Champions of the Flyway!

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Auction for Swifts #2 - Jonathan Pomroy

As promised, here's the second exclusive original Swift artwork, donated by a wonderful artist for free... this time, there's the chance to own this bespoke, collectible Jonathan Pomroy watercolour! I'm accepting bids now via silent auction until 4th February, for offers of £175 and above (a steal for a JP original!) - with every penny going towards Sheffield Swift Network's amazing voluntary efforts to save Swifts in the Steel City and beyond. Just email your bid to sheffieldswiftappeal@gmail.com and it could be you! 

It's all part of my efforts to raise £4000 for these wonderful folk, who need all the help they can get to save our rapidly declining Swifts, and is a one-off opportunity to purchase an amazing artwork for a song, and contribute directly to Swift conservation in the process - what's not to love?

Monday, January 23, 2023

East Halton Barn Owls

A beautiful, milky golden sundown here on the south side of the Humber, with beautiful, milky golden Barn Owls for company.

Dockside Fieldfares

Back on the Humber again today, this time for our ongoing surveys on the south bank at Killingholme. Not so much out on the mud (or on the reserve, which was frozen solid), but lots of passerines along the seawall and saltmarsh edge - Reed Buntings, Robins, finches, and especially thrushes, presumably pushed up and out from even colder areas inland.
Of the latter, Fieldfares were especially accommodating, and I spent lots of time just enjoying them, against the backdrops of shipyards and industry. Such stunning birds, really....

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Review - Zeiss SFL 10x30

(Spoiler alert - this post relates to my role as Zeiss ambassador!)
Released today (see here for details and specifications), I've been looking forward to test-driving the brand new SFL 30s, and this morning was my first opportunity to do so - a beautifully crisp, bright and sunny day here on the North Yorkshire coast, perfect conditions to put them through their paces in a range of habitats. 
I requested a pair of 10x30s to trial (as opposed to 8x30s, also available), so I could compare them directly with the SFL 10x40s. The latter are a fantastic pair of bins (see my review here from last year) - a more affordable, lighter, and in some respects easier to handle addition to the SF range.
But then along come the 30s, and guess what - they're even smaller, lighter and, in some respects, the most comfortable to handle of the whole range. If I was surprised by the (lack of) weight of the 40s, then the 10x30s are, well, ridiculously light; and if I was surprised by the size of the 40s, then the 30s are even more surprisingly small.
SFL 10x30s - so good, they walk on water....

Optically, they're exceptional - super-crisp, super-bright, and of a standard that is counter-intuitive for a pair of binoculars of this size and weight. Ergonomically, they're another step forward - the now trademark large, easy-to-find focusing wheel barely having to move to do its job, and they're wonderful to handle, especially if (like me) your hands are not exactly huge.
... and so light, they rest the surface of a pond (ice not included)

The best way to describe them is perhaps as commanding a unique and, until now, effectively unoccupied niche between top-of-the-range pocket binoculars and more traditional high-end modern x30s. They're so much better than pocket binoculars, and yet fit in your pocket; they're at least as good as most x30s out there, and yet look (and weigh) like they shouldn't be. A serious benchmark, and in all likelihood, a serious bestseller.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Auction for Swifts #1 - Ray Scally

As many followers of this blog and my social media feeds will already know, I'm nearing the end of my #ASwift1K - my 12-month challenge to raise as much funding as possible for the Sheffield Swift Network in their wonderful, essential and totally voluntary efforts to help save Swifts in the Steel City and beyond (read more about their efforts, and my challenge, here). 
I've had a really wonderful response, and many kind souls have donated to the tune of (as it stands) £3,325 - substantially more than my initial £2000 target. But with just six weeks to go, I want to try and push it to £4000; and to hopefully do so, I've enlisted the help of four fine bird artist friends of mine, all of whom are very kindly creating bespoke, original Swift art - voluntarily - to silent auction for the cause.
Here's the first, by the wonderful Ray Scally - a beautiful series of augmented field sketches, 23 x 15.5cm, unframed; P&P extra, with free personalised message from the artist on artwork optional. Bidding - by email to sheffieldswiftappeal@gmail.com - is now open and ends at midnight on 25th Jan. Remember, all of it goes to help Swifts, and thank you!

