Yesterday was kind of surreal, but ultimately incredibly joyful and inspiring. It was our Champions of the Flyway Celebration Day - an opportunity to come together (virtually), make the most of limitations, celebrate birds and our community, and raise more awareness and funds for the cause (see here for more). For me, this meant co-ordinating our (increasingly, magically) overloaded social media feeds and boosting the signal in whatever ways possible - which meant almost constant screen time and sore eyes and aching thumbs. But it also meant participation.
|Roe Deer lack any concept of social distancing|
How? Well, being very fortunate to have a local circuit of mixed habitats close to home (and inkeeping with the guidelines of exercising 'a normal amount'), I decided my solidarity birding would incorporate an often-trodden circuit strictly within two kilometres of my front door - a self-imposed restriction that would also make it more interesting.
|Frolicking dolphins a few minutes from the front door? Don't mind if I do|
I had a look at what might be a realistic species tally, and it seemed 50 was an achievable target; this despite the limitations not only of geography and habitats but also the lack of long-distance migrants, which are tantalisingly close and due to start arriving over the coming weeks... but on the plus side, the conditions (while chilly) were due to be pleasantly benign. And happily, they were, which made for near-ideal circumstances.
|Gravity-defying, super-heroic Purple Sandpiper - the only one on the Brigg|
Long story short, for a nippy day on the North Yorkshire coast at the end of March, it could hardly have gone better. It was a joy just to be out, enjoying birds - a pleasure I honestly don't take for granted anymore in the slightest - and the lack of human disturbance, physically and audibly, made for an unprecendently peaceful session. But the lack of people (the few I saw sensibly keeping more than the advised distance) also cast a melancholic air to places that would otherwise have been bustling; the beach, in particular, was almost empty.
|A female Northern Wheatear, fresh from Africa, against the backdrop of a deserted Coble Landing. I can't tell you how happy this bird made me....|
So, what about the birds? Well, the strike rate for species I deemed 'likely' was excellent, in fact pretty much 100%. Notable omissions were Bullfinch and Treecreeper, but the number of 'maybe's' - i.e., species I was in with a shout of, but that were far from bolt-on - way outweighed any minor losses, and included both Short-eared and Barn Owls (a non-owl day would not have been at all surprising), all the target raptors (with Peregrine and Common Buzzard doing the honours alongiside Sparrowhawks and Kestrels), tricky, rare farmland species including Grey Partridge and Yellowhammer, and bonus wildfowl in the shape of single Red-breasted Merganser and Brent Goose (more on the latter soon)....
|... and she came much closer....|
... and bird of the day for me - two Northern Wheatears which arrived, fresh-in from the North Sea, on a near-deserted Brigg just as I'd turned around to head home. They're my first of the year, and (but for a Sand Martin last week) are my first trans-Saharan migrants of the spring - I can honestly say I've never been so happy to see them in my life, and that's really saying something.
|.... and was then joined by a bandit-masked male. Joy.|
On top of all that, I bumped into 12 Bottlenose Dolphins playing off the Brigg end, saw my first Common Pipistrelle bat of the year at dusk by the kitchen window, and added species #78 while brushing my teeth and preparing the hit the sack - a flock of vocal Common Scoters echoing in through the open bathrooom window. It's safe to say I'd never have heard them with the background noise of 'normal' circumstances; more small mercies to be grateful for.
|The final tally of 78 - way more than anticipated|
So, a memorable day of conflicting but ultimately uplifting emotions, and one I enjoyed every minute of. Am I grateful for what I have? Just a bit.