Monday, July 1, 2019
It's that time of year again - time to descend onto the Brigg here in Filey just before dusk, in the hope of catching Storm-petrels in the dead of night. It's a uniquely special experience that's hard to describe, but in simplified terms involves putting up two connecting mist nets along a rocky shelf at the foot of the cliffs, blasting out the hypnotic and otherworldy noise of a petrel colony mixtape via bullhorn speakers on their landward side, and waiting for the fluttering apparitions to appear out of the increasingly blurry semi-darkness.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it's always worth it, and there are always upsides to the sleep deprivation - whether in the form of natural wonders like shooting stars, noctilucent clouds, and stunning sunsets and sunrises, or more earthbound pleasures like Great Crested Newts, Hedgehogs, foxes, bats and moths and nocturnal migrating waders, or just the simple privilege of enjoying the night sky.
Last night (well, tonight - I just got home), our first of the season, was a resounding success - with no fewer than six birds caught, all new (i.e. no controls or retraps), with perhaps another three or four that didn't make it into our sweaty clutches; a really good night by any standards, but especially as it was our brushing-off-the-dust inaugural session of the year. George, Will, Dan and I were very happy campers as we finally headed home (with Common Sandpiper dropping onto the Brigg and Skylarks already singing above us), and here's hoping it'll be another memorable season.
Friday, June 28, 2019
It's a wrap - 54 surveys across the most remote parts of the North York Moors, beginning back in early April and ending this afternoon. Warm sunshine has domiminated these last few days up on the tops, which have been productive - breeding Ring Ouzels, Golden Plovers and Curlews with well-grown chicks, Merlins and Hobbys on territory (with Kestrel and Peregrine, I had four falcon sp. with 2km sq today - there can't be too many places in the country where that's possible in the breeding season?), and plenty of non-avian highlights....
... most notably in the often ragged shape of Painted Ladies, many hundreds of which contrasted against the vivid purple heather; a significant influx has been underway back here on the coast, and with the unfathomable numbers we saw migrating through Israel earlier in the year, god only knows how many of these migratory superheroes I've had the pleasure of watching this year so far.
|A worn Painted Lady...|
|... and a very worn Painted Lady|
|Ring Ouzel predating sheep|
Monday, June 10, 2019
|Black-headed Bunting, Old Fall Hedge, Flamborough|
After keeping an eye on the promising forecast of easterlies and showers (and finishing up my surveys early), the weekend looked good for one last flourish before the migration season ebbed away, and so with some spare time to play with, I rolled the die.
|Not a Black-headed Bunting, Filey|
Filey got the nod for a four-hour, migrant-free slog on Friday afternoon, when the best bird was an accommodating Grey Partridge on the Country Park (there are several breeding pairs locally but they rarely play ball for the camera) - this despite news of a Black-headed Bunting at Flamborough, and I held my nerve, for better or worse, and stuck to my plan: Filey Friday, Flamborough Saturday, and if it was still there in the morning, all well and good.
|Female Subalpine Warbler sp., Flamborough|
Happily it was (cracking bird too), and better still, I'd a perfect close view within thirty seconds of pulling up - rat-a-tat-tat and then swiftly on. Feeling suitably self-righteous after stubbornly honouring my Friday commitment (idiot!), the sun came out and it was time to enjoy the much easier, more relaxed and potential-filled birding of the headland.
|The Mrs and the orchids|
Before long, headline-grabber #2 emerged in the shape of a female Subalpine Warbler (courtesy of Phil, who has a monopoly on them here) in the Golf Course Willows. A first attempt failed, but after sessions at South Landing and Buckton, it was second time lucky, with the added bonus (yep, you heard right) of shedloads of twitchers on site. Now that's a sentence I never thought I'd write, but said crowd included plenty of friends and acquaintances from around the country who were great to see, and everyone was heartenigly chilled and non-schoolyard.
|A significant Painted Lady influx over the weekend - hundreds at both Filey and Flamborough|
Despite these two class birds, the highlight of the morning was bumping into James R's kids (he of @nybirdnews on Twitter - follow him if you don't already) Isabel and Malin - both proper birders at 11 and 4 respectively - and being subjected to a frankly pretty exciting bird quiz by the latter. I escaped with a 100% score and my reputation just about intact.
|A fine weekend rounded off with these fine people - some/most of the Filey Pints gang on fine form as always|
Friday, June 7, 2019
More from the moors this spring, this time involving both breeding plover species - most notably a badly-behaved sibling trio of Lapwing chicks who, despite their parents' best efforts, continued messing about dangerously in the middle of the road.... I usually try and avoid intervening but, with three errant fluffballs running riot, a rescue mission was required, and they were safely deposited together away from the road and with both adults instantly back on shepherding duties.
|... and his two cohorts|
|An older youngster doing a lousy job of hiding|
Golden Plovers are thinly scattered up on the higher moors, and their parenting skills differ from Lapwings in that they rely more on distraction - both parents 'leading' any potential predator away from the chicks with their frankly grating high-pitched whine (which gets more annoying and higher-pitced the closer you get to their chicks), as opposed to the more direct, agressive mobbing of Lapwings (who will even happily divebomb a car if it looks a bit sketchy to them).