(Or if you just want to chip in to help me achieve my total and help save Sheffield's Swifts, click here!)

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Review of the Year, 2022 - part four

Long-tailed Tit of the (very) distinctive local race, Lesvos, Greece 

This is the final part of the year's reviews, covering October, November and December 

After three weeks (unusually) on home ground, late September and early October once again ushered in very welcome travels, this time to the Greek island of Lesvos.
The last few years - pandemic notwithstanding - have involved autumn birding trips with a small team of good friends (Israel '18, Unst '19 and mainland Shetland '21), but this year, we decided on somewhere a little further afield - and as warm, relaxing and as bird-filled as possible; happily, Lesvos fulfilled all of those requirements and more, and Rich, Will and I had a memorable ten days there.
 

Red-footed (above) and Eleonora's Falcons, Lesvos
A beautiful island, great company, landscapes, people, food, and high-quality birding was very much appreciated and enjoyed, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if we find our way back there in the near future. More here, here and here


Red-backed Shrike - one of the commonest migrant passerines of the trip 

Back in the neighbourhood by the second week of October, and into an intense period of guiding and surveying. Guiding consisted of a run of my YCN Autumn Migration Days up here on the nearby North and East Yorkshire coast, followed by two weeks at the wonderful Spurn Bird Observatory.

 

Rich and I have a great routine in place down there these days, whereby we're embedded for two five-day trips in late October and early November respectively - Rich leading the residential groups, and I leading a new client team every day (reconvening for dinner and drinks at the Crown every evening, of course).


We time it to coincide with (what we hope) is the peak of late-autumn migration - the business end of the season, so to speak - and while big arrivals can't be guaranteed, plenty of good birding can. And this year, well, the birding gods were very much on our side, with dramatic falls of migrants augmenting what is always a great place to soak up east coast birding at its finest.
Bearded Tit at the Warren, Spurn, November 

More here (and if you'd like to join us in '23, check out the schedule here).
One of many, many Goldcrests at Spurn

Back for a couple of days, and then on the road again - northbound this time, and back to the Highlands for our regular early winter week at the Grant Arms Hotel. We have the privilege of an annual invitation to stay at this wonderful, wildlife-themed Victorian hotel in Grantown-on-Spey, which includes giving a few talks and leading a few excursions; unsurprisingly, we had a blast.
Golden and White-tailed Eagles in the Highlands, November
More here and here - and I'll be back there again for Seaduck Week '23 if you want to join me....  

We arrived back home in Filey late at night on the 14th to the sound of thrushes arriving in the mist over the town; with a south-easterly blowing and heavy rain forecast from maybe an hour or so after sunrise, I couldn't resist an early start on Carr Naze the following morning.
 

It was still barely light with a threatening bank of black cloud approaching over the sea as I reached the seaward end around dawn, when I locked eyes with a heart-stoppingly pale Wheatear on the cliff path.....
...long story short, for once, it all worked out, and then some. It may have been a (predictably) brief experience, but it was a mercifully conclusive and ultimately hugely satisfying one - a dream bird to find on my doorstep, just as the final seconds of autumn migration's stoppage time ticked away. (Thank you, birding gods, I still believe). 


Black Redstart, Spurn, November

December? Finally, the pace slowed - well, in most respects: I ran a total of 80km during the month towards my #ASwift1K challenge, raising funds for the wonderful people of the Sheffield Swift Network - clocking up as many kilometres as I could as I entered the final strait of my 12-months running and cycling 1000km. You can read about my challenge and why i'm doing it here.



The Brigg, December '22. Not the worst view to have at the end of your road. 
 
So, that was 2022. After the previous two years of uncertainty, it was wonderful to get back up to full speed in every respect, and a privilege to have enjoyed so many great birds and places, often with lovely humans, in a very busy and productive twelve months. Here's hoping 2023 is equally blessed.


