Champions of the Flyway!

Sunday, January 23, 2022

2021 - The Year In Nocmig: Filey (Part One)

Common Scoter - rarer species aside, the undisputed star of the spring nocmig season

Headphones essential for audio clips

2021 was my second, and first full, year of nocturnal migration recording (nocmig) here on my local stretch of the Yorkshire coast, and it's fair to say I plunged even further into its shadowy depths, with several recorders rolling and much time invested on analysis and researching - but it was more than worth it, of course....
Great Northern Diver - surely not a species for a nocmig post? Think again (and see below)... 

2020 was a fascinating inaugural first year (well, eight months) of nocmig, with an entertainingly steep learning curve and many memorable nights of migration picked up on my recorders. Summaries of last year's results can be found here and here, but suffice to say, it was addictive - with plenty of help from available resources and (especially) local and wider nocmig communities aiding the process, effort and patience were richly rewarded. 

So, would 2021 be equally productive? Would species diversity and abundance, and patterns of occurrence, be more or less the same? Or would there be plenty of differences to chew on and surprises to ponder? In this first part, I'll summarise nocmig from my two Filey recording stations, up on the North Cliff, and (at the foot of the post) from my study window in the middle of town, between January and May.

Filey North Cliff - January to May

For the first part of the year, I was still running a normal MP3 recorder up on the North Cliff (involving daily pick-ups and drop-offs); after just a couple of nights in January, I recorded seven nights in February, mostly towards the end of the month, which included several busy sessions....
 

... with wildfowl including Pink-footed Geese, Wigeon, Mallard, Teal and Gadwall, waders including Lapwing, Snipe, Oystercatchers, Curlews and Golden Plovers, rallids in the shape of Moorhens and Coots, and passerines such as Redwings, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Skylarks ....
An example of a late February night, as recorded onto Trektellen - all nights are accessible here   

 ....and, thankfully, the star bird of the early spring - a totally unexpected and very welcome Eurasian Stone-Curlew, over the recorder at 2150hrs on 25th Feb (and just the third ever for the Filey area).

 
Stone-curlew sonogram (above) and library pic (from Israel, 2019) below
March began in similarly surprising style with, of all things, the wonderfully evocative howl of a Great Northern Diver, picked up at 2225hrs, (presumably) from a bird on the sea; not something I'd ever expect on my recordings, and another great bonus for the efforts:

 

Species diversity and abundance steadily improved through the month - wildfowl (including Pintails), waders, gulls, and songbirds included - before the first much anticipated Common Scoters on 17th. A busy few days followed - Whoopers, Scoters, Pink-feet and Wigeon, plus more passerines and waders on 21st, a wonderfully evocative pre-dawn departure of 214 Blackbirds on 22nd, more scoter action among a wide range of species on 23rd, and a further ten flocks of scoters on 24th; allowing for duplication with the house recorder, a minimum of 13 flocks overflying Filey that night.

 
The pre-dawn exodus of many Blackbirds heading back over the North Sea - real nocmig gold 

An example of a night with decent species diversity towards the end of March

April was steady without ever hitting the heights, with the expected range of species (including the commoner wildfowl, rallids, gulls and waders) clocking in, but at least Common Scoter migration continued to live up to expectations: recorded on almost half the sessions covered (10 out of 22), there were some nights of impressively strong passage, with e.g. eleven flocks over on 12th, some clearly involving big numbers of birds. 


May was very much a month of two halves, beginning brightly with a strong cast on 1st and 2nd (including both Ring Ouzel and Little Egret, below), and continuing with a steadily more diverse range of longer distance migrants (including e.g Bar-tailed Godwits, sandpipers, plovers, Whimbrels and Spotted Flycatcher).... 
 

A Ring Ouzel migrating over North Cliff on 1st May against the backdrop of a mini-rave in the Country Park....

   

 .... and a Little Egret over the following night. 

....and then peaking exhiliratingly on the night of the 13th. It's not often a nocmig Bittern is relegated to an also-ran - especially when they're previously considered a less-than-annual species in the local area, day or night - but on this occasion, it was necessary....

   

Incredibly, a series of (thankfully repetitive, clear) calls in the wind above the recorder at 2317hrs came from nothing less than an American Golden Plover. The first for Filey, an absolute bolt from the blue (well, black) and a level of nocmig rarity gold unlikely to be repeated, it's fair to say it rocked me back on my heels when I'd fully confirmed it with various more learned friends around the world. Unforgettable! More here.  

The second half of the month was much quieter (although a small flock of Redwings on 23rd were quite late), but after the above, it was hard to be too disappointed..... 

(June to December summary from the North Cliff to follow shortly).


Filey Town - January to May

A flock of Barnacle Geese over the house on 12th Jan were an early nocmig highlight

Back at base, and the recorder-jammed-in-study-window technique, taking far less effort than the above, was utilised more often (fifteen nights in Jan and sixteen in Feb), with the first bird recorded in 2021 being a Redwing at 0206hrs on Jan 1st (even beating Herring Gulls - a good omen?!). Otherwise, January returns were fairy modest, with Mallards, Common Gulls, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Wigeon and Teal in small numbers, an early Moorhen (6th), the odd Golden Plover, a few skeins of Pink-footed Geese, and the highlight, a flock of Barnacle Geese on 12th.

