Looking back on 2022

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.

Looking forward to 2022

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.