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
After seven productive years, I recently decided the time was right to step down as (voluntary) Communications Officer for Filey Bird Observatory, joining my good friends and esteemed colleagues Rich and Bec in moving on to pastures new. As anyone who's passionately invested lots of time and energy in a collaborative project will tell you, sometimes you know when you've done what you can within the framework available, and when you've taken something as far as it can go with circumstances as they are. Times change, and it's time to focus on other projects and causes.
I'm really proud of the progress made and the many things achieved during these last seven years - especially given the unique challenges faced by a tiny, 'virtual' voluntary Bird Obs with no premises, financial backing or any of the traditional strengths shared by its contemporaries; it's fair to say that, over these last few years, the Obs has punched well above its weight and it's very satisfying to be leaving it in such rude health from a communications and engagement perspective.
During that time I took on multiple roles for the Obs and for some years it effectively became a part-time job (to the detriment of actual paid work, as my long-suffering Mrs will tell you!), but it's been a real pleasure, on many levels – especially where connecting so many people with birds and wildlife is concerned. As anyone who knows me will testify, it's always been one of my greatest passions, and to have channelled that passion for the benefit of the Observatory (and local and wider communities) has been very rewarding.
Over the period, Filey has gained a national - and indeed international - reputation for excellence (particularly regarding engagement and outreach); has enjoyed a much-improved, increasingly positive connection with the local community; has developed a profile and reach which is the envy of numerous bigger, funded and staffed observatories around the world; has doubled its membership in increasingly challenging circumstances; has produced an annual report (for several years at least) that raised the bar and set new standards; has enjoyed a highly regarded and popular online presence – from the website to social media platforms and beyond - that befits a modern, dynamic bird obs; and has reaped the myriad rewards of an unrivalled annual events programme, the benefits of which of course trickle down in multiple, lasting ways.
There are numerous other wins that I've been proud to be part of over those years – forging a close relationship with our neighbours at Flamborough Bird Observatory, creating partnerships with many other groups and organisations, being part of the team that successfully won and implemented funding for large scale improvements at Filey Dams (our local wetland reserve), instigating projects with local schools, supporting other community groups, etc - but most of all, it's been a constant pleasure to have cultivated the means by which those who may otherwise have remained disengaged have made lasting connections with Filey's birds and wildlife, and thus their conservation.
We've of course offered to help and advise with any transitions, and talking of we - it's been a privilege to work alongside several fantastic, dynamic and forward-looking people - Bec and Rich, for instance, being unbelievably patient, generous and tolerant to the last. But from a voluntary perspective it's time for me to step up for and focus attentions elsewhere. I'll still of course be organising #Migweek, the flagship free birding festival in October, leading free events and flying the flag for local conservation causes on top of birding and working in the field I love. Onwards and upwards!
Monday, June 3, 2019
|Turtle Dove, Harwood Dale - a lucky beam of sunlight between heavy storms...|
It's that time of year - chaos, in all the right ways. As well as being in the thick of the survey season (birds during the day, bats at night), it's also guest season, which means plenty of reasons to be up in the forests. Here's a few from recent forays, both at work and play....
|Turtle dove with passerine friends|
|Brown Long-eared Bat (surveyed under license). Crappy phone pic of a magical beast...|
|Slow Worm - one of several we were lucky to find in Dalby Forest|
|Male Common Crossbill|
|Curlew on the forest edge|
|As you can see, my wife takes our natural history excursions extremely seriously|
Wednesday, May 29, 2019
If you're at Birdfair this year on the 'birder's day' of Friday, then it'd be great to have you along to one or both of my 20 minute lectures; and if you want to talk Yorkshire Coast Nature, Champions of the Flyway, Zeiss Birding or anything else, stop me for a chat - we'll be kicking around on both Friday and Saturday. See you there!
Monday, May 27, 2019
Locals will tell you you'd be crazy to visit RSPB Bempton Cliffs on a Bank Holiday Monday in peak season, but when you've got friends up (including kids) and you want to show them the best of the Yorkshire coast, it's well worth the extra patience.
And to be honest, while I usually visit early morning or late evening, that's only because I'm fortunate enough to live fifteen minutes away, and seeing it in it's full-on hustling and bustling glory - people and birds - is always a reminder of how amazing this place as a gateway for connecting the masses with the birds and wildlife (and by extension, conservation). A fabulous place, whenever you choose to visit.