So now that 2020 has been seen out and we are into what looks like another difficult year ahead what was the highlights of the past 12 months.
The year start okay with a few bits from local birding with an excellent January day to Abberton Reservoir where Goosanders performed their socks off and I saw my first ever UK January Swallow. The Black-throated Diver there also proved to be my only one of the year.
Towards the end of January a longish weekend with friend Lee was taken to Israel to try and catch up on a few missing birds and despite missing Pallid Scops Owl it was a resounding success with personal highlights being a bucket load of various wheatear species with Finsch's, Isabelline, Desert, Basalt, Northern, White-crowned, Mourning and White-crowned Black. The displaying Temminck's Larks on HaMeishar Plains stole the show from the Thick-billed Larks there also, Crested Honey Buzzards were seen, early migratory Steppe Eagles, well the list will go on and on.
Shortly after this however this turned downwards and my planned spring trips to Texas, Israel and Fair Isle were all cancelled due to the growing issue of the Coronavirus. The National Lockdown meant birding anywhere other than the garden was frowned upon by many Twitter folk who were convinced that if they were not going out then no one else should be either.
To my rescue I was able to spend early morning visits to my local Wildlife Area called Doggetts Pits, though it is usually over run by fishermen and really the name Doggetts Wildlife Area is secondary to the fishing that usually goes on here. Without the fishermen here en-mass there was actually wildlife and I racked up many species I have not seen here previously, probably because of the over use by fishermen. I was able to see the arrival of migrants through the weeks here from single Blackcap through to counts into the twenties and watching displaying Sedge Warblers, seeing passage Pochards for first time here and having a regular Cetti's Warbler singing from the sallow in the middle of the main lake.
The walk up the lane past the farm also gave me additional species with the pick of the bunch being the long staying male Ring Ouzel.
As I was by now working from home I was able to keep an eye on the garden and a few additions were made but best were the ever increasing numbers of Buzzards and no less than three Red Kites.
Once restrictions were eased birding further afield was possible but a little to late for the best of the spring locally but at least Nightingales were watched singing and Turtle Doves caught up with but it did feel that we missed the best of season, until at least till the Marsh Warbler at Benfleet Downs was found and early 5:30am visits resulted in great views and lots of song, I think we ended up counting at least 21 species the bird was mimicing.
Local butterflies were lacking a little but some of the commoner ones were enjoyed, I especially liked the Orange-tips at Bowers Marsh.
Early autumn saw some return passage of waders with Curlew and Wood Sandpipers and a few Little Stints whilst Gunners Park had an early wave of Pied Flycatchers and it was enjoyable to watch multiple newly arrived birds actrively feeding in the secret dell.
As the autumn progressed Covid cases were starting to creep slowly back up so my trip to Fair Isle at the end of August was very welcomed and the first time I've been here in the month, usually I would have been at the Birdfair but that had been cancelled like so many other events.
Fair Isle didn't produce a large fall of migrants but it was a very enjoyable trip none the less with Red-backed Shrikes, Barred Warblers and several scarcities knocking around. Best bird of the trip was the Western Bonelli's Warbler at Midway, a couple of Rose-coloured Starlings and the self found Arctic Warbler on the morning I was due to leave.
I was then back on Fair Isle two weeks later for a 5 weeks stay which at times was both excillerating and frustrating. Lots of migrants around and some good rarities but still felt we missed out on a biggy which the other northern isles seemed to be getting. Still those few of us on the island kept plugging away and I think I only missed one decent bird during my visit, though arguably the rariest for the island, Brown Shrike.
The autumn here then gave me the much needed recharge with highlights being two White's Thrushes, Siberian Stonechat (self found), two Red-throated Pipits (self found one), Citrine Wagtail (self found at Navisgill on a very windy day), Red-flanked Bluetail, White-tailed Eagle, Rustic Bunting, Dusky Warbler (self found), Little Auk, Red-breasted Flycatchers, stacks of Yellow-browed Warblers, two Hornemann's Arctic Redpolls, Great Tit, Orca's, Risso Dolphins, Glaucous Gull and so on. In 5 weeks I walked around 248miles on an island that is 3miles x 1mile. Felt fitter when I left and had dropped around a stone in weight.
At home then with rising Covid Cases birding away from local areas was again off the agenda so had to make do with now looking for winter geese and successully found my own Pink-footed, White-fronted and Tundra Bean Geese.
I came across the first Caspian Gull for the year for the local area at Fleet Head whilst I also found a wintering Yellow-legged Gull up river at Hullbridge so the year was seen out respectfully at a year list of 224, I thought at the beginning of August I would not make the annual target of 200 so it wasn't bad in that respect.
2021 is looking like it will be similar to 2020 in terms of travel restrictions and again Twitter folk are already moaning about birders travelling a few miles from their front doors to get out side, I dispare at some of the people on Twitter and like the beginning of lockdown last March I may have to leave it alone for my own sanity.
If I can somehow pick my bird this is what I would come up with;
SOG area bird of the year
Self-found bird of the year
UK bird of the year
Overseas birds of the year