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December 2011

 

Saturday 31st December

Popped in to Fairburn Ings again on the way back down. Didn't even see a Willow Tit, though I did hear one briefly. Lots of Tree Sparrows again. A Kingfisher showed well in what is apparently a usual spot behind a screen, however it did not come as close as it might have done had it not been for a very annoying bloke talking so loudly. When he was told to shut up by some other photographers he started shouting about how the birds aren't bothered by people, but of course it was really quite obvious that his noise was keeping the Kingfisher from getting close. His evidence for birds not being bothered about his incessant and extremely loud talking was that he'd got some photos of birds that had come close in the past - but when I asked if there had been anyone with him when he got those photos he said not so I suggested that he might not have been shouting so loudly when he didn't have anyone to shout at. But he didn't get it and carried on shouting, so I gave up and carried on home.

On the way I stopped off at Fakenham where a Great Grey Shrike has been present for a few days. While I was away it had created a bit of a stir as it shows several characteristics of the Asian form homeyeri. By now though it has been shown that it doesn't show all of the characteristics of this form, so is more likely an intergrade (either that or one or other form is more variable than we currently know). Nice bird anyway, whatever it is.

For the second year running the first life form I laid eyes on in 2012 (with the possible exception of my wife) was a moth, this time a Mottled Umber - only my third here. Although I first saw it in the new year, it arrived on the night of 31st and so by convention it goes down as being on 31st.

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Tree Sparrows, Fairburn Ings, 31st December

 

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Kingfisher, Fairburn Ings, 31st December

 

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Greenfinches, Fairburn Ings, 31st December

 

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Blue Tit (left) and Goldfinch (right), Fairburn Ings, 31st December

 

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Dunnock (left) and Blackbird (right), Fairburn Ings, 31st December

 

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Great Grey Shrike, Fakenham, 31st December - showing some, but not all, characteristics of homeyeri

 

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Mottled Umber, Bawdeswell, 31st December

 

Friday 30th December

This morning I headed up to a good spot for Grouse and located 19 Black Grouse (14 males, 5 females) and at least 37 Red Grouse.

We spent the night at the Black Swan, a very nice restaurant at Oldstead in North Yorkshire where a moth was on the outside of a window in the restaurant. From the size and shape and what little I could make out of its pattern I suspect it was a Mottled Umber.

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Black Grouse, undisclosed location, 30th December

 

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Red Grouse, undisclosed location, 30th December

 

Thursday 29th December

I always like to get a visit to Dumfries & Galloway in when I'm visiting my parents in the Lakes. Caerlaverock is a great site, Loch Ryan always delivers and there are a host of other lochs and locations that can be very productive. Today we tried to fit too many in and this, combined with continuing gale force winds with heavy rain showers on and off (more on than off), meant we didn't see quite as much as I'd have liked. The day started with a Red Squirrel at Castle Loch at Lochmaben. The loch held plenty of duck including at least 30 Goosander and 24 Goldeneye, though in the rain we kept to the bits which we could view from the car and hence missed the Bittern. I'd recalled a previous visit to Kirk Loch and thought that the duck there were easy to view and close to the car park, however I must have remembered wrong or else they were in a different place - I did find the American Wigeon but at the far side of the loch so the hoped for photos were not possible.

At Caerlaverock the feeders in the car park were bursting with birds including Tree Sparrows and a leucistic Chaffinch. The Green-winged Teal was viewed distantly from the Peter Scott observatory but was out of view from the much closer Folly Pond hide. The fields around the reserve were full of thousands of Barnacle Geese - always a great spectacle but nothing better than a couple of Pink-footed Geese could be found among them.

I wanted to get to Loch Ryan so we didn't spend very long here before heading west. A Red Kite flew over the road at Ringford and the Smew was still at Soulseat Loch. The wind was blowing Loch Ryan across the road and between showers it was possible to see hundreds (at least 200) Scaup among the waves. A Little Gull was briefly in the harbour. The more sheltered side was more productive but by now it was getting late and the showers were not abating. Great Northern Diver and 2 Slavonian Grebes were located but I most enjoyed a couple of relatively close Black Guillemots.

