Thursday, February 4, 2016

Castle Hill foxes

After a quick twitch to see the Scalby Mills American Wigeon with the old man the other day, we stopped by at Marine Drive for a quick look at the Peregrines - and instead bumped into these very entertaining and vocal foxes. Clearly distracted by hormones, they didn't care about getting closer and closer to the busy road or the attention they were receiving. Just like being back in Hackney.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Seven weeks and counting - Filey's wintering Surf Scoter

The boy's looking a bit smarter as time passes, and with the wind dropping somewhat this afternoon, I parked out on the Brigg boulders and spent some time with various sheltering seabirds; after a couple of hours, he came a little closer for a while, and allowed for a few distant, heavily-cropped but not-quite-as-crap portraits in the evening sunshine.

(Above, with Great Northern Diver and Flamborough Lighthouses)

Monday, February 1, 2016


What to say? Not much of any real consequence; but feeling compelled to try, so here goes anyway. If you're lucky, occasionally you come across one of those rare and special people who have such a positive influence and reach that they make you feel part of a wider shared experience, way beyond your own parameters. Our wider shared experience - our community - has just lost its very finest, and many of us have just lost a true friend. In the relatively short time I knew him, Martin was a constant education and inspiration, unwaveringly encouraging and supportive, cheerleading for me til the last, and always a joy to be with. How many people are saying exactly the same thing presently? A lot of us. And that's probably all you really need to know.

The juvenile Caspian Gull we beckoned in on one of our boat trips (see below). Martin loved this picture - one of his signature species against the backdrop of his beloved Flamborough Head - and every time I look at it, I'll remember him leaning over my shoulder and looking at the back of my camera - "Phwoarh! Money shot, Mr Filey!"
As an absurdly talented birder and intuitive pioneer of identification, he needs no introduction, and there'll doubtless be plenty of suitably celebratory appraisals of that in the next few days and weeks anyhow. The best I can do is to share a flavour of my personal experiences with him, which for those who were lucky enough to have him as a friend will sound all too familiar, and for those who weren't, will hopefully provide an impression of the kind of person we're talking about.

Martin and Sharon moved to Flamborough around the same time Amity and I moved up here to Filey three or four years ago, and in similar circumstances - looking for a radical change in location and lifestyle, and (in the case of Martin and I at least) a mouth-watering east coast local patch to immerse ourselves in. One of the first and strongest mutual chords we struck was our shared desire to open up the magic of migration on our respective patches to anybody who might be interested, or indeed anybody who'd listen. We talked about combating the judgemental snob culture which repelled (and often still repels) many curious and less experienced birders at such places, and how best to do so. It goes without saying, he knew better than I.

At the Spurn Migfest in 2014 - Flamborough, Filey & Spurn, working together and the best of friends. Who'd have guessed this was even possible a few years previously? 
A beautifully appropriate case of Martin leading by example can be seen at his adopted home; a place once so hamstrung by elitism, subterfuge and one-up-man-ship, now indelibly brightened by his brand of all-inclusive, mutually-supportive birding culture. 'He didn't suffer fools gladly': I always think of Martin when I hear that phrase - because he was the polar opposite. He was all about suffering fools gladly; at least, people traditionally and wrongly dismissed as fools. Got a stupid question? Made an ID cock-up? No problem, bring it on. And don't let it get you down - ignore the haters, enjoy your birds and enjoy learning. So simple, and yet so easy to forget.

Some of you may have seen the guest editorial of his in the December edition of Birdwatch magazine; if you haven't, here it is (click on the image to enlarge). It's Martin all over - irreverent, inspiring, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and by all accounts it's a perfectly fitting last blast from someone who embodied community, support and enthusiasm - the kind of child-like enthusiasm that so many who reach the top of their game (such as he) so often lose sight of. If you're looking for the best way to think of him, look no further - read it and smile, and keep his ethos alive.

Bringing people together was his thing, and you could see the kick he got out of connecting people he instinctively knew would get on, benefit from each other, themselves making the ripples reach even further. I've been lucky to make connections with many good people through Martin; how many of us can say that? How long have you got? As an example, I think of last summer - "You have to meet Yoav!" - and a lovely day Amity and I spent in the garden with Yoav, Adva, the kids, Martin and Sharon. Friendships were forged, lots of fun was had, and we even had a Bee-eater hawking insects with hirundines from the bottom of the garden; he wasn't at all well, and yet was bouncing off the proverbial walls like a big kid. (Yoav's wonderful tribute to Martin can be read here).

I also had the pleasure of working with him on various projects, including his Birding Frontiers website (often as book reviewer - "Oi, wordsmith, I've got another one for ya!") and also on the Winter edition of the Challenge series. As someone who's used to having their work often clumsily chopped up by editors, writing for Martin was just a total pleasure - his editorial feedback would usually consist of a list of superlatives, followed by a complete tangent regarding an ID issue that'd just occurred to him. Brilliant.

