A Browse Through My 2016 Nature Diary
Well, just where has this year gone? It seems to have gone by in a flash!
I decided to have a browse back through my nature diary and at first, I thought I'd had a 'quiet' year on the wildlife front, however as I refreshed my memory, I found I'd added nine new birds to my life list as well as a few more insects to my invertebrates list. I don't keep an annual list, simply a life list of all the species I get to encounter, so I was pleasantly suprised!
(I have tried to summarise by month and I have been hard pushed to leave things out, so where there are phrases highlighted, I have linked back to previous blogs for more detail. I have also put together a selection of favourite sightings into an album over on Flickr in date order - there is a link at the end of the blog if you wish to pop over there and have a pictorial wander through my year! )
2016 started with a very mild winter and on my local patch many of the plants I don't usually see until around March were already shooting through the earth or in places trees were in blossom. Some of the birds were also beginning to go a-courting. We had maybe one notably frosty morning, when I went out with the camera, but otherwise the world had begun to green up.
One weekend, we did have a trip up to RSPB Fowlmere where we had a notable encounter with a Muntjac deer. These are usually very shy, however, this one carried on grazing, not far from the path, seemingly oblivious to the small crowd of onlookers enjoying such close views.
Another weekend in January I did my 'Big Garden Birdwatch' , where I spent some time watching and counting my regular garden visitors.
February arrived and the local woodland was full of small birds going about their business, this year I had quite a few views of Treecreepers and also Goldcrests. I spent quite sometime watching this Treecreeper, doing 'that thing they do'; Goldcrests? well I'm still in pursuit of a half decent photo although I've spent a lot of time mesmerised by their aerobatics!
Local primroses also began to bloom with the mild weather as well as the Bluebells getting taller. I even spotted Marsh Tits starting to go courting in the local woods. One afternoon I ventured further afield to RSPB Lakenheath for a wander round. I had some lovely views of the Reed Buntings in the sunshine, Lapwings on the wing and even a brief glimpse of one of the Bitterns.
At the end of the afternoon there I also spent some 'quiet time' watching a few Roe Deer, which I had not seen before. A very good afternoon with a bonus of seeing Barn Owls on my way home!
March arrived and with it, the Annual Frog Ball. The pond was somewhat shallower than last year, however that did not deter the frogs - indeed there seemed to be even more than last year!
Elsewhere on the local patch, Bluebells began to bloom, more blossom on the Blackthorn and Hawthorn was appearing and many of the smaller birds were nest building, as were these Long Tailed Tits, spring was definitely springing!
Whilst watching the Long Tailed Tit pair, I also had a surprise - members of the Common Lizard colony were out and about sunning themselves and around the same time as this, the row of salix trees was a cloud of yellow and full of bees!
Towards the end of March, the first of many Chiff Chaffs arrived back on the local patch, closely followed by Blackcaps, there was song everywhere in the warm spring sunshine.
April continued as for March on the local patch, however we enjoyed a couple of trips to RSPB Minsmere and Dunwich Heath, where we watched Marsh Harriers, Dartford Warblers, a Bittern pair in flight and Little Egrets.
We also had a few days away in the Forest of Dean , where we saw our first ever Peregrine Falcons at Symonds Yat and also Pied Flycatchers, tiny little black and white birds that are summer visitors.
As always, when we visit the Forest, we went in the hope of seeing Wild Boar and were lucky enough to have privileged views of several adults, although they kept the youngsters well hidden!
Towards the end of the month I found my way to NNR Wood Walton Fen where the highlight of the day was watching a breeding Marsh Harrier pair doing food passes and watching the female returning back to the nest site, a little way off in the reeds in front of the hide.
May arrived and spring continued at some pace on the local patch with the first few butterflies beginning to appear, Comma's, Holly Blues and Speckled Woods.
One weekend, on a very warm day, we had a long afternoon up at RSPB Lakenheath, where we were serenaded by Reed Warblers, whilst listening to a Cuckoo declaring as it moved around the reserve.
The air there was full of Damsel and Dragonflies and we also got to watch several Hobby's hunting and dining on the wing - they must have been spoilt for choice!
I also got to see my first Mayfly that afternoon, correction! first of many Mayflies - along the riverbank the air and grasses were full of them!
And now we are halfway through the year...
June was a month of emerging minibeasts on the local patch, with the meadow in full bloom, bees, butterflies and Dragonflies began to appear. The butterflies though, were not appearing in any great numbers and the usual Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells were absent, although there were reasonable numbers of day flying moths about, with Five Spot Burnetts, Cinnabar, Silver Y and Old Mother Shiptons making regular appearances. There was also an appearance of a solitary Small Heath Butterfly.
We did have a couple of eventful days up at RSPB Minsmere, where a meet up to say Hi! to the BBC Springwatch Digital Team, somehow, (I'm still amazed this actually happened!) ended up with me being interviewed for one of the Red Button broadcasts, as well as being in the audience for Unsprung.
After my interview, we went off for a quiet spot of birdwatching around Minsmere in the afternoon. We were treated to some wonderful views of Common Terns and later in the afternoon / early evening, we sat and watched Marsh Harriers and a very smart Kingfisher from the Bittern Hide. I even got to see my first Spotted Redshanks!
Just before we came home, I had an early morning start, with an almost dawn walk on Dingle Marsh, where I was serenaded by Skylarks and Sedge Warblers whilst watching Little Egrets and the other birds going about their morning business.
