Champions of the Flyway!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

How much is that doggy in the Negev? COTF18 update

After four months of increasing rabid awareness and fundraising for the Champions cause, we - The Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers - are finally on our way to the bird-filled Negev, leaving a sub-zero Yorkshire pummelled by gale force winds and shrouded in drifting snow; if I said I was sorry to be leaving, well, let's just say that I won't be too down-hearted scanning for larks and Wheatears in the golden middle-eastern sunshine come Monday morning....

It's been a trip and half to get here. Continuing the wintry theme, to say our campaign (through both word-spreading and tin-shaking) has snowballed would be an understatement - to the point where we leave our northern shores feeling genuinely humbled and blown away by the support of you, our wider community, in support of our birds as they battle through the killing fields along the Mediterranean flyways.

When I was originally planning what we might achieve and how we might achieve it back in autumn last year, I had a lofty but pursuable target of £10,000 in mind. Our first target was to hit the baseline, set for all teams - £3,700 (or $5,000) - but to stay focused on the importance of awareness raising, shining a spotlight on the illegal massacre throughout the flyway. Our second target was to double it, and our third was to aim for the magical five figures. Then, we thought screw it - how about a final, record-shattering £15K? As I write on the morning of 18th March, our total stands at:

So what happens now? We're heading out there to partake in the Champions week of events, which will further spotlight the cause and bring the 30 teams together, smack bang in the epicentre of one of the world's most important and exhilarating migration superhighways. The week includes, of course, the actual bird race - 24 hours in the Negev, trying to find as many species as possible before keeling over - but for us, that's always been an entertaining distraction. Now, it's all about the birds - enjoying them, celebrating them, and highlighting why we've tried so hard to make a genuine, positive impact over these last few months.

We're not done yet..... if you're one of those fine people who has already contributed - thank you so much! If you're one of those good people who can spare a fiver or a tenner (or more), but haven't got around to doing so yet - well, why not help us set new records in the next few days, before the curtain comes down? If you can spare anything, click here, it only takes a minute - and thank you:

More to follow, and keep checking our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds - see you on the other side!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Twitchwell - Norfolk weekender, March 2018

© Uri Perlman

I should quit twitching right now. Not because I rarely enjoy it, rarely bother and rarely get lucky when I do (although all the above are true), but because last Saturday was pretty much as good as it's ever going to get.

© Uri Perlman

We've been looking forward to spending a long weekend with our dear friends the Perlman clan in Norfolk for ages, especially after various travel plans have fallen through recently because of weather and health issues (and because life gets ridiculously busy as of now, including working every weekend til November). We booked the trains months ago and as far as birding was concerned, maybe Yoav and I could sneak out early for a few hours one morning, but it wasn't a priority - and with little around in striking distance of Norwich, we were more than happy to forfeit any serious sessions.

Introducing my good friend and excellent photographer Uri Perlman (centre, between two weird old dudes). Uri took the best pictures of the day - see above and below - and I think I should hire him to up the standards of this blog....

© Dick Filby

So our rough plan was to visit Titchwell RSPB reserve and beach, with the whole family, for a few hours on the Saturday. It's a great reserve and only a little more than an hour's drive from base, and an ideal place to wander around with the whole crew. Come Thursday, however, and a potential spanner in the works cropped up in the monster form of a female Snowy Owl well west in North Norfolk; one the one hand, a genuine dream bird for both Yoav and I - but on the other, a hike and a half, and just the sort of temptation that could wreck an otherwise lovely day with messy and changeable plans....

Come Friday evening and, incredibly, it was reported as having moved along the coast to..... Titchwell beach. Er, that was the plan anyway, right? We arrived after midnight the same night, and strategised - get up super early, gun to Titchwell on quiet pre-dawn roads, and if all goes well, be back for a late breakfast? Or, get up whenever with the kids, arse around over breakfast for as long as necessary, tap into our zen reserves, keep an eye on the updates and leave it in the hands of the gods? We went with Plan B - and it was, of course, very much the right answer.

© Dick Filby

In short, everything went perfectly. We arrived late morning, parked up, and took our time - although Yoav, Uri and I did step on it somewhat for the final 20 mins of the walk, west along the beach. Lizzie and Nathan and some other friendly faces were there, with the bird - parked up on the sand and surveying its temporary empire - looking breathtakingly beautiful in their 'scopes (with apologies to Uri for my language at this point, it was involuntary joy....).

After a good twenty minutes or so, the three of us felt compelled to turn back, with the much-longer-than-expected walk no doubt repelling Amity, Adva, Libby and Noam - at which point they magically appeared over the dunes. Perfect! So we all got to enjoy the owl and the experience together, surrounded by lovely local birders - who didn't mind the kids messing around, and in fact, encouraged them - in a lovely, bird-filled and beautiful place.

So the Perlmans experienced their first family twitch, and we all had a genuinely great time with an unforgettable bird. It's all downhill from here kids!

© Uri Perlman

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The nature of the Beast?

As detailed in the last post, thankfully there were minimal signs of impact on marine life along my local Filey shoreline after the recent extreme conditions; after hearing about the extraordinary events occurring further south, however, I drove the half-hour or so down to Fraisthorpe (just south of Bridlington) to see for myself, and it was an illuminating and jaw-dropping few hours to say the least.

It was a scene of devastation the likes of which I've never seen before, and having spoken to various locals, the worst of its kind in at least 20 years; almost surreal in its sheer extent and volume, the thick carpet of perished marine animals was so extensive as to be a multi-coloured blur, ankle deep in places and stretching as far as the eye could see. Of the creatures involved, well, there was pretty much everything; in that sense, it was at least hugely educational and fascinating to observe so many incredible species up close, albeit in less than thriving circumstances.

I walked a high-tide transect from Fraisthorpe to Barmston along the top of the beach (about 4km) counting stranded birds, of which there were 19 Guillemots, six Woodcocks, a Snipe, a Kittiwake and two young Great Black-backed Gulls; due to the conditions I no doubt missed a few, especially of the more cryptic species. On the way back north, I walked a mid-tide transect often through ankle-deep detritus, and I doubtless missed the vast majority - at one point I crouched down to photograph a fish and noted not one but two Guillemots otherwise obscured within just a few metres.

Most depressing of all, however, was the sheer volume of human-made waste - most of it plastic, and much of it industrial. While there were hundreds upon hundreds of plastic drinks bottles and containers, plus every other conceivable piece of 'disposal' crap from the high street, it was nothing compared with the many tonnes of industrial waste dredged from a seabed clearly heaving with many decades of accumulation. It was impossible to take a few paces without tripping on or having to avoid everything from lobster pots, tyres, strapping, weights, buoys, netting, trash and rubber gloves; of the latter, there were hundreds, all set to live long in this increasingly fragile ecosystem for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

It's easy to shrug it off as a freakish natural event, but it's a fact of life now that extreme meteorological occurrences are becoming more routine and commonplace (and we all know why). Likewise, while it may not be the most pleasant sight (or smell), the biodegrading of marine life washed ashore - from Porpoise and Guillemots to the tiniest organisms - is ultimately an integral and essential part of the marine ecosystem's life-cycle. As for the human-made waste? Nowhere fast.

The team at YWT Living Seas Centre (which I'm happy to be part of again this year) are organising beach cleans over the coming days, and if you have a couple of hours to spare, it'd be a great way to make a difference - have a look at their schedule here.