and the sun came out, performed fantastically often being too close to focus on - Kent obviously needs to invest in more paddling pools and forget about spending a fortune on nature reserves that end up as dog-walker parks and on reed beds where you can't see anything..
A Humes warbler hung around in Ramsgate cemetery for a long time. Initially I resisted (I wanted to find my own......stupid idea) but in the end I folded and managed a couple of record shots and a little gull hung around Dover Harbour for a few weeks.
At the end of January came the Gambia..........and this undoubtedly spoiled the rest of my year. It might even spoil the rest of my photographic life. It was warm, it was sunny, there was hoards of birds and they were approachable. It's difficult to choose highlights - yellow billed shrike, white crowned robin chat, yellow crowned gonolek, broad billed roller - they were all fantastic....and that's before breakfast on day 1 in the hotel grounds.
Outside the grounds the list continued - little bee-eater, swallow tailed bee-eater, veraux's eagle owl, pied king fisher, great kingfisher but one of my most pleasing shots was of the black winged stilt.
The rest of Feb was a bit of a non-event. A few nuthatch pictures, some very distant lesser spotted woodpecker shots but nothing notable.
March continued in a similar vein until I had another away-day into Sussex for the little gulls at Worthing...............
followed an hour later by the mergansers at Widewater ..............
and then the mealy redpoll at Warnham local nature reserve - the latter visit demonstrating to me just how varied redpolls can look.
Another day trip to Dunge had me connecting with a firecrest in Dengemouth gully - the first of what was, photographically, an excellent year for firecrests.
Locally a Baltic gull showed briefly on Restharrow scrape and left within the hour leaving me asking the question why do local birds only stay a few minutes?.
April was actually quite noteworthy. There was a strong showing of ring ouzels at Sandwich, fulmars kept falling off the cliff face and getting stuck in the brambles at the base of the cliffs - I had to get 2 out but did they thank me for helping them? Did they heck. I got my best ever shots of a grasshopper warbler at Grove. Finally on Restharrow scrape I saw my first ever blue winged teal, and managed my best shots ever of a little ringed plover.
May started with a bang - a black-winged stilt on the Scrape ( a first for the SBBO) which flew off 2 minutes after I arrived, May went downhill rapidly after that; in fact I'm not sure I saw or photographed anything locally.
We did have 2 trips to Marquenterre in May - only the normal stuff but on the second visit Steve and I spent half the day in the car park photographing juvenile crested tits.
Our luck with the weather on our annual birding trip (to Wales this year) finally ran out. We hardly saw any sun, the cool wet spring had everything several weeks behind in their breeding, and the staff at Gilfach were a pain in the arse having taken an extreme dislike to photographers. Wood warblers were easier to find than previously and still singing heartily but the light was universally poor.
The puffins on Skomer didn't have chicks so the birds weren't returning with sand eels and the kites at Gigrin were a challenge in the poor light - I sound like Marvin.
June was another real struggle. Rye was visited a couple of times for the terns and provided one of the most pleasing shots of the month but it wasn't a tern it was a tufted duck in flight....I'm easily pleased.
The stars of late June/early July were the peregrines on the cliffs - 3 juveniles were fledged and these were almost totally indifferent to the attentions of the photographers.
Mid July saw the start of my salivary gland problems which continued into November. Whilst I did get out it was often only for a short period. Most of the time I felt ill - I was on antibiotics for a total of 8 weeks during the 4 months it took to get it sorted.
August started with the white wheatear - or should I say the white northern wheatear. Spotted flycatchers seemed to be around in decent numbers and my perseverance in looking for rarities on the rifle range at Kingsdown was rewarded with a wryneck (the fact that I was too ill to walk far and the only birding I did was on the rifle range doesn't come into it). Unfortunately this was a particularly un-cooperative wryneck and I never saw it after the first 2 seconds.
September started with what was possibly the most unusual find of the year - a juvenile turtle dove in my back garden (a reward for being ill and housebound). Quite amazing really in that I didn't see another one all summer - it was gone within the hour though.
Mid September and I had another lifer in the form of an ortolan bunting at Fan Bay - thanks to Phil Smith for letting me know about that.
Late September saw an influx of crests to Kingsdown with both gold and firecrest being present. They ( 2 fire one gold) were inhabiting the last bush on the footpath on the rifle range along with 2 chiffs, a robin and a wren. I stayed for an hour or so snapping away and they were still present when I left.
The end of September brought more firecrests... another 2 but this time in the garden.
October was very quiet photographically but another large influx of ring ouzels mid month brought the normal mixture of pleasure (seeing them) and frustration (not being able to close enough) then came one of the years highlight - an Isabelline shrike on Worth Marsh. I was feeling particularly grim that day but I managed to be there long enough to see it and get a few shots (those who stayed longer did significantly better). Whilst this bird had the decency to hang around all day by the next morning, in accord with most local birds, it was gone.
An unexpected find on the local patch (by the public loos again!) was a late hobby; only the second I have seen in Kingsdown, and there was a pair of stonechats who would almost come "to hand" - well to meal worms only 5 yardsaway.
November started with me in twitch mode (well twitching that didn't require much walking). Lapland buntings are birds I have always had trouble with - difficult to find and even more difficult to get good pictures of. They either don't let me get close or the weather/light is foul (normally both).The lapland bunting was at Swalecliff for several days and despite seeming to be very confiding it remained ignored by most. Given the good weather and I could park close by I went. The sun was shining, the bird was remarkably confiding and I enjoyed a wonderful hour with it.
Then came the desert wheatear. Fantastic. The only downside being I could only get there the first day.
I did get back to Reculver after the w/e but it had gone and I had to be content with shorelark and snow bunting.
Mid November I had my op to have the salivary gland (and stone) removed and to help my recuperation I invested in the Canon 7D mk 2 - the photographic equivalent of comfort food. As a consequence of the operation it wasn't until late November I finally caught up with the long-staying great grey shrike.
December and another visit to the Kingsdown public loos resulted in some more shots of crests - I was working on the assumption that since the autumn migration had been rubbish there still might be a few late comers waiting to be discovered. I often have these stupid ideas but very occasionally they work out. In this instance in the form or 2 or 3 firecrests and 5+ goldcrests.
Not too bad I suppose but one can always hope for bettER.
Next year things should be a bit better in that I (already) have 2 trips planned - one an actually birding trip to The Gambia and a family holiday to Sri Lanka; both should provide a few photographic opportunities. I might even try twitching a bit more (and perhaps moaning a bit less).
Happy new year to you all and thanks for reading.