May have completed higher? Confessions of a year-lister.

Birdwatchers love making lists, with the 12 months checklist one of the crucial necessary. In my youthful days I all the time saved 12 months lists: my finest ever 12 months was 1986, once I topped the 1,000 mark because of journeys to Australia, Kenya and numerous European locations. It’s a complete I’ve by no means approached since, which could clarify why in recent times I ended counting. Nonetheless, 12 months in the past I made a decision to do a 2023 12 months checklist, so now, with 2024 simply hours away, I can reveal the outcomes.

They’re not, alas significantly spectacular. My British complete was a mere 172 species – not unhealthy, however not excellent. Nonetheless, I’ve to place it in perspective by explaining that throughout the 12 months I hardly ventured out of East Anglia, and virtually each fowl was seen in Suffolk or Norfolk – I stay on the county boundary. Each counties are among the many finest in Britain for birds, however to knock up a giant complete with out travelling far you actually should stay on the coast. I stay 45 miles (or if you happen to desire, 73km) from the ocean, so to get to there takes me greater than an hour within the automotive, although the visitors is normally mild, the roads quiet.

I’m not a twitcher, both, so I not often, if ever, go in quest of a fowl, or birds, that another person has reported. Each one among my 171 species was a fowl that I discovered myself. I document all my fowl sightings on BirdTrack, (see display screen shot, above) which is the British Belief for Ornithology’s equal of E-bird. It’s a wonderful, easy-to-use app, and does permit you speedy entry to all of your information. It retains a month-to-month document of sightings, so I can inform you that it was in February that I recorded my highest month-to-month species complete (106), whereas my lowest complete was in August (39). I solely scored 43 in March, however that was as a result of I used to be away birding in Portugal and Estonia.

My abroad journeys did enhance the general 12 months checklist significantly. I additionally travelled to Kerkini in Northern Greece in June and Kefalonia in south-east Greece in October, so my general 12 months checklist was a extra passable 272 species. Although I additionally log all my abroad sightings on BirdTrack it doesn’t give me a operating complete for them, simply my British information. This can be as a result of I’m not competent sufficient to set it up to take action. I even have an Excel unfold sheet for my European 12 months checklist. I failed to attain any lifers in 2023, which isn’t actually shocking as there are very prospects left for me in Europe, and even the Western Palearctic.

In January I managed to seek out many of the wintering birds I can anticipate on this a part of the world, so my month’s checklist comfortably handed the 100 mark. My one hundredth species was a Spoonbill. This was an fascinating sighting, because it’s solely in recent times that these placing birds have began over-wintering in East Anglia. These birds (normally juveniles) are clearly linked to the rising breeding inhabitants within the area. Spoonbills nested in Britain for the primary time for 300 years in 2010, when a small colony turned established at Holkham in North Norfolk. In the present day that very same colony is prospering, with a formidable 90 birds fledged in 2023.

A very good January discover: a confiding Bittern in a Norfolk reedbed

Considered one of my most satisfying ticks in January was one other wetland fowl, a Bittern. Although it was a species I used to be assured of discovering within the spring, a pleasingly confiding particular person lurking on the sting of a reedbed allowed me to take its {photograph} (above). I encountered a pleasant flock of Snow Buntings on the identical day, one other species that it’s all the time good to see.

A cock Snow Bunting on Holkham Seaside, all the time a satisfying fowl to see

In February it was a case of discovering these species that had eluded me up to now, so I used to be happy, for instance, to find a few Mediterranean Gulls whereas checking by means of a flock of Black-headed Gulls on the coast close to Yarmouth. I all the time undertake a lot of brief timed surveys for the Sport and Wildlife Conservation Belief’s Massive Farmland Chook Depend in February, and although the counts didn’t add something to the 12 months checklist, they have been memorable for locating large flocks of finches and buntings, whereas a daylight-hunting Barn Owl was a satisfying sight. Later within the month, a flock of a number of hundred Avocets on the River Alde was additionally memorable.

Winter finch flock: Linnets on farmland
Mediterranean Gull: its darkening head signifies spring is coming
Avocets on the Alde Estuary

Ten days in southern Portugal in early March gave a significant enhance to the 12 months checklist, as spring comes early to the Algarve, so I used to be immediately including quite a few spring migrants to my quickly rising checklist. Swallow, Home and Sand Martin, Yellow Wagtail and even Cuckoo have been all birds I used to be a certain of seeing a month later at dwelling, nevertheless it was cheering to seek out them so early. Pallid Swifts have been already again at their breeding websites, whereas the marshes offered a bunch of waders, together with year-ticks resembling Whimbrel, Curlew Sandpiper and Kentish Plover. Inland within the Alentejo I discovered Nice Noticed Cuckoos and the primary returning Quick-toed Eagles. Nonetheless, finding the particular steppe birds of the Alentejo proved a problem (I ought to have used a neighborhood information), however ultimately I discovered each Nice and Little Bustards, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and quite a few Calandra Larks. 

