Champions of the Flyway!

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Autumn Migration Days 2021 - unbeatable?

Q: What do Red-flanked Bluetail, Black-browed Albatross, Glossy Ibis, Taiga Flycatcher, migrating flocks of Whoopers and Pink-feet, Spotted Redshank, Yellow-browed Warblers, falls of thrushes and Wheatears, big movements of finches, pipits and larks, Sooty Shearwaters and Pomarine Skuas, and frolicking pods of Bottlenose Dolphins have in common?

A: They've all been enjoyed on our Yorkshire Coast Nature Migration Specials at Flamborough in the last month.....
Black-browed Albatross, Bempton - when it returned at the end of June, who would've bet it'd have (just) hung on in time for a mid-September Migration Special?

What a roll we're on.....! I've loved delivering our Autumn Migration Specials for several years now, and I have to say, we always provide unique and varied days for our clientele - of whom there are no more than four on every day, to ensure a top quality experience - and while there's always the option of us going further afield, we're usually centred on and around the Great White Cape of Flamborough Head.

Why? Well, because it always seems to provide. Previous years have been fantastic, with a perfect mix of migration spectacles, rare and scarce migrants, and unique bird and wildlife adventures; this season, however, has been borderline ridiculous. It seems, even with the theoretically more productive option of casting the net wider to incorporate a variety of alternative local sites, that taking it slowly and just absorbing everything Flamborough wants to give us is the winning formula.

Putting us in the right places at the right times is part of my job, and while just enjoying what's happening around us (and incorporating local goodies) is our MO, I have to say, when our group finds include the only mainland UK Bluetail this year and Flamborough's third Glossy Ibis, they're cherries on an already very tasty cake.
Is there a more evocative sign of autumn east coast migration than the beautiful tootin' of an incomong Whooper flock?

It's gratifying that they book up so far in advance, and it's even more gratifying that clients return time and time again - a testament to the fact that, despite often covering the same areas, no two days are ever the same. Roll on next year (dates to follow on the YCN website soon), but now, down the coast and to Spurn for a week's guiding .....

Monday, September 13, 2021

Couch to 500k for the Year of the Dove

It's been a privilege and pleasure to be involved in Champions Of The Flyway - the international conservation campaign which fundraises for and spotlights projects to save migratory birds, especially from illegal hunting - for some years now. Last year's campaign for Steppe Eagles was heavily disrupted by a certain very quickly developing global plague, which swung a wrecking ball through the campaign's bird race climax at the end of March - but with a little help from our many, many friends in the worldwide birding community, it turned out to be a silver lining in some respects, and an opportunity to adapt and diversify; the campaign was a huge success anyway - if we couldn't come together physically, then nothing could stop us coming together virtually.
So to this year, and in this uncertain, still-not-yet-post-pandemic world, it would've been easy to stand down; instead, it's a double-length, double-trouble Champions campaign, stretching from May '21 to May '22, focused specifically on helping to reverse the fortunes of the perilously endangered (European) Turtle Dove. 

COTF '21-'22  - The Year Of The Dove brings together not one but four recipient Birdlife partners (Malta, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus) in a multi-pronged campaign, involving campaigning and lobbying decision makers, exposing and spotlighting the Turtle Dove's plight across the flyway, and raising vital funds for a variety of co-ordinated, on-the-ground projects. 

More on all this to follow (and you can visit the website here), but Champions wouldn't be Champions without raising those vital funds that make all the difference for small, cash-strapped NGOs desperately and passionately trying to turn the tide in their respective backyards. In the coming weeks and months, fundraising initiatives and campaigns will pick up pace; but for me personally, it's already started (albeit in a deliberately quiet, under-the-radar fashion to begin with). 

Inspired by the legend Jonny Rankin and his wonderful Dove Step efforts, I decided this was the year to set myself a physical challenge. Now I should say that, as an out-of-shape (almost) 50 year-old with osteoarthritis, asthma and zero previous when it comes to a commitment to exercise, I'm about as far from Jonny and indeed pretty much anyone in decent shape as you can get. But, recently, I've got into running - and it's been a quiet revelation.
Initially as a Couch-to-5K struggle in response to unhealthy cholesterol levels (blame the genes), and latterly as a challenging and (whisper it) even sometimes-pleasurable way to improve and maintain my physical and mental health, I'm at the point where - if and when my joints don't get the better of me - I'm running regularly, maintaining a monthly regime, and enjoying the buzz that comes from it (even if it's a huge drag sometimes). 

So, for twelve months, I'm going one step further by setting myself a specific goal and fundraising my way to the finish line: 500km in the Year Of The Dove. It doesn't sound like much, especially if you're in decent shape and unfazed by such numbers, but for me it's a big deal. In the previous twelve months(my first full year of running), I managed 320km, which in itself was a big deal, and not something I'd necessarily expect to 'beat'; but, with the guilt, inspiration and responsibility that comes from publicy committing to a target for a brilliant cause - 500km it is. 

