2008 UK lifers

A week in, maybe we’re a little far into 2009 for retrospectives of ’08, but I thought it would be nice to recap on the birding lifers I got last year. It was a year when I started to be a bit more serious about finding birds, and so some rather easy birds are on the list – 2009’s will (mainly) be a bit trickier!

1 – Mandarin Duck (03/01/08)
The year started well with a self-found female mandarin bobbing in Crookes Valley Park, which stayed for a good few days. I also got an excellent drake at Potteric Carr later in the year.

2 – Smew (12/01/08)
A bit of a twitch this one – a handsome drake at Fairburn Ings, swimming feet away from the edge of the water. If only I’d had bought a camera at this point!

3 – Bittern (19/01/08)
Quite unsatisfying views of the bird coming into roost near the Reedbed Hide at Old Moor. This was more than made up for by the great views I got at Potteric in December (below).


4 – Waxwing (25/01/08)
One that had been on my wishlist since childhood, but sadly the 07/08 winter was a terrible waxwing year. The best I got was hearing and seeing a pair dart over my head in Handsworth. Hardly the views I’d dreamt of! Luckily winter 08/09 has been excellent so far, and I got good looks at them at Crosspool (below), Hillsborough and Bollington (self-found!) before the year was out.


5 – Little Gull (09/02/08)
A brief but good view of the individual that was hanging around with the black-headed gulls at Damflask Reservoir was an excellent almost-on-patch tick.

6 – Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (02/03/08)
I didn’t count it as a lifer at the time, but my only previous view in 2007 was brief and fairly stringy, and this one was superb. An individual was on a tree down the closed segment of Middlewood Road, near Beeley Woods, and was so close I didn’t bother to raise my bins. Excellent stuff!

7 – Goshawk (08/03/08)
A much wanted lifer seen on a fantastic and highly educational raptor-watching morning  at Windy Corner with the SBSG. The morning also turned up another in the shape of…

8. Crossbill (08/03/08)
…a crossbill, chupping overhead. I want much better views in 2009 though!

9. Tree Pipit (26/04/08)
OK, stop laughing. But this was one where learning some birdsong over the Spring really paid off, and singing individuals at Agden Side were the first of many throughout the year. The best views I got were a bit later, watching a displaying male at Ughill.

10. Lesser Whitethroat (03/05/08)
Another one found using new-found birdsong skills, and an unexpected patch tick on the hills overlooking the Loxley Valley.

11. Spotted Flycatcher (05/05/08)
Another great patch tick in the Loxley Valley. This wasn’t a true lifer, as I saw some in Greece last year, but I had something of a spotted flycatcher mojo this year, finding them in several locations in Western Sheffield.

Spotted Flycatcher

12. Sedge Warbler (08/05/08)
Never mind struggling between reed and sedge warbler song, the wetlands around Low-Newton-by-the-Sea in Northumbria was full of these, handily showing off their bright white eyebrows. Once I’d grasped the song I was finding them all over the place, but these were the most showy and my first positive IDs.

13. Little Tern (10/05/08)
Searching through the Arctic Tern flock at Beadnell, Northumbria, turned up a couple of these tiny terns, and great birds they were too!

14. Wood Warbler (23/05/08)
Another reason to learn birdsong – it alerted me to a couple of these little gems at Wyming Brook.

15. Redstart (24/05/08)
Another one firmly on the hit list, and got fairly easily after a short period of looking at the abandoned farm at Rocher Head. Later seen again at Agden Side and Spurn.

16. Grasshopper Warbler (06/06/08)
A heard-only at Redmires, but it’s hard to get any other!

17. Ring Ouzel (06/06/08)
Some disappointing views of a couple of ouzels rising out of the heather at Moscar. A definite mission for 2009 to get a better look at them!

18. Spoonbill (07/06/08)
One of my favourite birds of the year, which was kind enough to land while I was conducting a guided walk at Old Moor, turning the focus of the walk from baby coots and mallards to something far more interesting! It stayed around for a few weeks and I got a few views of it before it left.


19. Woodcock (02/07/08)
A fairly embarassing bogey finally caught up with on a SBSG nightjar walk on Wharncliffe Heath (which also gave me my first views of nightjar, which was previously a heard-only).

20. Spotted Redshank (12/07/08)
A trip to Blacktoft Sands finally turned up some of these for me, which included some males in almost pristine summer plumage. The day also gave me…

21. Bearded Tit (12/07/08)
…quite distant but unmistakable views of bearded tit, which was my main target for the day. There was also an untickable, almost certainly escapee, white stork on the way home!

22. and 23. Arctic and Great Skuas (21/09/08)
The RSPB skua/shearwater cruise at Bridlington was lacking in any shearwaters, sadly, but I was more than happy with the views I got of these two cracking species.

24. Amur Falcon (21/09/08)
I was quite happy thinking this falcon, seen at Tophill Low after the skua cruise, was a red-footed. However it was later re-identified as Britain’s first Amur falcon after its underwings moulted, leading to a “should I or shouldn’t I?” ticking crisis among all that saw it. I, erm, ticked it…

Apparently an Amur Falcon... honest!

25. Black-necked Grebe (21/09/08)
A lifer also-ran from the same Tophill Trip was a very, very distant, scoped view of a black-necked grebe, and much better views are needed for this to be a satisfactory tick!

26. and 27. Great Grey and Red-backed Shrikes (28/09/08)
I’d seen red-backed shrikes in Rhodes, but to get my first ever two UK shrikes within half an hour, on a SBSG trip to Spurn, was fantastic! The day kept on getting good with…

Great Grey Shrike (digiscoped)

28. Yellow-browed Warbler (28/09/08)
…this little gem was in the churchyard at Spurn and I got brief, but very clear, views of it hopping around the treetops. And I also got…

29. Whinchat (28/09/08)
What I considered my biggest bogey of the year, and one I was very relieved to get before the autumn was out!

30. Short-eared Owl (24/10/08)
I finally got owl number 4, with stunning views of three individuals over Leash Fen. Owl number 5 – long-eared – is a mission for 2009!

31. Pintail (27/10/2008)
Another embarassing omission that I was glad to mop up during a visit to Potteric Carr, with further individuals seen later in the year (pictured below).


32. Water Rail (29/12/2008)
A return trip to Potteric over Christmas finally saw me pin down water rail, with a lovely individual under the feeders at the Willow Pool Hide.

Water Rail

33. Green-winged Teal (29/12/2008)
And finally… the quickiest, dirtiest twitch I’ve ever done, stopping off at Old Moor at the end of the day to get this nice little duck.

So what are the targets for 2009? Well there’s still some rather easy ones that shouldn’t be too tricky (red-breasted merganser, long-eared owl, grey plover, marsh tit and yellow wagtail are now on the “bogey list”). A day trip trip to Norfolk later in the month should turn up at least brent goose, and hopefully snow bunting, but after that… who knows? I’m looking forward to finding out!


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My name is Pete

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