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Black Guillemot(s), Loch Ryan, 29th December

 

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Scaup, Loch Ryan, 29th December

 

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Goldeneye (left) and Little Gull (right), Loch Ryan, 29th December

 

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Whooper Swans, Caerlaverock, 29th December

 

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Tufted Ducks, Caerlaverock, 29th December

 

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Wigeon, Caerlaverock, 29th December

 

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Greenfinches, Caerlaverock, 29th December

 

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leucistic Chaffinch, Caerlaverock, 29th December

 

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Chaffinches, Caerlaverock, 29th December

 

Wednesday 28th December

A day in the southern lakes was marked by gale-force winds but a few birds were seen nonetheless. We started off at Whinfell Tarn where the redhead Smew was still present. After a quick stop at the ornamental duck pond at Grange-over-Sands for an interesting Shelduck hybrid I'd previously seen in a photo we continued to Holy Well where a Peregrine was the highlight. Flookburgh produced 6 Eurasian White-fronted Geese and 27 Barnacle Geese among the Greylags (wild or feral here?) but the 2 Tundra Bean Geese had flown off shortly before we reached the correct spot. Hodbarrow was a new site for me and contained numerous duck, though the ever strengthening winds made viewing a little difficult. 2 separate female Scaup were the highlights here. Nothing better than Goldeneye, Goosanders and Red-breasted Mergansers at any of the other sites before we headed back over the high passes adding Raven.

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Smew, Whinfell Tarn, 28th December

 

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Lesser Black-backed Gull, Grange-over-Sands (left) and Scaup, Hodbarrow (right), 28th December

 

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captive presumed Australiand Shelduck x Ruddy Shelduck hybrid (left) and captive Australian Shelduck (right), Grange-over-Sands, 28th December

 

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captive Ruddy Shelduck (left) and captive Cape Shelduck (right), Grange-over-Sands, 28th December

 

Tuesday 27th December

We broke the journey up to family in the Lake District with a quick stop at Fairburn Ings in the hope of photographing Willow Tits. We got there a bit later than planned and the feeders were already in shade, so this never had a high probability of success! A couple of Willow Tits were calling but only one was seen and too briefly for even an attempt at a photo. The Tree Sparrows were more obliging though!

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Tree Sparrows, Fairburn Ings, 27th December

 

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Reed Bunting (left) and Goldfinch (right), Fairburn Ings, 27th December

 

Monday 26th December

Saw a Sparrowhawk chasing one of a flock of 10 Ring-necked Parakeets as I packed the car up in Birchington in Kent following Christmas spent with Vitty's family.

Arrived home well after dark, turned the light on, opened the bedroom window and in flew a House Sparrow. I reckon it had been roosting by the window and I woke it up. Strange how it appeared not to be able to see the ceiling, attempting to fly through it. I don't think it enjoyed the experience much but eventually it did find the way out.

 

Happy Christmas!

Saturday 24th December

I decided I'd just got time to spend a short morning in the Broads today before heading off to the in-laws for Christmas. Ranworth Broad produced the Ferruginous Duck and its hybrid Ferruginous Duck x Pochard offspring. Nearby Malthouse Broad held the Ring-necked Duck - the third consecutive winter I've seen this smart bird. This was the first time I managed to get photos, although with the distance they were very much 'record' shots!

Salhouse Broad produced nice things like Nuthatch and Treecreeper but nothing remarkable and at Wroxham Broad the Ferruginous Duck x Tufted Duck hybrid was again present. I counted 90 Gadwall here and whilst doing so I picked up an Otter swimming across the back of the Broad. Must be a good day for them - one was seen at Salhouse Broad shortly before I arrived too.

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Ferruginous Duck x Tufted Duck hybrid, Wroxham Broad, 24th December

 

Ring-necked Duck, Malthouse Broad, 24th December

 

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Robin, Salhouse Broad, 24th December - well, it is Christmas!

