Wildlife highlights of 2012

Puffin, Skomer Island

This time last year I looked back at my wildlife experiences of 2011, and listed some of the things I most wanted to see and do in 2012. So I thought it was time to catch up on how my plans for 2012 went, and to look ahead to what 2013 might bring.

A few highlights…

I seem to have managed to do quite a lot in the past year, so rather than list it all I’ve come up with five of my main highlights:

1.  Seeing my first puffins

Crouching just a metre or so away from wild puffins on Skomer Island has to be up there as one of my favourite wildlife moments of the year. It was my first ever encounter with these charismatic seabirds and I quickly fell in love with them! I also took rather a few photos, which I will add to my Flickr pages soon. Later in the year I also got to see puffins around Bass Rock and on the Farne Islands – and at the same time, I had my first encounters with many other seabirds, including guillemots, razorbills and gannets.

Puffin with nest material Puffin calling, Skomer Island

Puffin, Skomer Island Puffin peeking out of its burrow, Skomer Island

Puffin taking off from the sea Puffins, Farne Islands

Guillemot in flight Shag in flight

Fulmar in flight Guillemots on rocks

Razorbill, Skomer Island Arctic tern, Farne Islands

Gannet, Bass Rock Arctic tern calling, Farne Islands Seabird colony at Elegug Stacks, Wales

2.  Dolphin watching

I also achieved another of my aims for 2012, which was to do my first ever whale and dolphin watching. I managed to join a couple of boat trips in Wales and also in the Straits of Gibraltar, and successfully watched harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, striped dolphins and long-finned pilot whales. Some common and grey seals also made an appearance!

No orcas or large whales as yet though – they are still on my list for the future!

Striped dolphins, Strait of Gibraltar Long-finned pilot whales, Strait of Gibraltar

3. Nocturnal mammals

In 2011, I treated myself to a new bat detector. Unfortunately I bought it in November, when bats were busy hibernating, so it wasn’t until last spring that I got my first chance to use it. The first species I managed to detect on it was a common pipistrelle, outside my parents’ house in Kent. As a child I often sat outside on warm summer evenings and spotted bats going to and fro – it was good to finally confirm which species they were!

Thanks to various outings to different habitats, I’ve managed to detect around 10 bat species on the detector over the past year – not a bad total, even if I couldn’t be sure of the exact identify of every one to species level. My favourites were some greater and lesser horseshoe bats, which sound like miniature aliens!

I also had success at seeing my first wild badgers, and spent a lovely summer evening at Avon Wildlife Trust’s Folly Farm watching a badger family run, jump, sniff and scratch – quite a treat.

Other mammal highlights of the year included hares, deer and my first ever red squirrels, while a holiday to Gibraltar allowed me to watch the antics of Barbary macaques.

Vole at WWT Slimbridge Female sika deer, Knole Park, Kent

Rutting fallow deer, Knole Park, Kent Female fallow deer, Knole Park, Kent

4.  Garden Bioblitz – the big launch!

This time last year I said that I wanted to get other people involved in ‘bioblitzing’ their own gardens, after the fun I had bioblitzing mine in 2011 and writing about it in my blog, “An Urban Bioblitz“.

Little did I know that various Twitter and email conversations later, 2012 would see the first ever Garden Bioblitz take place across the UK, with around 50 volunteers counting everything that ran, flew, slithered or grew in their gardens over a 24 hour period. I loved the enthusiasm and interest everyone showed, and even got to give a short talk about it all at the National Bioblitz Conference in Bristol later in the year.

We are planning to make the Garden Bioblitz a big nationwide event in 2013 so keep an eye out for updates – the Garden Bioblitz 2013 will be happening from 1st-2nd June, so put the date in your diary!

In my own garden, I’ve been really pleased with the success I had from simply adding a few large buckets of water and some pond plants. These “bucket ponds” were easy to make, but within a few weeks had become home to three pond snail species, zillions of daphnia and other tiny crustaceans, and one of my favourite moments of the year – seeing a pair of damselflies making a humble bucket of water their home. Makes it all worth it!

