It wouldn’t be December without a ubiquitous year in review and here, loyal readers, is the My Life Outside contribution. If you’d asked me outright what we’d been up to before I’d written this then my initial reply would probably have been, not as much as I’d have liked. And that’s true in some sense as several of my plans for 2015 never quite came to fruition, partly down to my own lack of planning (and dare I say it laziness on occasion) but also due to those unforeseen life events which no one can ever predict. However, scanning back through a remarkable 153 entries (eek) I’m reminded just how active we have managed to be, visiting new areas of the country, seeing new species and having a whale of a time in the process. So here, for your reading pleasure, is my 2015 year in review, just in case you’ve been as forgetful as I have.
January kicked off with the setting of my goals for 2015, some of which I’ve met, others I’ve not. We spent our first few days in Leeds exploring Brimham Rocks in the snow (remember when we used to have cold winters?) before a successful visit to WWT Llanelli delivered great views of both Water Rail and Little Egret. Llanrhidian Marsh was producing the goods again with Hen Harriers and Great White Egrets and my 2015 Patchwork Challenge kicked off in spectacular fashion with thirty five species seen including an always hard to find Woodcock. More snow towards the latter half of the month drew us into the Brecon Beacons where a walk along the Cribarth Ridge delivered a series of spectacular views. By the time we made our trip to Aberystwyth for Purple Sandpipers conditions had warmed considerably and a walk to Wallog resulted in a huge flock of fifteen Choughs plus a couple of Dolphins out in Cardigan Bay. The Starling murmuration over Aberystwyth’s pier was spectacular as ever. We finished off with the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and across an hour recorded thirty seven species. Even then I was commentating on our lack of Starlings which have finally returned in recent weeks.
— February —
I kicked off the month with a review of the impressive “Moths of Glamorgan” book, a precursor to my planned increase in garden mothing which unfortunately never quite materialised. In the garden we were putting up new nest boxes whilst a Sparrowhawk was devouring one of our Long-tailed Tits. Out on patch the good times continued to roll with Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Jay and Green Woodpecker being new additions and there was still a little snow visible on distant hilltops. We discovered Dinefwr Park for the very first time along with its herd of Fallow Deer and even managed to squeeze in a Great White Egret for good measure. Then it was on to the Iron Mountain for a walk with friends which included clouds so low that visibility was almost down to zero. The sight of a flock of hungry and quite demanding Sheep emerging from out of the murk will live long in my memory and I won’t take it personally that one of our companions tore their Achilles soon after and thus prevented any repeat meeting. Down on the Burry there were plenty of Brent Geese and Reed Buntings before the coming of the Super Tide led to some great photographic opportunities. Back on patch and it was Yellowhammers grabbing the headlines whilst I wondered just how long it really needs to take to complete some flood alleviation works (they’ve still not finished now).
— March —
March saw me declaring the arrival of Spring, perhaps a little prematurely, but the first Lambs were about and there was a feeling of positivity in the air. I also heard my first Skylarks of the year singing and just about managed to squeeze in an encounter with the overwintering population of Whooper Swans at Cilsan Bridge before they headed off. Soon after we took our own leave of absence and headed off to Cornwall, stopping in along the way to see a Little Bunting at Forest Farm. It was ridiculously tame and provided endless opportunities for photography, at times coming too close to even focus on. In Cornwall proper there were ridiculously impressive waves along the coast to Porthleven and excellent birds around Penzance including Great Northern Diver, Purple Sandpiper and Eider. I also learnt the painful lesson that falling over onto concrete and taking the impact on your elbow alone is not to be recommended. The Lizard then delivered our first Wheatears in 2015 as well as a stray Whooper Swan, followed by stunning sunsets from Porthleven. Theindustrial remains at Botallack completely blew me away and we finished our Cornwall adventure by watching the solar eclipse. Back in South Wales a remarkable day saw us seeing Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Bonaparte’s and Iceland Gulls, a collection of birds that I have still yet to beat.
— April —
Easter meant our by now almost traditional camping trip to Lyme Regis which left our shelves bulging with even more fossils than ever. Another Bonaparte’s Gull at Radipole was unexpected before we finally found Spring migration in full flow at Seaton with Willow Warbler, Little Ringed Plover and Swallows all being spotted. Similar movement came to my patch a few days later with the first Wheatear and Willow Warblers also being recorded there. Sadly the warm, dry weather also brought on an outbreak of arson which plagued our hillsides for weeks. A visit from my parents saw us venturing to Cardiff where a long held ambition to see Great Crested Grebe chicks on their mothers back was finally realised. Back on patch Swallows had now joined the party and I got way too excited when a Mallard dropped in late one afternoon. With longer days comes more walking opportunities and we took full advantage by heading out to Fan Fawr and Fan Frynych in the Brecon Beacons. The weather was perfect and I highly recommend it as a route if you ever get the chance. Spring migration continued unabated as I got my best ever photos of a Whitethroat down on the Millennium coastal path, a species which then did the decent thing and popped up on patch as well. Finally we finished off with the discovery of calling Grasshopper Warblers at Tywyn Bach, a species which I then managed to see in the flesh for the first time ever after several years of trying. April was a very good month indeed.
— May —
Some early May sunshine really brought out the Bluebells in Coed Bach Woods, as well as an angry Wren, as it had the Wild Garlic a few days later as we walked from Southgate to Pwlldu. Fog marred an otherwise enjoyable trip to the Lliw reservoirs where we watched a Grey Heron devour its eely dinner, followed by a typically epic days birding on Bank Holiday Monday around the RSPB reserve at Gwenffrwd-Dinas. All of the speciality species which call this place home were seen including Wood Warblers, Garden Warblers, Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers, not forgetting of course a very showy Marsh Tit right next to the car park. May also saw us breaking out the trailcam in our garden which revealed we had at least two Hedgehogs regularly visiting. This was to be the first of several such recordings made throughout the rest of the year. There were also two key moments in my Patchwork challenge this month. The first saw me equal my previous highest score and the second saw us confirm the presence of breeding Shelducks. Both came as something of a surprise. Further good weather saw the first Greylag ducklings at Llanelli WWT followed by two families of freshly fledged Stonechats up on Bryn-bach-Common. To finish the month off we headed to the Peak District for a long weekend of walking and birding which included the surprise discovery of Tree Sparrows and Barnacle Geese at Carsington Water, a wet walk up Lathkill Dale in the company of breeding Dippers and Mandarin, all rounded off with a stunning walk along the Monsal Trail. Next came our first of two visits to Skomer. We managed to catch the Bluebell display at its very best and I can honestly say that I have never seen the island looking quite so beautiful.
— June —
Quite a pace I’m sure you’d agree and one that was going to be tricky to maintain. June began with a series of stunning sunsets but alas work was starting to eat into my time a little more than I’d have liked. That didn’t stop me from watching the emergence of large Bats over our garden on a couple of evenings as well as spending plenty of time admiring the birds visiting our seed feeders. Masses of Painted Lady butterflies were just the tip of a significant insect iceberg at Rhossili before we whisked our way off to Norfolk for a weekend break at Titchwell. The car breaking down was a rather unpleasant surprise but that didn’t stop us seeing Bittern, Red Crested Pochard and Barn Owl, not to mention Avocets, Bearded Tits and even some superb Little Terns. Not a bad way to round off the first six months of 2015.