Now that one year has turned to another, it’s time to start looking forward to what the next 12 months may bring. Last year was so great for us (see previous post) that 2023 could easily look like it’s going to be a bit of an anticlimax of a year. However, I’m trying hard not to look at it like that.
We’ve started the year down in Devon staying with a group of friends in a holiday home nestled in the folds of land above Slapton. We then seem to have a long gap waiting for the spring to arrive and the light to return to the evenings. First, however, we’re planning a long weekend away at the end of January, possibly to Norfolk, to make the most of the winter wildlife. We’ll also try to have more winter walks around our Northamptonshire home and to nearby nature reserves.
Our first bigger trip of the year will be back down to the South West and a week in the far west of Cornwall. After that, the only certainty is another August Bank Holiday week back on RSPB Ramsey Island, for what might become my ‘usual week’, making the most of the extra day off and the two volunteering days my company gives me to stretch my annual leave as much as I can.
Unusually, our plans for the rest of the year are a little vague. We were planning a fortnight in the far west of Ireland on the Wild Atlantic Way but we might leave that for another year. We might instead head up to Norway for the midnight sun in June, followed by a return to rural Sweden for a week of so. I normally have my holidays all planned for a whole year, well in advance, but, actually, it’s quite nice to have a bit of uncertainty and to take a little more time to find what we want to do.
I’ve still yet to find any suitable local volunteering opportunities to replace those I used to do when I lived in Cheshire but there are one or two things that I might have to give a try. However, I will be looking forward to doing my second year of Breeding Bird Surveys on my new site in the countryside just a little north of where we live.
Finally, I really do need to build my fitness back up after rather a big slump in my activity levels over the past couple of months and a very indulgent Christmas. I need to get back into the routine of running, cycling and walking more regularly and taking lunchtime walks when I’m working at home. In some ways, I still feel I need to break out of some of the pandemic-related behaviours and a new year gives me a chance for a fresh start on the activity front.
This post two years ago had no sign of what has occurred since, both in terms of COVID-19 but also my life in general. Now at the start of 2022, there are all sorts of hopes in my head that could make this year one of the brightest after two very hard years for everyone.
Two weeks into the new year, there are already some glimmers of hope that we are approaching a new phase in the pandemic, Omicron may be subsiding in the UK and becoming somewhere near endemic. Later this month, many of the remaining restrictions may be removed and a greater level of normality returned to us. Finally, there may be hope that, while COVID-19 may not disappear, we can move on and live with it like we do so with many other similar viruses. I’m not daft enough to think there aren’t still risks ahead, especially the emergence of further variants, and people will still die from being infected with COVID-19. However, there is very much more hope now than in this equivalent post from a year ago.
My life has changed such a lot since my 2020 post, so much for the better, and I aim to build on that. Now firmly settled into our new home in rural Northamptonshire, I’m keen to keep exploring the area, looking for wildlife, finding new walks and cycle routes and returning to the places we already like to spend time. The county really is lovely and we’ve very happy to have found somewhere that provides so much for us to enjoy.
Even with the restrictions placed on us last year, we still managed to do quite a lot with it and we have even more planned for this year. One thing that is close to the top of my list of things to do is finding some new volunteering opportunities after I left so many behind when I moved away from Cheshire last year. I did visit a bird ringing group late last summer to see if there was a chance I could join and start training. However, I just couldn’t commit the amount of time they required. I’m very sad about this but perhaps this is something I could consider again in a few years’ time. There are other opportunities I’m considering and I really do need to make some efforts to get involved again. At very least, I would like to get a new BTO Breeding Bird Survey site to do and I need to get on and make enquiries before it’s too late.
