And so this is Christmas…

IMG_1848 Man x Monkey Orchid blogsizeAs is traditional in the blogosphere, it’s time for the annual introspective round-uppery blog post. This past year has been an unusual one for me – none of the dedicated foreign birding or botany trips that have been a feature of the past decade – but it’s been immensely personally fulfilling in other regards.

IMG_0775editedMy time has mostly been taken up researching the orchid book I’m writing for Bloomsbury – from April to September hardly a weekend went by when I wasn’t away from home, busily orchid-hunting for all I was worth.

Without getting too far ahead of myself, that will continue to be a theme of the coming year, though my horizons will soon be expanding rather further afield… the montane meadows of the Pyrenees and the their foothills in France and Spain will be calling me shortly. There are orchids aplenty there, but also some spectacular birds and butterflies to vie for my attention. Watch this space…

britains-mammalsIt’s hard to believe that it’s four years since Britain’s Sea Mammals was published. It seems like only yesterday that I was writing that. I’m delighted that I’ve contributed to its sister publication, Britain’s Mammals, due to be published in the spring of 2017. And, meanwhile, it’s been a treat to have my essays included in the Seasons anthologies of natural history writing, edited by Melissa Harrison and published by Elliot & Thompson – and included in the Guardian and Telegraph’s top book choices of 2016. Seeing my Otter essay in particular commended by a number of reviewers was a good moment.

Autumn cover.inddBeing away as much as I have been this year has, inevitably, rather curtailed my local wildlife-watching opportunities. Shetland’s had a tremendous year for rare birds and cetacean sightings alike – the latter, especially Killer Whales hunting seals close inshore, were a daily occurrence for weeks this summer. They came past my office window more than once and, on one memorable lunchtime, I was privileged to sit on the rocks with a bull Killer Whale surfacing just a few feet away from me as it methodically worked its way along the coast. The Grey Seals and the Otter that had been in the water moments before made themselves scarce pretty quickly…

161009-siberian-accentor-img_90921-tweetsizeOf late years have gone by without my seeing any ‘new’ birds – species I’ve not seen before in the UK – it’s a birder’s lot that, with time, the law of diminishing returns applies in that regard. This year was a good one though for me, with a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak in my friends’ garden on Burra in the spring and, in the autumn, Britain’s first Siberian Accentor found by another pal, Judd Hunt, in a quarry in the south mainland. Unusually for rare birds in the UK they were both as colourful and charismatic as they were unusual and highly sought after. Time alone will tell whether the Dalmatian Pelican I saw in Cornwall whilst orchid-hunting there in the summer passes muster with those who adjudicate on the provenance of rare British birds…

161009-blyths-reed-skaw-our-garden-img_87651-tweetsizeAt home all was not completely lost, for all Whalsay didn’t host anything of such rare calibre. A Hoopoe in my garden was a colourful treat – though chased repeatedly by my hens, who took grave exception to the gaudy interloper! – and a Blyth’s Reed Warbler I found in the garden was a new species for the house list, dragging it incrementally another step closer to the magic 200 species mark. 177 species… at the current rate I might, if I’m lucky, make 200 by 2050. As it stands, that’s 177 species that doesn’t include common garden birds on the British mainland like Great Tit or Blue Tit!

161024-hoopoe-skaw-garden-img_96381-tweetI’ve further writing projects in the pipeline for later next year once the dust has settled on the current major piece, but of those, more in due course. In the meantime, if you’re not already following me on Twitter, please do consider it! I’m a latecomer to social media, only starting with it in late February this year – but it’s been a lot of fun, has brought me work and made me new friends, and is a great way to share photos of and words about the wildlife I’m seeing with the wider world. The immediacy of it is really gratifying. My account is @dunnjons.

For now though I’ll leave you with a jolly “Happy Christmas!” and wish you all the best for a wildlife-filled new year. See you in 2017.





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