Another year draws to a close, another year of stress and strain but at least the joys of the natural world have kept me going and next year things will eventually be a little different as some major life changes are looming on the horizon.
There have been many moments of pure joy on my wildlife explorations over the past year with a nice bonus of an Olive-backed Pipit, a new bird for me, being seen just as the year came to an end but here is my Top 10 of 2022.
1. Black-browed Albatross at RSPB Bempton Cliffs
The highlight of 2021 was a trip to Tenby in Wales to see the Walrus that resided there for some time and the highlight of 2022 was a trip to Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire to see the Black-browed Albatross that was also present in 2021 and which returned again in March 2022.
I had followed the news of the Albatross throughout 2021 but never had the opportunity to go and see it but when it returned to Bempton Cliffs in the spring and my Twitter feed was again full of photos of it I made plans for a visit.
I managed to see the Albatross as soon as I arrived on site as it sat amongst the Gannets on the cliffs very close to one of the viewing platforms. Occasionally it would fly around the cliff face, an absolutely amazing experience greeted with ooh's and aah's from the appreciative crowd of assembled birders.
Bempton Cliffs itself is an amazing place to visit, fantastic scenery full of the sights, sounds and smells of a thriving seabird colony with Tree Sparrows and Bottle Nose Dolphins an added bonus and the Black-browed Albatross the jewel in the crown. Not so fantastic was going down with a nasty bout of COVID on my return home, quite likely picked up on our trip but I guess I was going catch it at some point anyway and at least it didn't spoil my time away.
2. Back-yard Mothing
After a successful year of mothing in the back yard in 2021 I was keen to try and beat the record of 123 species and in 2022 I managed to do so with 136 species recorded (with ID help as always from @MothIDUK on Twitter).
Highlights included Palpita vitrealis, Elephant Hawk Moth, Bordered Straw, Scare Bordered Straw and Vestal along with all the usual favourites including Large Ranunculus, Marbled Green and Buff Tip (but no Early Grey).
My ID skills and moth knowledge continue to grow and I've very much enjoyed using the old moth box in the back yard, helped in part by the hot and dry weather we experienced over the summer.
3. Roller at Bere Ferrers
A report of a Roller at Bere Ferrers on Sunday September 4th was intriguing but despite searching it wasn't refound. It was seen again on Friday 9th September but I expected it to do another vanishing trick and didn't give it a second thought. However the next day (Saturday) was bright and sunny and it showed amazingly well with reports coming through while I was birding The Plym and so I headed straight home and caught the train to Bere Ferrers for a look only to experience a big fat dip! It was again seen well the next day (Sunday) while I was at work(!) with another vague report on the Monday but another trip out on the train on Tuesday 13th September in cool and cloudy conditions produced another big fat dip!
No further news was forthcoming and so I assumed it had finally gone but reports came through again on Tuesday 20th September while I was in bed having worked the Monday night! And so after working the Tuesday night also and grabbing an hours sleep at home on the Wednesday morning I headed out again on the train on another fine and sunny day and this time was successful - third time is the charm!
It was a stunning bird and showed amazingly well, well worth the effort involved in trying to see it and with bonus Curlew Sandpipers and Ospreys on the nearby River Tavy adding to the overall enjoyment (and frustrations) of the visits.
4. A Trip to Scotland
COVID travel restrictions over the past few years have meant a planned trip to Fort William had been kept on the shelf but this year it was all systems go and we headed up to Scotland on The Caledonian Sleeper train in May. The weather wasn't particularly great during our time there but I did see Chequered Skippers, the whole purpose of the trip for me, and indeed I was watching them at Glen Nevis near Fort William within 3 hours of stepping off the train!
Black Guillemot, Hooded Crow, Wood Warbler, Black Grouse, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Red Deer were other highlights of the trip and The Caledonian Sleeper was a fantastic experience too - well worth the wait.
The hot and dry summer was good for butterflies, I managed to see a record breaking 41 species with Chequered Skipper in Scotland being a new species for me. Purple Emperor in Suffolk and Hampshire, Silver-spotted Skipper in Dorset, High Brown Fritillary and Marsh Fritillary on Dartmoor and White-letter Hairstreak in Plymouth were also highlights and it was also good to see Clouded Yellow in decent numbers after a blank year last year.
