Friday 24 December 2021

The Best of 2021

Another year draws to a close after another 12 months of COVID-19 restrictions, lock downs and social tension plus another 12 months of the continuing stresses and strains of working in a battered and beleagured NHS, all of which has made for an "interesting" year.

It has been a great year though for wildlife despite the travel restrictions in place at the beginning of 2021, getting out and about into nature has been for me a soothing balm in a very fraught world and has kept me (semi-) sane. 

And so here are the Top 10 highlights of my wildlife year :-

1. Wally the Walrus - the undoubted highlight of the year for me. I watched the news about him with interest when he was first found in Ireland before he took up residence at Tenby in Wales but COVID restrictions prevented us from going to see him. Eventually a travel window appeared in May and off we headed and he didn't disappoint - an absolutely gorgeous animal. 

Wally, Tenby


He eventually departed Tenby and reappeared in Cornwall, France, Spain and then the Isles of Scilly before returning to Ireland and then on to Iceland where news reports have since dried up. Where ever he is I hope he is healthy and happy as he brought a huge amount of joy to me and to  many others during his wanderings. 

2. Back Yard Mothing -  after failing to reach my target of 100 species of moth in the back yard last year I decided to up my game and have another go in 2021. The spring weather was dire and prevented me from getting the moth box out much but a concerted effort over the summer involving checking out every micro moth and with much help from @MothIDUK on Twitter I reached a total of 123 species - result! 

Jersey Mocha, Back Yard

3. Butterfly Trips to Cumbria - a trip to The Lake District booked for June last year was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID but this year's rebooked trip went ahead and with the Butterfly Gods smiling down on me I saw all of my target species - Northern Brown Argus, Large Heath and Mountain Ringlet. We were very lucky with the weather and had a great trip away, our first proper holiday for almost 18 months. 

A further trip to Cumbria in August was equally successful with some great weather and some excellent views of Scotch Argus, another new UK butterfly for me and leaving me with just Chequered Skipper left to see. 

Large Heath and Mountain Ringlet

Northern Brown Argus and Scotch Argus

4. Isles of Scilly Day Trip - I missed my annual autumn day trip to The Scillies last year due to COVID but this year I was determined to go and what a great trip I had. The weather was perfect with sunshine and a flat calm sea and from the decks of the Scillonian Ferry I saw my first UK Rissos Dolphin along with Common Dolphins, Sooty Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Balearic Shearwater and Great Skua.

The Islands themselves were stunning in the sunshine and while I dipped the Bonellis Warbler I very much enjoyed my wanderings around St.Marys before returning home exhausted but very happy. 

The view from The Garrison, St.Marys

5. Sea Watching - I have really started to enjoy sea watching and was hoping for some opportunities to get some hours in this year but the weather and timings haven't worked out well for me and I only managed 2 trips to Berry Head in Devon and a trip to St.Ives in Cornwall.

The trips to Berry Head weren't in the best of conditions but I enjoyed them anyway and managed to see Great and Arctic Skuas and frustratingly a probable Pomarine Skua along with excellent views of Harbour Porpoise. 

The trip to St.Ives was much better with a strong North-Westerly blowing but I arrived a bit later than I should have and missed some of the good birds reported although I had great views of Manx and Balearic Shearwaters and Arctic and Great Skuas. 

Next year I'm hoping for a bit more success on the sea watching front but again it is all about weather and timing so I will keep my fingers crossed. 

6. UK Lifers - A total of 5 UK lifers this year is very good for me and especially considering the travel restrictions in place for some of it. The Northern Mockingbird dip at Exmouth was a bit of a bummer but I managed to see Goshawk, Night Heron and American Herring Gull (all UK but not life ticks) and American Golden Plover and White-tailed Lapwing. 

American Herring Gull, Night Heron, White-tailed Lapwing and American Golden Plover

Other rare/scarce/uncommon bird highlights for the year included Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Snow Bunting, Rose Coloured Starling, Great White Egret, Red-necked Grebe and Shore Lark.

A total of 186 species for the year is one of my lowest final totals but not too bad considering the restrictions and I've enjoyed local birding instead of regularly travelling further afield. 

7. Local Birding - With the lock down from January to March and then ongoing travel restrictions into June I spent a lot of time getting out and about close to home and again I have been amazed at what birds I have seen - Osprey, Spoonbill, Little Tern, Cirl Bunting, Scaup, Cattle Egret, Yellow Wagtail, Black-necked Grebe, Avocet, Black Redstart, Glaucous Gull, Balearic Sheareater and Arctic Skua to name a few and all within 10 kilometres of my house.

Glaucous Gull, Scaup and Cattle Egret

My lock down walks around Plymouth Hoe were a particular highlight with Purple Sandpipers, Great Northern Divers, a Long-tailed Duck, a Red Kite, a Chough and an Otter all found on my walks and which I probably wouldn't have seen without the travel restrictions. 

I just managed to reach my target of 100 species of birds in January, all achieved locally during the lock down, and also my target of 100 species of birds at Saltram and the River Plym (103). Unfortunately I never reached my 100 target for Wembury, only achieving a still impressive 92 species.

8. Moths and Butterflies - Back yard mothing has been very interesting but other mothing highlights of the year were finding male Emperor Moths on Dartmoor using a pheromone lure, finding a Convolvulus Hawk Moth at Wembury twice, possibly the same individual, and moth boxing in my Mums Garden where lots of Box Tree Moths were seen.

Emperor Moth and Convolvulus Hawkmoth

Butterflying was a bit more low key this year other than the Cumbria trips and I didn't undertake any other Butterfly Days. I failed to see a Clouded Yellow in what seems to have been a poor year for them which was disappointing, I also failed to see a Hummingbird Hawkmoth too and it wasn't a good year for Painted Lady either. 

I did manage to get some good views of Essex Skipper again in Suffolk and White-letter Hairstreaks at Oreston in Plymouth along with Dark Green and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Green and Purple Hairstreak and Dingy Skipper. Hopefully next year will be better. 

9. Birthday Dolphins - a baking hot, sunny and totally calm boat trip out of Falmouth on my birthday gave some absolutely amazing views of Common Dolphins bow riding, a perfect birthday treat.

Common Dolphins

10. Buntings, Pipits and Larks - An influx of Snow Buntings into the UK this autumn had them appearing all over the place including Devon and after a dip at Slapton and then Wembury I wasn't hopeful of catching up with them. However a return to Slapton eventually gave me some fantastic views of 2 birds and totally absorbing they were too.

A search for Water Pipit at Wembury for my 100 birds target kept drawing a blank but eventually I found one in November, a month that usually sees me finding one there, and an absolute cracker it was too.

A return visit to Wembury to try and refind it drew a blank but I did find a nice colour ringed Scandinavian Rock Pipit instead which was ringed in Finland earlier in the year and which brightened up my walk and mood no end. 

Snow Bunting, Scandinavian Rock Pipit and Water Pipit

And finally a trip to Suffolk at the end of the year saw me catching up with Shore Larks, a total of 5 feeding together along the beach at Shingle Street and only my second UK sighting of them after a single bird at Minsmere in May 1982.

I've always watched the bird news sightings for Shore Lark with envy when I've visited family in Suffolk over the winter but the birds have always been too far away or in difficult to reach places and I've also dipped them too so to finally catch up with them was a nice end to the year.

Shore Larks

So here's to 2022, hopefully the new Omicron variant of COVID won't scupper any plans but time will tell. And the birds and wildlife are always there to keep me going.

Merry Christmas! 

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