Champions of the Flyway!

Friday, January 21, 2022

Couch to 500k - The Final Push!

Tracking Turtle Doves (above) through hunting hotspots and protecting stopover sites are among the many projects to be funded by the #YearOfTheDove 

Can't be arsed reading this post? No problem - donate here guilt-free instead

So here we are, ten months into my twelve month #Couch2500k challenge, and I'm on schedule - but I need your help now to capitalise on a big opportunity.... with a final fundraising push from my wider community now, Zeiss Birding have very kindly offered to add an extra £1000 to my total - meaning that if I reach my £2000 target, I'll actually make £3000 to help save Turtle Doves!
Sometimes it's pretty easy, like running between bird surveys on the Humber last month.... 

A quick recap: Turtle Doves are suffering a shocking and tragic decline before our very eyes - and one of the main reasons for that decline is hunting, as they run the gauntlet through the Mediterranean on their perilous migration. Champions of the Flyway, the amazing annual global bird conservation campaign and bird race that I'm proud to be involved in, are dedicating a full year's campaigning and fundraising to the #YearOfTheDove - bringing together BirdLife International partners from across the region in a co-ordinated effort to make big changes for Turtle Doves together. See here for more info.
... and sometimes it's, er, more of a challenge - in sleet and freezing northerlies here in Filey last week 

Back in the summer, I decided to quietly set myself the challenge of running 500km in that twelve month period, to raise money for the #YearOfTheDove. If you're an experienced, relatively fit runner, no great shakes - but if you're a nearly-50 year old asthmatic with osteo-arthritis in your feet, genetic cholesterol issues and no previous, a fairly lofty target.
But this is why it's worth it, no matter how much I might not fancy it.... 

It's a kind of symbiotic thing between the running and the awareness/fundraising - the support, guilt and inspiration gained from good people donating money for the doves keeps me going, which in turn has inspired more support, and so on.... and it's worked. As it stands, I'm on schedule re: the running target (over 400km and counting), but more crucially, I'm at a fantastic £1356 on the fundraising board. But....
... to help stop this being the last we ever see of our Turtle Doves 

 ... now is that time to capitalise on that support, and turn it into hard currency to fund cash-strapped NGOs in their battle to save this wonderful, iconic species. If enough good folk cough up now, then hitting £2k actually means hitting £3k thanks to Zeiss - and what a joy it could be to contribute such a significant sum to such an amazing cause. 

So - how about it, friends? Can you get me over the line? It only takes a minute to donate.... click here, and accept a virtual hug and deep gratitude from me ;-)

Friday, January 14, 2022

Review Of The Year, 2021 - Part Four

Red-eyed Vireo, Shetland, Oct '21 

This is the final review of '21 post, summarising Oct, Nov and Dec. Click here for Parts One, Two, and Three

It was always going to be a pleasingly stacked and packed last quarter of bird-related adventures, with a full schedule including lots of guiding, surveying, event-organising, recreational birding and more here in Yorkshire, and two contrasting but equally wonderful trips to Scotland.....
Golden Eagle, the Highlands, November

Late September /  early October signalled my only off-island adventure of the year (actually of the last two years....), a week on Shetland with birding brothers Rich, Dan, Will and Darren. We were based in Hoswick, a village on the eastern side of the mainland, and despite sometimes challenging weather conditions (to be expected, after all), we had a blast.
Western Bonelli's Warbler, Shetland, Oct 

It was our first time dedicated to the mainland, and we developed a routine of sorts - bird hard on a local patch in the morning, and sniff out new places (or divert for local twitches) in the afternoon. A lot of great birding, innumerable laughs and fine company against a backdrop of such beauty was much appreciated....
Red-breasted Merganser, Shetland

..... and just the break needed to reset for the rest of a busy season back in Yorkshire. See here, here and here for more on the trip.
Bramblings, Shetland

Woodcock, Spurn

Upon return, it was straight back into the action - guiding, surveying, Migweek and more. Again, my YCN Autumn Migration Discovery Days were a huge pleasure to lead, again they were mostly centred on the greater Flamborough Head - and again the Great White Cape provided (and then some). As mentioned in the last post, Fortunes were consistently kind on our chosen days, and while they're by no means the MO on our tours, rarities are always welcome, and our knack of finding and bumping into them was seemingly unstoppable...

