Thursday 22 December 2022

A review of 2022 - Time for a change

I returned to RSPB Rainham Marshes in March 2021 after a life changing year of being on Furlough during the pandemic and I told myself that I would give it a year to see if I still felt comfortable in my role as Visitor Experience Officer and if not, then it would be the time to make a much needed change. Fast forward ten months and into 2022 and the post-Christmas blues had well and truly set in.  I felt out of place and lost in a position I had held in one form or another for nearly 16 years and with an organisation I had been part of at Rainham for over 20 years.

Another Costa Rican adventure was looming and I made my mind up to tender my resignation upon my return leaving me free of worry for the whole magical two and a bit weeks away.  All too soon my final day was upon me and I handed over my keys after a hectic Easter Bank Holiday Monday on reception and left with a smile and my head held high.  I still had two months left on my Farmland Advisor role for the Land of the Fanns Project before finally becoming a free self employed ornithologist from the 1st July.

My fledgling company, Blue Eyed Birder, was started that very day and I have spent the rest of the year trying to get my business up and running and publicised.  I will admit that it has been far tougher and slower than I ever imagined and I suspect that there are a multitude of reasons for that, given the current socio-economic situation coupled with the lurking, smothering blanket of Covid that irrevocably changed so many people’s lives.  I am now on the books as a guide for three wildlife tour companies (Wings, Birds' Wildlife & Nature and Oriole Birding) which will hopefully see me spreading my wings to foreign climes too – exciting times lay ahead.

It may not have been the most financially sensible time to abandon the good ship RSPB but I now have my own ornithological dingy (with sails and paddles!) to navigate the waters ahead.  I have no regrets.  I will not look back.

The images below are some of my wildlife highlights from 2022.  They are in no particular order but each one tells a story of a captured moment.  I hope you will be able to share some new ones with me in the coming years.

Inquisitive Acorn Woodpecker at Marion's cafe in Costa Rica - 26th March

A glowing electric Adonis Blue - Queendown Warren - 27th August 

The Moth they call Geoff - Alabonia geoffrella Crabbles Bottom Orchard 18th May

One of my favourite Bees - the mighty, Scabious loving Andrena hattorfiana with her pink pantaloons at Queendown Warren - 28th August 

I longed to see a Black & White Warbler as well as this - Hotel de Campo, Costa Rica - 18th March

It has taken me three years to get up and see the Black Browed Albatross at Bempton Cliffs but it became the undoubted highlight of my year - 2nd July 

A newish Fly to Britain - this is Blepharipa pratensis and it has followed the Gypsy Moth to the UK as its larva feed on the caterpillars.  Like the Moth, I discovered it almost everywhere I looked once I had got my eye in - Ranscombe Farm - 13th June 

Back to Costa Rica for this Buffy Tuftedcheek on the Provodencia Road.  What a name! Just ask any of the other attendees what I called the first one we saw at Savegre after getting tongue tied in excitement! 26th March

Colletes halophilus - Gramborough Hill. It was good to find this rare Bee on the Sea Aster along the beach

A Moth'ers dream find but to stumble onto two Crimson Speckleds on Dunwich Beach on 23rd October was a magic moment

 Dalmatian Pelican feeding frenzies in the early morning sun are always a highlight of a September on Lesvos

The first gleaming Dark Green Fritillary of the year at Strawberry Banks on 14th June

Always good to seen a new amphibian. This Eastern Spadefoot Toad crawled across the track on a Lesvos night drive on 18th September

Eleonora's Falcon ripping through the sky above our heads at Worth on 31st May. The first twitchable UK record. Such a consummate hunter.

Finding the Ranscombe Fallow Deer stags wading shoulder deep through a wheat field on 21st July was a truly memorable encounter

The Field Poppies at Ranscombe were spectacular in late June and formed Monetesque drifts with yellow Composites, purple Bugloss and lilac Thistles

Everyone want to capture the moment when a Fiery Throated Hummingbird becomes just that. Paraiso Quetzal, Costa Rica 26th March

The Heath Fritillaries at Blean Woods are a resounding RSPB success story. We watched them dancing around a glade of Cow-wheat on 16th June

Hornet Robberfly- Asilus crabroniformisIt is a beast of a fly and I was lucky enough to see them at a couple of Downland sites in the summer including at Ranscombe on the 21st July where they were prowling the open chalky paths.