Rose chafer, photographed during the Garden Bioblitz 2012 Hoverfly, photographed during the Garden Bioblitz 2012

Crab spider, photographed during the Garden Bioblitz 2012 Woodlice, photographed during the Garden Bioblitz 2012

Red admiral butterfly on buddleia Damselflies laying eggs in my bucket pond

5.  Lots of new species… and hoopoe joy

The past year has been a bumper one for me in terms of finding species that I’ve never seen before. Some are listed in the highlights above, but others have included hearing reintroduced cranes calling on the Somerset Levels (actually spotting them is on my list for 2013!), seeing choughs on Skomer Island, ticking off several new migrant birds, finally seeing little owls at Portbury Wharf reserve, and hearing the exotic-sounding song of a nightingale for the first time.

Although it’s not a new species for me, I also fulfilled my wish of visiting a red kite feeding station in Wales, where I got to watch and listen to dozens of these beautiful raptors putting on an acrobatic display.

Wheatear, Skomer Island Rock pipit, Seahouses

Female eider duck, Farne Islands Whimbrel, Pembrokeshire

My first visit to a heronry Stonechat, Andalucia

Red kite in flight

However, the prize for my best wildlife moment of 2012 really has to go to a showy little bird whose brief appearance in front of my car in Spain made my birding year. I didn’t manage to get a great photo, but it didn’t matter – the hoopoe is a bird I first came across in a bird book when I was only 7 or 8 years old, and ever since it has been the one bird I most hoped to see one day. Over 20 years later, I finally got my wish!

Hoopoe, Andalucia, Spain

The old favourites

It’s not just new wildlife moments I’ve enjoyed in the past year – I’ve also been luckily enough to visit a lot of my favourite sites, and wrote about some of them in my blogs about visits to WWT Slimbridge, RSPB Dungeness and the Somerset Levels. I’ve also explored some new places too, some of which I got to write about in a post for the Somerset Wildlife Trust.

I also visited my first heronry back in the spring, just as the herons were beginning to nest, and I watched raptors and vultures migrating over southern Spain in the autumn.

I’ve still been watching Bristol’s urban birds, and I’ve been watching the seasons turn too. I’ve been rockpooling and fossil hunting, and even had my first taste of bird ringing. All in all, a pretty packed year!

Male teal, Somerset Levels Water rail, WWT Slimbridge

View across RSPB Dungeness, Kent Camouflaged snipe, Somerset Levels

Draycott Sleights reserve, Somerset Herring gull, Bristol city centre Spring blossom in central Bristol

Common blue butterfly, Somerset Wildlife Trust Draycott Sleights reserve Autumn tree, Westonbirt Arboretum

Crab found while rockpooling Barnacles on rock

Peregrine chick being colour-ringed, Bristol Scops owl at bird ringing station in Gibraltar Sardinian warbler being ringed at bird ringing station in Gibraltar

Wildlife resolutions for 2013

For me, seeing all these new species over the past year hasn’t been so much about ticking things off a list as setting goals and challenges that have allowed me to expand my wildlife knowledge, experience new things and explore new and wonderful places.

I didn’t succeed with everything I set out to spot though, so have plenty more challenges for the year ahead. Here are a few species I’d like to see and things I’d like to do in 2013:

  • Spotting a few more new mammals – particularly an otter, although it would also be great to find my first weasel, stoat and dormouse.
  • Catching up with elusive birds – turtle dove, tree sparrow, goshawk, brambling and ring ouzel are still on my list to spot! A golden eagle would also be good…
  • Find an adder – I’ve still not seen one in the wild.
  • Continue to discover new places and new reserves.
  • With the invaluable help of my wildlife-keen friends, make the Garden Bioblitz 2013 a success and hopefully inspire people to look more closely at and enjoy their garden wildlife.

Of course, I’m also hoping to make regular visits to many of my favourite reserves, to keep on photographing the wildlife I find, and to carry on enjoying the species that I see every day.

I’m looking forward to all the wildlife that 2013 has to offer. If you have any wildlife-related New Year’s resolutions, or particular things you’d like to see or experience in the year ahead, I’d love to hear from you and find out how you get on!

Greylag goose, WWT Slimbridge

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