With Red-flanked Bluetail (below), Black-browed Albatross, Glossy Ibis, Taiga Flycatcher, migrating flocks of Whoopers and Pink-feet, Spotted Redshank, Yellow-browed Warblers, falls of thrushes and Wheatears, big movements of finches, pipits and larks, Sooty Shearwaters and Pomarine Skuas and frolicking pods of Bottlenose Dolphins all crossing our leisurely path over just a handful of days, it could hardly have been better scripted.
Siberian Chiffchaff, Spurn

And then it was Migweek. A nine-day (I know) celebration of birds, birding, migration and community across a network of local sites and venues up here on the Yorkshire coast, including Flamborough, Filey, Bempton, Hunmanby Gap and Buckton, Migweek is traditionally held in the second week of October - ideally (and, thankfully, often) coinciding with a major wave of incoming migration from across the North Sea.
Red-throated Diver, Filey

It's been a pleasure and a privilege to co-ordinate Migweek since I started it up seven years ago, but most especially, it's been a joy to have engaged and inspired many thousands of visitors - many not fitting the 'traditional' demographic, and often discouraged from the birding world - to enjoy the wonders of migration, via various means, and often for the first time.
Incoming Whooper Swans

I'll be dedicating a seperate post to Migweek soon, so will keep it brief here - save to say, many people enjoyed a free, packed programme of ringing demos, exclusive talks, drop-ins, guided walks and more again this year; the migration was fantastic, too, with big arrivals of iconic late autumn species and plenty of scarcer and rarer visitors to keep the juices flowing.
In off! Short-eared (above) and Long-eared (below) Owls arriving from mainland Europe at Spurn

The autumn continued with two weeks' guiding a little further down the coast at the wonderful Spurn Bird Observatory. After the success of our two late autumn weeks guiding there last year, we expanded the schedule this autumn, with Rich leading the five-day residential groups, and I leading our 'day-tripper' clients - in daily teams of no more than four, as always - in late October and early November.
One of many continental Woodcocks - a quintessential Spurn icon in late autumn

The combination of big skies, seas and estuary (and the light and conditions they amplify), bleakly beautiful landscapes and legendarily thrilling bird migration means Spurn is a uniquely magical place, and never more so than in my favourite birding window of the year of late autumn; owls, ducks, thrushes, geese, finches, pipits, waders, buntings, raptors, swans and more, often in exhilirating waves, often visibly arriving from over the North Sea. Quite why we didn't lead these trips before there is beyond us, but they're up and running now....
One of the first birds we enjoyed on our Spurn Discovery Days - Two-barred Warbler!

.... and autumn '21's dates were a joy. Conditions can be a little more challenging at that time of year, but more often that not, that's the pay-off - messy conditions bring lots of birds and memorable birding experierences (and benign conditions a lot less). We had lots of action, often on the same day, and the mix of habitats means a guaranteed variety of iconic species, whatever the weather. There's more detailed summaries of our Spurn weeks here and here (and our Autumn 2022 dates are now up and bookable via the YCN site here). 
A quiet ringing session for our clients at Spurn got suddenly busier when this Dusky Warbler turned up in the net....

Back on home soil, local birding as autumn (kind of) became winter continued to provide, with Tundra Bean Geese (and big movements of Pink-feet), Lapland and Snow Buntings (a few of the former, many of the latter), Little Auks, late Sootys and skuas, continuing arrivals of thrushes and finches, Red-necked Grebe, Black-throated Divers, lots of Great Northern Divers, Jack Snipe, Iceland Gulls and other seasonal fare in the latter weeks of the year.
Snow Buntings were a semi-permanent fixture here at Filey through the early winter
While two Iceland Gulls (a barely annual species locally) were a further self-found treats
Not forgetting our wonderful week in the Highlands as guests of the good folk at the Grant Arms Hotel. For several years now it's been a November tradition, whereby I give a few talks and lead a few excursions, and we get to enjoy the spoils of this beautiful place, one of our favourite areas in the UK (or indeed anywhere).

