23rd Dec. If I watch the garden anymore this week, hoping for a rare visitor, I’m gonna become snow blind, so I thought it in order to take some time out to write up my top nature experiences of 2010. Few, if any of the experiences focus on a particular bird, but more the overall experience. They are in order of date only as I found it too difficult to put in order of most rewarding.
i) On a sunny day in February I found my self going through snow to the Ross Sands and Budle Bay area. From Ross Sands large flocks of Long Tailed Duck and Common Scoter were seen along with large numbers of Slavonian Grebe and a Great Northern Diver close to the shore line. I also found Bean Geese that day. Highlight of the day however was passing Budle Bay and finding hundreds of pale bellied Brent Geese in the fields which took off along with Greylag, Pink-Footed and Canada Geese, as I stood and watched the with the sun lit bay as a backdrop. I said at the time that this would be one of my top experiences of 2010 and nothing has altered my view of that. I hope to be back early in 2011.
ii) May saw me spending a sunny and hot week in Dumfries and Galloway with a small group of friends from the local group. Every day was good, but the highlight for me was the crossing to and viewing of the island of Ailsa Craig having being picked up at Girvan by RIB boat. Gannets were the main species seen, and lots of them, but there was a supporting cast of many other seabirds.
iii) Not long after my trip to Galloway and Dumfries I was up to Orkney and Shetland in June which provided more top adventures. It’s not easy to pick the best, but three of them feature here. First of all was the walk up to the edge of Hermaness cliff top reserve where I looked at the most northerly lighthouse in Britain and also braved the winds to watch as masses of Gannets lifted of the cliff ledges and appeared to drift like snowflakes in front of my eyes. The numerous Great Skuas added to the excitement with at least fifty of these birds lifting in a flock into the winds as I walked back down from the cliff edge.
iv) Then there was the boat trip at midnight to Moussa to watch the Storm Petrels in their hundreds return to the broch. The strange mechanical sounds made by the birds came from the dry-stone walls as we approached the broch. A wonderful experience and European Storm Petrel was a lifer at that! Blackbirds where beginning to sing when I arrived back at the hotel in the early hours.
v) A boat trip from Shetlands capital, Lerwick, took me around Noss and there were many more Gannets and other seabirds and seals. The day had blue skies and sun and I can tell you that was a rarity during the two weeks I was up there braving cold and gale force winds in June! I was sat yup in one of those revolving seats on the top of the boat for some of the time as we moved in and out of caves as we took in some of the underwater life too. A really good few hours spent on the water.
vi) Its difficult to pick one highlight from the walks that I do from Hollywell to and along the coast as I have had so many great walks on this route this year when I‘ve been soaked, dry, sun tanned and frozen on different occasions. Guess I’ll have to plump for the walk where Tom and I set our record (must be broken in 2011) number of species for the walk (seventy-six), which included lifers such as Red-flanked Bluetail and Dusky Warbler and also a massive fall of Goldcrest. A great autumn day birding in October. Some more recent of the walks in snow and ice were equally rewarding and atmospheric so not an easy choice this one.
vii) October also had me down in Durham and North Yorkshire where I had my best ever raptor watch in the UK. I was down there with Andrew and saw and watched three Rough Legged Buzzards at close quarters at Sleddale. With a supporting cast of Peregrine Falcons, Common Buzzards, Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and a UK first Great Grey Shrike it was certainly a days birding to remember.
viii) It not too surprising that Cresswell makes an appearance in the list. November saw Tom and me heading there via Ashington where we picked up the Waxwings. I remember it was freezing cold and perhaps an omen of weather to come this winter. It was a day for divers as we found at least seven Red Throated Divers and Tom took a dive in the burn himself. There were skeins of geese everywhere and we took in some great birding as we walked from Cresswell to Druridge pools and back. The day ended wonderfully withy at least seventy Whooper Swans on Cresswell Pond as the sun began to lower in the sky.
ix) A definite high point of the year was the December pelagic with Northern Experience Wildlife Tours. Tom and I managed to hit a rare calm day with perfect lighting conditions for a trip out to the Farne Islands to view the Grey Seals and then northwards to Holy Island. We had had some great sightings of birds including Little Auks (lifer), Long Tailed Duck, Great Northern and Red Throated Divers and much more. It was cold like many of my birding days this year but a great experience.
x) Any one of many birding/nature experiences could fill slot number ten so I think it fitting that I leave it empty.
As I say, the above aren’t in any order apart from date. The birding just gets better and better each year. This has been an especially good year and helped along especially by me fellow wet, dry and frozen birder and good mate Tom, and I’m thankful that he has motivated me into action at times. I’m looking forward to more adventures in 2011 although 2010 ain’t finished yet!
Merry Christmas and All the Best to Everyone for 2011.