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February 2016

Monday, 8 February 2016

THE LIFE OF A YEAR LISTER

THE LIFE OF A YEAR LISTER

Hello everyone, my name is Holly and I'm a year lister!

This might seem a rather extreme way of referring to my passion for year listing but some of my closest friends would definitely say I have a problem!!

I did my first year list in 2011 after receiving a challenge from a friend. I intended it to be just a one off but I got hooked and have done a year list every year since. Each year I have tried to beat my previous total and I have managed it every year apart from 2012 when I suffered a bereavement and wasn't able to get out and about so much.

250 was my dream target that first year and, although I had a great year and saw some unbelievable birds, I fell a little way short with 238. Last year I came agonisingly close with 247 so I decided that 2015 was finally going to be the year I made it. With holidays planned to Scotland, Northumberland, Norfolk, Suffolk plus my monthly weekends spent at my mum's house in North Wales I figured it was my best chance.

The year began well with 64 species seen on New Year's Day, which I spent on the Wirral, and I had reached 115 by the end of January. My first "lifer" of the year came in February with the long-staying laughing gull at New Brighton. Other highlights of February were a water pipit at Neston Sewage Works, American wigeon and a handsome drake smew in West Yorkshire and a green-winged teal at Caernarfon.

March saw me heading up to the Highlands for a week's birdwatching with Heatherlea with a slight digression to Aberdeen on the way for the long-staying Harlequin duck. I managed to see all the Scottish specialities including all 3 divers, both eagle species, crested tit, Scottish crossbill and both grouse species. The highlight of that trip, for me, was seeing capercaillie for the first time. I didn't get the best view, just a cock bird flying away along a forest track but there was no mistaking what it was!

In April things really started to pick up as the first summer migrants arrived along with a nice rarity in 2 red-rumped swallows at Heaton Park. I also made a trip up to Leighton Moss for a pied-billed grebe and while there, received news of a hoopoe in Royton! The question was whether I'd be able to get there in time to see it! I jumped in the car and hot-footed it back to Greater Manchester. The bird had been seen in a back garden, it appeared to be feeding on the ground but then every now and then it would fly up into a tree where it was visible to the gathered birders. It only showed itself once while I was there but that was enough.

The next couple of months saw me adding plenty of summer migrants including dotterel at Cockerham Sands, Dartford warbler, turtle dove, nightjar and woodlark in Suffolk and 5 species of tern on the Farne Islands. A couple of lifers were also added in the form of a golden oriole at Gibraltar Point and a black-winged pratincole in Northumberland. The highlight of June was the corncrake which turned up in Hale near Widnes, delighting many birders who would normally have to make the trip up to the Outer Hebrides to see one.

July & August are usually the months when birding slows down, birds have finished breeding and begin to moult. This can be a great time for rare birds though as migrants begin to move again. I made an after-work trip to Burton Mere Wetlands to see a gull-billed tern in early July and also spent a lovely few hours watching the now sadly deceased red-footed falcon in Staffordshire.

August saw news break of breeding bee-eaters in Cumbria! Another lifer added to my list and what an incredible bird! Closer to home a Sabine's gull at Pennington Flash caused a lot of interest and luckily it stuck around for a good few days so plenty of people got to see it, including me. At the end of the month I headed back up to Scotland and spent 3 days based in Nethy Bridge. On the second day, however, I had a trip over to the west coast and got the ferry from Ullapool to Stornaway and back as a foot passenger. The weather was not the kindest but it was a wonderful experience with many migrating seabirds seen. I added 3 to my year list in the form of Arctic skua, sooty shearwater and storm petrel, the latter also being a lifer.

Autumn brings with it the usual trips over to the east coast in the hope of more rarities. I made 6 trips to Spurn over the course of 10 weeks but managed to see some incredible birds - black stork, barred warbler, Firecrest, yellow-browed warbler, red-breasted flycatcher, Arctic warbler, Richard's pipit, American golden plover and Pallas's warbler. Five of those I had never seen before.

Over the last couple of months things have slowed down considerably as far as my year list is concerned. Mainly because I have seen most of the birds which are around within reasonable travelling distance. The crag martin in Chesterfield has been a great late addition and a trip down to Slimbridge got me the last bird on my list - white-fronted goose.

So my final total for 2015 is 265 including 18 lifers so I have exceeded my initial target of 250. I've had a look through my list to see if I can pick out a favourite bird. Every time I think I've settled on one another one catches my eye so I've given up!!! I've enjoyed seeing every single bird on my list. From searching a river in the centre of Aberdeen for a Harlequin duck to taking shelter from the rain in a Tesco car park looking for a crag martin to jogging up the road at Spurn to see an Arctic warbler before it disappeared. All wonderful experiences.

People have asked me why I "year list" and to be honest there is no straightforward answer to that. Doing a year list, and trying to beat my previous totals, helps to satisfy my competitive streak.

Going out birdwatching is a way for me to get out and about in the world, meet new people and, of course, see some fantastic birds. And that applies to both common species and rarer ones, I can get as much joy out of watching blackbirds chasing each other round a thicket as I can seeing a red-footed falcon for the first time. Chasing a rarity or a year tick gives me the motivation to get out of bed on a day where I would otherwise stay at home. I'm sure a lot of birders would agree that it is harder to get yourself out into the field in poor weather, be it rain, wind or snow.

I have also met some wonderful people who, I am sure, will be lifelong friends.

I make no apologies for my year listing or twitching ways. It is a hobby I love and I intend to keep enjoying it for a good many years to come. The day it doesn't become fun anymore is the day I will stop and fine another way to pass my time.

So the obsession will continue......