Source Dave's Birding Blog

A bit of late autumn birding around Toronto

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We're spending a few days with Bernie's sister Jo in Toronto to celebrate a special birthday but the opportunity to get a little birding in at a time of year that I've not yet experienced over here was far to tempting. Bernie and I visited High Park on Tuesday where we had a nice flock of Slate-coloured Juncos and a single American Tree Sparrow as well as residents such as Downy Woodpecker and White-breasted Nuthatch.
High park is famous for its "Hawk Hill" raptor watch-point - we were expecting to see people there but no-one was there at first. The wind had shifted westerly which brought we had a few Red-tailed Hawks (along with the residents) and quite a few Turkey Vultures passing (total of 45 in 90 minutes). A couple of Cooper's Hawks showed well and then I picked up a large raptor low over the trees which wasn't a TV - immature Golden Eagle!
A wander back along Grenadier Pond gave us several Wood Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Hooded Mergansers and an interesting exhibition of synchronised feeding by 20+ Shovelers.

Today, I met up with Owen Yates for some birding along the 'coast' east of Toronto. We started at Thickson Woods at dawn where we heard a Great Horned Owl but try as we might, we couldn't find one in the pines. There were plenty of Golden-crowned Kinglets as well as the ubiquitous Black-capped Chickadees on the edges of the woods.
Next was a quick visit to a farm field to twitch a Cattle Egret - we found two! Funny to think that these are still very rare here but increasing, just like at home. The area was full of Greater Canada Goose flocks and a few Cackling Geese were in amongst them.
We visited Cranberry Marsh next, one of my favourite places. Lots of ducks and herons on the water including American Wigeon, Pintail, Green-winged Teal, 12 Great Blue Herons and three Great Egrets. On the lake, a HUGE flock of mergansers were feeding - easily in excess of a thousand birds, mostly Red-breasted but a hundred or so Common (Goosander). There were also Bufflehead, Surf and Black Scoter and Bonaparte's Gulls.
Back on the paths, we got 'attacked' by Chickadees coming for food and some unexpected Red-winged Blackbirds.
Song Sparrow

Red-winged Blackbird

Mourning Dove - one several very approachable birds

Great Egrets
Next was to Whitby Harbour (Great Black-backed Gull) and then finally to Frenchman's Bay, a place I've not visited before. Quickly got a lifer with three White-winged Scoter flying past along with several Buffleheads and Long-tailed Ducks. There were also a few Great Northern Divers (Common Loon) and more mergansers. Not a bad morning's birding considering the rain and drizzle and a good deal of birding chat.

Source Dave's Birding Blog

Reflections on Autumn 2017

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Last autumn was certainly one for the history books in terms of volume of eastern waifs turning up on our shores following a sustained run of easterlies from the depths of Russia. This year has been totally different with a really wet summer and autumn and a succession of low-pressure systems (and ex-hurricanes) battering the west coast.
The effect on birds was most noticible in September when we had our first decent autumn gale for a few years - Leach's Petrels were seen all along the Lancashire coastline and a day out at Ainsdale and Formby enabled me to see ten of these along with a whole host of other sea-birds including Grey Pahalrope, Pomarine Skua, Gannets and Manx Shearwaters.
The biggest surprise was from this weekend when a Manxie was pick up exhausted from the banks of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in the middle of Rishton - 25 miles from seawater as the crow flies - goodness know how many as the shearwater flies. I collected it and kept it overnight, feeding it sprats before it was taken to Ainsdale to be release at night on the low tide. Then storm 'Brian' has hit - though it seemed healthy and not too underweight, its chances must be slim! :(
Manx Shearwater, Rishton
Manx Shearwater having checked it's weight.
Leach's Petrel over the beach at Ainsdale
I've done a couple of east-coast jaunts - one to Hartleppol turned into a long seawatch where we had all four species of Skua, distant Sooty Shearwater and Sabine's Gull and a host of birds passing offshore but very little in the form of passerines around the area. A couple of weeks ago I decided to have a couple of days in the Spurn area - it started OK with Rose-coloured Starling and Red-breasted Flycatcher, but the lack of numbers of commoner migrants was puzzling and a bit disappointing. However the news of a Scops Owl in Sunderland had me giving up on east Yorkshire and heading north for three hours. It was worth it.
Juvennile Rose-coloured Starling with Starings, Easington
Scops Owl, Ryehope
The following day at Hartlepool I had ten Yellow-browed Warblers but just a few other commoner migrants in the form of Redstart, Garden Warbler, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers. It certainly looks like the YBW's have discovered and alternative migration/wintering route - for now.
Yellow-browed Warbler, Borough Hall, Hartlepool
The winds would normally have put a dampener on mothing and ringing but there have been some interludes that I've taken full advantage of. I've had large numbers of Gold and Greenfinches through in the last couple of months with good numbers trapped and ringed.
I had the pleasure of joining a ringing team at Hightown  a few weeks ago where we processed over 1100 Knot, leg-flagging 500 of them as part of a study on their migration and wintering haunts. It was hard work and I felt the effect the following days!!!
Juvenile Knot
Moths have been steady and happy to get a Merveille Du Jour last weekend. Now getting the typical autumn species - Mottled Umbers, Red-line Quakers, Feathered Thorn, Red-green Carpets and November Moths. Another warm mass of air is due later this week so may get something then after which we're off to Toronto for a week.