After last year's plague-affected cancellation, we could barely wait for this year, and it was a week to remember. More here.

Snow Geese

So, not the worst of seasons, and not the worst of years, despite everything. Birds and wildlife, along with my amazing partner and lovely friends, kept me sane throughout, and going into 2022, I know how lucky I am. Here's to a fine year ahead for all you good people.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Paull, 12th Jan '22

A few from a full day's surveying on the North bank of the Humber, at Paull - thousands of Golden Plovers, Lapwings, Pink-feet, Dunlin and more, plus lots of Curlews, Wigeon, Teal and Merlin and Marsh Harrier enjoying the happy hunting grounds.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Richard's Pipit, Filey - 9th Jan '22

(Edit - above image added 13.01)
Flight and ground shots, video and audio of a Richard's Pipit, kicking around Carr Caze and the Rocket Pole Field here in Filey presently. Presumably the same bird found by Graham (Scott) over the holidays and reported by visiting birders a couple of times since, it's a disproportionately rare bird here in Filey - while not even a county rarity, it's far less than annual here, and I've only found two here in nearly ten years.


I ran the mp3 recorder in the hope of capturing some flight calls, which happily worked out - the lower, sparrow-like chirps are pretty clear alongside the higher squeaks of Rock and Meadow Pipits:


(... I've also left a little treat at the end of the recording for birders and sound recordists everywhere - yep, the timely intervention of Joe Public!)
For a while it gave great views and favoured the edges of the pond, but inevitably got hassled by birders and photographers (who even entered the field...) and sensibly withdrew to a less public area; if it's allowed to settle, it will likely remain fairly easy to enjoy.
Happy birthday to our much missed friend Martin (Garner), who would've been 58 today, and would have enjoyed (and added greatly) to this experience. Enjoy the birds, and each other, while you can.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Review Of The Year, 2021 - Part Three

This post summarises July, Aug and Sep 2021.. for Part One see here, for part two, see here, and for the final part - check back in a few days! 

As readers of Part Two will have gathered, the spring ended - or the summer began - with a bang, in the shape of that majestic, ultra-charismatic, beautiful beast, the returning Black-browed Albatross. After erratic and brief visitations to the Yorkshire coast in several previous summers (including a memorable seawatch fly-by for me here at Filey two years ago), in 2021 it embraced the mixed blessings of the Bempton Gannetry for much of the summer, and in doing so became undisputed Bird of the Year.
Not that anyone could've predicted as much when news got out retrospectively at the end of June; in fact, it could easily have been the bird's only jolly here in '21, but thankfully, she/he formed something of a behavioural pattern over the following months, and was enjoyed by thousands of justifiably adoring fans. Whether it returns in '22 is anyone's guess - although the smart money may on the affirmative, it having put in a full season here, and how that correlates with past long-term Black-browed Albatrosses and their summering routines around the UK coast - but either way, it was one of those birds that transcended mere mortal status and became an avian folk hero, as deserved.
I was lucky enough to get great views at my first attempt, and then on many other occasions as the summer wore on - whether guiding, with friends (what a bird to show your non-birding visitors), or just because I was passing. What I could never have predicted was being able to include it in both my bespoke summer guiding tours and then again in my Autumn Birding Discovery Days in September....
Summer in the Highlands 

For the second year running, foreign trips were cancelled and any hopes of getting off these islands were again scuppered by the plague, but like last year (when we had a great trip to Anglesey and North Wales), we enjoyed a memorable getaway closer to home. With accommodation pretty much everywhere either booked up, massively hiked in price or most often both, we thankfully found an Air BnB in one of our favourite regular bolt-holes, Grantown-on-Spey in the Highlands.
Sanderlings at Findhorn Bay 

We usually go in November (when we're guests of the wonderful team at the Grant Arms Hotel - see next post), but we'd never visited in the summer, and so had a blast visiting our usual haunts and exploring new places off the beaten track, and contrasting the lush, fertile, wildflower-peppered valleys with the harsher, bleaker beauty we're used to in early winter. Wonderfully - especially after such a royally shit spring weather-wise - we had perfectly warm, often sunny conditions, and all was very much well with the world for a few days at least.
As usual, we broke up the journey there and back with nature-themed diversions - on the way up at Eyemouth and St Abbs' Head, and on the way back at Kinghorn, Fife, where we'd great views of our target species the Sei Whale, amazingly followed by a large pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins gunning it towards Edinburgh....


