Sunday, 13 April 2014

Summary of 2013 birding by Andrew Kinghorn

"Andrew Kinghorn takes us back over the phenomenal birding year that was 2013 (remember that?!). An illustrated cartoon poster is available, featuring many of the year's 'stars', from The One Stop Nature Shop website here." 

January started well with a drake Green-winged Teal at Saltholme, the rest of the month was devoted to gull watching with Glaucous (1), Caspian (6) and Yellow-legged (1). The month ended with a Cattle Egret on Holy Island, this was a long awaited British tick for me, the Cattle Egret is still a very rare bird in The North and the species is hardly annual. 

February saw a mini-influx of Glaucous Gulls to Seaton Common; it was hard to judge just how many birds were involved, however at least 3 was a fair estimate. February also saw more Caspian Gulls at Seaton Common with a stunning 1st winter early on in the month, things started to really heat up in February and I was soon off to Shetland for the first time in the year to connect with the absolutely stunning Pine Grosbeak, later on in the same day I managed to connect with a nearby Ring-billed Gull at Scalloway. A trip to Uist towards the end of the month provided multiple Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles before we encountered our target; a stunning 1st winter drake Harlequin Duck, the same day saw Kumlien’s Gull nearby and Ring-necked Duck all at Balranald RSPB. On the next day the same reserve produced excellent views of a single Richardson’s Canada Goose and two white morph Snow Geese nearby. 

March was typically quiet with Glaucous Gulls and Caspian Gulls being the main theme in the month; however a Ferruginous Duck on the 29th of March was a better plumage bird than my dubious first.

April saw the beginning of some special spring birds; Lesser Scaup was the first bird of note, followed by a Lady Amherst’s Pheasant and then a Pied-billed Grebe at Ham Wall RSPB on the same day. It wasn’t long until one of the most notable birds of April flew in off the sea at Flamborough Head in the form of a drake Baikal Teal; it has subsequently been accepted by BBRC and BOURC. Later on in the month I managed to find Durham’s first Iberian Chiffchaff at Boldon Flats NR, a highlight for me (understandably perhaps?). The very next day I was down to Spurn to see a female Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush that had turned up, whilst watching this beauty a Caspian Tern flew slowly north some 100meters from where we were, this was certainly a thrilling surprise and only my second.

May was a strange month, in some ways it was perhaps not as thrilling as April with some exceptions! A Pectoral Sandpiper at North Gare was perhaps not surprising, however a 1st summer male Collared Flycatcher days later certainly was! Shortly after I had my first of five Red-backed Shrikes of the month, a rather appealing and exciting Dusky Thrush on the 18th provided much internet discussion regarding identification of the said bird, it is pending submission. The day after I had seen the Dusky Thrush I was down to Hartlepool Headland to see the Thrush Nightingale that had turned up there, a superbly showing treat. The next day I was up to Holy Island to connect with my first Lesser Grey Shrike, the day after I also saw my first ever spring Red-breasted Flycatcher. The month closed with two Great White Egrets on the North Tees Marshes, always a pleasure to see! 

June was arguably for many the most exciting month of the year for birds, it started with two Red-backed Shrikes close to each other on the North Tees Marshes, the month was slow until on the 15th the presumed returning Pacific Swift finally pinned itself down to Trimley Marshes in Suffolk, allowing myself and others to connect with this truly superb looking swift, special thanks to young Harry Murphy for letting me look through his Kowa scope at this bird, I had left my rather heavy Swaro in the car! What was special about this bird for me was the fact it was relatively close and allowed excellent scope and bins views. The month kept on giving and days later I had seen my first Melodious Warbler in Notts at Tiln GP, the same day saw me finally connecting with one of my bogey birds; adult Rose-coloured Starling. The return journey allowed me to connect with a drake Ring-necked Duck at Catterick, not quite as exciting as the other two birds of the day. The 26th of June is memorable for many, including myself, I finally saw my number one bird to see in the UK; White-throated Needletail on Harris. The bird came to a sad end, but this was without a doubt my bird of the year and also the greatest bird I had ever seen, it has lived up to the reputation it had been given by friends who had seen them numerous times previously. The month ended with a drake Surf Scoter in Yorkshire of Filey Brigg, a handsome sea duck indeed. 