Source Dave's Birding Blog

Rishton mud finally delivers

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As can be seen from the image, the water level at Rishton Reservoir has been rather low for some time despite the recent rain. Not sure if this is because of another leak in the canal/reservoir bank but it went down dramatically during the spring and has remained low causing the Great Crested Grebes to leave. Even the local fishermen had given up and that's when birds started to turn up and remain on the "West Bank".
Rishton Res from a couple of weeks ago - lots of sand/mud/rocks
There has been a steady trickle of birds through - good numbers of Black-headed Gulls with the odd Mediterranean Gull in there. Oystercatchers have been regular with up to 4 as well as Common Sandpipers with up to 7. Redshank and Little Ringed Plovers have also put in appearances along with a single Black-tailed Godwit a couple of weeks ago.

Yesterday, we were looking after our godson, Isaac, and I thought it we'd nip down t'res and the play area for a while. Of course the first call was the reservoir side and I immediately picked up a small wader in the far corner - it had me puzzled as it certainly wasn't any of the usual suspects. It was low down and cavorting around wagtails which were a similar size so I thought of a stint but it seemed a bit to big for that. I got a bad phonescoped image and sent it to Bill Aspin just in case I was just looking at an odd Dunlin. But it had pale legs. I put the news on the local WhatsApp group to see if anyone was around and fortunately Tony Disley was. Ten minutes later, he arrived as did the murk - the clouds had been threatening for some time! Meanwhile fortunately for me, Isaac was very happily playing up and down and jabbering away.

Tony was also a bit bemused so made his way down the muddy side of the reservoir to get a closer view - soon he phoned me - it's a Purple Sandpiper! Of course it was - the clues were there but the location and time of year as well as the perceived size were all throwing me off course.
Purple Sandpiper with freshwater mussel shell courtesy of Tony Disley
The news was disseminated and folk quickly turned up to see a first for East Lancashire and certainly something I wasn't expecting. A couple of Green Sandpipers came into the same bay for a while.

It was still present this-morning along with four Ringed Plover, two Dunlin, 95 Lapwings, a Black-tailed Godwit, two Oycs and a Common Sandpiper. A veritable feast of waders!

Source Dave's Birding Blog

Topsy-turvy weather seriously hampering Mothing!

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June and July have been rather busy on the publishing front. First of all, I spent a lot of time compiling the Micro-moth Field Tips book for Ben Smart and got it printed and published on time (not my day job!) and then it was onto completing my sections of the Lancashire Bird Report for 2016. Fortunately, both have gone well - the micro book has been widely lauded (and is available through NHBS), the Bird Report is in the editing phase so now I've started on the "Non-avian Vertebrate Fauna of Lancashire". I think I need to retire to get all these things done!

Summer is clearly the time for the largest volume of moths in the year but the weather is fine one day and tipping it down/cold the next. If you've followed the Open golf just lately, you'll see what I mean as that's only a few miles from me.