Pallid Swift, already again on the breeding grounds in early March
Many waders winter on the salt marshes of the Algrave in southern Portugal. These are Dunlins.
A migrant Greenshank close to Faro
Nice Noticed Cuckoo, an early migrant in southern Portugal
Nice Bustards – cautious and tough to strategy, however an thrilling sight
Azure-winged Magpie, an easy-to-find Iberian endemic

Estonia on the finish of March offered fairly a distinction to heat and sunny Portugal. The temperature not often climbed above freezing, and birding was laborious work. The rewards have been, nevertheless, massively satisfying. Massive flocks of Lengthy-tailed Geese have been a delight, however our goal fowl, Steller’s Eider, allow us to down – we discovered only a single feminine, not the flocks we have been anticipating. We solely noticed a feminine Capercaillie, too, whereas our views of Hazel Grouse have been fleeting. On the plus facet, Waxwings and White-tailed Eagles (10 within the sky directly) have been nice to see. 

A gathering of Lengthy-tailed Geese (primarily drakes), photographed off the coast of Saaremaa, Estonia
White-tailed Eagle overhead (on a gray day in Estonia)

April and Could in England gave me the possibility to compensate for the breeding birds of my space, together with Mandarin Duck, Goshawk and Stone Curlew (the {photograph} beneath is by courtesy of my good friend David Addy  – I photographed the identical fowl, however David’s image is a lot better, because it captures the fowl’s Breckland habitat). One of many delights of spring are the concentrations of Hobbies that may be discovered at native wetlands in mid Could, although photographing them is all the time a problem, and I’ve but to get a shot I’m actually happy with.

A pair of Mandarins, a contact of the unique on a Suffolk river
Stone Curlew in a Breckland panorama
A Interest, hawking dragonflies

In June I loved a go to to Lake Kerkini in Northern Greece. It was an opportunity to meet up with many of the Balkan specials, resembling Masked and Lesser Gray Shrikes, Rock Nuthatch and Levant Sparrowhawk. I discovered a singing Olive Tree Warbler, too, nevertheless it didn’t need to have its {photograph} taken. Kerkini is a protected guess for all of the European herons, plus Spoonbills and each Dalmatian and White Pelicans. 

Levant Sparrowhawk in a fig tree
White pelicans on Lake Kerkini
I could have already seen Spoonbills in Norfolk and the Algrave, nevertheless it was good to see extra in Greece
My solely sightings of Crimson-backed Shrikes in 2023 have been in Greece
OK, not a fowl, however Giant Blue butterflies are particular. This butterfly was taken on a grassland nature reserve in Gloucestershire

Again dwelling in England for the summer time, my itemizing misplaced its momentum, as there wasn’t way more to seek out. I turned to butterflies as an alternative, efficiently discovering Giant Blues, one among Britain’s rarest species, and a profitable reintroduction after extinction in 1979. New fowl ticks have been now turning into elusive, and even Kefalonia in October failed so as to add a lot. Pleasant island although it’s, it’s not a terrific place for autumn migration, although I did handle to seek out just a few passing Whinchats, a fowl that had eluded me earlier within the 12 months. A single Eleonora’s Falcon was a really pleasing if not sudden, and a year-tick. 

A migrant Whinchat in Kefalonia. The place had it bred?

I did loads of birding in November and December, however there have been now few prospects so as to add to the 12 months checklist. One was Shore Lark, however regardless of appreciable efforts the wintering birds at Holkham managed to elude me. Nonetheless, I used to be delighted to discover a Razorbill, fishing enthusiastically in a Norfolk harbour. A Rock Pipit, shut by, was additionally a 12 months tick. Waxwings proved laborious to get, regardless of loads of flocks being reported. I finally discovered a single fowl, sitting relatively forlornly in a hawthorn tree with a few Woodpigeons. It wasn’t a 12 months tick, after all, as I had seen them in Estonia, nevertheless it was the final new fowl of the 12 months for my British checklist, and a extremely satisfying one at that. 

A winter Razorbill in a Norfolk harbour in November, and one among my final new birds of the 12 months
A Rock Pipit was my a hundred and seventieth species in Britain in 2023

Will I be itemizing once more in 2024? The reply is sure. On New 12 months’s Day I’ll try to discover 70 species domestically to start out the 12 months, whereas updates on the checklist’s progress will likely be reported right here on 10,000 Birds. My targets are 200 species in Britain and 300 in Europe: slightly little bit of ambition by no means does an hurt.

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