Friday, 1 January 2016

2015 - A very good year.

2015 didn't turn out quite as I'd expected. Overall 2014 had been rather disappointing. It had started well with a family holiday to The Gambia but had gone down hill rapidly from there. Birds had been around at various times but never where I was. So for 2015 I decided to be a bit more proactive and go to the birds rather than hope they would come to other words I would do a little more twitching.
I must admit to having a bit of an aversion to twitching. I have done it and at times have been successful but I do not like watching or photographing birds in a crowd. I much prefer being on my own or in a small group. If you are on your own and bugger it up there's no one to blame but yourself. Once the numbers build up things become far more nervous with everyone jostling for the best or closest view.
However things didn't turn out quite as planned as will be revealed.

The first 1/3rd of the year was dominated by birding holidays - what with the preparation, the time there and processing the shots taken once home. The first of these was 2 weeks in the Gambia with Sandwich Bird Tours and the second was a 2 week "family" holiday in Sri Lanka (organised by me)  with a generous amount of birding thrown in.

January: Locally the winter was generally mild and winter visitors short on the ground as a consequence it was difficult to find something to point the camera at. There were 2 very showy cattle egret at Dungeness but with the holidays I had coming up these held little attraction. I did get off my backside and paid a few visits to the Dunge/Rye area to see the obliging smew (Dunge) and the lesser yellowlegs (Pett levels).

More locally a group of goosanders had an extended stay at Restharrow and a pair of Bewick swans were also around for a few days.

February: The first 2 weeks of Feb were in the Gambia but several of the days were frustrating as the group tried to manage the differing requirements of collecting ticks and getting photographs. As a consequence whilst some of the days are remembered with great fondness a few others were so bad I felt like getting a flight home and cutting my losses. Looking back on the trip from these dark days of mid winter I can now say that actually it was good though I don't know if I'd go on a organised bird watching tour again, In all I photographed something in the order of 200 species and managed some very pleasing shots. A full day by day trip report was made on this site so I've only posted a few of the more memorable pictures.
The first is a mottled spinetail. We saw these on two or three occasions but one only came close once. Fortunately it came hurtling straight towards us peeling away at the last minute and allowing me to get this:

The second selection is of a little swift taken from the pier at Tendaba where there was a small breeding colony actually under the pier.

The best day of the trip was near Wassu where red-throated bee-eaters had a breeding colony. On arriving and seeing the spectacle I was like a kid in a sweet shot rushing around failing to get close enough for a decent shot. Eventually I calmed down and after a short period of watching the birds I found somewhere they liked to land and worked my way close enough to get some decent images.

I'd never seen a courser of any description before this trip so Temminck's courser was high on my Gambia wish list. The wish was realised at a very hot Kiang West National Park, I never got quite close enough and when closest the bird was in partial shade but I love it! It was certainly a bird I'd like to have had more time with.

Not rare, not an action shot but the malachite kingfisher is simply stunning.

The black shouldered kite is not an uncommon bird but it was another bird I really wanted to get some shots of. Having said that I still had to wait till the last morning of the trip to get close to this juvenile; I never did get close to an adult.

There were a number of species we missed altogether including one at the top of my wish list - Egyptian Plover - so perhaps I'll have to go back again though if I do I'll organise my own trip to avoid the problems experienced this time.

Back at home a few sessions were spent with the glaucous gull at Dover and at Restharrow with the long-staying goosanders and teal.

March was very slow with the pink-footed goose at Restharrow and crests at Kingsdown providing the only real subject matter but during the last week of the month we went to Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka most of the birding was around the hotel grounds but due to the choice of hotels it did provide some superb photo opportunities.
One of my favourite birds was an adolescent grey bellied cuckoo. My first views were only distant and fleeting so I was left pondering it's id. As the week wore on I re-found it on several occasions and slowly but surely managed better views and photos that allowed the id to be confirmed - very pleasing.

A bird high on my list of targets was Tickel's blue flycatcher which I managed to find on the first day but failed to see again so fantastic and disappointing at the same time.

The next bird I'm going to pick out was a spectacular crested serpent eagle complete with raised crest. I'd spotted the eagle fly in whilst we were lazing around by the swimming pool. A 20 yard walk and the shots were in the bag and it was back to the sun and beer.

The final picture from Sri lanka and one of my favourite shots is of a brown-capped pygmy woodpecker - I have no idea why I find this so pleasing, Perhaps it's because I didn't even know they existed before I found this one (obviously my pre-trip research was somewhat lacking).

April was another short month with nearly 2 weeks of it being in Sri Lanka but at home there was the amazing discovery of 5 bee-eaters at Dover, a showy gropper at Grove and some satisfying cuckoos at Stodmarsh. Also in April I had the first of my French trips with Ashtours where we enjoyed great views of several Savi's and even managed some record shots.

Grasshopper Warbler

Savi's Warbler

May was dominated by me hiding under a bush.
I'd found where a pair of lesser whitethroat were breeding that allowed me to watch one of the twigs they landed on whilst going to and from the nest. These had been a bit of a bogey bird and I had no decent shots of one........that changed this year. The other (very fond) memory of May was my second visit to France with Ashtours where, at Marquenterre,  a bluethroat had built it's nest right beside the main path and it would perch atop the bushes as it went to and from the nest. Perhaps a more amazing thing about this find was that most of those wandering around the reserve were totally indifferent to it's presence pushing past those watching it (the French) and those photographing it (mainly us) and consequently scaring it off. It always came back though.

