The Safari missed out on a few real sitters last year and looking at our records we haven't seen a Hen Harrier or Short Eared Owl since 2012!
So how well (or otherwise) did we do on our various patches?
The overall year target was 200 (the same as always) and we achieve a somewhat meagre 179 just 89.5%. Patch 2 was very close to this 81 out of 90 = 90%, our trips to the nature reserve ended up fewer than we'd hoped and gave us 90 out of a perhaps too 'enthusiastic' a target or 120 = just 75% (We've pruned it to a round ton for this year). The garden came up trumps with a 'just over' 46/45. The garden list does have some serious absentees though reflecting perhaps we had no time off work due to operations at migration time compared to previous years and/or some local species are getting scarcer due to the habitat destruction in the name of tidying up in neighbouring gardens.
Missing were Coal Tit, Dunlin, Great Black Backed Gull, Common Gull, House Martin, Kestrel, Lapwing, Mallard, Mistle Thrush, Rook, Sand Martin, Siskin, and Song Thrush; We will up our target to 50 this year.
Our first bird of the year was a Robin heard as soon as we opened the door to take Frank out before 06.00 quickly followed by Blackbirds on the grass verge along the main road.
With a huge rise in overnight temperatures to double figures the garden feeders were very quiet all morning. We only had singles of Robin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Blue Tit with fly-overs of Herring Gull, Feral Pigeon and Woodpigeon. All a bit of dead loss really.
After lunch we hit the well worn trail to the nature reserve, the weather could have been a bit better but hey-ho out n about is better than sitting in doin nowt and those waterproofs have to earn their keep. The drive past the big park lake gave us only the easy Coot, Tufted Duck and Black Headed Gulls through the steamed up side windows of the Land Rover.
We had a little plan to kick start the year list but the birds weren't forthcoming in the quickly deteriorating conditions. At our first site Meadow Pipits rather than Snipe, Jack Snipe (not seen last year) or Stonechats were the entry in the notebook.
Acting on information received we stopped at a different part of the scrub to look for two new Long Eared Owls in increasingly heavy rains, we weren't sure exactly which tree to look in and couldn't find them but it would seem there are at least four and possibly five on site now. Our informant also saw a Barn Owl at dawn.
With the rain getting even heavier and starting to get driven sideways by the increasing wind we made haste to the NW hide, one that seems to be ignored in favour of the viewing platform except by those who enjoy exceedingly strong lager and illicit substances but it was dry and 'warm' seeing how the wind wasn't blowing through the windows the hide being sheltered by the adjacent scrub from south - to south westerlies.
We broke out the scope and settled in for a long afternoon - in that rain we weren't going anywhere!
All the regular waterfowl fell to the notebook except Pochard which was here yesterday and the Little Grebe which apparently we'd just missed.
Like the waterfowl the gulls were predictable again except the Iceland Gull which we had hoped would put in an appearance as the waste depot it hangs around is shut today. Pick of the gulls was a darkish backed dirty headed 'argentatus' type. The lousy light making reading the 50 shades of grey much easier.
When the rain desisted for a few minutes we made a dash down the path to the 'usual' Long Eared Owls where one rather dishevilled one hunkered as deep as it could get in it's tree. On the way back we had another look for the elusive two but again without any joy.
There was some daylight left so a quick visit to the Feeding Station was made. The rain had kept everything away hunkered down out of the cold and wet and just a Blackbird, a pair of Pheasants and a pair of Moorhens mopping up any fallen bits. Eventually a Dunnock, a Great Tit, a Blue Tit and a Robin.
An alarm call broke the silence and in to view shot a Sparrowhawk which promptly perched up near the left hand feeders looking all menacing and surreptitious.
The light fell even more and a flock of Starlings came over, roosting on the pier not in 'our' reedbeds.
That was our cue to leave, once out of the hide and a few yards down the path a Shelduck came through the gloom from the north and looked like it may have landed on the water. A good bird to get at the nature reserve on Day 1!
By the time we got back to the Land Rover it was just about dark so no chance of spotting anything on the park lake as we passed on the way back to Base Camp.
So 33 species for the day, we're sure many folks locally will have got at least double that but they'll all be there tomorrow and the next day so there's no rush and you see what you see and enjoy it when you do. There's far more to our safaris than just our Year List Challenge...but only of we win!
Today was the first day of the BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt - we got in various places during the day Gorse (only to be expected), Dove's Foot Cranesbill, Daisy and Dandelion. Only the Gorse was at the nature reserve but given the weather we didn't look as hard as we might have done in better conditions.
Where to next? A family trip to the South-side is on the cards tomorrow, so there might be something new to see on the journey.
In the meantime let us know who's terribly dishevilled in your outback.