2013: A year in review

The review ~ 1st January - 31st December 2013

I have never done a retrospective end of year blog post before, however I thought I would change that this year and write one. 2013 has been a busy year for me so I have picked a couple of images from each month that I think best represent what I did and where I went and have written some accompanying text for the photos.

So here goes:


New Years day saw me lying on a shingle beach on the south coast of England, photographing some of the UK's most enigmatic birds and some of my favourite species - the waders.

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

During my February half term, I headed to the North Norfolk coast for a few days of birding and photography. My favourite part of the the trip was photographing Snow Buntings at very close range due to their fearlessness. However, the most memorable part of this trip was ending up in the River Thet whilst trying to photograph the Black-bellied Dipper that was residing there - I found out the hard way that the banks were more slippery than I'd anticipated!

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)
Black-bellied Dipper (Cinclus cinclus cinclus)

Generally a quiet month, March turned out to have a nice ending in the form of a trip to some of the London parks to photograph their wildlife and meet up with some other young photographers. It was freezing cold and sleeting all day but I had a good time nonetheless.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

The grebe family is one that I find intriguing, but also one that I often have trouble catching up with! Back in April I had a very memorable encounter with some Black-necked Grebes. The thing that made it particularly thrilling was that all of the Grebes present were in full summer breeding plumage and also showed exceptionally well, allowing me to capture some of my best images of this species so far!!

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)

The thing that sticks in my mind most from May is watching Springwatch on tv. I always find it very interesting and entertaining to watch. However this year, I had to miss a couple of episodes because I was in the middle of a mini Barn Owl project and by the end of the week I had managed my favourite Barn Owl images that I've ever taken!

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

Contracting Bronchitis wasn't the best thing to happen to me in June, but I was just about able to get on the train down to Lymington Pier and get a choppy ferry over to Yarmouth, Isle of Wight in order to twitch the female Wilson's Phalarope that had pitched up. I'm still not sure how I managed it but I did and I'm very glad that I did as it is still one the coolest birds I've had the pleasure of watching!

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor)

This year, July was my favoured month for macro photography and I focussed on the Dragon and Damselflies that I found in my local area. Much to my surprise I learned that the site I visited was actually one of North Hampshire's prime dragonfly locations - a real treat to have so close to home!

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae)
Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa)

I spent most of August on a trip round Australia, travelling from Brisbane to Cairns, Alice Springs to Sydney and Perth to Hong Kong. It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip and one that I won't be forgetting quickly. Much of the wildlife I encountered was new to me and that made it all the more fun - the challenge of identifying everything while on the road greatly improved my identification skills and by the end of the month I felt much more confident with my note taking and record making abilities. I have uploaded some of the photos from my trip to my website here and I will be adding more in the future, so do check back to see the new content.

Splendid Fairywren (Malurus splendens)
Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius)

Having been away for all of my summer holidays, I wasn't able to get out for any bird ringing sessions. Upon my return this was quickly rectified and during a session in late October we caught a truly magnificent beast in the nets; a juvenile male Sparrowhawk. As a group, we rarely catch birds of prey so this was a nice change from Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. The piercing yellow eye and mottled plumage was incredible to see up close and although I wasn't fortunate enough to be able to handle it, I won't be forgetting the encounter any time soon!

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Autumn is in full swing by October and I set out to capture some images of fungi, a subject I hadn't really put much effort into before. However, I soon became quite enthralled by all the different types and took many hundreds of images of mushrooms and toadstools.

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

After a month without getting out birding, bird ringing or photographing a lot, I was invited out to go ringing at the cottage of a friend of one of our groups ringers. I didn't have very high expectations to start with and thought we'd only catch 20 or so birds, with it being a garden and all. However I was pleasantly surprised to find hundreds of birds flitting around the feeders and in the trees when we arrived! By the end of the session, at 14.30, we had caught a total of 172 birds including 10 retraps. It was a session of firsts - my first time to this location, the first time I'd ever processed Starlings and my first time to hold and ring a Ring-necked Parakeet! I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the session but very glad that I'd gone. My fingers were very sore as a result of the Parakeet's strong and sharp beak, 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers (they like hammering your hands with their strong beaks) and the 100 Blue Tits and 31 Great Tits that were handled throughout the session (they have a habit of pinching the skin in between fingers and not letting go which is very painful, especially if your hands are a bit chilly)!!

Ring-necked Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

After everyone was sick of turkey, turkey sandwiches, turkey curry and many other turkey-based meals and a very rare Brünnich's Guillemot (normally a resident of the high Arctic) turned up at Portland Harbour, I decided that a day out was necessary! The trip to Dorset was well worth it as the auk showed marvellously well and in some nice light too. It was a great high to end the year on, managing two new birds in one day (Brünnich's Guillemot and Great Northern Diver), taking my life list to 224 species.

