Let's face it, 2020 was a bad year for all of us. The pandemic has dominated everyone's lives. Either by getting the symptoms yourself, losing a loved one by it or even your job because your business has shut down due to the lockdowns that are in place to reduce the spread of the virus. There's also other things that makes 2020 a year to forget, such as the race riots. But while the world has been fallen apart, I have been trying to keep my mind from thinking about it all and try to distract myself with as much wildlife as I could in such circumstances. So here's how my 2020 went down...
It all started quite well. It was a new year and a new decade. The virus was still far away in China to make any impact on my life. I was more interested in starting my new challenge in finding and photographing bird species that I missed over the years. January was a great month for me as I had encounters with a ferruginous duck at Ranworth Broad, a field full of cranes outside Acle and a Slavonian grebe at Wroxham Broad. However, my thoughts weren't completely on birds that month as my granddad was taken into hospital due to heart problems. He spent a few months in hospital, but I'm glad to say that he's made a full recovery since then, at least for now.
February was the last full month before the coronavirus outbreak reached the UK. For me, it was a month of owls. The real highlight was travelling to Ipswich by train to see a rather special bird. I had heard of a tawny owl that regularly roosts in a tree in a park there. Although I have seen tawny owls at night before around Norwich, I had never gotten a photo of one before. In Ipswich, this individual has became a local legend, with an owl roosting in the same tree every year since 2007. Though it did disappear in 2017, it returned in 2019 and it was back again this year. It felt rather special to finally see this bird sleeping in full view high up within a hollow of a tree. It was worth the trip as a Norwich City fan into enemy territory to see this beautiful owl.
The rest of the month included a great view of an otter that came out onto land to feast on a fish and a barn owl that landed extremely close to me along the path towards the pump house at Strumpshaw.
There was one last adventure before the chaos truly began. During the week of my birthday (March 11th), my parents took me on holiday to Dorset. Despite the weather being a mix bag of rain and sunshine, the week-long trip was fantastic and included a visit to Durdle Door (a famous picturesque sea arch), a spot of fossil hunting and a couple of days at RSPB Arne, where we had great encounters with Dartford warblers and Sika deer. By the end of our stay in Dorset, my adventure didn't end there as I was taken to the Forest of Dean to spend the weekend with a Naturetrek group. Though it was a short extension and the weather was for the most part made things awful with heavy rain showers and extremely muddy paths, my guide made sure my group saw some amazing wildlife that made this forest home. Wild boar with piglets, hawfinches, goshawks, peregrines, little owls, crossbills, ravens, we saw quite a lot of amazing things. However, the highlight had to be seeing my first ever great grey shrike.
The week after, lockdown was announced and when I returned to Strumpshaw, the reserve was yet to decide if to close or not. In the end, after an hour of my shift in Reception Hide, they had made the decision to close up. I had one last walk around the reserve, seeing a barn owl. It would be another 9 months until I could volunteer at Strumpshaw again.
Lockdown brought a lot of restrictions in movement and a lot of boredom from not being able to go anywhere outside of Norwich. In April and early May, I didn't really do that much other than to go out for a walk around my local park or at Mousehold Heath. Spring was in the air and for the first time, I felt that I got to experience it and fully open my eyes to what wildlife I could find on my doorstep. Norwich was as wild as any nature reserve, just a lot more overlooked. There were green hairstreaks, green tiger beetles, green and great spotted woodpeckers, a cuckoo (at Thorpe Marshes) and I even heard a lesser whitethroat and a corncrake (also at Thorpe Marshes). I spent Dawn Chorus Day in my local park and it felt like it meant a lot more to me than previous years.
By mid-May, I decided to get into something I'm not at all an expert in; plants. Throughout the summer, I went exploring around the streets and parks and other places in and around the city limits. What I discovered was an amazing array of flora. From four species of orchid and scarcer species such as arrowhead and flowering rush to hare's-foot clover and sand spurrey. I ended up with a long list of plants that I never knew existed in my home city. I have a new appreciation for plants now and I was sad when the summer ended and my list grinded to a halt.
As the restrictions relaxed and the first lockdown eased, I was allowed to travel further away from Norwich's boundaries. From swallowtails at Hickling Broad to a few visits to the coast to search for migrants at places like Cley and Titchwell. I even had a couple of trips to Strumpshaw for the first time in months. I experienced the strange new one-way route systems at some of these reserves and being inside a hide with a mask on. It was bird watching, but not how it used to be. Social distancing twitching at Wells Wood in September as we all crowded behind a fence and a couple of hay bales looking at a red-backed shrike was something I wouldn't forget.
In October, it was all about the spectacle of the autumn colours produced by the trees in my neighbourhood. The weather was awful though.
November and December
The final two months of 2020 were the least eventful as I barely went out. In November, a second lockdown was in place, but I did sneak in a couple of outings outside of the city. This included a trip to Titchwell where we got some strange looks but saw some great things from shimmering eruptions of golden plovers and a close encounter with a muntjac deer. While at Strumpshaw I discovered my first ever earthstar fungi.
Finally, in December, I was allowed back to volunteering at Strumpshaw since March. I was rewarded with bitterns, otters and a pintail. It was just great to be back, though it was weird helping inside the Reception Hide while obeying to the new social distancing rules and all the tape marking out where we had to stand and move around in. Just to be back and seeing the wildlife and the everchanging weather changing the landscape I was familiar with before the lockdowns, seeing all of it again made up for all the absent weeks I missed being here. And to top things off, I was rewarded with my 10 year service as an RSPB volunteer at Strumpshaw with a silver puffin badge, even though it is a few months early.
Now that Norfolk has entered Tier 4 (pretty much a 3rd lockdown), I'm unsure on how 2021 will be like. Will I ever be allowed to go on big birding outings again? Will I get the vaccine before I get the virus? Whatever happens, I'm sure that next year will be better than this one. Happy new year, everyone!