Champions of the Flyway!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Review Of The Year, 2020 - Part One

Goldcrest (top) and Firecrest, illuminated by some welcome winter sunshine here in Filey 

Welcome to the first part of the traditional end-of-year look back over the previous twelve months. Somewhat more, er, eventful than generally antipicated, wasn't it....? It's been a year of, well, insert your own buzzword here; I'm going with adaptation, I think - descriptive, just about covers it all, and is ultimately, underlyingly positive.
Hibernans European Stonechat - a regular presence locally in the early spring...
... and a candidate rubicola I found holding territory at Gristhorpe Bay in mid-late March 

Anyhow, if you're still here, I hope you're healthy and happy, and I hope you were able to get as much pleasure and sanctuary from birds and wildlife over the course of the year as I did. Here's a run-through some of those sanity-maintaining highlights, beginning in January.
Early vismig rewards - Hooded Crow and Red Kite, Reighton Sands 

With a frankly wonderful 2019 behind me and what looked like an equally adventure- and travel-rich 2020 ahead, it all seemed so, well, normal as I enjoyed sifting through a rare sight here in the Filey area, a winter Bunting flock, on temporarily fertile soil near the Tip. No whiff of Pine, unfortunately, but Yellowhammers into three figures was a (sadly exceptional) treat locally these days:
A relatively benign first couple of months of the year weather-wise produced no notable winter movements, but plenty of enjoyable local birding was augmented by forest forays with Pearson Snr, plenty of time up and down the coast from Ravenscar to Flamborough, early season vismigging, seawatching and bay-checking, and plenty of work-related adventures, from Winter Swan Surveys in the Lower Derwent Valley to (many days) surveying on both banks of the Humber.
Those ongoing surveys on the Humber provided great winter birding and a sense of welcome normality as the unthinkable steadily became a tangible threat; there's nothing quite like shimmering, swirling clouds of shorebirds against brutalist industrial backdrops to prepare you for an apocalypse. I remember filming the Curlew below along the shore at Killingholme, posting it on social media with the caption 'Plod on, no matter how sticky the mud gets', and watching it strike a nerve with many ....


The Humber surveys also provided opportunities for diversionary mini-twitches, which included the long-staying (and very smart) male Black-throated Thrush by a busy roundabout in Grimsby among other decent distractions:
Black-throated Thrush, Grimsby 

March was, by all accounts, a shitstorm of impending chaos and doom (some preventable, some not), and it wasn't long before reality bit - this wasn't going to be just a bump in the road. Shelves emptied faster than anywhere here in Filey (one small supermarket, a mostly-retired population) and panic-buying seemed like a suitably deranged reflection of the public mood; the landscape changed on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, and the year's plans, work, trips and adventures began falling off the conveyor belt, one by one.
Grey Phalarope, Flamborough, February 

But, it was also a time of taking stock, on an equally regular basis: still alive, unlikely to starve, privileged to live in an affluent part of the world with the much-maligned, suddenly-lauded blessing of a National Health Service (despite the long-term best efforts of the monsters at the wheel), great friends, family and wider community, and most importantly in the context of these posts, grade A access to nature and birds.
When the simple act of a watching common birds build their nests became some kind of profoundly grounding experience - Blackbirds....
... and Wrens all unwittingly providing a welcome Carry-On-Regardless narrative 

The end of March, of course, is traditionally #COTF Race Week in the Negev desert, the culmination of efforts over previous months for the world's greatest bird race, Champions Of The Flyway. Regular readers will know it's much more than just a bird race, however; regular readers will also know that, after a couple of memorable years as a very enthusiastic participant, I've been part of the back-room operations since mid-2018. As Digital Media Co-ordinator and Team Support, it's a role to relish, leading up to an always wonderfully manic, bird-filled, sun-soaked celebration of the cause in southern Israel.
Race Day 2020 - Nubian Ibex? Nope, Roe Deer 

The aformentioned conveyor belt took care of that, of course, agonisingly close to the wire; but, I'm proud to say, we adapted and made the very best of it, in the shape of a global Celebration Day. By reaching out to our worldwide community (and some creative marketing - #ChampionsOfTheDriveway, anyone?), we kept the pedal to the metal with fundraising and gospel-spreading, and turned Race Day itself into an interconnected celebration of lockdown birding and the birds that unite us.
Bottlenose Dolphins celbrating COTF Race Day in Filey Bay 

I could bang on about it for much longer (you can read more here and here), but suffice to say, it was genuinely inspiring and life-affirming bright light in the ever-growing darkness of early spring. I spent the day on a lockdown loop within 2km of my front door, clocking up as many species as possible for the 'race' (while also in the midst of running the live comms via mobile and cold thumbs), and it was a special day for many reasons, not least, the greatly heightened personal appreciation of the wildlife on my doorstep.
"Gods, give me a sign!"

Top of that list (although the pod of frolicking Bottlenose Dolphins in the bay came close) were undoubtedly the two Northern Wheatears - the first of the year - that I was on the Brigg to greet back from Africa as the afternoon sun began to fade. A fitting bookend to a challenging, but ultimately successful and hugely inspiring Champions campaign that (incredibly) raised more than $40,000 for Steppe Eagle conservation on the ground. 

The spring proper would prove to be a memorable one, thankfully for mainly positive reasons - part two to follow soon.