This is my annual post looking back at the year as it comes to a close and reflecting on my interactions with nature over the past 12 months. Personally, this has been the most momentous years with nature playing a pivotal part throughout.
The year started, as it is now ending, with a short break with friends in Devon. On our first walk of the new year my bird watching got off to a good start with a whinchat and a flock of cirl buntings seen as we walked along the very blustery coast path. January also brought a visit to the Nene Washes; this large nature reserve in the Fens in Cambridgeshire is an easy drive from our home in rural Northamptonshire and was a revelation. Over the course of a couple of hours we had great views of flocks of lapwing and golden plover, a large flock of common cranes, some hunkered down short-eared owls and quartering marsh harriers and, surprisingly, a glossy ibis.
After a third bout of COVID delayed our trip, we eventually got to Sweden in May, a week later than planned. With family living there, I’ve made many trips to the country over more than 20 years but the pandemic put a halt to that and this was the first visit since the summer of 2019. It was an excellent trip for wildlife with the Swedish spring in full swing. Over the week we spent staying out in the countryside, we saw 80 species of bird and had some excellent wildlife moments. While grilling sausages in Fjarnebofjarden National Park, we were flown over by a white-tailed eagle which was then mobbed by an osprey, and each evening we watched beavers in the lake close the the summerhouse we stayed in. The scenery was also as lovely as ever, with the spring flowers bursting into life with wood anemones spreading in vast carpets in the forests.
Then came the biggest event of the year. We travelled up to Scotland, onto the Isle of Skye, to get married on a remote hillside on the Summer Solstice. The wedding was set in nature, in the most spectacular of locations on the Trotternish Ridge overlooking the Sound of Raasay and to Wester Ross in the distance. Ceremony was set in nature with it playing its part in making it the most memorable of days. As the wedding started, a cuckoo called and continued to call throughout, with backing from an occasional skylark and meadow pipit. We spent the rest of the day travelling around the surrounding countryside and coast having pictures taken in some of the most lovely locations Skye has to offer. A week on Skye was followed by a further week on the Isle of Harris and together they made a fortnight of ceremony and time in nature.
As August changed into September, I finally made a trip back to stay on Ramsey Island, my first stay since my three months there in 2019. As summer makes way to autumn, the island transitions from a breeding site for thousand of birds to a pupping site for hundreds of Atlantic grey seals. My week was spent monitoring the seal pups as well as all the usual tasks welcoming and introducing visitors to the island. Sadly, that was to be my last time with Dewi, the island’s sheepdog, who passed away later in the autumn. He was the best dog in the world, both very good at his day job rounding up the sheep and as soft as a brush – there will be a lot of people missing a cuddle with Dewi.
October brought the biggest wildlife event of my year with a weeklong trip to the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Returning to Africa felt like the closing of a circle in some ways. Having met my wife, Sarah, on my previous trip to Africa, to the Kalahari, in 2019, and all events that have happened since, not least the pandemic, the trip signalled a return to normal, but in a very wild way. We had some great sightings of both mammals and birds; prides of lions resting in the dawn, large families of elephants wandering through the scrub, a huge herd of buffalo slowing walking to a watering hole, colonies of southern carmine bee-eaters swirling over our heads at dusk and the eery calls of spotted hyenas echoing around the campsite in the pitch black of an African night.
Now as the year ends, we are down in Devon again to mark New Year’s Eve and another wild year is ending. Over the course of 2023, I’ve seen or heard 257 species of bird and now have house list of 66 since we moved in at the beginning of February 2021. This year also brought me my 500th bird species and my life list stands at 522. I also saw 54 species of mammal, more than any previous year and 14 species of butterfly.
This has, without any doubt, been the best of years, for so many reasons, but none can match getting married standing on a wild hillside on a Scottish island on the summer solstice – the perfect spot for the perfect moment.
I’ll end my post with a picture from just down the road from where we are staying – taken at dusk on the beach at Slapton.