July got off with a bang, on the 1st a Bridled Tern was found at the Farne Islands; I was fortunate enough to be on the first boat over to the Farne Islands that day to see the bird and connected within minutes of docking. What an incredible bird, later on in the month I also saw the bird on its brief excursion to Saltholme RSPB. Mid month saw me finally adding Pacific Golden Plover to my British list with a stunning summer plumaged bird at Rutland Water in Leicestershire. The end of the month provided another Pectoral Sandpiper and my first Spotted Sandpiper, the latter being a somewhat awaited bird for me, and it was spotty!

August was typically busy, with mainly scarce and rare birds. The year got off to a great start with Spotted Crake at East Chevington in Northumberland and Night Heron in Leicestershire, followed shortly later by a Two-barred Crossbill in a farmer’s garden in Lancashire. A single Caspian Gull in the Whitburn area mid month was a nice surprise, followed shortly afterwards by the returning Bonaparte’s Gull in exactly the same ploughed field. A trip to the BirdFair allowed for a calling in on the Broomhead Reservoir Two-barred Crossbills, I managed to connect with a single juvenile but heard multiple birds. The same day after the BirdFair a quick dash to Old Moor RSPB provided me with my second Night Heron of the month! The star bird of the month for me was definitely the Booted Warbler in Northumberland at Hadston Carrs, in pretty much exactly the same area as my first Sykes’s Warbler! The bird crept around in thistles opposed to nearby hawthorn bushes, a superbly showing bird and a delight to watch. Black Tern followed the next day, the next day a Greenish Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, and Arctic Warbler, and Wryneck on the same day in Durham was exciting, especially considering I found the Arctic Warbler, however I had not correctly identified the bird first time around unfortunately; a lesson was learnt on the importance of not being so presumptions in birding. The month ended with a different Greenish Warbler at Whitburn Coastal Park and a Barred Warbler nearby.

September really did get off with a bang, on the 1st a Stilt Sandpiper at Neumann’s Flash in Cheshire; the next day saw a White-rumped Sandpiper at East Chevington NWT in Northumberland. These two fantastic American waders were followed by a Ring-necked Duck at Castle Lake, the only one in Durham that year. The month saw me seeing yet more Red-backed Shrikes and a very showy Wryneck one day at Hartlepool. Seawatching was quality with Balearic Shearwaters noted past Whitburn Observatory on numerous dates. Mid-month saw the appearance of a Great Snipe at Spurn, this hugely obliging bird thrilled many by giving simply stunning views. A trip to Cheshire also produced my first ever Leach’s Strom Petrels, there was something rather special about seeing these stunning birds so close in shore, fantastic experience. St Mary’s Island in Northumberland produced the goods in the form of a partly summer plumaged American Golden Plover, the next day I managed to catch up with three Blue-winged Teals in Lincolnshire at Boultham Mere. The end of the month produced 13 Yellow-browed Warblers around the country, however I saw most in Durham. A Richard’s Pipit at the Jewish Cemetery was the first of four this month on the 26th. However one of the best birds in September was surely the summering Sardinian Warbler in the Borders at St Abbs Head, I was successful and had excellent views of this visiting warbler. The month closed with distant but acceptable views of a Brown Shrike on some farmland in Balcomie in Fife, it was a one day wonder, no doubt to the frustration of many of the Scottish birders.