Sanderling, Filey, December

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Review of the Year, 2022 - part three

Chestnut-sided Warbler in the Mass homestead garden, July 

This summary covers July, August and September '22

The end of June and early July was spent in the beautiful countryside of the Dordogne, where we enjoyed an idyllic week celebrating my old man's 80th year on the planet (and what a pleasure to be able to have done so). Again, by no means a birding a trip, but the garden and surrounds of our weird, expansive accommodation were full of the kind of species that we don't see nearly often enough in the cold, dark north... more here.
Hoopoe over the garden in the Dordogne
Yep, it really was this tame.... 

Back for a few days surveying work (and a sneaky gander at the Turkestan Shrike down the road at Bempton - above, and more here), before a long planned two-and-a-half weeks back in the USA with the American family.
Cooper's Hawk and Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the Mass garden 



Naturally jam-packed with family visits and excursions, it included a lovely few days away with the in-laws and nieces in a sleepy Vermont village, as well as the usual quality time in various places across Massachusetts; naturally, it also involved a little birdy collateral, as described here and here

After a messed-up journey home with lengthy delays and sleepless red-eye flights, my first blurry day back on home soil involved a Caspian Tern (above) at work on the Humber (!) and a Cory's Shearwater among seawatching highlights back at Filey in the evening - what a welcome home... more on that memorable day here
Bottlenose Dolphins hanging out by our YCN boat in the summer.... 

Our Yorkshire Coast Nature Seabird and Whale adventures are a much-anticipated feature of every summer guiding season these days, and (despite being away for much of it) I led plenty of trips again this year; as always, we had many great experiences with both avian and mammalian highlights.
... and Manx Sheawaters and Minke Whales doing likewise 

The seabirds, dolphins and porpoises were all good value, and (despite leaving it late this year), the Minkes eventually came through with a vengeance. More here and here
Our surveys on both banks of the Humber continued, and the much-anticipated return of multitudes of migratory waders was a joy to behold (and count) throughout the late summer and autumn.... more here.
Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew Sandpiper at Killingholme
By mid-August, it was time to hit the road. Despite visiting Shetland a couple of times in recent years - on exclusively bird-focused autumn trips with the team - I've always wanted to experience the islands in a more relaxed, holistic way, and the stars aligned perfectly this year. Our dear friends Eike and Andrew had temporarily moved to Lerwick, with a spare room and spare time avaiable; they didn't need to ask twice, and with time off negotiated, we put together a plan....
A 17-day road trip - incorporating Eyemouth (as always on our way up, and then back from, the north), two days and nights exploring the neolithic wonders of Aberdeenshire, a 13-hour overnight ferry to Shetland, ten days on the islands with our friends (which incorporated lots of exploring of the various other islands, as well as the mainland - an idyllic few days on Yell, plus day trip to e.g. Fetlar, Unst and more), another 13-hour ferry and slow journey home - was pretty much perfect in every respect, right down to the Orcas, on the last day, just an hour before we had to leave....
Pied Flycatcher, Sumburgh, Shetland, August
Barn Owl, Filey, September 

Back for early September, and straight into surveying/guiding mode once more; of the former, lots more on the Humber, and of the latter, the first run of my Autumn Birding Discovery Days. And, with the migration season shifting up a couple of gears and more opportunity (especially early and late in the day), plenty of off-the-clock local birding.
Icterine Warbler, Buckton

September '22 was a real pleasure from this perspective, especially in the light of that increased opportunity (after much less chance to bird hard locally in recent years, for good reasons), with periods of decent migration conditions coinciding with the time to hit the local patches with pleasing regularity.
European Honey-buzzard in off the sea, Filey, September

But for odd sessions at Buckton and Flamborough, for whatever reasons the divining rod kept me mostly (very) local, with the majority of my time spent on the doorstep here in Filey. Increased effort equalled increased reward (who'd have guessed?), with plenty of entertaining sessions - everything from record-breaking Caspian Gull counts (eleven over a short period, including four south in one session), heavy visible migration, productive sea-watching and some nice self-finds (Honey-buzzard, Wryneck, Icterine Warbler etc) to keep the tank topped up.
Common Redstart fresh in on Carr Naze, Filey

More on those local birding session in September can be found herehere and here
One of a record number of September Caspian Gulls at Filey

 All good practice for the next adventure of the year...... (final part to follow soon!)