2015 has been comfortably my best year of birding to date! It began with a productive trip to the Forest of Dean and Slimbridge produced some good birds – a pair of Hawfinch being the highlight. My second British tick of the year came early in February when I twitched the long staying Little Bunting at Forest Farm (Cardiff), and had cracking close range views of it.
The next couple of months were very quiet, with most birding done around the UBC patch in Swansea where the highlight was a singing male Black Redstart.
This quiet spell was made up for by an exceptional couple of weeks birding in the Scottish highlands at the beginning of April. The highlights of the trip were:
Harlequin Duck, White-Billed Diver, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull (4), Rough-Legged Buzzard, Surf Scoter and Waxwing (20+). Other good birds seen were: Whooper Swan, Scaup, Velvet Scoter, Long-Tailed Duck, Slavonian Grebe, Osprey, Merlin, White-Tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Crested Tit, Tree Sparrow, Snow Bunting and Corn Bunting.
The next good birding day came only a short while later, on the 25th April, when a good day at the wetland became a great day, as we scored the Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset only a few hours after its discovery. Also seen that day were; Garganey, Great White Egret, Bittern, Little Gull, Hobby, Marsh Harrier, Cuckoo, Lesser Whitethroat and Grasshopper Warbler.
The rest of the spring was filled with UBC birding, and this produced a self-found adult Glaucous Gull at Crymlyn Burrows on the 4th May! A Great Northern Diver and a Great Skua were also seen during a seawatch of Tutt head. A quick post-exam visit to Goldcliff produced a stunning female Red-Necked Phalarope in early June.
Once home for the summer, I began planning a three day trip around the south of the UK in late June. It proved very successful with an impressive highlights list:
Greater Yellowlegs, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Purple Heron, Crane, Stone Curlew, Honey Buzzard, Turtle Dove, Woodlark, Firecrest and Willow Tit, many of which were british ticks for me.
This impressive run continued, with a trip to Blacktoft Sands taking in the breeding pair of Montagu’s Harriers. We were then able to ‘jam-in’ on a one-day White-Winged Black Tern at Middleton Lakes (Warwickshire) on the return journey!
After a few quieter weeks, I went on a late summer family holiday back to Scotland. Despite not doing much birding, I did manage a few good species including the showy Staffordshire Red-Footed Falcon on the way north, and a Black Stork at Loch of Strathbeg! Other highlights were White-Tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Ruff, Black Guillemot, Great Skua, Arctic Skua, Rock Dove and Twite.
As the early autumn seabird season got into full swing, I drove down to Cornwall for an unforgettable few days of seawatching. The undoubted highlight and my bird of the year was the immature Red-Billed Tropicbird (Britain’s 6th) which passed Porthgwarra on the 29th August. The other highlights were not to be sniffed at either:
70 Cory’s Shearwater, 2 Great Shearwater, 29 Balearic Shearwater, 5 Sooty Shearwater, 2 Pomarine Skua, 3 Arctic Skua, 9 Great Skua and 37 Storm-Petrel. The seabird theme continued until the end of September, when I added Grey Phalarope to my British List, with a showy bird at some local reservoirs.
Much of October was spent on a fantastic university field trip in Sikkim, India. I saw 73 lifers which is far too many to list, so I’ll just select a few of the highlights:
Black Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Oriental Turtle Dove, Wedge-Tailed Green Pigeon, Asian Barred Owlet, Himalayan Swiftlet, Asian Palm Swift, Green Bee-Eater, Great Barbet, Blue-Throated Barbet, Long-Tailed Shrike, White-Throated Fantail, Yellow-Billed Blue Magpie, Common Green Magpie, Blyth’s Leaf Warbler, White-Spectaled Warbler, Scaly Laughingthrush, Red-Billed Leiothrix, Plumbeous Water Redstart, White-Capped Redstart, Slaty-Backed Forktail and Verditer Flycatcher.
Shortly after returning to the UK, I saw a Cattle Egret at Steart in Somerset. This was followed closely by a self found Black Redstart in Swansea and good numbers of Short-Eared Owl, Hen Harrier and Great White Egret at Llanrhidian Marsh. A showy Great Northern Diver at Mumbles and a flyover group of Brent Geese were also enjoyed during this period.
As the year came to a close, a short break in Scotland produced some fine sightings, including a self-found Bean Goose, a drake American Wigeon and a Ring-Billed Gull amongst others.
A few Water Pipits on the 29th December was the final highlight, my 27th British tick of the year, and my 299th in total. Fingers crossed that the quality birding continues into the new year!