Looking back on 2020

The corresponding post to this one from 2019 talked about my three month sabbatical from work to long term volunteer on RSPB Ramsey Island and how, even after five months since leaving I had still not fully settled back into my usual life. I said that it had made a very big impact on my life and that I did not want that to diminish. However, looking back a year later, that hope has not been fulfilled. Maintaining it was an impossible task and it has been consumed along with many other hopes that have been lost amongst the myriad of competing challenges that 2020 has thrown at all of us.

The subsequent post, looking forward to 2020, was full of hope for new experiences, holidays and conservation volunteering. As I wrote that post, the COVID-19 virus was spreading around the world but I didn’t have a clue of the scale of impact it would have on all our lives as the subsequent months passed. 

This has certainly been a year like no other in my lifetime but it started quite nicely. We spent New Year with a group of friends in the Devon countryside and later in January we spent a long weekend wandering around the North Norfolk coast seeing a great selection of wildlife. February and March were quiet but included what may have been my final day volunteering with my friends at the Crewe and Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (with whom I’ve been spending every other Sunday since Autumn 2011).

With the news steadily getting worse over those early months it wasn’t until mid-March that it all came to a head. I caught what was most likely COVID-19 around the 14th March but didn’t show symptoms until 16th when I isolated for the week. At the end of isolation, I travelled down to my girlfriend’s flat on 23rd just a few hours before the first nationwide Lockdown was announced. Life then changed completely.  

I wrote a series of ‘lockdown diary’ blog posts over the course of the first national lockdown and I won’t go through all that now as there is a summary post here.

I normally do a list of my year in numbers but I think it would be somewhat lacking this time – I’ll leave that to my 2021 end of year post. However, one list, or set of lists, which I always reflect on is that of the species of wildlife I have seen over the course of the year. I’ve seen or heard 131 species of bird and seen 11 species of mammal. Given much of my time has been spent under COVID restrictions, I don’t think this is bad and the bird list is only 20 or 30 behind some recent years when I’ve been abroad. What surprised me most about these lists is that I managed to record over 70 species of bird during the long first lockdown when I was staying in London. Being in a more leafy part of the city, and close to the River Thames, meant that there was a range of habitats and this variation brought quite a variety of birdlife. Being locked-down in a very urban environment was difficult for me, someone who usually has easy access to the countryside, but the wildlife and other natural elements of my lockdown surroundings certainly helped to keep me a little more sane. However, overall, 2020 has been a year where I, and many other people, have not been able to connect to nature as much as they would normally like.

Between lockdowns we spent some time back at my house in Cheshire and it was here that I had my most memorable wildlife experience of the year. We had badgers coming in the garden over several nights and actually being only six inches or so away from each other, either side of the glass kitchen door. The fact that they have started appearing in my garden now, when I’m shortly moving, has left me with a sense of sadness. However they have given me a boost to connect even more with nature in 2021 and rebuild some of the effects of my stay on Ramsey Island that has diminished somewhat over the last 12 months. Perhaps that can start by attempting to encourage equally special wildlife into our new garden (when we eventually move in!).

At the end of my 2019 post, I said that year was probably the best year of my life. Well, 2020 may not have been the best year I’ve had, for such obvious reasons, but it will certainly be one of the most memorable. The biggest change of the year without doubt has been moving in with my girlfriend, not just for Lockdown but permanently. As someone who’s lived the bachelor life for many years, it’s a change that I never expected to happen. That bachelor life enabled me to do all the things I’ve blogged about over the last few years but the fact that we both like so many of the same things and share a passion for nature, photography and travel means that I will not only share these things with her but I will also continue blogging about them for some more time to come. 

Looking forward to 2020

With four days already gone in the new year, I’m a little late in looking forward to 2020. What’s more, I’ve already had my first nights away and done my first bird survey.

In my last post, I said that 2019 was very probably the best year of my life but I didn’t intend for it to be a high-water mark. To ensure that is the case, I’ve already got loads planned for the year ahead.

Like last year, there will be a long weekend in Norfolk this month to kick off my wildlife watching year but it won’t be until May that I have my first proper holiday of 2020. We will be heading up to the Isle of Harris for a week, returning to Luskentyre Beach where I spent a lovely week in 2018, although this time there will be the two of us and we’ll be in a different cottage. Up there, we hope, in particular, to visit some of the outlying islands; possibly St Kilda and/or the Shiants.

In July, I will return to Ramsey Island where I spent three months last year. Sadly, it will be for just two weeks this time and it may be a little odd to be the short-term volunteer again. Hopefully, this will be followed by a short stay in Sweden in late July or August. At the end of the year, we’re also hoping to see in 2021 in Devon, from where I have just returned from doing the same for 2020.

The biggest trip of the year will be back to Africa, in September, this time to Zambia, where we will be camping in the South Luangwa National Park in search of all the usual beasts and birds on safari.

