I wanted to say something negative about this strange year but I can't. There were good times and good things as well as the awfulness of the virus. We have become inured to a daily dose of death which in more normal times would have been seen as a national tragedy. Over 900 deaths in one day and yet few tears are shed in the media. It's in the small print. Brexit is of greater interest. To be honest, our little world would have been better with neither of these pestilences. There I've said something negative after all!
So it's Farewell 2020 and welcome to Hope 2021. I've little to report other than to let you all know my end of year statistics. Straight from the ONS of course!
Total year ticks 200 exactly and that was a struggle. Species seen in the garden [or seen from the house looking into the fields] 43. Best ever total but that's because I spent so much bloody time at home staring at nothing in particular and dreaming of what might have been. Best birds in that list were waxwing, first ever yellow wagtail and our first ever jay. Jay was on our feeders.
Total for York area was 44 but I don't make the effort that I ought to make! Only addition to garden list was a moorhen.
Birds photographed for the first time were: eastern yellow wagtail; black-throated thrush; Blyth's reed warbler and the lammergeier.
One nice piece of news. Some time ago I entered a Butterfly Conservation Yorkshire branch photo competition as the branch was hoping to publish a Pocket Guide to Butterflies of Yorkshire. Four of my photos were selected as the best photo of a particular species. So I thought it would be nice on a very cold winter day to end the year with some butterflies.
Butterflies featured in this blog are purple emperor; clouded yellow; Duke of Burgundy; white letter hairstreak; plus 2 silver studded blue photos. Purple emperor was permitted as the guide is to include butterflies that may grace our Yorkshire countryside in the future as the climate changes.
See you next year. Take care, I mean it, really take care. It's not over yet you know.
There's no point moaning about it: it's here for a month [or so] and I am not going to risk going birding at the moment. We must hope the government can eventually tame the virus and give us back normality and the freedom to go birding! I hope they realise birding is very much on hold! [Although I'm still amazed when I look at my pager by the sheer number of reports that are still coming in from all parts of the country.]
In our own garden [and from bedroom windows looking across the fields] we've done quite well this year for species. 41 seen so far, the most recent being a rook: crows, jackdaws, magpies are very frequent but spotting a rook in our field across from the house is quite unusual. The highlights have been jay [first ever in the garden, on a feeder], a February waxwing from the bedroom window in a tree, blackcap and probably the best of the year a yellow wagtail on the grass verge outside the house. Birds of prey: kestrel [rare over the garden]; sparrowhawk [often seen flying through low and fast]; buzzards and one red kite sighting. I'll celebrate that with a few photos [none taken recently I'm afraid].
So what have we been up to? Sheila and I have been tidying the garden - using the mower to collect leaves off the lawns; getting leaves off the paths, waterfall and stream and the pond netting. We're currently in the middle of spreading one half of the compost heap on the garden - mainly onto the vegetable garden so far. Recent fog and damp weather has put that job on hold as the wet lawns get damaged by too many wheelbarrow loads trudging across them. And I'm glad of a break from pushing them and emptying them! I'm sure Sheila welcomes a rest from filling the barrows too!
On top of that I'm in the middle of moving a large metal cold frame and its breeze block base to a new location. It's something we do every few years.
When it's not too cold and miserable I work in the garage where I'm slowly making a model of a Tralee and Dingle Railway inspection car. This is the original photographed in 1961 by the railway writer J.I.C.Boyd in a wonderful autobiographical reminiscence book called Saga by Rail: Ireland.
This is the model so far! It's a bit further on than you might think as the chassis is largely hidden behind a jam jar of brush cleaner!
Sheila makes some wonderful things from pine cones. Some have been given to us by our grandson after a trip to Italy but most of the cones come from our own redwood tree [sequoia sempervirens]. It's the tallest thing in the neighbourhood [although a eucalyptus gunnii keeps pace with it as best it can!] We brought the tree as a youngster back from Bodnant Garden's specialist little nursery in North Wales. I don't know if the nursery is still there. We managed to get it into our Austin Montego estate about 30 years ago. Here it is now!
The bark is amazing. You can punch it hard with your fist and it doesn't hurt. The bark is like a sponge and helps protect the tree from fire. Our cat likes to charge up the tree but doesn't get further than the first 8 foot!
