The Wildlife Oculus Review of the Year

Its been a challenge to pick out the best moments of 2018. I have looked back over my many many photographs and blog posts and tried to consider what really meant something this year to me. I've broken it down into Months as so much as happened. The photographs I have selected may not be what I consider the best I have taken but they will represent some of the key events.

Some of my regular readers and companions on my travels will get a mention too ;) Sorry I have not mentioned everyone I have enjoyed being with but thank you for your company throughout the year.

JANUARY

My most memorable event at the beginning of the year was "pain". Due to illness I have had a challenging year of recurring painful symptoms that have been in the background even on the good days.I ended up for the best part of this month  having to rest up and hang about the house. The garden birds kept my wander lust at bay and I found myself starting to become more interested in astronomy in the evenings.

Phases of the Moon

 In mid January it marked my "escape" from being restricted to the house to venturing back out doors. I explored a local patch in a church yard and found a flock of Hawfinch in the Yew trees feeding on the berries. What a great find that was and it kind of set up my whole year as I was going to get even luckier with spotting the odd rare bird or two.

A Hawfinch

FEBRUARY

In February my friend Paul Joy took me out for one of our birding trips to WWT Llanelli. It would result in several bird firsts. A shy Water Rail scuttled into view near some bird feeders. I would see my first Brambling and a Ring Necked Duck.

Water Rail

Brambling

Ring Necked Duck



 What won my heart though was watching a big flock of Black Tailed Godwits. I just fell in love with these amazing waders on first sight.

Black Tailed Godwits formation flying

Later in the month I was invited to my friend Ian Howells hide and watched a magnificent Tawny Owl. Not something that you see every day.

Tawny Owl

MARCH

The Beast from the East chilled the country and resulted in some incredible birds to my own garden.
Redwings, Fieldfare and Bramblings landed in my own Acer Tree during a snow blizzard affording me a great opportunity for photographs.

Redwing

Fieldfare

Brambling


I visited Aust Wharf for the first time and had a close encounter with a Short Eared Owl. On another visit I managed to get my first picture of a Merlin (Male).

Short Eared Owl

Merlin (Male) at Aust Wharf

My love affair with Goldcliff Lagoons started in earnest in March. Whist tracking a Marsh Harrier along the reserve I spotted a "Blackbird" in a Hawthorn tree and to my surprise it turned out to be a Ring Ouzel (another lifer for the year). Telling a group of birders about it turned out to be the best way ever to empty a hide :)

Ring Ouzel at Goldcliff

I was overjoyed to discover that Goldcliff had its own population of Black Tailed Godwits.

Black Tailed Godwits at Goldcliff Lagoons

APRIL

Spring was now beginning and the summer migrants had started to arrive. Travelling to the North of Gwent again accompanied by Paul we found one of my favourite species of migrants - Pied Flycatchers. Always good to watch.

Pied Flycatcher Preening


 Further North at Pwll Ddu we spent some great hours photographing newly arrived Wheatears.

Wheater (Male)

My personal highlight of April and if not the year was when I returned to a spot that I had been taking pictures of Kingfishers a year before on the River Usk to see a huge bird flying up river that turned out to be an Osprey en-route to Scotland.

Osprey flying  up the River Usk.

MAY

A rain swept Ham Wall visit turned out to be absolutely action packed. Watching a pair of Marsh Harriers nesting from the Avalon Hide was amazing and seeing a male fight with a pair of Bitterns was awesome. At the Tor hide I hear a "pig squeal" and was shocked to see an elusive Water Rail preening in front of me.

A male Marsh Harrier fighting with Bitterns at Ham Wall

Preening Water Rail

Early morning visits to Uskmouth paid off and  resulted in a local Bittern giving me a flyby.

Bittern at Uskmouth

Goldcliff Lagoons continued to deliver with incredible sights of large flocks of waders.

Huge flock of Waders at Goldcliff

Dunlins

JUNE

This year on my annual pilgrimage to Skomer I was joined by Paul Joy and Nicola Johns. We had a fabulous time and also visited a number of other locations - notably Stack Rocks where we witnessed a sight to behold - Elegug stacks covered in Guilimots and Razorbills.

Skomer as ever never fails to impress and I was particularly pleased with my Puffin pictures.

Elegug Stacks - thousands of birds

Puffin with a mouthful of Sand Eels

On return to my local patches it was good to see some Yellow Hammers again. These colourful birds are becoming a rare sight in Gwent.