However I've had some goodies but mainly moorland species that have paid me a visit (so they must have traveled at least a couple of miles as the moth flies). A rather bedragled Marbled White Spot and today's pristine Scarce Silver Y have been highlights for me.
Scarce Silver Y
Birding has been interesting as it's been the turn of the terns. An Elegant Tern on the south coast in June gave Bernie and I an ideal excuse for a weekend away around Chichester. A splendid bird which remained distant but we got good views. There was a supporting cast of Red-footed Falcon, Woodlark, Goshawk, Dartford Warbler and several Red Kites in the South Downs and New Forest. Then it was a Caspian Tern that turned up at the unlikeliest spot - a reservoir on the moors - but then departed to be picked up again at Leighton Moss. That was a Lancashire first for me!
Elegant Tern - Pagham Harbour
We've also managed to squeeze in a trip to see our son in Munich and angst over several wedding cakes in the making! All in all non-stop in the Bickerton household but so glad I'm working four days a week. I need that time!
Dark Sword Grass, a migrant moth

Donacaula forficella, a moth of the reeds (some on the nearby canal)

Small Square Spot or is it Fen Square Spot based on the appearance date between the two batches of SSS that I get - the debate continues!
Marbled White Spot

Source Dave's Birding Blog

A break on the Ayrshire coast

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It's been a while but we're back in Girvan helping with the gardening and enjoying the mixed weather! The first nights were warm and so I put the moth trap out in our very coastal location...
View of Ailsa Craig from the living room window! Kintyre peninsula in the background.
I was delighted to get two new species for me - Shark and Tawny Shears in a catch of 30+. It seems that no-one has really recorded moths in this area so all records will be useful. the following morning I got a Marbled Coronet. We'll see what tomorrow brings!
Tawny Shears

Marbled Coronet
Today we did a little walk along the beach at Maidens and up towards Culzean Castle. A reasonably sized flock of waders contained 50 or so Dunlin and 30 Ringed Plovers. I'd had a couple of juvenile Ringed Plovers on the beach at Girvan - clearly local breeders - but were this flock still moving through to higher latitudes?

The fields next to the beach had several Yellowhammers singing, a song I rarely hear back in Lancashire. A few Gannets fished offshore but there were few seabirds on view. We had planned to go out to Ailsa Craig however the boat was full so something we'll do next time. A couple of Black Guillemots were very active at Girvan harbour but just a single female Eider there - most of these ducks will be forming large moulting flocks at various places along the coast one of which we could see whilst driving between Girvan and Turnberry.

Anyway, the trap is out again tonight though is is rather breezy. Currently it's 10:15pm and still light!

Source Dave's Birding Blog

Pallid Harrier? Give me a singing Wood Warbler any day!

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Well it is a little tongue in cheek. Last weekend's unexpected delight was a fantastic male Pallid Harrier which had taken up residence on the Bowland Fells where there should really have been a few Hen Harriers. Sadly none of the latter but the Pallid gave us some superb views and aerial displays together with several Ring Ouzels. It's really got to be one of the most exquisite visual spectacles I've seen in the avian world.

A run of very strong easterly winds for over a week now has halted a lot of migration though the onset did bring in a few Black Terns. Only now are we starting to see a few Swifts and House Martins in the village. There have been several good birds on the coast and so I paid Marshside a visit yesterday and jammed in on a very obliging Wood Sandpiper as well as a Ruddy Shelduck and a very orange-breasted Swallow.

These birds together with my first singing Reed Warblers of the year together with a singing Lesser Whitethroat and passage of a few Swifts kept me occupied for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, the recent Spoonbills weren't playing ball and neither was a local Dotterel.

