Books [and films] of the year 2010

I’ll keep this brief, because if you want to know what I thought of them you can read what I said at the time, but glancing back over the books I read in the past year, I would pick out these five as ones which, for whatever reason, stand out in my memory:

Cities of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif
Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano
The Fortunes of Wangrin by Amadou Hampaté Bâ
The Big Death: Solomon Islanders Remember World War II
The Bleeding of the Stone by Ibrahim Al-Koni

The first two in particular are books I would strongly recommend if you’re looking for something to read.

And while I’m here, some film recommendations, some of which may be a little difficult to get hold of, but hey-ho:

Draquila — Italy Trembles
[which serves as quite a good companion piece to Gomorrah, incidentally]
The First Movie
Skeletons
A Prophet

EDIT: oops, almost forgot:
Four Lions

Bird of the Year 2010

As I mentioned in BOTY 2010:BPiaSR, I haven’t been anywhere even slightly exotic this year, so my list is sadly free of toucans, sandgrouse, bee-eaters, barbets and so on.

But I did have a good year for British birds.

At the most parochial level, I added three species to the garden list: in the cold snaps at the beginning and end of the year I got fieldfare and brambling, which were both perhaps long overdue; and more surprisingly, in March, a stonechat on its way north stopped off to do a bit of flycatching from one of the rose bushes.

The cold weather also brought me a couple of Dulwich ticks: a gadwall in Dulwich park in February, and a snipe which made a flying visit to Belair Park on Boxing day, presumably in search of open water.

An autumn wheatear in Greenwich Park was probably my first for south London. And in Richmond Park I saw my first London red kite and, rather embarrassingly, my first British little owl. A cracking day’s birding around the Lee Valley gave me, among other things, good views of Cetti’s warbler, nightingale, peregrine and several hobby.

On a walk on Sheppey I had good views of bearded tit, which is always a treat, but also what is probably objectively my best bird of the year, and certainly the closest thing to a proper rarity I’ve ever found for myself in the UK: black-winged stilt. It is about as frequent a visitor as a bird can be and still be officially regarded as a rarity, with 241 sightings between 1950 and 2006… but it is a rarity, and I found it. So that was very pleasing. On the other hand I had rubbish views of it, and I’ve seen it much better before, f’rinstance in Spain, where I took this picture…

… so it’s not my bird of the year. Also not my bird of the year was bean goose (tundra bean goose if the species is split), which was a lifer for me but too far away and too, well, grey to be my bird of the year.

A stronger contender, even though I have seen it in the UK before, was water rail, just because I had UNBELIEVABLE views of it. They are normally incredibly secretive, but at the London Wetland Centre in January, when the whole place was frozen over, I saw lots of them out in the open, trotting around on the ice. And particularly, I watched a pair grooming each other through my telescope from about 30 feet, which was just an amazing sighting.

And on the same day, I saw a bird that looked like being a dead cert for bird of the year right up until December: bittern. I have wanted to se bittern for such a long time, and been to places where they are so many times and failed to see them, that just seeing it was a treat, even though my first view of one was very distant. But just like the water rails, the bitterns were forced out of cover by the ice, and over the course of the day I saw them six or seven times with increasingly excellent views, including two within the same telescope view. Amazing. And I saw them again in December and just yesterday had a brilliant view of one to start off 2011 in style.

But even that is not my bird of the year. No, the official winner of Bird Of The Year 2010 is… waxwing! What a gorgeous bird. And like the bittern, one with a particular mystique for British birders. It’s not actually rare, but it’s just elusive enough, and just occasionally you get a waxwing winter when suddenly there are thousands of them and they turn up in all sorts of unexpected places. This is one of those winters, and they are all over the place… even in Dulwich, although I missed those ones. I made a special trip to Folkestone to see them feeding in the car park of a branch of B&Q. You can see some of my pictures there, but the BOTY year deserves a better portrait than that.

Christmas came early for me today…. © Ian A Kirk used under a CC by-nc-sa licence.

Waxwing Feeding Frenzy © markkilner used under a CC by-nc-sa licence.

Waxwing © vesanen.info used under a CC by-nc-sa licence.

Phwoar.

Bird of the Year 2010: best performances in a supporting role

2010 wasn’t a vintage wildlife year for me. I didn’t go anywhere exotic, or even spend much time outside the M25. My longest wildlife-watching trip was to the car park of B&Q in Folkestone.