Yellow Hammer

Talking of rare birds, on my return to Goldcliff I had great views of "Lofty and Gibble" a pair of Common Cranes


Lofty and Gibble

I rounded the month of being bitten to death by horse flies whilst lying on the ground getting close and personal with a pair of Common Sandpipers.

Up close with a Common Sandpiper


JULY

The summer was now upon us and we were experiencing a heat wave with something like five weeks of no rainfall.

The lagoons at Goldcliff were drying out. Priors Lagoon looked more like "Death Valley" with the mud completely baked.

Death Valley

I found myself restricted to visiting Goldcliff Lagoons mainly in the evenings during the week.

This allowed me to enjoy some fantastic sunsets and really get to know the rhythms of the reserve. One of my favourite events of the year involved watching hundreds if Curlews flying in to roost at sunset.

Curlews coming in to roost

Sunset at the Lagoons

Later in the month I had another opportunity to photographs Ian Howells Tawny Owls. This time there was more than one owl. They had bred and now the young were also visiting the hide and being fed by the parents.

Mummy Owl feeding its chick


August

The eighth calendar month was dominated by many visits to Goldcliff Lagoons. Coming across a pair of Stoats hunting in the long grass near the sea wall was great. Wow can they move quick. 

Stoat on the prowl

The reserve now had a huge number of Yellow Wagtails on show. They are very beautiful birds and a pleasure to watch.

Yellow Wagtail


Curlews, Curlews and lots of Curlews everywhere. I spent many an evening dangling my legs over the sea wall just sat waiting for them to fly in to roost.

A procession of Curlews

Curlews coming home to roost

SEPTEMBER

There is one species of Raptor that I believe is sometimes taken for granted in the UK.  Buzzards - there is nothing "Common" about them in my mind . They are fantastic birds. This month was marked by a visit to Ian Howells hide again but this time he had attracted a beautiful juvenile Buzzard. Just amazing to photograph close up.

Common Buzzard

I travelled again to Ham Wall , this time with my two comrades Paul and Nicola.
I don't think I have ever seen so many Great White Egrets. 

Great White Egret at Ham Wall

The remainder of the month was dominated by visits to the ever drying out Goldcliff. It was now more akin to the Sahara Desert with water levels very low indeed. The draught did attract  a new species for me to watch - Hobbies. 

 
Merged stylised picture showing a stooping Hobby

A pair of Hobbies

The evenings remained warm and dry and I continued to get some unique shots of birds at sunset.

Shelduck at Sunset

Wader silhouette 

OCTOBER


Whilst watching the sunset at Goldcliff I saw what appeared to be a Buzzard perched on a post near the sea wall hide. I dumped all my gear so I could sneak up to it. Crawling up to it commando style I peered over a grassy bank and it turned to look straight down the lens at me - it was no Buzzard but instead was a Short Eared Owl.

That's no Buzzard - its a Short Eared Owl and the first picture of this species at Goldcliff

Another visit caught a magnificent female Merlin in flight. She was so fast , like a mini missile.

Merlin flyby

The "Gods" collided , one very memorable evening and I captured some brilliant sunset and moon-lit pictures. The blog post resulted in me entering a Wildlife Blogging Competition.

Oystercatchers at Dusk

The Wall

NOVEMBER

This  month on the subject of  bird firsts would "Pallid" into significance compared to some of my other "lifers". A wet and cloudy autumn morning at Goldcliff resulted in a me photographing a strange looking "martin/swift". As it turned out it was a Pallid Swift and Gwents first ever recording.

Pallid Swift - First for Gwent

Lost all the way from North America a Bairds Sandpiper was spotted at Goldlciff. This resulted in another lifer.

Bairds Sandpiper

On my way home from photographing the Bairds I had a chance encounter with a female Sparrowhawk feeding on a Wood Pigeon.

Female Sparrowhawk


DECEMBER


A frustrating end to the year. Juggling lots of plates in my life has resulted in my opportunities to get out with the camera being limited. Especially because of the long dark evenings :(

One memorable trip this month was to a friends garden in the Brecon Beacons that had probably the most garden birds I have even seen visiting it. There were lots of the UK's smallest finch - Siskins. I love these birds and also enjoyed watching them in my own garden earlier this year.

Male Siskin


I particularly enjoyed  catching up my birding pals over the Christmas period and sharing our birding stories. Its great to be with people that share a similar passion to mine.

As we approach 2019 my last picture will be of the rising sun at Goldcliff. 

 2018 has been a great but a new year dawns on us soon and I can't wait for new adventures.

A big thanks and shout out to my friends and family this year and all my blog readers.

May you all have a Happy and Healthy 2019.

A new dawn at Goldcliff

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