 

Thursday 22nd December

A day off work was mainly spent doing chores but I did get a couple of hours at Swanton Morley. Here the highlight was an over-wintering Chiffchaff. Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail were heard calling and Shoveler, Little Egret, Buzzard, 2 Kingfishers and 6 Bullfinches were among the commoner birds seen.

A fliock of 16 Stock Doves at Bintree was possibly the most I've seen in the local area and another 1-2 Winter Moths turned up tonight. They're not the most exciting-looking moths but at this time of year we have to make do with what we can!

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Marsh Tit, Swanton Morley (left) and Winter Moth, Bawdeswell (right), 22nd December

 

Wednesday 21st December

There were 2 Barnacle Geese among the Pink-feet between Fring and Inmere today.

With warmer conditions compared to most of the last 2-3 weeks I hoped for a return of some winter moths - and fittingly there was a Winter Moth.

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Fieldfare, between Sedgeford and Ringstead, 21st December

 

Tuesday 20th December

High tide at Brancaster Staithe produced nothing better than a couple of distant Goldeneye.

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colour-ringed Turnstone (left) and Dunlin (right), Brancaster Staithe, 20th December

 

Monday 19th December

There are still loads of small and flighty groups of Pink-feet near where I work (epecially between Shernborne and Sedgeford), and they're still being awkward to observe. I did manage to get a good look through one group, and it contained a Greylag Goose. A very small individual - it was barely any bigger than the Pink-feet - where had it come from?

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Greylag Goose (with Pink-footed Geese), north of Shernborne, 19th December

 

Saturday 17th December

An enjoyable if not especially successful day in the Broads. Having slid half way across Norfolk on wholly ungritted roads (even the main ones) I eventually arrived at Horsey where a large flock of Pink-feet were feeding close to the road. I couldn't find anything interesting among them but further up the road the 2 Cranes I'd been hearing all morning flew in and landed in the field not very far from where I was parked. I watched for a while, their feeding interspersed with bouts of calling - I reckon they must have been a pair. Martham Broad was disappointing - few ducks on the visible part of the broad although 2 Goldeneye flew over and appeared to land in the part of the broad that's out of view. I enjoyed a good show of Marsh Harriers (4+) and 2 Water Rails scurried across the path in front of me.

A stop at Ormesby Broad produced a Kingfisher but not the 3 Bitterns that had been seen just before I arrived. There was a Great Northern Diver here too - but so distant it frankly wasn't very exciting! A Redpoll flew over and across the road 5 Goldeneye were among the duck on Rollesby Broad. A quick drive around Catfield and Ludham for wild swans left me wondering how bad I must be to not be able to see a large herd of swans at either location - it's not like they're inconspicuous! It's been years since I last visited St Benet's Abbey and with a couple of people mentioning the site recently I decided to have another look. I recall seeing much more there in the past, although I can't actually find any records in my database from the site so I can't have seen anything very exciting. A large flock of Fieldfare (250+) was about the best here today.

Wroxham Broad had plenty of birds, but not interesting ones, so I went off to Ranworth Broad. It was the first time I'd been here for years and I was impressed - it was heaving with ducks. Before I'd managed to check through the Aythya flock something disturbed them and the whole lot departed. Much larger numbers of dabbling duck remained though - I was amazed by the vast numbers of Teal present, though try as I did I couldn't find a Green-winged among them. In the distance a pair of Goosander were lurking and then I heard the sound of Bewick's Swans. After several minutes of self-doubt with no swans in view 2 Bewick's finally appeared overhead, and then 3 more off to the side. I didn't find the Ring-necked or Ferruginous Ducks and by the time I left there wasn't enough light for it to be worth checking any new broads so returned to Wroxham for the roost. No Meds or anything more interesting unfortunately; just 5 Goldeneye and a Barnacle Goose among the Greylags.