I’m hoping these highlights will also be mixed in with plenty of conservation volunteering, as usual, with osprey and peregrine nest protection shifts, bird surveys and local practical conservation tasks. I also need, urgently, to get back into regular and intense exercise; walking, cycling, running and swimming, in fact I’m making a start on that in a minute with a long cycle out into the countryside. Work, illness and time away from home, as well as plentiful festive eating, has left me heavier than I have been in many years and I need to get it shifted or I’ll struggle to fit into my clothes!

For me conservation volunteering is becoming even more important in the face of such catastrophic news about the climate and species. Even someone working full-time can find space in their lives to contribute. I also want to look at my life more broadly and see how I can reduce my carbon emissions and wider use of resources – a challenge it will be but it’s one we all need to face if the battle against climate change and species extinction is going to be won.

In the past, I may not have been alone in meeting a new year with a certain amount of dread; a whole new 12 months in which bad things could happen. However, my outlook on life, and on new years, has gradually changed, and for the last decade or so I have looked on each new year with expectation and excitement of great experiences to come. I now just need to make sure I put the effort in to make sure those experiences are delivered.

Looking back at 2019

What a year!!! It’s been 12-months of great experiences and unexpected changes.

The year started with an award – one of my photographs from my 2018 trip to Poland won the Naturetrek image of the year. This was followed by a chilly January weekend in Norfolk helping to ensure I got a bit of wildness into the beginning of the year.

The first big trip of the year was to Botswana, camping in the Kalahari Desert. The wildlife and scenery was great and, among many other things, I won’t forget the race to see painted wolves, a day spent with lions and a huge overnight thunderstorm. It all further whetted my appetite for more African adventures.

Next came the biggest adventure of the year, and one of the biggest of my entire life, three whole months on RSPB Ramsey Island. I took a three-month sabbatical from work to be the long-term volunteer supporting the wardens with species monitoring, visitor management and practical tasks. I could write many paragraphs here about the stay and I’ve blogged a lot about it already (including a summary here). In summary, it was a absolute joy – the people, the island, the work, everything really and it was very, very difficult to leave. It wasn’t until two months later that I felt settled back into my normal life again although even now, five months on, I still feel odd working in a city centre and not living close to the sea. The experience has had a very deep impact on my life and I really don’t want that to diminish too much over time.

Between my return home at the end of July and the final days of the year, I had a short stay with family in Sweden, several trips to London, a long weekend on the Suffolk coast at Aldeburgh and a New Year trip down to Devon with a day in Cornwall. However, the biggest post-Ramsey trip was a week on the Isle of Mull spending the time travelling around watching wildlife and looking at the spectacular scenery.

This really has been a year of creating great memories including the funniest birthday ever, spending the evening swimming around with a giant inflatable flamingo in one of Ramsey Island’s bays. This reveals another great experience for the year, swimming. Before my stay on Ramsey, I hadn’t been swimming in over 25 years and couldn’t actually do it really. However, after sitting out of swims a couple of times, I was persuaded to enter the water and haven’t looked back since. I’m quite proud that, in just a few weeks, I went from not being able to swim to doing 50 lengths of the Nantwich outdoor pool. 

Here is my year in numbers:

  • 1 photography award
  • 1 osprey protection shift 
  • 1 Michelin-starred restaurant
  • 1 week on a Scottish island – Isle of Mull
  • 1 clip of film in a BBC documentary 
  • 2 magazines containing my photographs
  • 2 stays on Ramsey Island (kind of)
  • 2 trips abroad – Botswana and Sweden
  • 2 beer festivals
  • 4 holidays – Botswana, Sweden, Mull and Devon
  • 4 ferry journeys 
  • 7 weekends away – Norfolk, Aldeburgh, London/Salisbury and London x4 
  • 8 local bird surveys 
  • 9 counties stayed in
  • 33 swims
  • 38 species of mammal including 14 new ones
  • 48 blog posts
  • 56 walks
  • 74 runs
  • 66 cycles
  • 94 days volunteering – Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers, Glaslyn Ospreys and RSPB 
  • 139 nights away from home
  • 230 miles run 
  • 240 species of bid including 36 new ones
  • 331 sessions of exercise
  • 954 miles cycled
  • 5,600+ blog views

…and here are some photo highlights…

Not everything was wonderful in 2019, however. It seemed to be a year of illness and injury with only my three months on Ramsey Island being a period of prolonged healthiness. Early in the year I had a bad allergic reaction to a household cleaning product which left me with quite bad asthma and I hurt myself coming off my bike at around the same time. I then felt rubbish using the antimalarials associated with my trip to Botswana and had a reaction to antibiotics following some dental work. Following my return from Ramsey I’ve generally been feeling run down and had a virus which left me with dizzy spells. I’m certainly hoping I have a healthy start to 2020.