June was a continuation of May but without the bluethroat. I did spend a couple of days at Oare hoping the Bonaparte's gull would come close but it didn't. In fact even when it was in residence it remained hidden for long periods.

July was mainly taken up around Sandwich trying to get some decent shot of the juvenile wheatears. This was the first breeding success for  number of years so I wanted to record it for prosperity. On the cliffs the peregrines were successful again and the juveniles were just as posy as last year. A little more unusual was a great white at Restharrow. It was certainly a first for me at this location.

August saw the commencement  of what can only be described as an amazing autumn locally. It started very slowly but on the 20th 4 Temminck's stints appeared on Restharrow. They never came remotely close but it doubled the number of Temminck's I'd ever seen! Another local breeding success came in the shape of short-eared owls and they entertained us royally for much of the autumn. The ringers also turned up a wryneck.

Temminck's Stint

And an elusive and un-copperative hoopoe also drew the crowd to Sandwich on the last few days of the month.

September started very well as on the 1st  I found and lost (within a few seconds) another wryneck as I searched for the hoopoe. As a consequence I only managed a couple of record shots before it was gone:

On the 2nd I got a call alerting me to the presence of a long-eared owl near the Obs which half of Kent must have seen because it sat in the open close to the footpath for most of the day.

Cuckoos are not normally seen around the Kingsdown area  but this year a juvenile set up camp on the old rifle range and became quite confiding (if you moved slowly) feasting on the caterpillars who were feasting on the sea kale growing on the cliff face.

September also saw Ashtours pop down to La Brenne for a few days. Most of the species you would normally hope to see in La Brenne had already departed (black necked grebes, whiskered terns) but we (Steve Ashton, Martyn Wilson and Tim Gutsell) had a great time seeing short-toes eagle and black stork and middle spotted woodpecker but great white egrets and kingfishers dominated the camera activity.

Middle spotted woodpecker

September ended in spectacular fashion and was the start of me continually hurrying to Sandwich as stuff was found.. First a juvenile red-footed falcon was found on Worth Marsh ............

............then there was a fall of yellow-browed warblers. Estimates vary but 8-10 is not an un-reasonable estimate. Numbers dropped off quickly over the next few days but not before I'd managed a few shots.

The excitement continued into October with jack snipe on Restharrow, Pallas's warbler on Cinque Ports golf course and a red-flanked blue tail turning up in the nets! The most amazing thing about the blue-tail was its love of the ringers nets -  it seemed to dive into the nets at every opportunity often being caught several times a day even when released hundreds of yards from the nets!!

Jack Snipe

Pallas's Warbler

Red-flanked Blue-tail

As they month wore on Dartford warblers were being reported in several locations around the county so I had a walk north along the beach at Sandwich to search the sea buckthorn opposite Prince's golf course. There I found one and even better got some excellent shots.

October also saw a huge influx of goldcrests. From memory it was estimated there were 700 in the SBBO recording area on one day.

The month ended with 15-20 ring ouzles in Langdon hole and snow buntings at South Foreland and Sandwich - the latter are normally amongst the highlights for a month but were just the supporting cast after what had gone before.

Things quietened down dramatically in November though short-eared owls were around in good numbers and a long staying red-breasted merganser at Dover provided some camera fodder.

December was as struggle with foul weather and few birds though a sparrowhawk flew into range at some local woods and I twitched a great northern diver at Chatham.

My highlight of the month was a few days in Devon where I saw and photographed cirl buntings and picked up a few yellow-browed warbler shots.

The year started with me determined to twitch a little more when things were quiet on the home patch. Well I failed - everything seemed to be turning up at Sandwich (though there was a mega at Dunge that I didn't twitch).
It was undoubtedly a spectacular autumn locally and one I suspect I will have to wait a long time to repeat. The trips to The Gambia and Sri Lanka were brilliant - sun, warm and loads of birds and whilst not exactly twitching the Cirl buntings at Broadsands were brilliant value.

Finally Steve Ashton needs to be thanked for organising our trips to France.

Lets hope next year is a good for me and for anyone who has got to the end of this twaddle.

Happy new year.


  1. An excellent account of your year Steve and stunning images as well. Wishing you all the best for 2016. Keep snapping and posting.

  2. A nice read Steve with equally nice photos. Thanks for the thanks lol. Happy New Year and not long until we return to La Brenne.

  3. What a fantastic year you had,amazing photography,have a great 2016.

  4. Sri Lanka is a birds paradise with 435 resident species. There are 26 endemic birds. Most of them are found in the wet zone. The winter migrants come from distant Siberia and western Europe. The reservoirs attract vast number of water birds and forests attract many other species.

    In order to promote birdlife in Sri Lanka with visitors a photo contest has been organized by Villa Escondite.

    Birds-i-view calls on Visitors to Sri Lanka to put nature in the frame. Whether you're young, old, professional or amateur, we'd like to see work that raises awareness of the beauty and fragility of Birds of Sri Lanka. The Contest is open exclusively to overseas Nationals & Sri Lankans residing overseas & visiting the island between July 2016 and February 2017.