Brünnich's Guillemot (Uria lomvia)

One last thing I wanted to mention before I sign off for the very last time in 2013, was that earlier in the year I joined a group called the Next Generation Birders (NGB for short). It is a group of like-minded individuals who are all under the age of 25 and are interested in birds; whether it's twitching, patch birding, bird ringing or photography, it doesn't matter! I was welcomed with open arms and it is a very friendly and lively community. If you are reading this and are not already a member then I sincerely urge you to join up because you are missing out! Their blog can be found here, their Facebook Page here and their Twitter account here.

NGB Logo.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has viewed, liked, shared, favourited etc... my work over the past year. I really do appreciate it and am extremely grateful for all the support and encouragement that I receive!

Well done if you've made it to the end of this post - I'm sorry it's so long but 2013 was quite a packed year!

That's all folks, so it just remains for me to say that I hope you all have a happy and healthy New Year and that 2014 is even better than 2013!!

Sunset from my bedroom window.

As always, thank you very much for reading and you can keep up to date with my activity on Facebook and Twitter and my website here.

A mega twitch

Brünnich's Guillemot, Portland Harbour ~ 27 December 2013 ~ 

At 5.30 this morning I started the long journey to Portland Harbour. Arriving at around 7.30, it was still dark and was extremely windy with winds reaching 60mph gusts! Remaining in the car until it got light, I wondered if I'd made the right decision to travel all this way to see the Guillemot.

Once it was light, I braved the winds and started scanning the water. Unfortunately I couldn't locate it but as more and more birders arrived,  news soon spread that it had been picked up in the marina.

Despite getting to the marina very quickly, it seemed that the bird had disappeared! However, there were plenty of other birds to distract us, including loads of Red-breasted Mergansers, a couple of Great Northern Divers (a new species for me), Oystercatchers and Shags.

To cut a long story short, the Guillemot played a hide and seek game with all the birders present as it swam about 100m every time it dived, moving a lot quicker than most of us could run! Eventually I got extremely good views in the last light of the day and do not regret, in the slightest, making the trip down to Dorset!

A very successful twitch indeed!

Here are a few photos of the Brünnich's Guillemot:

Showing well in the marina
A cropped version of the above image
Showing well in nice light
Crowd shot
As always, thank you very much for reading and you can keep up to date with my activity on Facebook and Twitter and my website here.

Redpolls, Finches, Pipits and a Warbler

Chobham Common Ringing ~ 30th October 2013 ~ 

After almost a month without any ringing, I was very pleased that the weather cleared up enough for a session to go ahead this morning. The lead ringers in our group decided to visit Chobham Common, a SSSI reserve. It is Site of Special Scientific Interest because of these 3 rare birds that breed there: Woodlark, Nightjar and Dartford Warbler. We weren't targeting any particular species today, however we were hoping that we would catch some Redpolls, Meadow Pipits and, if we were very lucky, a Dartford Warbler.

We arrived at Chobham for 06.00 and had all the nets set up by 07.00

Fieldfares were everywhere, apart from in the nets. Wood Pigeons were moving over in their hundreds. And Meadow Pipits found that they are very good at balancing on the top strings of our nets.

Much to our surprise we caught not one, but two Stonechats-a ringing first for me and a privilege to see in the hand. We also caught a Dartford Warbler and by 'eck are they amazing!! I never knew there were so many shades of burgundy.

Below are a few images of some of the birds we caught:

3M Stonechat

3J M Dartford Warbler (Image 1 of 3)

3J M Dartford Warbler (Image 2 of 3)

3J M Dartford Warbler (Image 3 of 3)

3M Greenfinch (If I remember rightly)

Totals for the morning: 58 (3)

MEAPI  - 21 (1)
LOTTI   - 8 (1)
LESRE   - 19 (1)
COATI   - 1
STOCH  - 2
GREFI    - 5

Dartford Warbler is a species that I have always wanted to see in the hand primarily because I have had many close encounters with them while out birding. I never really imagined I'd actually manage it, but to see them up close and be able to study them in detail really is an incredible and interesting experience. 

Anyway, it was another great session in which I learnt loads (as usual) and one that reignited my admiration for the insectivorous Dartford Warbler.

Many thanks for reading!

South Coast Birding

Sturt Pond and Pennington Marsh ~ 19th October 2013 ~ 

On Saturday, my friend and I headed down to the south coast for a day of birding. We were aiming to see the Red-breasted Goose that has been present at Sturt Pond for over a week now.

As high tide approached, we finally picked out the Goose which was surprisingly inconspicuous given its rather brightly coloured appearance! It was about 100m offshore and was with 100's of Brent Geese, however as the tide rose, the geese came closer, and closer, and closer still, until the Red-breasted Goose was a mere 15m from us. We never expected to get such amazing views of the bird and it more than made up for the soggy trousers I got (note to self: don't lie in puddles when wearing jeans!!)

Anyhow, the bird drifted parallel to us for about 10 minutes before flying off with a few Brent's to some nearby fields.

Here are a few shots of the Goose:

After we were satisfied with our views, and positive that we had some decent images, we headed over to Pennington Marsh where we hoped to catch up with an american wader, a Long-billed Dowitcher.

