2011: The year in wildlife

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.

Enjoying the view at Cheddar Gorge!
Enjoying the view at Cheddar Gorge!

Species lists

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!

My first ever osprey, Shapwick Heath Grey wagtail, Cheddar Gorge

Male blackcap, Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve Red-legged partridge, Marshfield

Juvenile moorhen, Slimbridge Canada goose, Slimbridge Bewick's swan in the snow, Slimbridge

Blue tit, Slimbridge Who's watching who?! Canada goose at Slimbridge

Avocets in flight, Exe Estuary Short-eared owl in flight, Isle of Sheppey

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.

Common lizard (Lacerta vivipara), Dungeness, KentThere 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!

Book scorpion (Chelifer cancroides)Male orange-tip butterfly, Chew Valley Lake Damselfly, Chew Valley Lake

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:

Wild boar, Forest of Dean Peregrine chick, Avon Gorge, Bristol

Starling murmuration, Shapwick Heath, Somerset Levels Bewick's swans and other wildfowl in the snow, Slimbridge

Ubley Warren reserve, Mendip HillsI’ve also learned to better appreciate the changing atmosphere and wildlife of the different seasons:

Bluebell in spring, Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve Oxeye daisies at Slimbridge in June

Autumn leaves, Knole Park, Kent Somerset Levels in winter

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.

Millepede at Bristol Bioblitz event 2011, TyntesfieldThis 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.

Inca tern, 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.

Lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus), BristolIn 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.

Hoverfly in my garden, Bristol Rose chafer in my garden, Bristol

Flowers in my garden, Bristol Garden spider with prey

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.

Ringing young great and blue titsHopefully 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.

Whitethroat, RSPB Dungeness, KentIn 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.

Black-headed gulls, Slimbridge Somerset Levels in winter

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!

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6 thoughts on “2011: The year in wildlife

  1. A great read and some fab photos! If you ever want to hear nightjars, or see adders or wild otters – let me know. We have all of these just a mile or so from where I live. Would be more than happy to share them with you. Happy New Year – looking forward to 2012 and I’m still thinking about how I can get the garden bioblitz going in Dorset next year!

    1. Thanks Jane! 🙂 That sounds like a great plan! A very happy new year to you too – hope 2012 brings you lots of great wildlife 🙂 And yes we must get the garden bioblitz idea going!

      1. Just say when you are likely to be down this way next year. Would love to introduce you to the local wildlife enthusiasts including @spuddrs and @cherrybarnowl + the local wildlife on the heath and in the rivers!

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