Besides my back yard mothing adventures I also managed to see a few moths while wandering around on my wildlife days out.
An Argent and Sable at Glen Nevis was a surprise and it was also a good year for Hummingbird Hawk Moths. Emperor Moths were again seen thanks to my pheromone lure with sightings at Roborough Down and Burrator.
The best of the sightings though were 2 Convolvulus Hawk Moths at Wembury, resting on fence posts by the coastal footpath in the exact spot where I saw my first ever one last year.
7. Bee Eaters in Norfolk
A flock of 10 Bee Eater set up home in a quarry in Norfolk with 2 nests eventually producing fledglings and with a birthday trip to Suffolk in July to see family already arranged it would have been rude not to go and have a look at them.
It was a baking hot day but the Bee Eaters showed as soon as we arrived on site, the views were distant and the light harsh but listening to their beautiful calls was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the year.
8. Local Wildlife
Again staying local has paid dividends with regards to wildlife sightings and I've racked up quite a list within 10 miles of my house with Goshawk, Grey Phalarope, Osprey, Curlew Sandpiper, Brambling, Cirl Bunting and Nightjar just some of the highlights.
I managed to see 110 species on The Plym/Saltram patch despite the ongoing destruction of some wonderful wildlife habitat on site in order to build a solar panel farm.
Wembury came a poor second again with 97 species recorded but I'm sure with a more concerted effort next year I could easily reach the magic 100.
I'm so very lucky to have such varied habitats so close to home, there is always something good to see within 10 miles of where I live.
With COVID travel restrictions easing or ceasing all together we managed to get away on holidays abroad this year, starting with a trip to Turin in Italy in February due to having a flight voucher with British Airways that was due to expire. The trip was enjoyable but very COVID influenced with paperwork galore to complete, official LFT's required, temperature testing and COVID passport checking everywhere and we even had to wear face masks while outside which did mar the enjoyment somewhat.
A Golden Eagle flying overhead on a day trip to the ski resort at Sauze d'Oulx was the highlight with good views of Italian Sparrows, Hooded Crows and Coypu also had.
A holiday to Turkey in September was totally COVID free and far more fun and enjoyable for it. We had a great time with Istanbul as fabulous as always and Izmir an unexpected delight with Yelkouan Shearwater, Alpine Swift, Pygmy Cormorant, Palm Dove, Dalmatian Pelican, Yellow-legged Gulls and Bottle Nose Dolphins the wildlife highlights.
10. Sea Watching at Berry Head
The settled summer weather wasn't great for sea watching but come September the weather changed and things began to pick up somewhat. I took a trip to Berry Head at the beginning of September but the forecasted wet and windy weather didn't really materialise and while I had great views of Balearic Shearwaters and Arctic Skuas it wasn't quite what I had hoped for. Very annoyingly after I left a Great Shearwater and a Pomarine Skua were seen but that's birding for you.
The weather continued to provide good seawatching conditions into the autumn but I wasn't available to go seawatching when conditions were right, a theme that continued throughout the autumn. There were plenty of good seabirds being reported though including very high numbers of Great Shearwaters and I watched the birding news with interest (and envy).
Finally weather conditions were looking good on the 27th of October and I was actually free for a change and with a Pallid Swift also having being found the day before I set off on the early train to Berry Head for a look. The weather wasn't too bad and it remained dry and I had a fantastic seawatch with amazing views of Pomarine Skuas and distant views of Great Shearwaters along with Sooty, Manx and Balearic Shearwaters and Arctic and Great Skuas.
Even better was seeing the Pallid Swift briefly flying overhead before it disappeared, never to be seen again. The views were brief and ID features for Pallid Swift weren't fully clinched but the chances of it being a Common Swift and not a Pallid Swift after a Pallid showed very well the previous evening are very slim and so I'm having it!
Sightings of Ring Ousel, Black Redstart and Chiffchaff in the Quarry bushes added to an amazing birding day out and I'm very much looking forward to seawatching again next year.
And so that's the best of 2022, here's to 2023 being full of wildlife to counteract the stresses and strains of life. And roll on July.