After the craziness of the spring and ensuing breeding season, surveying slowed up for a while midsummer, although continued on the Humber, and included breeding Avocets (below); as autumn began, so the projects picked up pace once again....
... while continuing my voluntary monitoring of the Filey seabird colony for the RSPB meant bumping into the local Peregrines and Barn Owls on many occasions:
As mentioned, there'll be a full 2021 Nocmig summary to follow soon, but early autumn - and July in particular - continued the lucky sonic streak, particularly on my North Cliff recorder here in Filey, with two Quails and another Bittern calling over the Audiomoth, among many other migrants - more here.
Guillemot (and other auk) chicks were a hit with our clients on YCN boat trips in July....

Towards the end of July, it was time to start our YCN Seabirds and Whales pelagic trips once again, which ran all the way through until the end of September. They were, as always, a joy to lead - and although the whales left it a little later this year, Bottlenose Dolphins, Porpoises and seabirds more than filled the bill until they arrived. I was lucky to lead many of the trips, and it's a part of the calendar I look forward to every year, especially in the depths of winter....

Gannet behind the boat on one of our YCN Pelagics 

One of many Minke Whales close to our boat through the season 

Pelagics and surveying aside, August and September allowed for plenty of local patch birding, especially here on my doorstep in Filey. Unsurprisingly, time and effort paid out across the board, and while it was an especially poor early autumn for commoner passerine migrants, there was plenty of turnover and migration to enjoy on a daily basis. Wader passage was excellent, especially in August....

.... while seawatching was quality throughout:
Adult Long-tailed Skua over Carr Naze, August
Pale and dark morph Arctic Skuas, Filey, August

There were many quality birds, cetaceans (including regular Bottlenose Dolphins and Minkes) and days of sustained passage, the best of the former being my second Filey Fea's, which staged a faultless, five-minute fly-by on 1st September:

Caspian Gulls are still very much a rarity at Filey, with just a handful of substantiated records - and so finding two juveniles on one day at opposite ends of the bay was a treat:  

Passerine migration was hard work, not helped by constant westerly winds and Atlantic lows, but a brief whiff of an easterly on 22nd August produced one of those classic Filey moments that make it all worthwhile (more here). After a quiet seawatch at Flamborough and an even quieter walk at Buckton, I gave Carr Naze a whirl - and was rewarded by a pristine Greenish Warbler arriving literally in front of me and buzzing around the umbellifers...
First contact 

Amazingly - assuming it was the same bird which made its way to Arndale by the following morning - it was soon joined by a second bird; stopped in my tracks by both calling at each other and then one bursting in song, it's not an experience I expect to replicate here anytime soon....

Staying with the Phylloscopus theme, when news broke of a Green Warbler down the road at Buckton a couple of weeks later, it was always going to be a bunfight of a twitch, and so I figured if it was still there in a few days (and after the weekend), I'd drop in. It was, and I did, and it was educational for two reasons - firstly from an ID perspective (it wasn't hard), and secondly, as a reminder that I'm not good at these things; contrary to what I'd hoped for there were shedloads of twitchers there, and, except for the brief but educational views, it wasn't my idea of happy birding and I did one after twenty minutes.

Much more fun, however, were my Autumn Migration Discovery Days, which kicked off in September, and - with the caveat that I can adapt our schedule according to the birds and conditions - the greater Flamborough Head was once again the justified venue of choice for pretty much all of them. We had some memorable days in September, which were the beginning of a very lucky streak re: finding or bumping into rarities - starting with our group-find Glossy Ibis (only the third for Flamborough):

And while I may not have made it out of the UK this year (again), I got as far as could without doing so - namely Shetland, for just over a week from 28th September to 5th October. Which seems like a good place to start the final part - check back soon for more....