Views From an Urban Lake Year End Review

Male Stonechat (My favourite image of the year 2015)
Male Stonechat (My favourite image of the year 2015)
With little time left (and none of it free) to get out and about in the field, now is the time to write my Views From an Urban Lake Year End Review.

2015 has been my first full year on the Manor Farm patch, and it has been one of change, that is for sure. Change in the landscape as the site develops into the reserve it will soon become; changes in my writing style, a move to a more descriptive style I think, and hopefully one you enjoy; and changes in the seasons as you would expect. 

But I think I will just review the best moments from each month, link back to one or two of my best posts for that period and illustrate with my favourite images from each month.


Views From an Urban Lake Year End Review


January

My year started quite late in reality, work permitting, I am usually out exploring somewhere on the 1st Jan, us birders like to start the year off with a bang, but it wasn't until the 12th of January that I managed my first foray out onto the patch for the year. The star birds were a Peregrine Falcon and several Goosander, but otherwise it was the usual winter fare, predominately ducks, but the usual winter thrushes as well.

Post of the MonthFrosty Walk
No. of Birds: 69

Photos of the Month

Robin on a post
Robin on a post
(sorry to those who like camera settings none today, I don't have the time to go through all the images)

Carrion Crow in Flight
Carrion Crow in Flight

February

Being the month of my birth, I took a little time away from work in February and spent a huge amount of time out trudging the fields and furrows of the patch (I managed 5 days in a row at one point), sadly while I made the effort to get out I wasn't very good about writing my blog, or processing the photos, each time (sadly for the next few months this became the norm, I was working hard at another project and found little time for VFAUL). 

Robins became a major focus for my photography in February, their winter appearance becoming my obsession for the month as I strove to capture that one perfect image. I was even lucky enough with one, very friendly, chap who sat on my hand at one point!

February saw me branching out away from the patch as well though as managed a trip down to see my old man in the garden of England, Kent. Whilst there he, I, my youngest son and my Step Mum managed a really nice day out on Sheppy, in search of the elusive owls and raptors.

Post of the Month: First of Five Walks
No. of Birds: 66

Photos of the Month

Little Egret in the setting sun of Sheppy
Little Egret in the setting sun of Sheppy

Little Owl hidden in a hollow log at Manor Farm
Little Owl hidden in a hollow log at Manor Farm

March

March saw the start of spring on the patch, daffodils and butterflies made their first appearance and the Chiffchaffs began their return, their monotonous songs slowly spreading across the patch as more arrived. March was also the month of the Eclipse which lead to a rather eerie walk one morning in the shadowy, other worldly light of the sun being partially hidden behind the moons veil.

Post of the Month: Manor Farm 20-03-2015
No. of Birds: 63

Photo of the Month:

First Butterflies of 2015 - Small Tortoiseshell
First Butterflies of 2015 - Small Tortoiseshell

Chiffchaff the first returning Migrant
Chiffchaff the first returning Migrant

April

April saw life really spring into being, flowers began blooming, hoverflies emerged from their slumber and even Swifts began to return, life on the farm scrapes became a hectic mix of squabbling for space and singing for love. Bugs and buds began to emerge all over and new life began to spring from everywhere.

Post of the Month: Red Kites and Dunlin
No. of Birds: 85

Photo of the Month:

Yellow Wagtail wandering the cattle fields
Yellow Wagtail wandering the cattle fields

Common Green Shieldbug
Common Green Shieldbug

May

Now I know I was out in May I have photos to prove it but I think I was jaded from my other project (a parenting blog called When the Dust Settles) that I just never found the time or enthusiasm to write anything for the month, a real shame, and one that I will avoid next year.

Post of the Month: N/A
No. of Birds: 60
Photo of the Month: N/A

June

As with most summer months my mind wanders away from birds, to bugs. While the birding is ok, there is seldom new movement, and the resident avian element are busy raising their young or sitting on eggs. However the skies start to fill with insect life instead, and so this June month was no different my focus turned to Odonata and Lepidoptera; damselflies and butterflies began to fill my lens with their presence. The long lens is stashed and my macro becomes glued to my camera.

Post of the Month: June Jaunt
No. of Birds: 67

Photo of the Month:
Banded Demoiselle (female)
Banded Demoiselle (female)

sphaerophoria (scripta) hoverfly
sphaerophoria (scripta) hoverfly

July

Sadly July was as May and I did not post at all. I was out around the patch, enjoying all the summer sun could throw my way, but the words had left me it seems.