A very showy Icterine Warbler at Gramborough Hill on 3rd September was a nice bonus for spending the whole day working under two miles of the Norfolk coast. 

A delightful Golden Winged Warbler at the Hotel de Campo in Costa Rica on the 18th March. Such close views sparking distant memories of a Kentish Tesco car park.

This large Parasitic Wasp caught my eye in my parents Ilford garden in late July with its narrow waisted body and iridescent purple wings.  With some help it was identified as Isodontia mexicana and as you can see from the name it is a New World species that has recently colonised Europe but was only seen in the UK for the first time in 2016.

Laughing Doves have now got a tenuous hold in Lesvos with possibly a couple of breeding pairs around the quaint village of Loutra.  I was taken to seen them by Eleni and Stylianos on my March visit and they duly obliged.

Heavy snow on the night of the 11th December left Ranscombe as a proverbial winter wonderland but even then I still found some moth leaf mines. I am not obsessive about them but simply noticing them has added a extra focus to any wildlife walk and with Antony's help I am gradually learning the basics.  I think that there are three mines of three species on this one Hazel leaf... Phyllonorycter coryli, Stigmella microtheriella and Stigmella floslactella

Quite possibly the most frantic ten minutes in a car this year as new broke of a Least Bittern in a sandy car park at Scousburgh on Mainland Shetland on 7th October. Our crew were some of the first on the scene and saw it sitting in the grass looking very sorry for itself.  An hour later it was quite rightly taken into care after a brief walk past for us all to marvel at it.  This first for Britain made it across the Atlantic but did not survive the night.

Lesser Emperors have been expanding in recent years and a quick check of the Eternal Lake at Cliffe on the 8th July produced a couple including this posing male.

The only bird that I missed on the 2020 trip to Costa Rica was Rose Breasted Grosbeak so I was delighted to see several this time.  They were much chunkier than I imagined. Bosque de Tolomuco - The Magic Garden as I called it - 24th March

On the 1st of September I was very fortunate to make it to Cliffe Pools with just five minutes to spare to become one of only four birders to see the Lesser Sandplover that had dropped in, before it flew high and east never to be seen again. I will leave the particular form of LSP up to the BBRC to decide.  The traffic light gods were with me!

It was not a bumper year for Hoverflies - I think it was just too hot although I did find myself several new species during my ramblings.  This is not one of those but Merodon equestris which is one of my favourites, caught in the act of having a wash and brush up on some Hemlock Water Dropwort at Boscastle on the 6th June.

Cretzschmar's Bunting are an iconic bird of the Lesvos spring with their Beethoven's 5th ditty bouncing off the hillsides.  This male was on the south east coast on 21st April.

I have to admit that seeing a Snowcap was on my 'hope for' mental list for Costa Rica this time and after the trauma of 'Bush Gate' early in the trip it was with some relief that I got to see several at El Copal on our last full day on the 28th March

The mint chocolate chip ice-cream of the Moth world.  A stunning Merveille de Jour from Antony's Pakefield garden on the 15th October.

One of the highlights of the March visit to Lesvos was seeing Moustached Warbler at long last as they are always long gone before we arrive in April.  I was fortunate to see and hear several in the reedbeds of Dipi Larisos before an impromptu ringing session with Eleni and Stylianos quite literally netted me some even better views.

This Myrtle Warbler was the second of two that arrived within half a mile of each other on Shetland in October and both performed admirably - we were just leaving site when the Least Bittern news broke.

One of my favourite summer moths here in North Kent is Nemophora metallica Long-horns whose males dance around each other over their chosen Scaboius head. 13th July

Late spring and early summer was filled with Kentish Orchids and I saw 19 species this season but I think that the purple haze of Green Wingeds at Marden and the drifts of lilac and pink of Chalk Fragrant and Common Spotteds at Strawberry Banks stole the show.

