Champions of the Flyway!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sardinian Warbler - Les Baux, December 2018

Common as boue, I know, but deserving of a quick special post I think on account of their very ubiquity, gorgeousness and characterful nature.

They're pretty much everywhere here - just when you think you're alone, the bush next to you emits a tell-tale rattle - but getting a half-decent shot has eluded me, until the other day up at Les Baux. Everything seems to sit out and wait to be photographed there, and this bird dropped in above my head and in plain sight in a busy street in the settlement, even readjusting so the background and sunlight were perfect....

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Alpine Accentor - Les Baux, December 2018

There were two target species for our half-day trip to Les Baux, Wallcreeper and Alpine Accentor, and after nailing the first in some style during our first hour there (see last post) and a subsequent wander around the painfully picturesque, winding alleys of the settlement, I paid my 8.50 euros and went up to the medieval castle in search of the latter.

It took a while, and as the place got progressively busier with tourists, I was almost resigned to missing out on a close encounter - but after wandering up on the higher battlements and look-outs with only very fleeting success, I meandered around the (busier) central open courtyard.

Distracted by a particularly beautiful male Black Redstart (more of him to follow), the distinctive, Snow-Bunting-in-a-lower-key trill of an Accentor made me look up to see one circling overhead a couple of times - and then land right in front of me.

Crippling close views followed before the AA exited south (via a brief pause on the battlement with the flag, see below), leaving me feeling very lucky to have had such memorable run-ins with both my target birds.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Review of the Year 2018 - part three

The Brigg is always great value in late summer, with seabirds stopping off from July onwards - including this confiding Arctic Tern....
As late spring became summer, so the work season intensified, with surveys, running the Living Seas Centre at weekends and guiding all benefiting from the exceptionally fair, often sunny conditions. It was undoubtedly the warmest and most settled summer since we moved up here almost seven years ago, and any time off was spent with the many fine friends who came and stayed with us or grabbing odd evenings and days off in the forests and elsewhere away from the masses.

.... and this equally accommodating Roseate Tern
A whirlwind trip to Birdfair in there somewhere was a pleasure, delivering a talk in the Zeiss marquee about our Champions of the Flyway experience (below) and catching up with lots of good people; local meanderings, meanwhile, were confined to enjoying the usual breeding species (including ongoing surveys at the Filey Cliffs colony), cetacean watches from Carr Naze (it was another great Minke Whale summer, with White-beaked Dolphins also passing offshore several times), wanders pre- and post-work at Flamborough, and sessions on the Brigg, enjoying returning shorebirds and the first real pulses of seabird migration.

Guiding activities included a particularly memorable day leading a Seabirds and Cetaceans pelagic for Yorkshire Coast Nature in early August off Staithes, a little further up the coast. Multiple Minkes, (very) numerous Harbour Porpoise and plenty of quality seabirds were all upstaged by a prolonged, superbly personal encounter with a mischievous pod of White-beaked Dolphins....

... genuinely magical, and yet another reminder of what a truly special place our stretch of North Sea coast is for wildlife and close encounters with it. More on this incredible day here.

White-beaked Dolphins were the unrivalled stars ....
... but 'chimney sweep' juvenile Puffins take a lot of beating
In our situation, summer holidays are very much an exception, and so it was a rare pleasure to escape for a good, long stretch in August and early September thanks to my lovely in-laws: Amity and I joined them, their other offspring and partners (and their offspring) in the Catskills in upstate New York, for a family vacation to celebrate their anniversary in the same area they honeymooned no less than 40 years previously....

Black-and-white Warbler in the garden
It was a special trip with an extended family I'm very fortunate to have inherited and grown close to, and while it was by no means bird / wildlife orientated, with us being effectively out in the sticks in a cabin in the woods for much of the time meant wildlife collateral was happily unavoidable.

Osprey at a nearby waterbody
Birds and mammals inevitably played starring cameo roles, with bears being particularly .... (including daytime wanders across the lawn and night-time raids on the house) - more on this trip here, here and here.