Post of the Month: N/A
No. of Birds: N/A
Photo of the Month: N/A

August

August to many birders is the month of Birdfair, thousands of us gather at Rutland Water to wander the marquees in search of new technology, exotic trips or to watch the array of talks and demonstrations over a three day weekend. Some of us however work, and I could be found all weekend gladly manning the Birding For All stand as I did the previous year and will in 2016.

Again I was out on the patch but seem to have written little. But as with June and July the focus of my photos and time in the field would have been much more insect aware. The noticeable changes on the patch were huge compared to last year though. This summer the water levels were so low that often there was none on the main pits below the farm, the grass was high and I'm pretty sure the breeding of waders and terns was very low.

Post of the Month: Birdfair Review
No. of Birds: N/A
Photo of the Month:

Meeting Chris Packham
Meeting Chris Packham

Meeting Nick Baker
Meeting Nick Baker

September

After a weekend in the company of the great and good of the birding/naturalist world my vigor was renewed and I found myself desperate to get down to Manor Farm and see what goodies I could see and what photographs I could take and just to generally throw my lot back in with the natural world. I actually took a semi permanent hiatus from my other blog as well so found time to write.

A more mixed month for me, I often found myself both searching for migrants as they made their way south for the winter and insects as the last of the dragonflies and butterflies fought over the remaining sunshine. The patch itself was changing rapidly as well, paths were being carved out and workmen could be seen quite often by the waters edge.

Post of the Month: Autumn Crossover
No. of Birds: 83

Photo of the Month:

Green Veined White butterfly
Green Veined White butterfly

Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher

October

As the last vestiges of summer left the patch October brought with it the first of the real winter arrivals. My fist Redwing and Fieldfare were heard flying high over and winter duck numbers began to build, but it was also the beginning of my love affair with Stonechats as the first one arrived on the patch where it would (so far) spend the rest of the colder months.

It also saw the tail end of the Odonata and Butterfly season as the numbers began to dwindle and species became harder to locate.

Post of the Month: Stonechat Obsession
No. of Birds: 75

Photo of the Month:

Long-tailed Tit calling
Long-tailed Tit calling

Male Stonechat
Male Stonechat

November

Regular readers will note that November was when my writing style really began to change, the posts have become longer, and I think (and hope) are far more descriptive, I have tried to move away from just lists of locations and sightings into a more expressive, natural history style of writing, I hope (again) that this is a welcome change and readers enjoy these posts more, they certainly seem to be read slightly more.

The month itself continued in much the same vein as October, my Stonechat obsession only weening slightly, but the birds were certainly all there was to now watch, the insects and mini beasts of the summer now past for another year. The weather was dominated by wind as Atlantic storm after Atlantic storm buffeted the shores of Britain.

Post of the Month: Once Upon a Time
No. of Birds: 70

Photo of the Month:

Magpie in Flight
Magpie in Flight

Winter Wren
Winter Wren

December

December started well, but as with most people the season soon catches up and time disappears into an endless ether of shopping and preparation, throw in school holidays and some winter sickness and my time on the patch became very, very limited.

However as with all good Decembers there are always a few "Winter surprises", and I can truly say that I have taken some of my best photos this month.

The Nature reserve is almost complete now, several paths have tarmac and are open, gates are in place and the structures which will eventually become hides are now clearly visible. Next year is going to be very exciting as I am able to get much closer to these areas.

Post of the Month: Winter Movements
No. of Birds: 65

Photo of the Month:

Fieldfare preparing to feast
Fieldfare preparing to feast

Back-lit Goldfinch
Back-lit Goldfinch


2016 The Year Ahead


I think that just about sums up 2015 on the patch, I had some lovely experiences, saw some great wildlife, took some of my best photos (I like to think I improve quite a bit each year) and really enjoyed working my patch; even with all of life's other issues thrown in there but what of 2016?

Well I have some major life plans ahead next year. Firstly at the end of Jan I become a student again, part time, where I will be studying Environmental Studies with the Open University, something that clearly interests me and with luck will lead to a change of career down the line, hopefully.

I (or I should say we) also have a project for the family which involves visiting a number of nature reserves around the country (at least 1 a month), all by public transport, I will blog about it of course, but who knows where that will lead...

I do, of course, still hope to find time with work, family and study to get out as much as I can, and I promise to try and write up about my wanderings as quickly afterwards as possible (it usually means evening or late night posts to be fair) so please keep coming back and reading.

Final Bird Figures

Before I sign off for the year I thought I would share the full list of birds I recorded on the patch in 2015, in the end it proved to be a pretty good year! 111 species of birds, 14 of which were new patch ticks some were expected (Garden Warbler) others hoped for but never certain (Curlew Sandpiper) others totally out of the blue (Brambling). Oh and next year I'll try and keep better records of the other wildlife as well.