October is always a special month in the birding calendar and 2013 did not disappoint! On the 1st an Olive-backed Pipit at Spurn was the first of two for me in this month, the other being a trapped and ringed bird at Whitburn Coastal Park on the 05th. This month was poorer for Yellow-browed Warblers and I noted only four, three of them in one day on Shetland. Two Firecrests in the same bush as South Gare in Yorkshire was a nice treat, and the next day a local Spotted Crake on the 4th at Herrington Country Park was a bit of a surprise to say the least, on the same date a Subalpine Warbler at Druridge Pools was a nice surprise and only my second ever. A trip to Shetland was not successful with my hope of connecting with the Thick-billed Warbler, however I did manage to connect with my third Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and finally managed to life tick Short-toed Lark. 
An unexpected Grey Phalarope flew north past Whitburn Costal Park on a seawatch mid month and then a Bluethroat the same day in the Costal Park made for a memorable day. Fall like conditions brought with them a Great Grey Shrike at the Jewish Cemetery a Western Bonelli’s Warbler at the Headland and a long awaited Pallid Swift, the latter was one of my favourite birds of October due to its solitary stay around the streets of the Headland and roosting on the Church tower each evening. There was something incredibly autumnal and exciting about that bird. 
A Semipalmated Plover at Hayling Island in Hampshire was a distinctive wading bird to finally catch up; it gave a good comparison against a mixture of waders including Ringed Plover. A Dusky Warbler at Hartlepool Headland and a Siberian Stonechat at Scalby Dams in North Yorkshire on the 20th made for a migrant filled day. The bird of the month was a clear winner and came toward the end of the month in the form of a Cape May Warbler at Baltasound on Unst, Shetland. The bird gave breathtaking views as it hopped around the trees and in the leaf litter, the same afternoon saw me having my best views ever of a Red-flanked Bluetail at Walls on mainland Shetland. The month closed with a Glossy Ibis at Hartlepool next to a housing estate, the species is beginning to become an almost expected yearly visitor in Durham now.

November once again started incredibly well, as was typical of a few months in this year I had a fantastic bird on the 1st, this month it was a Hermit Thrush at Porthgwarra in Cornwall, a truly stunning bird, a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling in the Morrison’s car park was not quite as exciting, but was nice to see non the less, the next day I was up on Rhum and sadly dipped the Mourning Dove, however I stayed over night and returned on the next day and managed to connect with this rare American dove on its evening feed in the garden, this appearance also marked the last for the dove before its departure. Mid month onwards was rather exciting with Pied Wheatear in Notts, a Serin at Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire marked the first bird of a successful trip to Norfolk, the trip produced 24 Common Cranes, three Shorelark, Rose-coloured Startling, at least 7 Parrot Crossbills, and a Black Brant. The final quality bird of the month was a Lesser Grey Shrike at the Long Nanny in Northumberland.

December was without a doubt the most exciting one I have yet to experience, I managed to connect with the Baikal Teal at Marshside RSPB which has also subsequently been accepted by the BBRC, a trip to Orkney produced cripping views of my first ever Ivory Gull at Evie. A week later I was watching my second Ivory Gull at Patrington Haven in East Yorkshire, a rather nice birthday present! The Christmas holiday was broken up by the appearance of a Brunnich’s Guillemot in Portland Harbour, then an incredibly showy White-billed Diver in Brixham harbour in Devon. A fitting way to close the year was with gulls, I undertook the Chasewater roost watch on the 28th and managed three Yellow-legged Gulls, adult Glaucous Gull, and adult Caspian Gull. I finished the year off with a self found juvenile Glaucous Gull on the 31st at Birsay in Orkney. What a phenomental year birding.

I reached my target of 300 and saw 304 birds if all birds are accepted by BBRC and BOURC, which seems likely with the exception of the Dusky Thrush if rumours are to be believed. Already 2014 is shaping up to be a good year!

-Andrew Kinghorn
Andrew is 22 years of age, and has been a birder for about 8 years. He is an ornithological surveyor living in County Durham. He has a vested interest in all things birding, however twitching is a passion of his and he loves to see new birds.

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