Looking back through my nature diary for this year I think I can safely say that 2016 has been my personal best year for wildlife yet, I’ve seen loads of new species including quite a few rarities, I’ve been to some incredible locations around Britain and had some wildlife experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life. Birds have obviously been a large feature of my year but I have also seen some great mammals, invertebrates and wild plants – so, I would like to share with you a highlights selection of the fantastic wildlife I have had the blessing of encountering this year.
January – Started the year at Dungeness in Kent where I saw my 1st ever Long-eared Owl roosting on the reserve as well as a smart male Smew (a gorgeous sea duck). Then at RSPB Pulborough brooks I saw 2 hunting Short-eared Owls and witnessed one of the most beautiful and memorable sunsets of my life surrounded by thousands of wild duck. Finished the month with a lovely Firecrest at Arundel in West Sussex.
February – At Newhaven in East Sussex I got to see my 1st ever Black Redstart; a stunning male on waste-ground by the sea. At Lewes I had a really close view of the ever beautiful Firecrest and by the end of the month had found the first frog-spawn of the year in my home town.
March – Spent a couple of days in south Dorset where I explored the RSPB Arne reserve, highlights were Dartford Warblers, Spoonbills, 2 Firecrests and masses of Brent geese as well as the beautiful scenery of course. On a visit to Stodmarsh in Kent I found my 1st Water Pipit and had good views of a Bittern. At a local park I found a wild honey bee hive on a dead tree and saw a bat flying in the sunshine!
April – Saw my first Swallows, Sand Martins, Nightingale, Sedge warbler, Reed warbler and Swift of the year in this month as well as getting to see some Black-tailed Godwits in their breeding plumage (a rare sight) at Pagham harbour.
May – A truly fantastic visit to Rye Harbour in East Sussex this month, saw 70 species of bird there including Little Terns, Cuckoos, Mediterranean gulls and loads of other breeding waders and terns. Caught a lovely Toadflax Brocade in my moth trap. Also got to see my 1st Duke of Burgundy butterflies on the south downs, these are quite a rare species and whilst there I also saw Dingy Skippers, Green Hairstreak and a Puss moth. Finished the month with a productive visit to a reserve on Ashdown forest where I saw a Cuckoo, breeding Redstarts, displaying Tree Pipits as well as lots of Dragonflies and butterflies.
June – The best bit of this month was my trip to Scotland; I got to visit Shetland, the highlands and the isle of Mull, I saw 10 totally new bird species as well as Hares and Red squirrels. The best birds included Black Guillemot, Great Skua, Whooper Swan, Red-necked Phalarope, Crested Tit, Icterine warbler, Crane, Osprey, Ring Ouzels, Ptarmigan, Black-throated diver, White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagles, and Corncrake. Also had the best view of a Cuckoo in my life and saw breeding-plumage Slavonian Grebes.
July – A very memorable and wholly unexpected experience at the beginning of the month was hearing a male Quail calling at the foot of the south downs. Had a great butterfly-hunting trip to Knepp in West Sussex in which I saw my 1st Purple Emperors as well as a White Admiral and purple hairstreaks. Got to see some Nightjars and Woodcock on a late-evening visit to Ashdown forest, always a treat.
August – Found a Hornet nest in a local park, one of my fave insects. Spent a week on holiday in south Devon where the best bits were rock-pooling, catching fab moths in my trap – including a huge Convolvulus hawk-moth – seeing loads of great wildflowers on the coastal path, seeing my first Tawny Owl at dusk outside the cottage, seeing Cirl buntings, twitching my first Spotted Sandpiper and finding some Great-green bush crickets! Then went on a long walk along the Dorset coast path for 4 days during which I saw my first Lulworth Skippers, also saw loads of gorgeous Rose Chafers, Clouded Yellow butterflies and a Hare. For the first time ever got to go to the Birdfair in Rutland where I saw a Great White Egret and one of the Ospreys.
September – visited Cliffe Pools in Kent where I saw Little Stints, Water Rail, a vast flock of Avocets and my first Black Tern. Twitched an incredibly obliging juvenile Red-backed Shrike at Newhaven in Sussex, my first ever.
October – Spent a week volunteering for the RSPB at Blacktoft Sands in Yorkshire, saw both a Stoat and a Weasel as well as a Hare there and bird highlights were all the Bearded Tits, Pink-footed Geese, Tree Sparrows, Water Rails and a Hen Harrier. Managed to see a Long-billed Dowitcher (an American wader) at Oare marshes in Kent. Then at the end of the month I had a very close encounter with a Barn Owl in West Sussex which was easily one of the best moments of my life.
November – Saw a drop-dead gorgeous Great Grey Shrike up on Ashdown forest on the 3rd then later in the month at a different site on the forest I saw my first Bramblings and Crossbills which was very exciting. Then had a very local twitch in my home town for a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling which had randomly turned up in suburbia – also a first for me.
December – Had a great days birding on the 8th when John and I saw a Hen harrier at Rye harbour then twitched a Desert Wheatear nearby (obviously a first) then finished the day with a Long-tailed duck in Eastbourne. Then not long ago went for another days birding in West Sussex in which I saw a lovely Little Owl and some White-fronted Geese – bringing my year list up to a personal best of 200 species.
In all this year I saw no less than 19 brand-spanking new bird species which I had never-ever before laid eyes on, and a total of 23 bird species added to my British list (which is now at 225). My Scottish trip was easily the highlight of the year as it was something I’d been wanting to do for a long time and it easily met my expectations, I was also really chuffed to see those two rare butterfly species – Duke of Burgundy and Purple Emperor – which were always in my eyes near-mythical creatures, until now.
I wish all my readers a happy new year, I hope you also had great wildlife-filled years in 2016, thanks for your likes and comments and for still reading my simple jottings – here’s to a nature-packed 2017!