Sunday 1 January 2017

2016 Personal Highlights

As it is the start of a New Year, I thought I would have a go at summarising some of my personal wildlife highlights of 2016 whilst living in Devon and guiding overseas with my company Wise Birding Holidays.

My first visit to this American state and despite -28 degrees C there was still life! A very brief Canadian Lynx was frustrating to say the least, but Wolves in their winter coats and Pine Grosbeaks, Ivory Gull and Snowy Owl in the snow were just some of the highlights.
Back home, a Brambling in the garden was a definite highlight and all important garden tick, taking the list to 71 species!
1st Winter Ivory Gull, Duluth 

Male Pine Grosbeak - one of many birds seen at various feeding stations

Wolf - One of two animals seen very well 

American Marten

Brambling in the garden!
I am very lucky to be able to visit this great country most years and though the speciality birds of this part of Africa are impressive, it is often the migrants in the desert that fascinate me the most. You never quite know what is lurking in any bit of habitat.
Egyptian Nightjar - an easy species to see in Morocco with the help of the locals

Western Orphean Warbler and Common Redstart in the Desert

Western Bonelli's Warbler in the Desert

Seebohm's Wheatear in the Desert

During the Spring and Summer months I carried out breeding bird surveys for the RSPB with two other surveyors (including fellow birder, blogger and friend Steve Waite). The surveys covered over 130 KM squares on the eastern side of Dartmoor as part of the Moor than Meets the Eye Project. It was great to discover parts of Dartmoor that I had never visited before and to spend some great early mornings on the Moors.
April and May locally on the patch was also memorable in terms of Otter sightings. A family group of up to 4 animals were seen regularly.
Dartmoor  - Looking towards Warren House Inn

Spotted Flycatcher

Dunlin on Dartmoor
Otter on the River Otter

Otter on the River Otter

Otters on the River Otter

A trip to Finland in early June produced the hoped for Wolverines, a mammal I had always wanted see as well as a bonus Brown Bear. Birds were of course impressive as always with Hawk Owl being the hands down winner for me and a bird I never tire of watching.
Locally, on the River Otter, the highlight of the year was the successful breeding of our local Beaver pair producing an amazing 5 Beaver kits!


European Brown Bear

Male Capercaillie

Northern Hawk Owl

One of the five Beaver Kits with Mother
Brazil's Northern Pantanal is place I have been very lucky to visit on a number of occasions. It is part of one of the world's largest wetlands and simply stacked full of wildlife. For me, it is always the Jaguars that excite me the most. No matter how many times you see them, they always leave you wanting more! 
It was great to see two well grown young cubs this year.
Female Jaguar

Male Jaguar - This male has an injured eye and I saw him back in October 2015 too!

Female Jaguar
Giant Anteater

Two well grown Jaguar Cubs

Seeing my first Cuckoo on the patch was a definite highlight and at the same time a somewhat depressing reminder at how fast this species is declining.
A return visit to Spain and the Cantabrian Mountains in late August was just as exciting 
as my last visit with Wildcats, Wolves & Wallcreepers all seen very well and always amongst fabulous scenery.
Juvenile Cuckoo on the patch
Female European Wildcat

Female European Wildcat 

Pico D'Europa

Male Wallcreeper

In my opinion, California without doubt has some of the most impressive marine life anywhere in the world. Great seabirds, great cetaceans and impressive numbers. 
Clear highlight for me was seeing the planet's largest Beaked Whale, the rare Baird's Beaked Whale. 
Baird's Beaked Whale - a cetacean mega!

Pacific White-sided Dolphin

Black-footed Albatross

El Capitan, Yosemite NP

Despite being overseas for much of my time, I do always like to spend October in the UK as personally I find it is the most exciting time for birding in the UK. This year local birding was tough as the east coast was certainly the place to be! However, a few good local patch finds (Serin being the highlight) plus other local birds like Matt Knott's Tawny Pipit and Mike Langman's brilliant find at Berry Head all helped keep the interest going before I defected to Spurn!
Yellow-browed Warbler on the patch - one of at least two

Ring Ouzel on the patch

Matt's Tawny Pipit at Gore Lane

Mike Langman's great find of a Blyth's Reed Warbler, Berry Head

Siberian Accentor, Spurn 
A great trip to Namibia (including Botswana & Zambia) resulted in over 400 species of bird and 55 species of mammal. Clear highlights for me were Racquet-tailed Roller, Herero Chat & Dwarf Bittern (new species for me) as well as Pel's Fishing Owl that never fails to impress. Mammal highlights were many and included Aardwolf, Brown Hyena & Wild Dog.
Back home,a visit to the East Devon Heaths shortly after returning resulted in finding only my 4th male Hen Harrier on the heaths after many years and cold hours spent watching the area during the winter months.
Aardwolf, Etosha NP

Mel's Fishing Owl, Botswana

Wild Dog, Namibia

African Skimmer, Botswana
Male Hen Harrier, East Devon Heaths

Put simply, two patch ticks on the sea, Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoter! Plus the cracking Eastern Black Redstart at Mousehole.
Eastern Black Redstart, Mousehole


  1. Hi Chris, what an amazing life you lead. Some stunning animals and birds seen. Great photos, I assume you went Canon DSLR, but what lens? What ever it is its sharp!

  2. Thanks for your kind comments Mark - I certainly am very lucky that I manage to get to see some of the the world's great wildlife spectacles. The day I don't enjoy it is the day I will give up guiding - Never!
    The camera is Canon 7D Mkii plus the 400mm f5.6 - The most weight I am prepared to carry! Keep in touch and keep blogging!

  3. Magic photos as always Chris - looks like an incredible year. Ivory Gull photo is mind-blowing. Very envious! Hopefully see you soon. All the best and look forward to more blogs in 2017. Matt

  4. Cheers Matt - Yep, certainly a year to remember and I am very lucky to have so many opportunities. The Ivory Gull was amazing and to see it in the snow made it all the better! No doubt see you soon and thanks again for all your texts on local birds - Always appreciated.

  5. Hi Chris, great post and some fantastic photos as usual. Lucky to see Baird's B Whale off California a few yrs ago, can only dream of seeing some of the others though. Notice you didn't label the Dowitchers - don't blame you! all the best for 2017

  6. Hi Tim and Happy New Year! I was very happy seeing the BB Whale - Where was yours? In Monterey Bay? The Dowitchers are always interesting and it was quite frustrating as there were an awful lot of birds in varying plumages and I wished I chad more time to get some useful photos of different poses. I suspect both species were present. Most seemed to be Long-billed which I believe the photos show. Some features consistent with LBD like the lower scaps and covert pattern on some feathers and loral angles etc despite the awkward transition plumage! Have you seen this paper: - I will happily be proved wrong though!

  7. Hi Chris. Saw BB Whales well out to sea, can't remember how far, on a 5 day pelagic from San Diego. Lots of birds also - great fun. Had seen the Surfbirds piece but not had much reason to take it in. Difficult birds though and I certainly wouldn't disagree with you on Long-billed.

  8. Well Done on the review Chris, some fantastic photos of such wonderful species, in so many habitats, and you still keep up the local birding and the blog! look forward to more this year

  9. Many thanks Mike - Glad you enjoyed it. Fingers crossed some of the trips you will be doing in the near future!

  10. Very nice post. I just love all those amazing pictures that you took. It looks amazingly real!!!

  11. Glad you had a stunning year, good to see wild cat& wallcreeper, great memories for me from a year earlier. thank you so much for Devon beaver experience. Hope 2017 delivers more top draw wildlife experiences. best j

  12. Cheers John - Good to hear from you! Hope to see you again in 2017 somewhere.....