Upon arrival we were told the very worst news possible - that it had gone, and hadn't returned after being spooked by a Peregrine flying past. We were then told by a different birder that it had simply taken shelter in a clump of vegetation and hadn't yet reappeared. Unperturbed by any of this news, we trained our bins and cameras on said clump of vegetation, and hoped that the bird had done the latter and was still present.

After about 15 minutes with no sightings of the bird, and the number of birders now increasing, I decided to take a stroll and head along the path towards the next lagoon, thinking it may have flown there when nobody was watching. I had only walked 20 metres when I looked back at the clump of vegetation and noticed a greyish bird on the edge, near the back. I looked through my bins at it and knew at once that this was the Dowitcher. Knowing that it was still hidden from the view of the birders, I signalled to them that I had it, and they made their way over, some more calmly than others.

A few remained sceptical that I had pointed out the right bird, but the majority agreed and were very happy to have seen it.

As it was fairly distant, a record shot of the Dowitcher will have to suffice!

Long-billed Dowitcher (left) standing next to a Common Snipe (right).

Throughout the day we saw some other birds as well, including 5 Mediterranean Gulls (one of which is pictured below) and some very obliging Turnstones:

Needless to say that great company combined with some great birds had resulted in having a terrific day!! 

As always, thank you very much for reading and you can keep up to date with my activity on Facebook and Twitter and view my website here.

Competition Success

Marwell Wildlife Photographic Competition 2013 ~ Saturday 5th October 2013 ~ 

Hello everyone.

Firstly, I must apologise for taking so long to write the next posts about my Australian adventure; going through and processing close to 10,000 images is, as I'm sure you can imagine, quite a tedious task!

Now, onto the main subject of this post:

Yesterday morning I attended the award ceremony of the Marwell Wildlife 2013 Photographic Competition. I was immensely chuffed to be the runner up of the Junior Native Wildlife category, as well as having a commended image in this category too. Since this is the first time I have ever got past shortlisting in a competition, it was a pretty surreal experience, but is one that I hope to repeat in the not too distant future!

These are the two images that got placed:

'Heron in the Snow' - Junior Native Wildlife - Runner Up

'Dunlin Dreams' - Junior Native Wildlife - Commended

Australia - Part One

Australia Zoo ~ Sunday 04 August 2013 ~ 

Hello everyone. As some of you may already know, I recently visited Australia for the first time in my life. I found it a bit too hot, being around 27 degrees C on most days, with a high of 33 degrees in Alice Springs (but I'll save that bit for another post). However the birding was amazing, and I saw loads of new birds. I have decided to split my trip into a number of shorter posts, which I will try to keep quite brief. I hope you enjoy the posts and photos from my trip.

Anyway, back to the trip:

Having left the UK at the very civilised time of 22.35 on the 1st of August, we arrived at Brisbane airport at 07.45 on the 3rd. From the airport we got a taxi to our hotel where we spent the rest of the day relaxing, trying not to give in to jet-lag, and catching up with a relative.

The following day we all woke up extremely early, I woke up at 02.15am, but we were all excited about the day ahead. We packed our bags, got some breakfast, checked out from the hotel and then picked up our hire car. From Brisbane we drove to Australia Zoo, somewhere I felt we had to visit since we weren't too far away.

Arriving at Australia Zoo was rather overwhelming as it is one of those places you see on tv a lot, but never imagine you'll get the opportunity to visit there yourself.

Rhinoceros Iguana - Cyclura cornuta
Spotted Turtle-dove - Streptopelia chinensis

We walked around very slowly, trying to appreciate the hard work that goes on there with all their breeding programmes and conservation projects.

Asian Elephant - Elephas maximus

As well as there being a large number of ginormous aviaries and enclosures, there was a huge number of wild birds that took full advantage of the blossoming trees, free food and shaded areas.

Scarlet Honeyeater - Myzomela sanguinolenta
Australian Brush-turkey - Alectura lathami

We walked around the zoo until 11.30 when we stopped for a quick lunch before heading to the 'Crocoseum' to watch the main show of the day.

Saltwater Crocodile - Crocodylus porosus
Jabiru (Black-necked Stork) - Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus

Following this, we continued walking around parts of the zoo we had not yet visited before being kicked out at closing time. We then made a quick dash to the Wildlife Hospital which is on-site where we were told about the care and effort that goes into rehabilitating injured animals.

Lewin's Honeyeater - Meliphaga lewinii

Red-backed Fairy-wren - Malurus melanocephalus
Red-browed Finch - Neochmia temporalis

We left Australia Zoo at about 18.00 and started the three hour drive to where we would spend the night, Hervey Bay.

Willy Wagtail - Rhipidura leucophrys 
Laughing Kookaburra - Dacelo novaeguineae 
Eastern Yellow Robin - Eopsaltria australis
Striated Pardalote - Pardalotus striatus
Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment!

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