   

February at the house saw a slowly increasing variety, with much the same species as January but with new additions including Grey Plover (15th), Fieldfare (24th), Lapwing, Coot and other expected early spring migrants, with a nice surprise first for the house on 21st, a Pintail:

March from the study window was consistently productive without being too dramatic, with a suite of early spring species registering regularly (examples being Wigeon, Moorhen, Curlew, Grey Heron, Common & Black-headed Gulls, Golden Plover, Coot, Teal, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird) and others less regularly (Whooper Swan, Gadwall, Grey Plover, Water Rail, Knot, Redshank etc.) - still pleasingly diverse for an urban back alley.

 
Bird of the month prize, however, definitely went to the plaintive double honks of the two or more Tundra Bean Geese that migrated over our sleeping heads at 0052hrs on the 14th. 


An example of a decent night, with good species diversity, from the study window in late March

April was again fairly consistent without being exceptional, with a similar suite of expected species to March - although Little Egret was a new bird for the house nocmig list on the 4th, and again, the real stars were Common Scoters: regularly picked up in the first part of the month, with a staggering 29 flocks over during the night of 13th/14th.

Unfortunately, the Herring Gull colony (which we live smack bang in the middle of) began ramping up the increasingly consistent banshee impressions from about the third week of the month, and analysing the recordings became more and more masochistic - but where there's life there's hope, and I continued to extract nocturnal flight calls from ever-decreasing gaps in the bar-code like sonograms. 

 
Siskins migrating in the darkness, an hour or so before dawn, on 20th April

Going forward, I doubt I'll have the time and patience to do the same, but remarkably there was plenty to unearth when the zen-like state required took me - Knot, Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers, Common Sandpipers, Whimbrels, Dunlins, and Water Rails joined the regular stalwart species on night migration during the month, and both Blackcap and Spotted Flycatcher on the night of the 9th were particularly gratifying (again) this spring. So, while there were relatively few nights of outstanding diversity and abundance during the spring, the two Filey recorders picked up a hugely satisfying range of species, many otheriwise unknown waves of migration, and some glittering surprises that are unlikely to be beaten anytime soon. 

 

A flock of Knot migrating over the house and back to the Arctic on 5th May

Check back here soon for the second and final part of last year's Filey nocmig round-up, and thanks for reading! 


Saturday, January 22, 2022

Review: Zeiss Victory SF 10x32 Binoculars

As a Zeiss ambassador, testing optics in the field is always a pleasure, especially comparing them against each other - and I've recently had the opportunity to see how the new Victory SF 32s rack up against their older 42 siblings. 

I've been using the Victory SF 10x42s for several years now, and I love them. Super bright, super sharp, super powerful, and with an enviable field of view, especially for those circumstances which require it - seawatching being the most notable example. They're hard to fault, handle beautifully, and I've been more than happy with their performance in all circumstances.
My well-used Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 (left) and the hugely impressive 10x32 (right)

So, a high bar for the 10x32s to aim for. I'm no tech geek, and so won't bore you with the specifications and all that jazz (you can find that on the Zeiss website here, or by searching online for reviews and comparisons), but rather focus on how they perform, and compare against the 42s, in the field. 

I'm fortunate to be out birding - whether surveying, guiding, recreationally patch-birding or otherwise - pretty much every day of my life, and rarely am I out for less than several hours; so putting the 32s through their paces, in a wide variety of circumstances and conditions, wasn't a problem. In fact it was a pleasure.....
As above. The much smaller, lighter, even more ergonomically comfortable 10x32s (right) take a lot of beating in any birding situation. 

Ergonomically, they are instantly shocking (in a good way). Handling them for the first time, I almost thought I'd been sent the wrong model - surely these were way too small to be 10x32s? And surely much too light? In the field, they blew me away. Quite how such a small, dainty, compact, extremely light pair of binoulars could occupy their space at the very high end of cutting-edge birding optics takes some getting used to. 

Even after several days of field use, in all manner of habitats (including seashore, woodland, farmland, estuaries and urban/industrial environments) and in all kinds of light (be it bright, dull, fading, cloudy and clear, and in both inclement and fair conditions), the compact and wonderfully handleable nature of the 10x32s belied their superb image quality and durability.

Regarding their weight, or rather lack of - it's no exaggeration to say that, even after days of use, I was still instinctively patting my chest on numerous occasions while out birding to check they were actually there at all. That split-second sinking feeling you have when you think, "oh crap, I've forgotten my bins"? Get used to it - and to the follow-up relief of feeling their presence.
Are there any circumstances where the pros of the 10x42s outweigh those of the 32s? Very few. As mentioned, I do a lot of seawatching, and the combination of brightness and (especially) the wide field of view of the 42s give the latter an edge in these circumstances. But otherwise? For my purposes, the 32s are something else, and taking into account the almost counterintuitive nature of their size, proportions, ergonomics and weight, I'd favour them above any others, and in all other birding scenerios.

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.