At long last I have the internet. As such, I should complete my long overdue ‘Best of 2012’ post. 2012 was a crazy, rollercoaster ride of a year. Has there ever been a better year? Yes. 2011 was significantly better. Perhaps 2012 marked the beginning of an unstoppable decline which will reach rock bottom in 2021, when we plunge, screaming, into the sun. Fingers crossed.
Anyway, without further ado:
5. Alpine Newt
As anyone who as ever met me knows, I have a fondness for introduced species. They intrigue me. Whenever I see an introduced species I point at it and shout “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE, YOU IDIOT!”. Alpine newt ticked a lot of boxes for me. Firstly, I could point and shout at it. Secondly, I had failed to see them the year before, so the tension and excitement had built to fever-pitch levels. Thirdly, they’re a herp. And as any resident of the UK knows, we have, like, 1 native herp.
Alpine newt was a pleasing end to a solid day – a day which included (as far as I can remember) failing to see Black Grouse, seeing my first Yorkshire Red Squirrels, five Ravens, loads of Red Grouse, and excellent company.
4. Golden Pheasant
Well, obviously it’s an introduced species, so see above for how much I like them. Additionally they’re rare, but not sad rare, which is a pleasing combination (a species dwindling to local extinction is usually sad, but with introduced species dying out you actually sort of regain something when they’ve gone. Purity). They are also absolutely gorgeous. What looks better than a Golden Pheasant? Not much.
The Golden Pheasant was one of the Wolfreton Triangle birds. Robert and I set off from Hull at some ungodly hour and arrived at Wolfreton shortly before dawn. I don’t remember how confident we felt but, knowing me, I was probably being incredibly negative about it. We drove round the Triangle twice before finding what looked like a decent spot to pull up. We waited a shortish length of time, and one came out into the road. It was more stunning than you can imagine.
Then, just to rub it in, we came back the next day and saw another one. I’ve met people who’ve been loads of times and never seen one, so I can now boast of my 100% success rate with them. I’m basically a Golden Pheasant whisperer.
I don’t think a lot needs to be said about this one. Swallowtails are butterflies, all butterflies are great. Swallowtails are colourful, and they are the largest UK species. Biggest = Best. We had very good views at Strumpshaw, and saw plenty of them.
Going to go off at a tangent here, the UK Swallowtail is the same species as the one found in Europe, but is a different subspecies. It actually differs quite significantly from its European cousin. The European subspecies is a strong flier that lives in a variety of habitats and its larvae feed on members of the wild carrot family (if my memory serves me correctly – google it yourself, I can’t be bothered). Our Swallowtail is restricted to fenland, and the larvae only feed on Milk Parsley. They also aren’t as strong fliers. In the UK, Swallowtails are only found in Norfolk and Suffolk, but they used to be found in Cambridgeshire, and possibly existed throughout Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire before all the wetlands were drained. What an awesome thought. I wrote this off the top of my head so some or all of it could be made up.
2. His Grace, the Duke of Burgundy
I don’t know why I am so fond of His Grace. Possibly it’s because I like referring to it as His Grace, which makes me sound like a Victorian Aurelian. His Grace is at it the northern limit of its distribution here in Yorkshire, and I was desperate to see one. Unfortunately it is a lot more extinct than it used to be, with the Ellerburn and the Rievaulx populations both having gone the way of the Stephen’s Island Wren. A huge amount of research on my part found a possible site, and so on the 26th of May we went to check it out. It was a pleasing spot, with plenty of Red Grouse, my first North Yorkshire Cuckoo and Robert’s first Tree Pipit. We waited for the sun to rise and bathe the bank we were sat on in sweet sunshine. It obliged, and within half an hour the area was alive with Dingy Skippers and an obscene number of Duke of Burgundy. A small population of Duke of Burgundy could have only three or four adults on the wing – we must have seen close to twenty, if not more. Awesome. His Grace is the only UK member of the ‘metalmark’ family of butterflies.
1. Ocean Quahog
As time passes, I become more and more fond of molluscs. Last year we didn’t do a roundup of our top sightings, but if we had, then Freshwater Pearl Mussel might have won it. This year the Ocean Quahog just pips everything else to the post. I chose this sighting for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, I had found empty shells on the beach before, but never thought I would see a live specimen without going on a trawler or chartering a submarine. Secondly, they are awesome. The Ocean Quahog is the animal with the longest known lifespan, with a verified age of 507 years for one individual. The Quahog that Lucy found was probably older than me. It could have been alive when Steller’s Sea Cow still meandered aimlessly around the ocean. How awesome is that thought? Thirdly, seeing that Quahog made me realise that there were still wonders in the world and joy to be had. Well done Quahog. Well done.
“But James!” I imagine you screaming, “You haven’t mentioned any birds – didn’t you see a Roller and stuff this year?”
Well, dear reader, I have catered for you. Below you will find my top-five-totally-serious birds of 2012.
5. Lesser Whitethroat
Saw one of these. It was marginally less dull than I imagined. I didn’t get a picture, but the photograph below shows a typical view.
4. Marsh Warbler
One of these turned up on Castle Headland in Scarborough. It made some pretty weird noises and stood hidden in a bush for an hour. When I finally did see it, it was just a brown warbler. Exciting! The photograph below shows a typical view.
3. Greenish Warbler
Saw this one near Spurn. Thought I may as well whilst I was there. Very happy memories of this bird. I remember very clearly it dropping out of a hawthorn into view for the best part of a minute, allowing us to take in its salient features. It then fluttered back out of sight and I said “Seen it, let’s go” and walked off. The other twitchers must have thought I was a mercenary bastard. Typical view of a Greenish Warbler below.
2. Pallas’ Warbler
This was at Flamborough. It was in a hedge. It wasn’t that difficult to view. It looked like a Yellow-Browed Warbler. I hung about for half an hour until I could get a decent view of its rump. Then I left (I had forgotten to pay for parking so I did have to dash). Typical view of a Pallas’ Warbler below.
1. Muscovy Duck
Just look at it. It looks like a Mallard that’s just been released from a burns unit.
And that’s that! In all seriousness I must add a list of honourable mentions: Chinese Water Deer, Roller, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Green Hairstreak, hybrid Barnacle x Red-Breasted Goose, Chalkhill Blue, Silver Studded Blue, White Admiral, Essex Skipper, Purple Hairstreak, Grayling, Coue’s Arctic Redpoll, Red-Backed Shrike, Wryneck, Long-Eared Owl, Bluethroat, Black-Winged Stilt, Nightingale, Cattle Egret, Citrine Wagtail, Red-Breasted Flycatcher and Sacred Ibis. There are probably at least as many species again that I thoroughly enjoyed seeing but this would eventually just degenerate into a list of several hundred species that nobody cares about.