Tuesday, 1 November 2016

October 2016 ...... Possibly The BEST Birding Month of My Life

Tuesday 1st November Strong NW Cloudy, cool

So a new month begins. Just two months to go before I hang up my cycling boots and relax into my dotage. You think?

I could never have dreamt that October would bring such birding riches, culminating in that incredible moment of having a Fea's petrel whilst seawatching with Samuel Perfect in the seawatching hide on North Ronaldsay, Orkney.

314 BOU on the year list; 311 AERC.

Whereas last at this time I was on 278, being 36 birds ahead of that is beyond belief. All ambitions for the year have been achieved; a new British Green Birding Big Year record, beating the iconic 300 target and finally beating the superb Spaniard, Ponc Feliu Latorre's European Green Birding Big Year record. Differences between the BOU list of birds and the AERC list were researched by Phil Andrews and to beat the European record on my favourite island, Fair Isle with a great, close friend, Lee Gregory will be a moment of such raw emotion that will stay with me forever.

Twenty one year ticks had! It started with a mobile Radde's warbler on Super Sunday, the 2nd of October. That day Blyth's reed warbler, Red-flanked bluetail and Pechora pipit were added also. Also saw another lanceolated warbler, one of three this Autumn. Fair Isle had four but I chose to search for a great snipe over seeing another lancy.

On a day when hundreds of barnacle geese were passing over Fair Isle, the 4th of October, I managed to miss maybe three hundred before seeing three flying high overhead. “Those can't be your first barnacles!” laughed Lee.

Mealy redpoll, a bird not on the AERC list, made the total 299 on the 7th and the magic 300 bird, a day later, was a Siberian Olive-backed pipit; that moment shared with Lee Gregory, as so many memorable moments were.

Leaving Fair Isle, a return to Shetland to try for the first ever Siberian Accentor in Britain was unsuccessful but over the next few days buff-breasted sandpiper, black-faced bunting, pied and isabelline wheatear were added.

Back to Fair Isle on the 18th, three birds were needed for the European crown. In a hectic couple of hours whilst cycling anticlockwise around the south of the island bean geese, a possible Stejneger's stonechat, a form of Siberian stonechat and finally a pine bunting were seen.

307 BOU, 305 AERC, A new European record.

Celebrations in the field were muted and dignified.


A beautiful male waxwing was the next bird onto the list on the 19th.

Birding moments rarely come any better than the events on the 20th. Whilst watching a very close long-eared owl, a series of texts hinted then blatantly told of a SIBERIAN ACCENTOR on the island somewhere. The painful dip of just a few days ago was forgotten; Lee Gregory, who else, had found the bird in Troila, a huge geo on the west coast.

Back to Shetland on the 25th, two Coue's arctic redpolls were amongst a tame and mixed flock of lesser and mealy redpolls in the capital city of Shetland, Lerwick.

A promise made to a wonderful bunch of amazing young people, the volunteers at the beautiful North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory, made a return journey there necessary. Happy days ahead. 

The events of the following day, the 30th, surpass any seawatching moment I have ever experienced before. One of the volunteers, Samuel Perfect from Hertfordshire, had had a great day seawatching the previous day recording good numbers of pomarine skuas and sooty shearwaters, along with excellent numbers of commoner seabirds and a couple of storm petrels.
Early on the 30th then Samuel and I came out of the Bird Observatory and immediately saw the male Northern harrier. OK, year tick and superb bird seen, we cycled on.
Arriving at the seawatching hide on the northern most shore of North Ronaldsay we settled down and started to watch and count. Little auk was soon added to the year list. Pomarine skuas were next. Three new year ticks in under an hour.

Then . . . . . . . .

Well scroll back to the 30th of October for a better description of what ensued at 9:10am.

So two months to go. The list keeps growing in such delightfully unexpected ways. There are birds to head for once I leave North Ronaldsay next Friday, weather permitting.

Will the garish Western purple swamphen be the final bird or will an Iceland gull be at Bartley Reservoir or Chasewater in The Midlands around the end of the year?


Two months is a long time and it would be nice to add another six birds to the year list. Will Ponc go for it next year? Will anyone else ever beat MY record? I hope so. If anyone tries they will have my full support and congratulations if they beat it. A Green Birding Year is hard, very hard.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome birding Gary. Really enjoyed your updates. Whilst it must have been great to see the location & birds you have it's easy to under estimate how brutal the weather can be and time away from family.

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