This-morning, Bernie and I headed to Moor Piece where a Wood Warbler had taken up residence. In the time-honoured fashion I wound my windows down and we could hear the sweet trilling before we'd slowed to pull in to the lay-by. It's got to be one of may favourite songs if not the favourite. (Woodlark a close second though I don't hear either of them all that regularly!)
Moor Piece Wood Warbler habitat
There was a wonderful selection of song to compliment the Wood Warbler - Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Treecreeper and Pied Flycatchers all singing away. Siskins and a lone Redpoll called over head too. Blackcaps were very much in evidence. Indeed, last week there were lots a Brockholes Quarry joined by the first arrivals of Garden Warblers providing those who like a challenge the opportunity to distinguish them.
Male Blackcap from the garden
Pine Beauty

Goldenrod Pug
The cold winds have really put paid to much mothing so far this year. Easterlies also hampered ringing activities but I've managed to ring and control several Redpolls. Birds initially ringed in Kent, the Midlands and Greater Manchester have ended up in my garden and a Siskin I ringed last year was taken by a cat in Highland - I hate cats! I've also had lots of returning birds so it's nice to know I'm on the map as far as Redpolls are concerned.

Source Dave's Birding Blog

Good Friday farewell to Hong Kong with some excellent birds

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Having enjoyed a few days sightseeing and birding around Hong Kong, it was to 'work' for me and the preparation for the Hong Kong 7's tournament followed by a trip to a factory in Dongguan, China. I've got to say that our preparation for the event must have been good as everything went as planned and Bernie and I got some splendid views of Red-billed Blue Magpies from the back of the Stadium as well as a fleeting glimpse of a Blue Whistling Thrush as it dived for cover. We also managed to watch quite a bit of Rugby 7's too! :)
Box seats weren't too bad ;)
Bernie had headed back to England whilst I was in China but upon my return to HK, I had a day before my flight so arranged with Matt for another day's birding. I hadn't done any forest birding at all before - just had headed for Mai Po - so the promise of Tai Po Kau's established forest was an instant draw.

Matthew kindly collected me from my hotel in Kowloon - the roads were quiet on a holiday morning as we made good time to the foot of the valley. I should have realised that this was going to be a bit of a steepish walk up along the road to where the forest tracks start. Immediately we were hit with the song of birds - Great Barbets were calling in the distance (but didn't see them) and the ubiquitous Japenses White-eyes were buzzing along with Silver-eared Mesias. I didn't have my camera so I'll refer to Matthew's blog for the pics! (
He's got a bigger lens than me - and a steady hand. Matthew photographing Eagles.
As we wandered along, more and more calls came from the forest and the tall trees around us - we eventually got some excellent views of several species including Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, the dazzling Hainan Blue Flycatcher and the equally impressive Orange-headed Thrush. We had excellent views of Crested Serpent Eagles as well as a Mountain Tailorbird and Plain Flowerpecker - the latter being the rarest and dullest of the three flowerpeckers that I hadn't seen.  Huet's Fulvetta, Fork-tailed Sunbird, Blue-winged Minla, Chesnut capped Babbler, Scimitar-billed Babbler (belter of a bird!) and Chestnut Bulbul all made their way onto the day-list. We also heard Yellow-cheeked Tit, Pygmy Wren Babble and Black-throated Laughing Thrush. It was just wonderful and I could have stayed a lot longer but we had other places to be.

I'd got another permit booked for Mai Po and as the tide was relatively early, there was no chance of me seeing it come in over Deep Bay so we made our way to the scrape hides where we were met with a wonderful sight of hundreds of Black-tailed Godwit in amongst which were several Asian Dowitchers.
View from the main scrape hide - birds continue left and right and well into the distance.
What can you say - the sight of so many wader species all relatively close at hand being occasionally spooked by a Peregrine and an Eastern Marsh Harrier as well as Black Kites was wonderful. Loads of Greenshanks, Marsh Sandpipers and Curlews with the odd Far-eastern Curlew, Nordmann's Greenshank, Terek Sandpipers, Mongolian Plovers and a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Not to mention the Great Knots in their beautiful breeding plumage.

Great Knot in amongst the Black-tailed Godwits
We moved around to another vantage point to get closer to a few birds - an Intermediate Egret posed nicely as well as more obliging waders.
Intermediate Egret
It's not just size that separates Far-eastern Curlew from Eurasion as the latter can be just as big and long-billed. Look at the spots on the vent feathering - Eurasian are clean white.
Far-eastern Curlew
Nordmann's Greenshank

Then we heard the call of a Large Hawk Cuckoo. It was something we'd heard on several occasions and it sounded relatively near. I was sure it would be visible and my mimicry was perfect! We searched for ages from the raised viewpoint of the hide but didn't see anything - then I looked a little farther away and saw an interesting blob in a tree a few undred yards away. I got the scope on it an - et voila! Matthew had never photographed one so he managed to sneak up to the tree a little later to add that missing piece to his collection.
Large Hawk Cuckoo (Iphone7 through Swarowski ATX95)
It seemed I wasn't the only one who didn't see these birds even though they're big and common as a procession of locals had a gander through the scope.