Martin's public legacy, far-reaching and of wonderfully enviable depth as it is, hardly needs mapping out, and there are many much better placed to assess it than I. But for me, his legacy is something I'll carry around with me, and something that will continue to positively influence my birding and my attitude indefinitely. I had the good fortune of sharing many occasions with him over the last few years that have become great memories. Pretty much any of them would illustrate his joie de vivre, but here's one off the top of my head.

It's only a little more than a year since a bunch of us chugged out into Bridlington Bay and off the tip of Flamborough Head with a few buckets of chum. Martin had been ill for some months, but typically, you wouldn't know it; why let cancer get in the way of a good time with friends? We'd a decent cast of birds, including Long-tailed and Arctic Skuas sparring together, but there was one moment in particular that was pure Martin. Having already flagged the possibility of a juvenile Caspian Gull in amongst the masses of commoner congeners, he somehow convinced us it was a good idea to beckon one in with a vocal, co-ordinated Caspian wave (see below); at once ridiculous and hilarious - and of course, it worked. Guess who then picked out a pristine juvenile approaching, without lifting his bins, and sound-tracked by the trademark enthusiastically-communicated ID tips thrown in for good measure.... what a legend.

I've been looking for a (long-overdue) Caspian here in Filey, so far in vain, but with the kind of persistence and patience Martin counselled, it's bound to happen sooner or later. When it does, it'll be a bittersweet find; I know I'll instinctively reach for the phone, eager to share the minutiae with the master, knowing his reaction would be nothing but supportive and celebratory. On the other hand, without his pioneering and discoveries, I probably wouldn't even have found or claimed it in the first place (and we'd probably all still be calling them Herring Gulls anyway). And when I clinch the ID, there's only one word that'll do the job.

Monday, January 25, 2016

New articles, and local talk tomorrow

I've just archived a couple of recently published articles over on the wordpress site (click on the titles to read):

Migration Celebration - Spurn Migfest 2015 (published in last month's Birdwatching magazine)

Beyond the Puffin Toys - Science and Discovery at Bempton Cliffs (published last month by Birdguides)

If you're local and around tomorrow night (Tuesday 26th), I'm giving a talk for the East Yorks RSPB Group - non-members welcome:

Filey International – arrivals and departures at North Yorkshire’s Bird Observatory.
From Goldcrests to Cranes, Filey Bird Observatory’s Mark Pearson explores the phenomenon of migration at this east coast hotspot, with an array of photographs and exclusive film footage. All profits and donations go to RSPB Coquet Island’s Roseate Tern appeal.7.30 start. See here for full details.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

White-winged silver linings

After the family-friendly Glaucous Gull shots of the last post, here's a few more better representing the reality of the situation. I found the White-beaked Dolphin on the way back from a seawatch the day before all but untouched by any natural recycling squad, avian or otherwise; it didn't take long to become part of the cycle of life however (see below), and fortunately for us, its most dedicated fan turned out to be a beautiful and pleasingly persistent white-winger.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Glaucous reception

Another real privilege to witness another unique occasion here on the doorstep at Filey. The day before I'd found a sadly deceased White-beaked Dolphin washed ashore near the bay corner, followed by the expected banter about it bringing in an Ivory Gull in the coming days; well, not quite, but it'll more than do...

With our young male Surf Scoter still in the bay (for more than a month now) as well as up to four Great Northern Divers and a host of commoner stuff, a sunny Sunday was bound to attract another batch of visiting birders - which, after playing a show in Scarborough that night and being a little worse for wear, I was particularly grateful for when one of whom (thanks Tim!) messaged regarding the brief appearance of a juvenile Glauc, amazingly trying to feed on the dolphin....

In the spirit of a) a resolution not to take it quite so seriously this year and b) a hangover, no rush was attempted, lunch was enjoyed, and some time later a stroll along the beach was on the cards anyway (no, really). With masses of visitors and their canine army descending on the beach and Brigg, many of whom would be funnelling along the path where the dolphin was as the tide slowly rolled out, I rated the chances of a revisit from the gull at somewhere around nil and put it to the back of my mind.

Bumping into Dave and Sarah (Aitken) made for a nice surprise and we ambled along the bay chatting, stopping to talk to a few familiar faces along the way - at which point the Glauc appeared over my head, clearly patrolling the scene in the hope of another cetacean snack. Still the chances seemed minimal, as processions of people and dogs filed past or loitered around. After watching the gull circle above us for an eternity and with people unknowingly stood looking at the dolphin (as you would), Dave - armed with his RSPB charm and quietly persuasive disposition - successfully convinced the attendees to back off a little....

Amazingly, a break in the traffic ensued and the gull glided in; and despite inevitable disturbance soon after, not only did it return on several occasions, it photogenically patrolled the Badlands-style geology of the Brigg's south side in the cold winter sunshine. Absolutely class, and a joy to watch....

... more graphic, less appetising photos to follow.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Little Gulls & big seas

A belated happy new year everyone.... time to catch up, then, starting with these  always beguiling Little Gulls from a week or so back. After what seemed like an eternity of heavy rain and black skies, finally the sun broke through towards dusk one cold evening, and on a beautifully hostile, deserted Brigg I was suddenly surrounded by them; dainty but hard-as-nails, I had at least 77 feeding and/or battling south. Always a joy.