Highs and Lows of 2017

Well where did 2017 go! As I get older the years fly by. So what were my personal highlights of 2017 and some lows? In no particular ranked order.




1. Goshawks.  I've been monitoring Goshawks for a few years in Devon now (well 27 to be exact). 2017 was a very good year in that we had the highest number of fledged young so far from the areas I cover. Of course I am licensed by BTO to monitor the species and the results go to them and the Rare Birds Breeding Panel. But to me the most important part of this work is safeguarding breeding success. The birds breed in what is a mature commercial crop (conifers) often ear-marked for harvesting. Over the years I've been able to influence many in the forestry industry in the area, both forestry agents  and land owners, helping to identify nest sites and getting operations / management plans adjusted to cater for the birds. Some private foresters are so good now that they are finding new sites and then adjusting the management around the birds with only minor input from myself. So in 2017 we had amazing productivity of 2.93 young per site.
What I like to see, lots of white shed down on a nest after the young have fledged. This site fledged four. Forestry operations were adjusted to cater for the birds and as a busy public wood we closed one small section of track to good effect.
A newly fledged youngster awaits food from the adults.
Its not all highs though. With the nature of woodland management, some woods are felled as the owners need to make money. Of course we make sure its not in the breeding season, but some sites are lost. In one area, what was once a very productive site, the small woodland was sold off to become multi-owned, mainly for recreational activity; due to the increased human presence we lost the birds. Another site that has gradually become well known to birders / photographers, failed to breed - which is why we have licences for monitoring nests and keeps visit to a minimum. Some pairs are very susceptible to disturbance in the nest building, egg stage, so these things happen!

Another highlight was an interesting observation of behavior.  With Goshawks the females usually brood small young, males will do, but usually when the female is feeding. I visited a site on 26/05/17, which I knew, if still successful, would have small young. I setup my scope for a quick check on the nest and up popped the head of the male. He saw me, slowly got up and left the nest, OK I thought better leave she must be off feeding. But then up popped the head of the female. They were both brooding the young! Something I've not seen documented in books but witnessed just once before myself. I quietly left.
Up pops the head of the male, he then leaves.
Up pops the head of the female, so they were double brooding!

2. Raptor migration.  In late September we went to the western Pyrenees to catch some raptor migration. Our destination Collado De Ibaneta near Roncesvalles in northern Spain, close to the French border. This is a major migration route as soaring birds and many passerines avoid the higher Pyrenees to east and pass through heading south. Even so its still relatively high at 1057m, a fair bit higher than Dartmoor! Different species migration peak at different times, but the end of September gave a pretty good spread. See http://www.gurelur.org/p/en/projects/migration-centre-roncesvalles.php which gives a chart for the various species. We saw 19 different raptor species, which was more than I hoped for! Of note the area is riddled with shooting butts for the big Woodpigeon migration later in October, but no shooting was taking place while we were there.

The highlights for me were seeing Honey-buzzards moving through. Most of the adults had already passed, but a few stragglers were still moving, outnumbered by the very variable looking juveniles. I really miss seeing these birds in Devon (having once helped to monitor them here).
Adult Honey-buzzard
Pale juvenile Honey-buzzard with a tatty tail

A darker juvenile Honey-buzzard with some missing secondaries
While local Griffon Vultures are numerous in the area it was nice to have several sightings of Lammergeier, without needing to travel up into the high peaks. The main migrant raptor was Red Kite with triple figure counts of birds moving through most days.
Red Kite
Local Golden Eagles showed most days, while a few each of Booted and Short-toed also passed through.
Pale phase Booted Eagle
Juvenile Short-toed Eagle
Many north European raptors pass through this site, with Marsh Harriers, Ospreys (perhaps even some UK birds), Common Buzzards; lots of Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and Hobbies seen while we were there. We even saw Hen Harrier, Goshawk and Peregrine moving through.
A Hobby skims over our heads
An immaculate juvenile Marsh Harrier
Perhaps the unexpected highlight this far north was an immature Black-shouldered Kite, sitting on a post by the road.
Immature Black-shouldered Kite
 Other soaring birds moving through included impressive numbers of Black Storks, with 113 one day. The White Storks move through earlier in the autumn but we did see a few late stragglers.

Migrating Black Storks
 On the last day we even got involved in an international watch event, as the sole UK representatives! Counts take place throughout the autumn to contribute to data on species using this important flyway. The EU funds cross-border promotion of biodiversity, environmental education and Eco-tourism, with monies from the Interreg Lindus-2 project, see https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://lpoaquitaine.org/index.php/2013-02-14-09-31-28/2329-presentation-du-projet-lindus-2&prev=search
This particular watch was celebrating / promoting these partnerships. We stated to our Spanish & French friends we were sorry the UK was leaving the EU, as we felt the positives of being a member outweigh the negatives, especially for linked up conservation. Out of interest when I did much at-sea survey with MarineLife of the English Channel for Balearic Shearwaters, this was a joint Anglo-French project, also with EU Interreg funding and knowledge sharing!



3. Balearic Shearwaters.  Although it was neither a poor or exceptional year for Balearic Shearwater passage off Devon I did at last hit a major milestone. On the 26/07/17 I saw my 10,000th Devon Balearic Shearwater pass by, yippee. Its taken a few years and many hour watching to get there! More on this years' passage here http://seaskywatch.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/balearic-sheawaters-through-west-lyme.html
4. Humpback Whale Lyme Bay.  Seeing whales makes people feel good, myself included. This was a unique event and I spent a fair bit of time seeing this magnificent animal. More here http://seaskywatch.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/lyme-bay-humpback-updated.html

5. Wilson's Storm-petrel.  2017 has to go down as the year for Wilson's off the SW England and W/SW Ireland. I first had a tantalising view of a Storm-petrel matching Wilson's jizz off Start Point on 30/07/17, but not really enough detail! I was desperate to get to sea and on 15/08/17 I negotiated a trip on a shark fishing boat out of Salcombe. It was a great trip and after around 5 hours of chumming a Wilson's turned up in among the European Storm-petrels, giving views to be happy with. For me it was Devon's waters, but others would disagree! What was even more tantalising, was a Storm-petrel that passed Berry Head on 03/09/17, I had the briefest views (with others), it looked pretty good, but destined for the Storm-petrel sp. pile! An account of the Wilson's boat trip is here http://seaskywatch.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/a-wilsons-storm-petrel-in-devon-waters.html

6. Large shearwater day at Berry Head.  On the 21/07/17 I was lucky to be at Berry Head most of the day where we had what was one of Devon's best passages of both Cory's and Great Shearwaters. Some of the birds were close enough to photograph with a 300mm lens! I ended up seeing 181 Cory's and 82 Great Shearwaters. I've seen more of both species before but never such close views. In fact in Devon terms it was a pretty good summer/early autumn for both species. Some pictures were on an ealier post, see http://seaskywatch.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/west-lyme-bay-large-shearwaters-2017.html

And yes there was a seawatching low and a big low at that! I love Pterodromas and while sitting at Start Point on 11/07/17 I had a call from Mike Langman that a Desertas/ Fea's Petrel had passed Berry Head and was on its way to me. I was already trembling at the thought and sat watching in anticipation. About 40 minutes I reckoned and it would appear?  But then the conditions deteriorated at the wrong time when it probably passed through, so I never saw it! But.....one small consolation was that I did see it in the end, on the fantastic bit of video Mike manage to get, so I finish with Devon's video of the year  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50POYa7vyTM . And my favorite photo. Hey ho!

Looking down a Humpback's blow hole, from shore, in Devon, whatever next!!!

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