Champions of the Flyway!

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)