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Cranes, Horsey, 17th December

 

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Wigeon, Horsey, 17th December

 

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Marsh Harriers, Martham Broad, 17th December (3 individuals, 1 on each row)

 

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Pheasant, near St Benet's Abbey (left) and St Benet's Abbey (right), 17th December

 

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Barnacle Goose, Wroxham Broad (left) and Bewick's Swan, Ranworth Broad (right), 17th December

 

Friday 16th December

I've heard of a few instances of grebes turning up in odd places - there was a Little Grebe found stranded on the A149 coast road at Sheringham once and another photographed in an ally beside someone's house recently. Grebes migrate by night and it seems that in the dark they aren't very good at telling the difference between a tarmac road and a river. Maybe other birds are just as bad, but they fly off again when they realise their mistake - the Grebes get stuck there because they can't take off unless they're on water. Anyway, finding a stranded grebe on a road is unusual enough to be a real surprise but imagine what some guy must have thought when he (or she) turned up to their local supermarket to find no less than 5000 Black-necked Grebes in the car park! That's what happened recently in Utah according to the American Bird Conservancy - evidently it had been a good night for migrating grebes until a storm forced them to look for somewhere to rest, and a wet carpark must have looked like a perfect lake. Apparently 3500 of them were rescued and taken to a nearby lake but the 1500 didn't make it.

No such excitement for me, some Red-breasted Mergansers being the highlight of a sleety lunch break.

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Knot (left) and Red-breasted Mergansers (right), Brancaster Staithe, 16th December

 

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Herring Gull, Brancaster Staithe, 16th December

 

Sunday 11th December

A Winter Moth, my first of the winter, appeared tonight.

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Winter Moth, Bawdeswell, 12th December

 

Friday 9th December

Still a few Pink-feet at Shernborne, and among them 2 Tundra Bean Geese together. Also a Pink-footed Goose with bright orange legs and, more intriguingly a party of 4 Pink-feet with dull pinky orange legs. Such leg colour isn't especially unusual but why four birds together? Unlikely to be a family party as they all appeared to be adults. Several smaller flocks of Pink-feet were seen and one of them, at Bircham, contained another Tundra Bean Goose.

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Tundra Bean Gooe, Bircham, 9th December

 

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Tundra Bean Geese, Shernborne, 9th December

 

Monday 5th December

Shernborne yielded more geese today - this time a Barnacle Goose and 3 Tundra Bean Geese (three singles).

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Pink-footed Geese, Shernborne, 5th December

 

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Tundra Bean Geese, Shernborne, 5th December

 

Saturday 3rd December

At the beginning of the week a Semipalmated Sandpiper turned up at Cley. It's been the best ever year for Semi-ps in the UK and Ireland so I had been hoping one would turn up in Norfolk - it's a bird I've never seen here. Very frustrating therefore that it turned up on a Monday and, although I probably could just about get a few minutes of light before having to leave for work I figured that I wasn't going to get satisfactory views with such a brief time - I had to hope it would stay for the weekend. Come the middle of the week it was still there, but it was no longer considered to be a Semipalmated Sandpiper, it was even better! Now the prevailing opinion was that it was a Western Sandpiper - the first for Norfolk. Not everyone agreed though - I was going to have to see it and make up my own mind. The hides had apparently been busy yesterday morning so I figured that with it being Saturday they would be even busier today - to be assured of a front row seat I needed to get there well before first light.

So I arrived early and after a while it became light enough for me to see 18 Avocets. A bit longer and I could start to make out less distinctive waders but it was a longer while before the bird in question finally appeared. In the end I spent the whole morning watching it, occasionally close but usually somewhat more distant. A really difficult bird indeed. At the end of the day it appears to be typical of Western Sandpiper in every respect bar one, but it would also appear that it shows no features that are in themselves diagnostic - in other words there is nothing about it that doesn't sometimes occur on a Semipalmated Sandpiper. The moult timing is the feature that's wrong for Western as they moult early - I've seen juveniles moulting into first-winter plumage in Canada that were in almost exactly the same stage of moult in the first half of September - this is getting on for 3 months late! According to the rumour on the internet some Western Sandpipers do moult late, though I haven't actually seen any evidence of this. But evidence or not, it's not inconceivable nor unprecedented that a lost vagrant should adopt an atypical moult strategy. There are some very experienced, highly competent and highly respected birders out there who are quite happy this bird is indeed a Western Sandpiper. I expect they're right but personally I don't think I could make an absolutely watertight case for saying it's definitely a Western Sandpiper and not an extreme Semipalmated Sandpiper.

