All birders look forward to the New Year as a time to start their yearlists over again. The slate is wiped clean and everyone starts at zero on 1st January, eagerly anticipating what bird will be first on the list and seeing how quickly the total grows. However this year, 2021, a huge spanner was thrown into the works on 4th January as a National Lockdown was imposed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The year had started with strict rules anyway with most of England in Tier 3 or 4 and travel was limited, but with a Lockdown it would be near impossible to go anywhere and the mantra was “Stay Local”.
Pre-Lockdown, I had started the year as normal at my ‘Local Patch’, Newchurch Common just 3mls from home, little knowing that this would be just about the only place I would be allowed to visit for the foreseeable future! First bird would be a Blackbird, as last year, with exactly 50 species added on Day One. Star birds on that first day were my overwintering female Smew, returning for her 7th or 8th winter at Newchurch, and a Jack Snipe, only my second ever here, over on the mosslands section of my recording area. A Great Black-backed Gull was a good sighting so far inland and 28 Goosanders was an exceptional count. A Yellowhammer, 3 Reed Buntings and a Brambling were in the arable fields and were good additions on Day One. A Kingfisher was seen on one of the pools and the UKs smallest bird, Goldcrest, was one of the last additions to the final tally for the day. On Day Two, with travel still allowed, I headed to Astbury Mere, Congleton but failed to see the wintering Dusky Warbler. A Water Rail showed well, always nice to see, and en route home a Whooper Swan on the canal in Middlewich was a bonus. Day Three saw a hard-to-see species added in the shape of Long-eared Owl at a local site - withheld roost - holding just one bird.
The Whooper Swan:
From Day Four, Lockdown had hit and Newchurch would now be my exercise site and main birding site for the foreseeable future. A brief couple of visits to Marbury CP, a very local site too, for my exercise allowed me to add Bittern, Russian White-fronted Goose, Stonechat and Pintail; hard birds to see locally and almost zero chance of me getting the first two at Newchurch. Noteworthy species were seen at Newchurch in the final weeks of January, helped by almost daily walks all around ‘my patch’. Woodcock, Green Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Linnet and Pink-footed Goose were all added to my yearlist, and at the end of January the total stood at 86 species. Compared to a ‘normal’ year this was a low total, with me usually hitting the 100 mark in the first two weeks; but this year was far from normal! January was extra cold in Cheshire with quite deep snow at times and then flooding in Northwich, our closest town, so I felt pretty good getting to 86 species given the adverse weather and a national travel ban. Getting out onto my patch several times a week also helped keep my spirits up in Lockdown, every new bird was a highlight and watching interesting behaviour or doing regular counts of common species was always a pleasure, but I can’t say that I wasn’t hankering for a chance to head elsewhere like North Wales or the coast just to mix things up a bit!
A Kestrel brightened up one day:
And a Wigeon on the ice at Newchurch:
February started with no prospect of Lockdown ending and therefore no chance to travel further afield, so local it would stay! Early in February I had the opportunity to travel locally by car on a couple of occasions and took full advantage by taking my exercise walks close to where I was and at last doing some ‘mixing up’ of my birding as I had wanted. On one occasion I had picked up my new car which had been bought ‘unseen’, as it has to be in Lockdown, so a short test drive was recommended and I took full advantage heading to the closest RSPB reserve – Burton Mere Wetlands. Here I could be away from crowds (at most 6 people were on the reserve) and have my exercise walk with the chance of species I probably wouldn’t get on my local patch. This proved to be correct with Cattle Egret, Great White Egret and Marsh Harrier all added and all very good ‘yearticks’, as well as Cetti’s Warbler and Black-tailed Godwit. Then again using a short drive to fully test the car out I headed a few miles away to Queens Park. Here, following a local tip off, I had fantastic views of a Little Owl sunning itself in its favoured tree and a pair of Mandarins on the iced up Park Lake. Two great birds to add to the 2021 List, and hardly any distance from home. My walks at Newchurch in early February were interesting rather than spectacular, cold weather icing up the ponds and my sightings consisting of counts of birds already seen rather than the addition of any new species. But that’s local patching and the prospect of finding something new or interesting always draws you back!
The Little Owl:
and the drake Mandarin:
The final few species for this account were added by visiting another very close local site to do the final testing of my new car which had a 7-day return clause on it, and so needed to be driven on a variety of roads, and there wasn’t any way round that! My village is only a few miles from Sandbach Flashes, which is a local patch for many of my birding mates and can produce some quality birds not seen anywhere else locally. So a couple of visits there were built in to my test drives and three noteworthy species were added to my list to bring up a milestone for the year. The first two species were seen near Rode Pool, both in fields and both seen as two birds together! These were Egyptian Goose and Little Egret, two species that have colonised the UK; the former as an introduced species and the latter as a migrant that has stayed and bred. The final species was seen on a bitterly cold morning in Warmingham, just 7 miles from home. I walked a footpath across fields by a frozen fishing flash and was rewarded with a sighting of 2 Tree Sparrows in the hedgerows there. This declining farmland species brought up my 100 species of birds seen in 2021 on 13th February, a welcome milestone in a tough year for everything, never mind birding!
Two Egyptian Geese:
Hopefully with increased vaccination and reducing cases and deaths, travel will become permissible again and normal service will be resumed, after yearlisting for the last two years has been affected by the worst pandemic in living memory.