So… it’s that end of the year time when everyone looks back at the past year, comes up with endless lists of the “Top 10 …….. of 2011”, and starts making their New Year’s resolutions as they look forward to the year ahead. I’ve had a great year in terms of wildlife encounters, in the number of new (and not so new) species I’ve managed to see and photograph, and in the new places I’ve explored, so I thought it was a good time to look back at my favourite wildlife of the past year and review the things I’ve seen and the encounters I’ve been lucky enough to have.
I’ve never really kept a proper, organised list of the species I have seen, and I’ve never been into going out purely with the intention of trying to tick more things off a list. This year, however, I decided to keep at least a rough list of the birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians I spotted.
I’m quite surprised and pleased with the results. With the addition of three new species on the Isle of Sheppey a few days ago, and including birds I have heard calling as well as those I have seen, I have now spotted a total of 148 bird species in 2011. A pretty decent total considering that I live in the middle of a city and, despite plenty of wildlife watching trips, I had not gone anywhere specifically to add to my list!
I wasn’t so consistent with recording mammals, but noted down at least 16 mammal species (including 4 bats), as well as 5 amphibian species and 2 reptiles.
There have also been innumberable insects and other invertebrates – these were a bit harder to keep track of, but did include some great butterflies, dragonflies and beetles, and an intriguing pseudoscorpion which, despite its tiny size, was one of my highlights of the year!
My favourite encounters
It’s quite hard to choose my top wildlife encounters in a year that has included many new and exciting species, but some of my favourite wildlife experiences of the year have to be:
- A close-up encounter with wild boar in the Forest of Dean
- Watching water voles at Cheddar Gorge
- Watching peregrine chicks being ringed in the Avon Gorge, Bristol
- Starling murmurations on the Somerset Levels
- Bewick’s swans and countless wildfowl in the snow at WWT Slimbridge
- Spotting summer migrants including warblers, cuckoos and flycatchers
- Watching hobbies and listening to bitterns booming on the Somerset Levels
- Seeing avocets and grey seals on the Exe Estuary
- Close-up encounters with farmland birds at Marshfield
- Some firsts for me – osprey, short-eared owls, barn owls, hen harriers and a merlin
- Some suprises – including waxwings in the heart of Bristol city centre
- Discovering new reserves, such as RSPB Nagshead, RSPB Newport Wetlands and Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Ubley Warren reserve
My favourite wildlife events
I’ve also had the chance this year to take part in a number of ‘Bioblitz’ events, including the Bristol Bioblitz at Tyntesfield Estate and another run by the Avon Wildlife Trust at Chew Valley Lake. There has also been the fabulous Bristol Festival of Nature, amongst other events.
This year I’ve also managed to brush up a bit on my wildlife and photography skills, learning how to identify bats in Somerset with the Somerset Wildlife Trust, and attending a fantastic wildlife photography workshop with Mark Carwardine at Bristol Zoo.
Getting to know the wildlife of the city
It’s not just been wildlife reserves and wild places that I’ve been getting to know. As I think I’ve probably mentioned several times already in this blog, I’m not much of a city person and I much prefer to be out and about in the countryside to being in the concrete jungle. However, I’m starting to learn to appreciate the wildlife that thrives even in the middle of Bristol – I’ve helped with a migration watch from the top of Cabot Tower, and have managed to spot everything from peregrines and ravens to grey wagtails and waxwings during my lunch breaks! I’ve also been loving the antics of the gulls that breed right in the city centre.
In addition to all this, running my own ‘garden bioblitz‘ in my urban back garden helped me to appreciate the smaller creatures that can thrive in the city and the difference that small actions can make in encouraging them – and it also gave me a chance to practice some close-up photography.
The Year Ahead
There are still plenty more UK species and wildlife spectacles that I hope to see in 2012, and I’m currently busy writing a list of my “must-see” wildlife for the coming year.
Hopefully there will be more opportunities to explore new places, as well as to get involved in more wildlife events and to attend things like the Birdfair and the Wildscreen Festival. I have a new bat detector which I’m itching to try out, and there are plenty of other mammals I’d love to spot – wild otters probably being at the top of the list! I’m also hoping to find wild adders, another species which has so far eluded me.
In terms of birds, I have yet to track down the little owls at Portbury Wharf, and there are a few other birds I have also yet to see, such as turtle doves, nightingales and tree sparrows. Although I’ve seen and heard nightjars before, I didn’t manage to go on a nightjar-watching trip this year, so that’s another must for the year ahead.
Also very high on my list is some whale and dolphin watching, which I’d love to combine with visiting seabird colonies. Visiting a red kite feeding station is also high up there!
I also want to look into getting others involved in ‘bioblitzing’ their own gardens and helping to encourage them to do more to attract and support garden wildlife.
So… there seems to be quite a lot for me to do in 2012 – let’s hope it’s as wildlife-packed as the last year has been!
I’d love to know what your favourite wildlife encounter has been in 2011 and what you’d love to see in 2012 – and if you have any tips for the best places to go to spot the species still on my “must-see” list!