Canada Warbler in the garden

Back in the UK by early September, and with autumn proper kicking in here on the Yorkshire coast, it was to be a season to remember....

more to follow...

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Wallcreeper - Les Baux, December 2018

A quick one from a very enjoyable, highly successful few hours at Les Baux, about 40 minutes south of our base here in Provence... more to follow, but for now, here's a few shots of a showy Wallcreeper, one of the main targets of the trip.

We arrived fairly early, with not a breath of wind and the warm sun shining on the south-east facing cliffs - and within half an hour or so, bingo. What a bird ......

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Review of the Year 2018 - part two

It was always going to be a pleasingly busy spring and summer, and by mid-March, it was time to head to the Negev for the climax of the Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers Champions of the Flyway campaign. After months of increasingly frenetic fund- and awareness raising via, well, any means necessary, the Terriers joined 30-odd teams from around the world, with the Champions family coming together for the event week at the magical migration bottleneck of Eilat, Israel.

For the full story of our exploits - an adventure I don't think any of us expected to be such a success - see here; for a How to guide I wrote shortly afterwards, including our masterplan and how we delivered it, see here;

...for a series of bird-heavy, migration-overloaded posts from our time out there, see here; and for team member Jono's ace little film of the Terriers on manouvres, see below (the sound kicks in after ten seconds or so)....

But in short, it's fair to say it was a uniquely wonderful trip, and what a blast to experience it all with the perfect team of enthusuastic, inspired and inspiring friends - Rich, Darren, Jono, you're the greatest... GO TERRIERS!

Returning to the UK at the beginning of April, I was straight into various work contracts, including another full and very enjoyable season surveying the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

I had the privilege of conducting these bird surveys last year (again, with partner-in-crime Rich), and this season had even more opportunity to work in a variety of diverse habitats, from pristine oak woodland to river valleys, in-by and moorland. I was fortunate to find lots of rare breeding species on territory, and it was a survey season to savour (see e,g here and here) in a beautiful part of the world.

Another repeat contract for 2018 involved running the Living Seas Centre at South Landing, Flamborough every weekend, from late March into November. As well as running the centre during its busiest times, there were also lots of events and activities to deliver, something regular readers will know I've hugely enjoyed for many years now.

While this year's contract sadly involved less school visits, it was still a pleasure to work with a fair few, as well as lots of great kids, families and many thousands of members of the public who hopefully left the activities, and the centre, with a stronger and more inspired connection to the wildlife around us. (More from the rockpools here). A season at the LSC wouldn't be complete without a host of random adventures, one of which involved rescuing a young Grey Seal from the beach at South Landing (see below - bodily fluids not pictured...).

Regular readers will also know that, after five years of obsessive and purposely blinkered patch birding at Filey, a couple of years back I decided to experiment with a somewhat more holistic approach to local birding by spreading the love and extending the perameters a little further afield. Happily the experiment paid off, and while Filey remains a key component of my birding / wildlife experience, throwing off the shackles and mixing it up has proved much more enjoyable (and mentally healthy).....

Flamborough - all of twenty minutes down the road - has become an increasingly important part of the picture, while working at the LSC has provided even more impetus to put more time in on the Great White Cape - and my office / work list saw plenty more action as a result. One particular treat was a Dotterel (above and below), which occupied the field next to the LSC for several days in May, and at one point fed within metres of me.

Which was the perfect way to decompress after a particularly mad and busy day, at that point involving delivering various events and activities as part of the inaugural Yorkshire Puffin Festival. For four days over the bank holiday, we welcomed thousands of visitors, engaged local schools and the community and generally exploited out iconic clown-faced friends as a means to connect the public with the importance and vulnerability of the Greater Flamborough Headland seabird colony; a great success, and a pleasure to co-coordinate and deliver.