The total species list for the year is below in Systematic order and with dates on which the birds were first recorded. Birds in bold and marked with an * are new patch ticks for me this year:

Species Date
Greylag Goose 12-Jan-15
Canada Goose 12-Jan-15
Mute Swan 12-Jan-15
Common Shelduck* 21-Jan-15
Gadwall 12-Jan-15
Eurasian Wigeon 12-Jan-15
Mallard 12-Jan-15
Northern Shoveler 21-Jan-15
Eurasian/American Green-winged Teal 12-Jan-15
Common Pochard 15-Jan-15
Tufted Duck 12-Jan-15
Common Merganser 21-Jan-15
Common Pheasant 12-Jan-15
Little Grebe 27-Apr-15
Great Crested Grebe 12-Jan-15
Great Cormorant 12-Jan-15
Grey Heron 12-Jan-15
Little Egret 12-Jan-15
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 15-Jan-15
Red Kite 27-Apr-15
Common Buzzard 12-Jan-15
Water Rail 23-Jan-15
Common Moorhen 12-Jan-15
Eurasian Coot 15-Jan-15
Eurasian Oystercatcher* 03-Feb-15
European Golden-Plover 15-Jan-15
Northern Lapwing 12-Jan-15
Common Ringed Plover 20-Mar-15
Little Ringed Plover 20-Mar-15
Common Sandpiper 15-Apr-15
Green Sandpiper 15-Jan-15
Common Greenshank 15-Apr-15
Wood Sandpiper* 06-May-15
Common Redshank 20-Mar-15
Curlew Sandpiper* 06-May-15
Dunlin 15-Apr-15
Common Snipe 02-Feb-15
Black-headed Gull 12-Jan-15
Mediterranean Gull 12-Jan-15
Mew Gull 12-Jan-15
Herring Gull 12-Jan-15
Lesser Black-backed Gull 12-Jan-15
Great Black-backed Gull 02-Feb-15
Common Tern 15-Apr-15
Arctic Tern* 27-Apr-15
Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon 12-Jan-15
Stock Dove 15-Jan-15
Common Wood-Pigeon 12-Jan-15
Eurasian Collared-Dove 12-Jan-15
Common Cuckoo* 24-Jun-15
Barn Owl* 04-Apr-15
Little Owl 02-Feb-15
Common Swift 28-Apr-15
Common Kingfisher 12-Jan-15
Great Spotted Woodpecker 21-Jan-15
Eurasian Green Woodpecker 26-Jan-15
Common Kestrel 21-Jan-15
Merlin* 09-Dec-15
Eurasian Hobby 15-May-15
Peregrine Falcon* 21-Jan-15
Eurasian Jay 02-Feb-15
Common Magpie 12-Jan-15
Eurasian Jackdaw 12-Jan-15
Rook 15-Jan-15
Carrion Crow 12-Jan-15
Skylark 02-Feb-15
Sand Martin 15-Apr-15
Barn Swallow 12-Apr-15
Common House-Martin 17-Apr-15
Coal Tit* 07-Sep-15
Marsh Tit* 24-Sep-15
Blue Tit 12-Jan-15
Great Tit 12-Jan-15
Long-tailed Tit 12-Jan-15
Eurasian Nuthatch 21-Jan-15
Eurasian Treecreeper 15-Jan-15
Eurasian Wren 12-Jan-15
Goldcrest 12-Jan-15
Cetti's Warbler 07-May-15
Willow Warbler 15-Apr-15
Common Chiffchaff 21-Jan-15
Sedge Warbler 17-Apr-15
Eurasian Reed-Warbler 27-Apr-15
Eurasian Blackcap 09-Apr-15
Garden Warbler* 27-Apr-15
Lesser Whitethroat 21-Apr-15
Whitethroat 17-Apr-15
Spotted Flycatcher 11-Sep-15
Robin 12-Jan-15
Stonechat 06-Oct-15
Blackbird 12-Jan-15
Fieldfare 12-Jan-15
Redwing 12-Jan-15
Song Thrush 12-Jan-15
Mistle Thrush 12-Jan-15
Starling 12-Jan-15
Dunnock 12-Jan-15
Western Yellow Wagtail 15-Apr-15
Grey Wagtail 15-Jan-15
White/Pied Wagtail 12-Jan-15
Meadow Pipit 12-Jan-15
Reed Bunting 12-Jan-15
Chaffinch 12-Jan-15
Brambling* 03-Feb-15
Bullfinch 12-Jan-15
Greenfinch 15-Jan-15
Lesser Redpoll 19-Oct-15
Siskin* 23-Jan-15
Goldfinch 12-Jan-15
Linnet 02-Feb-15
House Sparrow 15-Jan-15


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