The year ended on a sad and reflective note. My grandmother, Nanna, passed away in early December, one month short of her 101st birthday and her funeral was just after Christmas. She was the last of my grandparents to pass and for my family this almost marks the end of a truly remarkable generation that lived through remarkable times. I will miss her enormously.

Despite this sadness, the year ended on a hopeful and positive note too as there was another big change for me in 2019. I’ve lived a bachelor life for quite a while, living alone in my house for the best part of 20 years, although the bikes were banished from my kitchen a while ago. This way of life has seemingly enabled me to do so many of the things I have blogged about over the past few years. However, I met someone on my trip to Botswana and she has transformed my life. Sarah has brought a new dimension to everything I do and we share a love for wildlife, photography and travel. We now do together so many of the things I’ve blogged about; I just need to ensure I put ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ in more of my posts!

On reflection, I can truly say that 2019 was very probably the best year of my life. However, I don’t intend it to be a high-water mark…see my next post!

Looking forward to 2018

Well, that’s 2017 gone and 2018 is here. As my post yesterday shows, I did quite a lot with my time in 2017 but reading the post I wrote on this day last year, there were two aims that I didn’t achieve – to do more photography and to take up mountain biking.

I did take quite a few photos last year but mostly on my phone and I didn’t really improve my photography skills. Mountain biking on the other hand, I didn’t do at all; I cycled 150 times over the course of the year but all were on my road or hybrid bikes. With North Wales and the Peak District on my doorstep, there are plenty of mountain biking opportunities close by – I just need to put the effort in the get out there.

As well as photography and mountain biking, I’ve got plenty of things planned for the coming year. I’ve got four individual weeks away in Poland, Harris and Lewis, Orkney and Sweden, and two weeks on RSPB Ramsey Island. I also expect to take some long weekends away, although the destinations aren’t confirmed yet.

I will also be doing some of my usual conservation activities including osprey and peregrine nest protection shifts, bird surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust and the British Trust for Ornithology, and the usual fortnightly tasks with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers. I also want to do even more exercise than I did last year, more cycling, running and walking – there’s a new gym just round the corner from me, so I might try some other exercise too.

All then looks set for another busy year – I can’t wait! And I’ve already made a start with a morning cycle to blow away the New Year cobwebs.

IMG_6931

Summer is most definitely on!

The first test has started, Springwatch is coming to an end and I’m having my tea by the open kitchen door, being serenaded by a goldcrest amongst the trees at the bottom of my garden.  The evening sun is shining, I have a glass of wine in hand and I’m just finishing a lovely meal – and I have four days off…

 (1)

The atmosphere has just been slightly disturbed by a tomato squirting juice all the way up my arm!

Never mind…strawberries to finish.

Summer is here!

…well almost.

The change to British Summer Time signals the real start of my cycling year.  While I do cycle during the late Autumn and Winter, the light nights after the clocks go forward mean I can make the most of the evenings and cycle out into the countryside. The state of the roads in South Cheshire and the lack of care taken by some drivers, means that I don’t feel safe cycling in the pitch darkness, so I keep most of my cycling to the Spring, Summer and early Autumn months.

I’m a moderately keen road cyclist with a occasional return to my former mountain-biking ways.  I try to cycle as often as I can and since last Summer I’ve started cycling and running, one immediately after the other, with the hope of getting to a good level of all-round fitness.  This approach has started to pay off but I need to get back into the cycling element after this took a back seat over the winter (and following my bike being pinched).

Yesterday was the first really nice evening when I could cycle after work.  With light winds and a strengthening Sun, the Summer seemed just around the corner and I was quite pleased with my time over my usual 15mile route around some villages close to Nantwich.

My improving ear for picking up bird sounds seems to have spilled over into my cycling and I noted many more birds than I have done on any previous ride.  The highlight was a skylark singing high up in the warm Spring air as I passed along a quiet country lane – I almost paused to listen but once I get pedalling, I find it hard to stop. I also noted mute swan, canada goose, mallard, carrion crow, jackdaw, magpie, starling, blue tit, great tit, chiffchaff, greenfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch, dunnock, house sparrow, robin, wren and woodpigeon.

No swallows, martins or swifts yet, but they’ll soon be swooping past while I’m on my evening pedals around the Cheshire countryside.

Trying to be a grown up…that’ll teach me!

I try to be a grown up and keep my bikes in the shed and not in my kitchen and some git steals the best one.

Quite gutted about it really – I’d done well over 5,000 miles on that bike.

Back to keeping my bikes in my kitchen it is then!

Farewell, trusty steed.

Image

If anyone sees a silver and black (with black and grey tyres not red as in this photo) Specialized Tarmac Elite being ridden by a chav in Crewe, let me (or the Police) know!