Despite that, I did manage to rack up some pretty good bird sightings, but it was pretty slim pickings for the minor categories.

Best Plant

Clearly it’s ludicrous that I can’t think of any stand-out plants for the year. After all, they’re not difficult to see. But nothing springs to mind.

Best Fungus

I don’t think I’ve had this as a category before, but this was a good year for fungi, and I saw loads of them. However I made the important discovery that actually identifying them is almost completely fucking impossible. This one at least is easy; Shaggy Inkcap:

Best Insect

It was nice to see a few seven-spot ladybirds in the garden, because it meant that the Harlequin ladybirds haven’t completely eliminated them. There was the parasitic wasp Gasteruption jaculator, which was a neat little beastie. And apart from the  the usual mix of butterflies and dragonflies, there were a couple of stand-out species. One was a very battered convolvulus hawkmoth brought in by the cat: which means that I have now seen this species exactly twice, and in both cases it was because the cat brought them in.

But the species of the year, both because it’s a dramatic-looking thing and because it was so unexpected that it turned up in the garden: Silver-washed Fritillary (in the name of full disclosure: that picture was taken by me, but not this year and not in the garden). One of Britain’s largest butterflies. And not exceptionally rare, but still a complete surprise, especially as it’s mainly a woodland species.

Best Invertebrate (other), Best Fish, Best Reptile

Best Fish and Best Reptile are often quite difficult categories, of course. But it’s a bit embarrassing that I can’t think of anything for Best Invertebrate (other), which is such a big group of organisms. Obviously I have seen various spiders and slugs and things in 2010, but none I can think of that seem worth a namecheck.

Best Amphibian

This was the year of toads in the garden (i.e. Common Toad, Bufo bufo). There have been the occasional toad before, but this year they were all over the place — commoner than frogs. Which was nice.

Best Mammal

Discounting your basic urban vermin (foxes, rats, mice, squirrels) and the remnant of hedgehog I found in the local woods, I think I saw five species of wild mammals this year.

In January when it was VERY COLD, there was a particularly active and fearless stoat at Rainham Marshes which was scurrying around near and on the pedestrian walkways. Stoats are always a pleasure to watch, bouncy manic furry wiggly critters that they are. And I saw some deer: muntjac, fallow deer, red deer and Sika — but only the muntjac counts as ‘wild’, I think, as the others were in deer parks.

And I went on a bat walk in the local park, where we saw three species of bat: Daubenton’s bat, Common Pipistrelle, and my mammal of the year for 2010 which is… Soprano Pipistrelle.

The best thing about the Soprano Pipistrelle is the brilliant name. Common and Soprano Pipistrelles were only split into separate species in 1999; there are apparently various differences of food and habitat, but they were initially split because the Soprano Pipistrelle has a higher-pitched call: 55kHz to the Common’s 45kHz.

Best Ecosystem

Because most of my birding has been in London this year, all my best sightings have been in artificial habitats: a wetland on the site of an old water-treatment plant, a marsh which was formerly an army firing range, a canal and reservoirs originally built to supply water and transport for industrial north London, Victorian suburban parks and ancient royal deer parks, all of them now managed as public amenities and for the benefit of wildlife by various conservation charities, by local councils, and by central government agencies.

Now I know that ‘nature reserve’ is not actually a distinct ecosystem. But fuck knows, if you live in a densely populated, post-industrial, intensively farmed place like southern England, and you have any interest in nature, you owe an intense debt of gratitude to the people who create and manage little pockets of land for the benefit of wildlife instead of turning them into golf courses and housing estates.

Specifically, thank you to: the RSPB, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, Southwark Council, the Royal Parks, London Wildlife Trust and anyone else who puts in the hard work to make sure these animals have somewhere to live.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2010

That time of year again, the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, one of the world’s biggest exercises in citizen science. The usual drill: one hour of birding in the garden, with the counts being the maximum seen at one time.

  • blue tit × 3
  • great tit × 2
  • coal tit
  • long-tailed tit
  • chaffinch × 3
  • goldfinch
  • woodpigeon × 2
  • pigeon × 4
  • magpie × 3
  • blackbird × 3
  • song thrush
  • robin
  • dunnock × 2
  • ring-necked parakeet × 3
  • sparrowhawk

There’s a few fairly regular visitors missing; greenfinch, jay, great-spotted woodpecker, goldcrest, nuthatch. But on balance think it’s a pretty decent list.

Close Menu