My 2020 top ten:
It seems weird talking about the 'highlights' of 2020 - the two just don't sound right together!
But I always look to root out the positives and in what has been a truly shite year, nature has, at times brightened things up a bit...
A Northants Dipper - seems like a lifetime ago; just before the world as we knew it was tipped upside down! One of two Northants county ticks for me in 2020, the Sywell Black-Bellied Dipper was a real treat, allowing for great views in the early morning sunshine, back on Sunday 01/03. My first Black-bellied too! Read more here.
Stowe Garganey - a week after the Dipper, Em and I took a walk at nearby Stowe Landscape Gardens on Sunday 08/03. It's a place we go to several times a year and always has a few duck species on the lake to enjoy. This time around, there was an added incentive, a showy drake Garganey - and what better incentive too! Having walked a couple of times around the lakes, I was about to give up on seeing it, when it popped out of some nearby reeds and began calling loudly. What an amazing sound too! It actually then swam about 6 feet away from me. My best ever views of Garganey by far! Read more here.
Keeping it local in Lockdown - Ok so the first hard Covid lockdown was really tough, but I was determined to make the best of it! The inevitable 'lockdown list' was compiled, totaling an impressive 92 species, on foot and bike around Brackley and surrounding areas. Pretty bloody good for an area largely consisting of fairly non-descript farmland, small pockets of woodland and zero large water bodies. I also worked out that I'd walked well over 100 miles in April alone!
While I didn't find anything too mad, I enjoyed plenty of nice things - a flyover Short-Eared Owl one spring evening, a reeling Gropper in the local park, together with Cetti's, Reed and Sedge all in the same discreet area across the spring. Common Scoter heard over the garden was very exciting, Tree Pipit, Cuckoo, Spotted Flys, several Wheatear, Green Sand, Curlew, LRP, several Grey Partridge and a decent passage of Yellow Wagtail too.
The inevitable additional coverage of my Brackley Garden also lead to a few treasured garden ticks along the way, including Peregrine, Nuthatch, Greylag Goose, a Sand Martin, Willow Warbler and the Common Scoters, as well as Teal, Barn Owl & Pheasant also heard at night. Not a bad haul really!
I really enjoyed and embraced the challenge of restricting my birding to such a local level and has really encouraged me to do more of the same...even if the area if a barren wasteland for wildlife compared to many! Read more here & here.
Stunning Redfoot - It was my first outing out of my local area since the first hard lockdown and it was worth it - to see my first Northants Red-Footed Falcon (a 1st-summer male) at Ringstead GPs on Saturday 16/05. After an agonising wait for it to reappear, eventually it did and having walked around to the far side of the lake, I enjoyed good views of it swooping after insects with the local BH Gulls. A great memory! Read more here.
New garden butterflies
As well as all the new additions to the garden bird list this year, the butterflies have got in on the act too, with a great return of THREE new species for the garden, taking the total to an amazing 21 in total.
The female Silver-Washed Fritillary was the scarcest of the three and was a huge surprise as I looked out the window brushing my teeth!! It was cool to add Small Skipper to go with a couple of Essex that dropped in a couple of years previously.
It seemed like a pretty poor year for Small Coppers so the one that suddenly appeared for a couple of minutes on 11/08 was a great record!
All three, to my knowledge have no obvious suitable habitat closeby, so must all have travelled a fair distance to turn up in my garden. Which begs the question - where did they come from?! Read more here.
Mothing - As was probably the case for a good number of others, the first, hard lockdown nurtured an urge to learn and explore the wonder world of moths!
It was something I was looking to do this year anyway and I did originally have the intention of building a trap myself. But in reality, that was never going to happen and so I bought one at the end of April.
I've really enjoyed learning about them and getting the opportunity to see some species I've wanted to see for ages and ages!
I was and still am a proper moth nube, so found opening the trap like opening my presents at Christmas. The sight of my first ever Elephant Hawkmoth was definitely a big highlight of my year.
I did pretty well, notching Northants 3rd ever Gypsy Moth - definitely the rarest thing caught. Also had several Tree Lichen Beauties & Marbled Green both fairly scarce but increasing species.
White Letters & Emperors - I've had quite a few close-up encounters with local White-Letter Hairstreaks in recent years, usually of quite tatty ones. So when I chanced on several fresh-as-you-like white-letters on creeping thistles, on a really windy 05/07 - this was MEGA! It just doesn't happen very often so a particularly jammy visit! Read more here.
A 4-5 day period of really hot and dry weather in late June seemed likely to trigger the local Purple Emperor season - and so it proved! Persistence paid off and on several visits to the local South Northants woods, I enjoyed some great moments with these quirky characters once again! Read more here.
Scilly Seabirds - A roller coaster of a trip that wasn't actually affected by Covid, but the weather, resulting in us missing out on 2/3 pelagics we were booked on. BUT, we got onto one and it turned out to be a fantastic holiday-defining day and for me an insane FOUR UK ticks - Wilson's Petrel, Long-Tailed Skua, Great & Cory's Shearwater. That, plus multiple Sabine's Gull, Pom Skua, Storm Petrels, Bonxies, Sooty, Balearic & Manx Shearwaters. Read more here.
Showy Bairds - A welcome get away down to Devon and Cornwall with Em, my wife allowed a bit of time to enjoy some birds too. I was hoping to catch up with the recent Semi-P Sandpiper on the Hayle Estuary, while down in Cornwall for the day. Unfortunately for me it went awol, but that was soon forgotten as another recent North American visitor stole the show. A juvenile Baird's Sandpiper was discovered a few days previously too and more than made up for missing the Semi-P, showed incredibly, wandering around the rocks by the river just feet away. Read more here.
Holy Island - It was touch and go due to Covid restrictions, but thankfully Gareth, Dan & I were able to go ahead with our planned week's autumn birding on the Northumberland coast. A big sigh of relief as we all needed it!
What a trip it was and while we didn't get the hoped for easterlies, there were plenty of brilliant birds to enjoy, particularly from the previous week's favourable conditions.
Self-finds of Dusky Warbler, Green-Winged Teal and an agonising Swift sp. for each of us was a very decent return. Other rarities included Brown Shrike (a UK lifer for me), total of 3 Red-Flanked Bluetails, a Desert Wheatear, Rose-Coloured Starling, Barred Warbler, another Dusky Warbler, multiple Sibe Chiffs, Eastern Lesser Whitethroat, Yellow-Browed Warbler and a Lesser Yellowlegs on the way home!
All of that plus things like Slav Grebe, B-T Diver, Merlin, Puffin, Little Gull, Twite, Black Redstart, Purple Sands, Whooper Swan, hundreds of Barnacle & Pink-footed Geese, Spotshank, Brambling, Med Gull, Woodcock, Crossbill...I could go on!! Incredible area for birding - fully recommended! Read the full story here.