It was nearly time to head to the airport so we made our way back past several Dusky Warblers.
Dusky Warbler
Our last stop was the "Magic Roundabout". Now I'm an aficionado of the "Magic Hedge" in Chicago but this? Essentially, it was the only bit of greenery and trees in the Airport complex - an area 'discovered' by a birder who took his breaks from working at the airport and found several good birds here. Matthew parked up and we made our way past the massed ranks of taxis into a becalmed area - Long-tailed Shrike, Hair-crested Drongo, White Wagtail, Olive-backed Pipit and an overflying flock of Oriental Pratincoles was a nice end to my sojourn to Hong Kong.

I hope to be back again in the not-too-distant future, whether with work or on a long-haul to somewhere else but there are certainly good birds to be had with a little planning. If anyone is looking for a guide, then I'm sure Matthew would be happy to help; his expeditions are taking him all over SE Asia and I'm sure that guiding will be one of the many strings to his bow. Add Hoiling's passion for moths and how could you go wrong?

Now it's back to a UK spring and masses of Redpolls and Chaffinches in the garden. The Blackbirds are singing (not quite ".... in the dead of night") - birdsong I recognise again :)

Source Dave's Birding Blog

Po Toi Island

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On our continued desire to explore off the tourist beaten track, we took an early morning ferry from Aberdeen to Po Toi, a migration hot-spot for Hong Kong in the company of Matthew again and his girlfriend Hoi Ling.
Daurian Redstart

The ferry across was generally uneventful apart from a fly-past Red-necked Phalarope. The ferry was very busy as it was a public holiday ("Tomb-sweeping") and the day was fine - not ideal for migrants.
Indeed much as we tried, there weren't many birds to be seen but we did see a few goodies - Crested Goshawk, Besra, Grey-headed Buzzard, Daurian Redstart, Pacific Swift and the main rarity, a Brambling!
Brambling twitch

Source Dave's Birding Blog

Return to Mai Po

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Following on from last July's trip to China, I had a follow-up trip planned for April combining it with the Hong Kong Rigby 7's tournament for which my company, Kukri, do all the merchandising. Of course, such a trip gives me the opportunity to do some birding in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar (and some more recognisable) birds. So I decided to go a little earlier with my wife, Bernie, to explore the area.

The first couple of days were spent acclimatising and doing some of the touristy bits, enjoying the Star Ferry and some of the parks amongst the stunning skyline. Bernie was surprised about how hilly and verdant the territory was. Common birds in the parks were the ever present Chinese and Red-whiskered Bulbuls alongside Oriental Magpie Robin, Crested Mynas, Black-collared Starlings and Masked Laughing Thrushes. We got some decent view eventually of Red-billed Blue Magpies at the HK Stadium but the bird that we came across all over the place was Yellow-browed Warbler - calling everywhere!
Oriental Magpie Robin
I had organised permits for Mai Po on Monday 3rd April and we arranged to meet up with Matthew Kwan (unfortunately his dad couldn't make it). Thankfully, though it was warm, the weather was nowhere near as hot and humid as last July but certainly warm enough.

Stejneger's Stonechats and a White-breasted Kingfisher along the access road was a nice start whilst the car park held the usual Azure-winged Magpies, Bulbuls and several YBWs calling. We collected our permits and entered the reserve almost immediately coming across a Black-faced Bunting and Long-tailed Shrikes. Plain and Yellow-bellied Prinias were very ugh in evidence everywhere we went.
Chinese Pond Heron
The pools had many Egrets and Herons and a few sandpipers (Common & Green). We made our way through to the main scrapes where there were good numbers of waders. A few Oriental Pratincoles dropped in but the numbers of Greensanks and Marsh Sandpipers were amazing. In amongst them were Spotted Redshanks and Wood Sandpipers as well as large number of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits.