We also had a little wander on Dunwich Heath where we watched Dartford Warblers, which is always a treat!
July arrived and were were off to the Isle of Mull for our 'big' holiday. I had hoped to see White Tailed Eagles, however luck and the weather were against us on that one - never the less, there were quite a few 'firsts', these being, a male Hen Harrier, goosander, Gannet, Red Breasted Merganser and Common Seal. We had a wonderful, albeit rather waterlogged time and shall definitely be returning again in the future, it is a beautiful place!
On our return, a couple of visits were paid to the local patch during the remainder of July and through August. The birds were all off busy finishing raising youngsters, however there were plenty of other flying and buzzing creatures about as well as a few colourful web inhabitants.
This year was generally a bad year on butterfly numbers with some of our usually common species hardly appearing at all - notably the Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells that are usually plentiful. There were however, plenty of Small, Large and Essex Skippers, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and there seemed to be many more Speckled Woods about than in previous years. The Holly Blues on my Local patch seemed to have another good year, as did the Small Coppers, however Common Blues and Brown Argus were few and far between.
Towards the end of September, I paid a return visit to NNR Wood Walton Fen for a day's wandering. It was bliss! When you go there, it feels like you have the whole reserve to yourself and is wonderful for getting away from the daily hubbub. The highlights of my time there were some excellent views of a very obliging Kingfisher, an up close and personal flyby from one of the Marsh Harriers and some wonderful quiet moments watching Chinese Water Deer at relatively close quarters - I came back much refreshed!
A mild October followed a warm September and autumn appeared to be making a confused arrival. On the home patch, where it had been mostly dry, there was little or no fungi about in the local woodland, with only varieties preferring dead wood appearing.
The last glimpse I had of the local Common Lizards, was at the beginning of October, however the surrounding woodland was full of squirrels busy caching food. A few Commas remained about as did one of our hardier dragonflies, the Common Darters.
During October we also had a short break, down in the Forest of Dean. We did a lot of walking and despite occasional showers, managed to watch quite a few favourite species - Fallow Deer, glimpses of Wild Boar, flyby's from the Peregrines at Symonds Yat, Kingfisher at Naghead and an afternoon with us sat under a brolly at Cannop ponds watching the ducks in simultaneous torrential rain and sunshine....
One sighting we hadn't expected though (although I'd heard it was in the area) was a bird that had started late on it's migration to much warmer climes. An Osprey! We stood watching it watching us and the pond below and also got to see it fishing, on the bird's second attempt a fish was caught and off it went. Apparently I was grinning like a nidiot from the moment I first saw it until at least dinner time... anyway, I just about retained sufficient control of the camera for a couple of respectable shots.
During November, I took advantage of any decent weather at the weekends to visit Burwell Fen in the hope of seeing Short Eared Owls. After seeing them for the first time last December, I wanted to be able to watch them again. On both of the days that I went, there were quite a few about, five the first time, then eight or nine the second. It was very interesting watching them interact with each other - I soon got to learn the 'you're in my spot' screech and watch the ensuing fly off between them. I also watched them take on the local corvids who took issue with their presence. I had a bit of a learning curve photographing the Owls - low light and how fast they go...! Still managed this one which gives a feel of what I was watching.
Whilst I was there, I also watched Fieldfares, saw a Common Snipe, stood listening for ages to a Water Rail and saw two Barn Owls. I was also surprised at the number of Kestrels that appeared at dusk, on both occasions, either going to roost or on a suppertime hunt as the light went.
At the beginning of December we had a long weekend in Norfolk where we visited Cley and spent most of the next day at RSPB Titchwell. Whilst we were at Cley, we had close up views of a Water Rail when it appeared right in front of the hide.
Whilst we were at Titchwell, we had some lovely views of a Common Snipe, Marsh Harriers and there were plenty of waders about, from Redshanks, Bar Tailed and Black Tailed Godwits to Curlews. We also spent some time at the beach where there were plenty of Oystercatchers and Bar Tailed Godwits about as well.
With time off work over the Christmas holiday, I decided to have another trip to see the Owls. I had a chilly but brilliant afternoon watching thm, with a solo performance by one on my stroll down to Burwell from Wicken, which I watched quartering and catching prey, before it flew off being harassed by a crow.
Later in the afternoon I managed to catch these two in a 'you're in my spot' moment,
and later a flyby from this one.
I also had some lovely close views of a very vocal Fieldfare, concerned that I may have been too close to 'his' Hawthorn berries and on my walk back to the car, I had some lovely moments watching a Roe Deer in the twilight on a bank not ten metres from me!
On the local patch, I managed to go for an end of year wander as well, winter has definitely arrived and all the small birds were out foraging for food, or in the case of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers, it sounded like a courtship of sorts may have begun. There were plenty of Great and Blue Tits about and I was delighted to see the Marsh Tits in their usual spot. There are quite a few Goldcrests about as well and there are quite a few troupes of Long Tailed Tits flitting through the trees or doing circuits of the local gardens for food.
So that was my year! I still go out 'watching' with an absolute sense of wonder in what I see, Nature never ceases to amaze me in how it all fits together. The more I see, the more I realise there is to learn - each plant, insect and animal plays it's part. Functional, beautiful and incredible.
Wishing all of you a happy and healthy 2017!
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