Champions of the Flyway!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Bewick's Breakdown

After driving coast-to-coast Filey to Morecambe yesterday and delivering a talk for the good people of Lancaster & District Birdwatching Society last night (thanks for coming everyone), today I was due to drive to Snowdonia for a talk at Plas Y Brenin National Mountain Centre - but as anyone who's in the UK presently knows, the forecasts and subsequent conditions put paid to that....

... and so esteemed local birder, musician and raconteur Dan - not content with putting me up - offered to take me birding locally by way of consolation, and some consolation it was.

With temperatures around zero and heavy rain turning to snow, and in turn to sleet (and repeat), it was a day for in- or by-car birding, and we checked plenty of local sites, all seemingly full of birds - wildfowl and waders being especially numerous. Swan-worshipping was a priority, and so we crawled along single-track lanes winding through the farmland around Cockersand, coming across more and more Whoopers in larger and closer flocks as we did so - and after pulling over to check a particularly close flock of around 60 Whoopers and a few Mutes, we hit the jackpot with eleven beautiful Bewick's.

It's been a long time since I've seen Bewick's (two in off the sea at Filey four or five years ago), and we lapped up the show through the snow as they entertained us in the presence of three other related taxa (a Black Swan wandering into view on the other side of the road). All well and good, until I turned the ignition, and.... nothing.

Which is where, frankly, this post - and the week - could have taken a terminal turn for the worse; a .... car in heavy snow and rain, and with long drives in tough conditions ahead, wasn't a great option. But within 45 minutes, the mercifully fixable obstacle of a dead battery that should've been replaced years ago was dispatched and replaced by the lovely AA man, who sorted us out while talking natural history with the swans (literally) looking on.

Add on five figures of Pink-feet, thousands of Golden Plovers and Lapwings and an array of other common wildfowl and wader action, and what could have been a memorably bad day was very much the polar opposite.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Bird of the Week #3 - Buller's Albatross

I know, almost unfathomably beautiful.... we were lucky enough to see them, as well as a further six Albatross species, on a long, gruelling, unforgettable pelagic out of Sydney, Australia back in August 2011 as part of our year-long birding and backpacking honeymoon.

According to the IUCN, they're near-threatened, with around 32,000 pairs, all confined to a cluster of islands off New Zealand. More from this trip here....

There'll be more to come from this memorable day over the coming months; it's good to have an excuse to delve back into photo folders, and then notebooks, and brings back some fine memories.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Hornsea & Skipsea - 24th Jan 2019

WW2 pill-box, caravan site and a flock of Golden Plovers - the quintessential East Yorkshire coastal winter scene
Another icy, bone-chilling morning here on the Yorkshire coast, but with sunshine forecast, a couple of hours to kill and in the interests of a little variety, I headed south towards Hornsea Mere.

"Feeling ok this morning, and you know...."
First stop was the end of the road (literally) at Skipsea, and a check of the sea - nothing too exciting but for lots of Red-throated Divers and auks, but a flock of c180 Golden Plovers in the cliff-top field was a bonus.

Nun on the run
I reached the Mere in time for the mist to gently lift, revealing ... a lot of ice. With most of the ducks - an excellent congregation of common stuff, including dozens of Goldeneye - concentrated in an ice-free passage not too far away, I started scanning through them and immediately picked out the extraordinarily dapper drake Smew, actively feeding (and seemingly ghosting the dives of Tufties - a beneficial feeding ploy?) as close as it could be without skates.

Great 'scope views (although a bit too far for the DSLR) through the beast - the Zeiss Harpia 95, killing it in all circumstances - were a pleasure, and in with the multitudes I also picked out a young male Greater Scaup and a 'Scaup-type' hybrid male, most likely Tufted Duck x Common Pochard (which made me miss those millions of mornings scanning through the flock at Stoke Newington Reservoirs....).

That's thick ice as far as Swan Island, but for a channel to the left
On the way home, I dropped in to see the male Mandarin on Primrose Valley lake, a boating pond on a holiday camp a couple of miles south of Filey. It's been there a while and is more than likely from the healthy feral population in the Scarborough area, but it's always been dark and cloudy when I've passed by - so with a flash of sunshine I got a half decent shot and retreated back to base. Despite the proximity of the aforementioned population they're a scarce bird in the Filey area (just about annual in small numbers), which was my weak justification for paying my respects again...

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Pink Sunshine

Garish, charismatic, bouffanted, prone to public drunkeness and invading the kind of housing estate where everyone reads the Daily Mail and denies climate change, these Waxwings are essentially Amy Winehouse at a UKIP garden party, and all the better for it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Bird of the Week #2 - Peregrine

Peregrines - hard to beat, wherever I've lived and/or birded. All the photos shown are of local birds (both adults and juveniles), and most are from a local territory that has produced plenty of offspring in recent years; it's a pleasure to have them so close, and they're even an increasingly regular sight from where a sit, with birds hunting pigeons and other potential prey over the midde of town.

After decades of perecution and poisoning, Peregrines have recovered - to a degree - and are now a special part of many an urban avifauna (my old hometown of London hosting a particularly high density of territories); but the persecution continues, especially across those swathes of the country where the grousemoor and the gun rule.

But locally, I'm happy to say wherever there are sea-cliffs, there are Peregrines, and the world is all the better for them.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Bird of the Week #1 - 'blue' Fulmar

Blue Fulmar (type D), Bempton Cliffs, a full decade ago....
Consider this the result of two minor new year's resolutions - to sort through the unedited virtual dung-heap of my digital photos, and to make more of an effort to update this here online bird and wildlife journal. Of the former, I've made some headway during long train journeys over the last few weeks (with my Filey photos - which constitute the majority - now largely culled and filed), and of the latter, well it occurred to me this morning that I've now been blogging here for exactly ten years.

Blue Fulmar (type L), Filey, February 2017
Ten years?! Yep, a full decade of what has been a happy place to record, principally for my own benefit, my wildlife adventures, however far-flung or local, exotic or mundane - effectively my online, chronological notebook. I'm no fancy photographer with fancy gear - on the contrary, trust me - but it being a visual medium, photos have always been important, and I've had a lot of enjoyment in the field thanks to the camera over those ten years.

Blue Fulmar (type L), Filey, February 2017
So, what better way to start than with the very first bird I (purposely) photographed, and the first bird to appear on the blog, a full decade ago? At the time the bird in question (first photo) was an unexpected bonus on a trip back home (from my other, adopted hometown of London) to Bempton Cliffs in the dead of winter; over the course of recent years, it's come to represent a scarce but somewhat more attainable presence during one of my favourite types of birding up here on the Yorkshire coast - seawatching.

Fulmar (type LL), Filey, February 2017
So we kick off with the blue (dark) morph of Northern / Atlantic Fulmar - a 'special' plumage of a special bird - which, to generalise, are birds from (usually) more northerly climes. The top bird is likely from a colony far up in the Arctic circle, while the bird in photos 2 and 3 is more of an intermediate; the bird in the fourth photo (above), taken within a minute of the one above it, is a 'regular' Fulmar, i.e. as we would expect to see one here in the southern North Sea.

Alright, let's see how long I can keep this up....