Away from home, as usual there are a few trips away planned. For what is becoming an annual occurrence, we may head across to Norfolk for a short break at the end of the January or in early February; it’s such a wonderful place for winter wildlife. We have a holiday to Sweden in late April/early May, to see family particularly, who I haven’t seen in over two years, but to also show my girlfriend places I have come to love and are very close to being like another home. There is also hope that I can return to Ramsey Island to stay for the first time since my three months there in 2019; a week in September would be great, spending time in another place that feels like a home. Our trip furthest away from our real home will hopefully be to Zambia in October. This has been postponed twice due to the pandemic and we’re hoping it will be ‘third time lucky’.
Lastly, but very much not least, is our biggest event of the year; we are getting married in the summer. As readers of my blog might expect, nature will be fairly central to the location, the day and the ceremony and I’m in no doubt that our plans will make it a day, and couple of weeks, that will be unforgettable.
2021 was a year like no other, well, apart from 2020, maybe. Except, personally, it was quite momentous. Despite all the impacts of COVID, on home, on my health and on work, many good things eventually came out of 2021.
The year started with planning and preparing for, and then actually, moving house. At the beginning of February, after over 40 years of living in Cheshire, albeit with four years studying in Birmingham, I moved to Northamptonshire. The previous 12 months had largely been spent in Kew, West London, being locked down with my girlfriend and then between lockdowns splitting time between Kew and Cheshire. However, February was the big change we both needed as we settled into our new home in a rural village north of Northampton.
It wasn’t long before COVID returned, personally, to spoil things. We both got it but I developed additional glandular fever symptoms which were pretty awful and took many weeks to fully recover from. However, I can count myself lucky compared to many. Once over the worst of it, and when the pretty rubbish spring weather allowed, we started to explore our new home.
I had a vey strange feeling when we first moved into our house; one of being on a very small island of familiarity (our house and the nearby villages lanes around it) in a great ocean of the unknown. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling living somewhere of which I knew so little. However, over the following months of 2021, through driving, cycling and walking around the area, that island has been expanded greatly, its shores pushed further and further out, until I’m now surrounded by known, if not all very familiar, places.
Much of our exploring has been through walks in the countryside and visits to nature reserves, all of which have provided an insight into Northamptonshire’s landscape and wildlife – which have been an unexpected collective joy so far.
We were lucky to have a week long trip to South Uist spanning late June and early July when the Machair was at its best – a truly amazing spectacle in an often harsh but always stunning place. A day trip to Mingulay not only produced great views of wildlife, particularly the seabird cliffs, it also resulted in our engagement – quite a special place to ‘pop the question’.
We also had a weekend in North Norfolk in July watching wildlife and enjoying the warm weather on the coast and I had a long-awaited return to Ramsey Island. This was only for the day and it seemed quite odd being back after leaving over two years previously at the end of my three-months long term volunteering stint. Although I did have a Manx shearwater in my hotel bedroom overnight (after rescuing it from the kerbside outside a pub) to make it even more odd!
Our travels of 2021 were completed by a week in Skye in October, walking and more wildlife watching, with some very nice food along the way, and a few nights with friends on the south Devon coast at New Year. The latter was not so much for wildlife but the scenery was lovely despite the rain and strangely warm temperatures.
I would normally do a list of numbers for my review of the year but it would be very much depleted compared to non-COVID years. However, there are some worth noting:
53 bird species seen from the house so far and five heard
154 bird species seen in 2021 plus two heard – better than last year but less than many when I have travelled abroad
21 species of mammal seen – probably the best UK only year to date – and included 11 species at the house
12 species of butterfly seen including 11 at the house – probably the best year I’ve had0 days volunteering – well, it could be one if I count a morning with a local bird ringing group. Unfortunately, its probably just not feasible for me to start ringing training at present.
I thought I’d finish the post with a photo taken on our favourite walk in the area – this time in high summer (and very unlike the weather tonight which to forecast to get down to -5oC)
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.
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.
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
38 species of mammal including 14 new ones
48 blog posts
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!
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.
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…
The atmosphere has just been slightly disturbed by a tomato squirting juice all the way up my arm!
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.