This Osprey appeared in front of us at Dungeness on the 31st August and put on a superb display and even caught two fish with its first attempt!

This was one of two immature Pallid Harriers that I saw in early March on Lesvos and they could often be encountered patrolling the fields and groves to the east of the Kalloni Saltpans and trying to keep out of the way of the Marsh and Hen Harriers that were also hunting the area.

The delightfully chocolatey Pyrausta nigrata at Darlands Bank on the 7th July on a morning when the first Chalk-hill Blues emerged and several Clearwings came to lures.

Just how this male Resplendent Quetzal managed to glow so green given the lateness of the hour and lowness of the light wowed us all. Savegre, Costa Rica - 25th March

Great Spotted Cuckoo is becoming easier to find on Lesvos in the spring now and a pair spent the week in April patrolling the road through Loutzaria and often afforded memorable views as they fished out hairy caterpillars from the verges. 

One of the surprises of the summer was being shown around Hothfield Heath by Enid.  I never even knew that there was a relict piece of proper peat bog near Ashford complete with Round Leaved Sundews and other wonderful damp loving botanical delights. 27th June

Scarce Chasers are no longer such and we saw lots of territorial males along the Kentish Great Stour on 16th June where they often battled with the still colonising Green-eyed Hawkers over the best perches.

This male Shining Honeycreeper was one of the stand out moments from Costa Rica this year as he and his partner fed on berries in the light rain at La Selva on 20th March. 

It has been years since I have seen Silver Studded Blues and I had a ten minute weather window at Blaxhall Common on the 18th June before the only rain of the entire summer descended for the next two days and spoilt my attempts to see Nightjars!

Six Spotted Pot Beetle - Cryptocephalus sexpunctatus at Crabbles Bottom Orchard on 4th July.  This was possibly my find of the year and I did not quite know just how rare a sighting it was until I did some research. There had not been a Kentish record since 1963 and it is not even recorded nationally every year.  A paper even appeared in the Coleopterist!

The week before, on my last day with the RSPB in fact, I was part of walk around Ranscombe with the site manager and some RSPB colleagues when this large shiny beetle dropped down from the canopy and although I had not seen one before I had a feeling that it was a Spanish Fly.  A book was consulted and there it was. The name of this imposing beetle was completely lost on the younger members of the party.  I will let you do your own Googling. 28th June

Sorry, another Hummingbird moment from Paraiso Quetzal on the 26th March when the male Talamanca was telling the Fiery Throated in no uncertain terms to bugger off.

Violet Dropwings are quite possibly may favourite Dragonfly.  I see a few in the spring on Lesvos but in September they are everywhere, often vying for the same perches as Scarlet and Red-veined Darters

A Kentish Wall Lizard on the church wall in Ospringe.  I always pop in during the summer to see how they are doing and saw a couple of youngsters this time too.  The ones at Folkestone are all much greener. 24th June

I had never knowingly seen Winter Aconites away from planted gardens and so popped out on a dank 7th February to visit Fawkham church where there was a grand display poking though the leaf litter.

One of the Red-eyed Tree Frog species that we saw in March in Costa Rica. Such alien looking amphibians.  This one was at Villa Lapas

Shrikes are everywhere in September on Lesvos and I do like a scaly young Woodchat on appropriate rusty fencing!

'TAMANDUA!!!!!'  I may have shouted quite loudly in the bus as this magnificent tree loving Anteater crossed in front of the bus near Arenal on the 15th March.

Spooky looking Yellow Bird's Nest (not an orchid) poking through the Beech leaf litter under a Yew tree at The Larches on the 28th July.  You can see why they are also known as Dutchman's Pipes.

A must see species on Lesvos; the Masked Shrike is a true lover of the Olive groves and you often catch a glimpse of a bobbling pied tail and white shoulder patches as one moves between the trees but with patience they will often reveal themselves. 22nd April

So another year whizzes by.  Here's to a less fraught 2023 filled with even more magical wildlife moments.