Another event I was excited to organise, this time on behalf of Filey Bird Obsevatory, was our Bioblitz in July, as part of Chris Packham's Nature Reserves Are Not Enough campaign to highlight the catastrophic loss of biodiversity in the UK. I'm proud to say Chris's team approached us off the back of our reputation for delivering quality (and totally voluntary) community engagement and outreach through various events and activities over recent years here at the Observatory. Again this was a great success thanks to the team - the full story is available to read over on the Obs site here.

Which takes us up to around mid-summer and a suitable half-way point to break off - more to follow in a couple of days....

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Review of the Year 2018 - part one

Carr Naze, during one of the calmer days of the Beast From The East....
As 2018 draws to a close, here's an attempt at summarising this birding year, with a few of the highlights and (many) good memories thrown in from over the last twelve months. Much of the following is cherry-picked from posts published on these pages during the last year, so if you're particularly bored or in need of light distraction, then you could always enjoy the uncut, extended version by accessing the chronological posts via the right-hand column. If your attention span is understandably less malleable, however, then read on......

Glaucous Gull checking out the new improved habitat at the Dams
The first couple of months of the year were, as far as I can recall, dominated by three themes - local birding, delivering talks across the country, and fund-raising/gospel-spreading for Champions of the Flyway - as well as a whirlwind Norfolk trip and a prolonged encounter with a what we still (just about) call an extreme weather event....

Male Pintail ice-skating at the Dams
The talks were a blast, as ever - over the course of the winter season, I delivered over twenty, mainly across the north, but further afield too (including a week's worth in London); there are some very lovely and thriving bird clubs, RSPB groups and natural history societies out there, all of whom were also very receptive to the plight of our migrants on the Mediterranean flyway, which formed a key part of our Champions campaign (more on this next time).

White-fronts at the Dams
Local birding was relatively low key, with the sea pretty quiet here at Filey but for odd Velvet Scoters and Blue Fulmars and the usuals in the bay, including plenty of divers (Great Northerns being a now permanent winter fixture here); cold snaps encouraged activity on the land, however, and White-fronted Geese - not an easy species to get on the year list here (if I kept one) - arrived in force. East Lea, the Dams and the fields to the west were their chosen venues, often mingling with the local ferals.

Fieldfares arrived in the town in big numbers, often very tame on roadsides and in gardens
The Dams, post-overhaul thanks to the team's bid-winning endeavours in the autumn, attracted plenty of decent birds, including Glaucous Gull, Water Pipit and several Pintails among good numbers of commoner water birds.

Snipe on the ice at the Dams
Those few brief cold snaps turned out to be nothing compared to the weather system that gripped us towards the end of February and into the beginning of March - the bone-chilling, gale-force easterlies, violent storms, snow, ice and huge tides that soon became known as the Beast From The East. It was an extraordinary week or more, and its effects were severe and obvious, both onland and, especially, along the shore. Of the former, big numbers of Fieldfares arrived in the town, often very tame along roadsides and on berry-bearing bushes; Redwings, Blackbirds, Skylarks and Song Thrushes were also numerous, and Snipe and Lapwings were battling the conditions in their hundreds locally.

But nowhere were the effects more dramatic, macabre and fascinating than along the shore. Although there was plenty of evidence of its effects along the Filey coast, the resultant apocalyptic scenes on the beach south of Bridlington (in the Frasthorpe / Barmston area) revealed sheer scale of the damage. Natural and unnatural flotsam and jetsam created an ankle-deep layer that stretched for several kilometres, revealing both the diversity and abundance of marine life affected, and the decades of marine litter accumulated and then unceremoniously dumped, by the conditions. Much more on this extraordinary event here.

Dead Guillemot on the Brigg. Many auks, as well as other seabirds, were washed up, all in seemingly good condition but for sharp breastbones, a surefire sign of starvation given the conditions. 
Mid-March saw a very lovely Norfolk weekender visiting our dear friends the Perlman clan. It was great, of course, and even included a killer twitch, for the perfectly-timed simultaneous arrival of a Snowy Owl on Titchwell beach. More here.

And no sooner were we back home than it was time to prepare for Israel, and the culmination of our months-long Champions of the Flyway adventure....

(Part two to follow soon)