I enjoy challenging birds like this because you always learn something. But while it's true that I've learned a lot with this bird I'm not sure I've ended up any better at identifying them than I thought I was before. One day I hope I'll find my own and I hope I will have learned enough to identify it - but if I'm going to be confident about it I think it will have to be an easier individual than this one is. There's a good chance it will be - not all of them are quite this difficult.

There had been another interesting small wader reported there which I was keen to see too. Although various rarer species like Semipalmated Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint had been mooted most people seemed to think it was either a 'runt' Dunlin or a hybrid between Dunlin and one of the smaller species. Personally I thought the photos showed a Dunlin, not a runt but a bird belonging to the small short-billed race arctica, the scarcest of the three races regularly occurring in Norfolk and consequently the one we're least used to seeing. Having seen the bird this morning, albeit rather distantly and not for very long, I still think it is most likely an arctica Dunlin.

At one point the Western Sandpiper walked past a Water Pipit and other good birds seen from the hide included the Green-winged Teal (thanks to Penny and Stu for calling from Bishop's Hide with directions!) and a Merlin. Later we stopped to check through a flock of Brents and found both the leucistic Dark-bellied Brent Geese (these first turned up together as juveniles in 2010 and have returned this winter) and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose.

Dave and I headed along the coast fairly aimlessly, pausing briefly at Morston. No sign of any Yellowlegs here (but then again we didn't exacly look hard) but I was surprised to see 3 Gannets fishing in Blakeney Harbour - do they normally occur (and feed) here? A pair of Goldeneye were on the boating lake at Wells before we headed back towards home, pausing at a few more sites along the way. One of these, Raynham Lake, held a surprising 4 adult White-fronted Geese and 6 Barnacle Geese. The bridge at Worthing produced a Little Egret and a Grey Wagtail and what I think was a different Little Egret flew over Swanton Morley.

Moths are few and far between now but a Turnip Moth tonight was a surprise - a very late record I believe.

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apparent Western Sandpiper, Cley, 3rd December

 

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Green-winged Teal (left) and Pale-bellied Brent Goose (right), Cley, 3rd December

 

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leucistic Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Cley, 3rd December

 

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Black-tailed Godwits, Cley, 3rd December

 

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Gadwall, Cley, 3rd December

 

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Pintail, Cley, 3rd December

 

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Pintail (left) and Shoveler (right), Cley, 3rd December

 

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Lapwing (left) and Ruff (right), Cley, 3rd December

 

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Marsh Harriers, Cley, 3rd December

 

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Starlings, Wells, 3rd December

 

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Little Egrets, Cley (left) and Worthing (right), 3rd December

 

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Grey Wagtail, Worthing, 3rd December

 

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Mistletoe, Raynham (left) and Turnip Moth, Bawdeswell (right), 3rd December

 

Friday 2nd December

Finally managed to find a fair-sized flock of Pink-feet in my lunch break today, although I didn't manage to find a position from where I could see the whole flock. The birds I could see contained a Ross's Goose, though being right at the back of the field it didn't make for easy photos...

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Ross's Goose (with Pink-footed Geese), Shernborne, 2nd December

 

Next month: January 2012

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Previous months:

2007: Jan ; Feb ; Mar ; Apr ; May ; Jun ; Jul ; Aug ; Sep ; Oct ; Nov ; Dec ;

 

2008: Jan ; Feb ; Mar ; Apr ; May ; Jun ; Jul ; Aug ; Sep ; Oct ; Nov ; Dec ;

 

2009: Jan ; Feb ; Mar ; Apr ; May ; Jun ; Jul ; Aug ; Sep ; Oct ; Nov ; Dec ;

 

2010: Jan ; Feb ; Mar ; Apr ; May ; Jun ; Jul ; Aug ; Sep ; Oct ; Nov ; Dec ;

 

2011: Jan ; Feb ; Mar ; Apr ; May ; Jun ; Jul ; Aug ; Sep ; Oct ; Nov