At the start of 2015, I headed off to north-western Ecuador for two months, where I spent my time volunteering at an ecolodge in the cloud forest, called Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge. It was an amazing experience, especially seeing as I had no prior experience of true tropical birding- and seeing hummingbirds for the first time was quite special. I spent much of my time at the lodge guiding visitors around the many forest trails that looped around the surrounding hills, using my spare time to explore a few superb birding sites within a few hour's drive. Particular highlights from the trip included Andean Condor, White-plumed Antbird, Plate-billed Mountain-toucan, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Paradise Tanager, Rufous Potoo and Tayra (a type of land otter).
You can view a few blog posts dedicated to the trip here
The cloud forest
Saturniid moth species
Spain trip with Next Generation Birders
Although most of the spring was spent ringing and birding on Bardsey, I joined a group of Next Generation Birders in early April to spend a week in southern Spain; birding, insect hunting and generally having a whale of a time! There were 15 of us on the trip, which ran from 5th to 12th April, and we were guided by Oli Reville, who has visited the country many times and is thus acquainted with some of the better areas for birding. We had a superb time, and it was really great to spend time birding with fellow young birders- we managed to see some half decent birds too! Particular highlights included a Montagu's Harrier flushing two Little Bustards from a field opposite the motorway on which we were driving; Little Swifts and Lesser Short-toed Lark, Collared Pratincoles and Calandra Larks, some great raptor migration including over 50 Short-toed Eagles and 80 Booted Eagles at Tarifa, Slender-billed and Auduouin's Gulls and much more! Check out my blog posts from the trip here.
As mentioned earlier, I spent most of the spring on Bardsey Island, helping out at the Bird Observatory and helping to run the farm on the island. It was a great spring, with plenty of migration to keep interest high, although this was concentrated into a three week period in April: during the space of around two and a half weeks we managed to trap and ring over 1000 Blackcaps and hundreds of Willow Warblers, due to a prolonged period of settled conditions. Ringing became a little slow after this due to poor weather, but we managed to find and catch some smart birds, including Red-breasted Flycatcher, Shore Lark, Wood Sandpiper (British tick!), Turtle Dove, and (of course!) the star bird of the year: CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING!!! A superb find by Elfyn Lewis, and a bird which kept us busy for the good two weeks it was present on the island. A brilliant experience and one which it was great to share with so many birders from across the UK.
I came up with something of an ambition to photograph a Manx Shearwater at night with a starry backdrop at the beginning of the year. I had a few opportunities during my time on the island to attempt this, which produced some pleasing results. This is my first attempt.
Green Tiger Beetle
From mid June to early July myself and my family spent two weeks on the sun-baked island of Corsica, in the Mediterranean sea off Italy. We had a great time exploring the inexhaustible supply of secluded gorges and river valleys, making the odd ascent into the mountains to take in some impressive scenery, particularly on Monte Cinto and the Restonica Valley. The invertebrates and birdlife present on the island ensure that I was very distracted for the duration of our visit, with a plethora of interesting species to observe and discover. In terms of birds, the most noteworthy sightings for me came in the form of Alpine Choughs, Corsican Citril Finches, Alpine Accentors, Red-backed Shrikes and some stringy Scopoli's Shearwaters off shore. Inverts were present in the form of Silver-washed and Queen-of-spain Fritillaries, Beautiful and Copper Demoiselles, Corsican Heath and Fritillaries (endemics), Oak Yellow and Red Underwings (moths). There were also some smart reptiles to see, such as Tyrrhenian Wall Lizards, European Pond Terrapins and Rock Lizards.
An inquisitive Alpine Chough
Italian Pool Frog
Summer on Bardsey
Most of the summer was spent on Bardsey, catching up with friends, swimming and snorkelling off the island's coasts, trying to earn a bit of money and also carrying out ringing and bird survey activities with the bird observatory. It was great to help out with the seabird ringing, particularly on the Gwylan Islands; here we managed to ring over 80 juvenile Shags and 60 Great Black-backed Gulls, along with Puffins and the odd Razorbill. It was good to help Mark Carter out with the island's Manx Shearwater population census, and also ringing plenty of the fluffy chicks in August, prior to their immense migration to South America. It was great to catch up with many friends and meet plenty of new ones during the summer, and it is always great to have some sunny weather! Moth trapping and hunting for invertebrates always takes up the slack that may be present due to lull in avian activities over summer, with hundreds of moths turning up in the light traps every day, including some smart species too.
An adult Kittiwake and its chick
Lesser Broad-bordered Underwing
Mid-August saw myself, Rachel and Mum make the pilgrimage to Rutland Water to participate in the 2015 Birdfair. After my first time at this huge event the previous year, it was brilliant to be back and meet up with friends, fellow young birders, as well as hearing interesting and inspiring talks on a broad range of subjects from speakers such as Mark Avery to Richard Lewington. It was a very enjoyable few days, as always, and was made even better by the great weather and British tick in the form of a Marsh Tit! The species that escape an island-dweller...
Off to university!
Come early September, it was time to leave the island 'for good' and move to Falmouth in Cornwall, where I began a degree in Conservation and Ecology with the University of Exeter. It has been a great experience so far: the course has been very enjoyable, covering an interesting range of topics so far, and has involved plenty of practical activities. It has been great to meet new friends, put a few faces to names and explore the county to see the superb wildlife that the area has to offer. The autumn was a great time for observing a plethora of interesting invertebrates, as well as caching in on some smart birds in the form of Pacific Diver off Marazion, Yellow-browed Warblers on campus, Firecrests everywhere, and some great passage of thrushes over university. It has also been brilliant to spend time ringing at Nanjizal, thanks to Kester Wilson, where several sessions have produced hundreds of birds of an impressive variety. Thank you to everyone who has made it such an enjoyable experience so far!
Kestrel and vole
A selection of shieldbugs
Pipistrelle hawking for insects over College Reservoir
I look forward to seeing what the coming year has to bring!
Happy New Year!