From such a large tree you might expect magnificent large pine cones but you'd be disappointed. The cones are quite small but beautifully structured.
Sheila has used them to make these decorative objects.
Her most recent project involved hundreds of the redwood cones mounted on a large board. When completed it was very heavy. I mounted it on the wall in our bedroom using steel wire and crimping sleeves. It looked really good on the wall. For about 10 seconds! The wire and crimping sleeve failed and the whole thing crashed to the floor frightening me to death! About half the cones came unstuck and many disappeared under our bed. Sheila has restored it but we're not trying again to mount it on a wall!
Something different: Sheila made this outdoor ''ladybirds and wasps'' noughts and crosses game from some offcuts and a few painted pebbles.
I love nerines - South African bulbs that can be grown in very sheltered spots outdoors in England. I have some more tender forms that need a bit of winter protection from the cold and damp. They're flowering now in a greenhouse although the pots do spend the summer outside.
Finally I spotted this moth on a planter near the house. it's called an Angle Shades and is common apparently. I think it's rather nice and, unlike butterflies, it stayed still for me!
[It was 201 but a collared flycatcher got demoted to ordinary pied!!]
September 28th: a trip out to Staveley to look for the lesser white-fronted goose. Not found and no great loss as I'm sure it will be discounted as an escape or some such. Still, there were some pinkfeet and a barnacle goose and, usefully, I found the quick way into the reserve which could be useful next time. If there is a next time...
Pinkfeet and a lone barnacle goose
Not been out since September 30th when I made my way over to Collingham to look for the hoopoe. Found at 8am in Millbeck Green. My third British hoopoe - I saw one in Murton, York many years ago and another somewhere else!
The pigeon was very wary of the hoopoe's bill!
Finally, a couple of extras from home: a wood pigeon that was pecking on our Velux windows - drinking rainwater off the glass we think...
...and a video recorded by our night camera early morning before I went down the garden to review the memory card. I got a nice surprise!
Our large pond is well netted by the way. No fish for Mr Grey today!
When I woke up on Monday morning [21/9] I looked out of the bedroom window to see if 'our' geese were in the field again. For some weeks now a large feral flock of Canada and greylag geese have been coming to feed in the mornings and some evenings too. There are several hundred of them. Here's a few.
Forgoing breakfast I set off north for Hartlepool. I was at Blackhall Rocks not too long ago to see the red-backed shrike that was frequenting the area near the path up to the pond. Strangely enough it was in the very same area that a couple of lapland buntings were hanging out. I set off from the car park on the walk north. Luckily the many dog walkers were not coming my way.
Goldfinches were everywhere. It was a lovely morning - probably the last really nice summer's day. Some stonechats soon appeared.
I thought this was a lovely chance encounter as I walked along.
I reached the path up to the pond. Movement on the left hand side of the path up to my left. In the shade. I waited.
Lapland buntings - my first for a couple of years.
Not complaining but I just don't seem to be in the right place at the right time at the moment.
September 11th I finally tracked down the Egyptian geese at North Cave Wetlands at the third visit. They'll be along in a moment. On my regular circuit of the reserve I spotted a black swan [a rather brown one] hiding amongst the greylag flock...
...and a green sandpiper.
...a mute swan and lapwings.
I liked this coffee-cream coloured highland cow.
Eventually I spotted two sleeping geese.
I realised there was enough detail showing to make me wait till they stirred. Bring on the Egyptian geese!
September 13th: trip to Redcar Tarn near Keighley to see a Franklin's gull. Good company but no bird for me although others saw it distantly in a ploughed field. I preferred to see it on the water. It never happened so I tried my hand at photographing what was available.
This a juvenile gull. Someone thought it might be a yellow-legged gull. I'm no good at splitting all the herring gull type juveniles so I'll just put it down as a herring gull. Nice plumage anyway.
September 16th: another wasted afternoon. I went to Ripon City Wetlands to try for the hobbies that had been showing well over the three previous days. Along with a couple of other photographers I saw virtually nothing.
A common darter
The view from the reedbed screen. And, finally, the enormous car park - room for a couple of hundred more cars!
198 UK 2020 - 200 beckons but it may not be straightforward...