We worked our way to the security fence area, passing lots of Dusky Warblers checking in the undergrowth. We also came across an Olive-backed Pipit bring back memories of last autumn at Spurn.
Deep Bay looking towards Shenzen, China
One area I hadn't visited last time was Deep Bay as the tide wasn't right. This day it should have been so we passed through the fence and made our way over the floating boardwalk through the mangroves out to the hides. As we got to the farthest one, we soon realised we should have been there about 30 minutes earlier as the extent of mud was getting very limited. We still had good views of Terek Sandpipers and the Black-faced Spoonbills as well as several species of Gull - Hueglin's, Vega, Mongolian and Black-tailed.
Black-faced Spoonbills, Caspian Terns, Mongolian Gulls, etc
As the water flooded the area, we made our way out of that hide and back to the one at the head of the bay but again the water had reached there and most birds had moved away. Still we got an immature Saunders Gull and some great views of the waders.
A very large 2cy Vega Gull with Heuglin's in foreground
So back to the scrape and an amazing site greeted us with hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets covering the water. We also had more Greenshanks and in amongst them some Nordmann's Greenshank - quite difficult to tell apart but eventually I got my eye in on their jizz; lower in the water and rather pot-bellied as well as the curvier bill. There were also many Great Knot, Red-necked Stints, Broad-billed Sandpipers and Greater Sand Plovers. We also had Far-eastern Curlews in amongst the more numerous Eurasian Curlews as well as the odd Grey Plover and Pacific Golden Plover.
Black-faced Spoonbills
Through the day we recorded 105 species with that huge variety of shorebirds. A splendid day all round.

Source Dave's Birding Blog

December Thrushes bring 2016 to a stupendous finale

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
2016 has got to go down in the birding annals as one of the best years ever. A scintillating autumn with perpetual easterlies brought hundreds if not thousands of waifs from east of the Urals. My previous post was drooling over the run of birds on the east coast - finally, the west and middle England got in on the act.
On 5th November, as I was tidying up the garden, I heard my first Waxwing of the autumn flying overhead - the unmistakable trilling call was to become even more familiar over the coming weeks as small flocks started to infiltrate this side of the Pennines with double figures in Blackburn and recently large counts in several places around East Lancashire.
Waxwings in Blackburn 27 Nov
On 20 November, I went to see this little beauty - a Desert Wheatear on St Annes beach - my third along this stretch of the coast and a fitting end to the autumn, or so we thought

Desert Wheatear, St Annes, Nov 2016

But there was more. News broke in mid December of a Dusky Thrush in Derbyshire and after much nervous anticipation, we decided to put the Christmas Shopping on hold to see this bird and though it gave us the run-around we did get some excellent if distant views. The bird is still there!
First-winter female Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire 10 Dec 2016
Then there was the Masked Wagtail, an eastern race of White Wagtail and first for the UK, that turned up in Pembrokeshire - such a smart bird was well worth the effort.
Masked Wagtail, Camrose, Pembrokeshire 11 Dec 2016
Ringing in my garden produced an early Brambling and several Redpolls but no meallies - yet.
So that was that? No, the news of a Blue Rock Thrush in Gloucestershire got us going again - a bird I missed when in Spain earlier in the year! Like the Wagtail and indeed the Dusky Thrush, it was hopping around the houses in a small semi-rural estate having been identified from images on social media.
Blue Rock Thrush, Stow on the Wold, 29 Dec 2016

And to cap the trip off, a female Black-throated Thrush showed itself fairly well at St Asaph having also been in the area for a couple of weeks. Thrushes galore and seven new birds for me in Britain this year - five of them lifers. I had none in 2015.

  • Penduline Tit (2) 24 Jan, Gloucester.
  • Pallid Harrier 18 Feb, Norfolk
  • Purple Swamphen, 5 Aug, Minsmere
  • Black-browed Albatross, 5 Oct, Bempton
  • Siberian Accentor, 14 Oct, Easington
  • Dusky Thrush, 10 Dec, Beeley
  • Blue Rock Thrush 29 Dec, Stow on the Wold.

A truly amazing birding year. I need my football team to have one next year! :/