I'm hoping that guilt, inspiration and responsibility will drive me on through the challenging months ahead - I started in April, and to be honest, running in the spring and summer (with generally better conditions, more time and longer days) is a lot less punishing than autumn and winter... I run (mostly) on the beach here in Filey Bay on the Yorkshire coast, and braving the elements (often in semi-darkness) isn't quite as, er, pleasant as a calm summer's morning - but if I know I'm being virtually cheered on and raising cash for the doves? I reckon I can do it.
So, friends, I need your help. Distance-wise I'm almost halfway there - just over 200km as of early September - but this is where it gets sticky; every penny donated - 100% of which goes straight to helping fund incredible projects on the ground to help save Turtle Doves, from community engagement, to lobbying, satellite tagging, direct action, research and much more - will help push me that little bit further towards the 500km finish line. 

Thanks ;-)

Donating only takes a few seconds - click here: Just Giving - 500km for the Year of the Dove

Follow my progress on Facebook here and Twitter here

Follow the #YearOfTheDove campaign on Twitter here and Facebook here 

Thanks to Richard Bennett and Nathaniel Dargue for great photos, and Jo Ruth for classy logos! 

Monday, September 6, 2021

Nocmig Update - August '21

All three terns graced the recorders in August, with Common, Sandwich and Arctic (pictured) regularly registering

Filey (North Cliff) 
A tale of almost exclusively waders and terns, with a healthy fourteen species of the former, and multiple showings of all three commoner species of the latter. Many nights saw just a handful of registrations and a few species, but there were odd nights that saw a lot more action. Oystercatchers, Whimbrels, Dunlins and Curlews were common, with Ringed Plovers, Turnstones and Redshanks regular; single Lapwing and Golden Plover, plus Grey Plover on 27th, a Greenshank on 7th, Bar-tailed Godwits on 8th, a Little Ringed Plover on 1st and a Black-tailed Godwit on 13th made for a quality overall variety of shorebirds. Common and Sandwich Terns were recorded on several nights, but the star, er, tern was Arctic, by some distance - a much heavier passage this August saw some substantial counts, with large flocks occurring on several nights.


A remarkably similar story to the above, with the vast majority of registrations involving waders and terns. Of the latter, Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns all figured, with multiple registrations for all three species and Sandwich slightly outnumbering its smaller cousins. Regular waders included Whimbrels, Dunlins, Curlews and Oystercatchers, plus Turnstones on several nights, Redshanks, Sanderlings and a flock of Knot on 14th, a Little Ringed Plover on 22nd, Snipe on 28th, a Greenshank on 12th, and a Green Sandpiper on 15th. Otherwise, a flyover Moorhen on 2nd, the odd Black-headed Gull and the welcome presence of a small flock of Common Scoters during a rain shower on 21st completed the roll call.


My first full month recording at this new regular nocmig site was pleasingly productive - despite picking up less variety and abundance than the above, there were still twelve shorebird species, as well as Common and Arctic Terns and Black-headed Gulls. Black-tailed Godwit on 3rd and Knot on 23rd were both notable, but it was the sandpipers that stole the show, with the trio of Wood, Common and Green all clocking in during the month (the Wood being by far the scarcest of the three, on the night of 14th).


Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Double Greenish - Filey, 22nd & 23rd August '21

A quick smile for the camera seconds after dropping in from a North Sea crossing - classy 

More from the last couple of weeks to follow, but first a post dedicated to memorable double lightning strike last week. I've been fortunate to have had a fair amount of time to go birding of late, and I've made the most of it - plenty here on the doorstep in Filey, as well as the usual wanders a little further afield, and it was after (quiet) morning sessions at both Flamborough and Buckton that I returned to Carr Naze for an afternoon seawatch on 22nd.
Wandering along the central path under ashen skies, I bumped into Paul (Scanlan), and we mused on a tantalising whiff of east in the northerly wind; enough to drop something decent in, perhaps? I'd been hoping for an Icterine or a Barred Warbler, maybe a Wryneck or an early Red-backed Shrike, or better still, even a Greenish Warbler... Any would be a class early autumn find here, but the latter are real rarities in Filey, with just two in the last twenty years, both of which I'd been lucky enough to find - the last, six years ago, on an umbellifer right on the edge of the cliff....
I said goodbye to Paul, walked maybe ten paces, and a small, green warbler literally dropped in, right in front of me, onto an umbellifer by the cliff path. Clearly, truly fresh-in, I knew from plenty of (sometimes painful) experience I had perhaps just seconds on it before it bolted over the cliff edge and spirited away, so I went for the camera and rattled off a burst of record shots, but I knew before I'd pulled my finger off the trigger that it was indeed a Greenish Warbler. Bingo!
Predictably, it took a good look around and thought better of a bushless, windswept clifftop, and ducked over the edge; I called Paul back and, after a nervous minute or so, it very generously rematerialised in the Magic Bush, halfway down the slope. Instead of pulling a fast one, however, it was more than happy to feed up after its above-ocean voyage, buzzing between weedy patches and stunted bushes as processions of holidaymakers bundled noisily by.
The following morning and, after a couple of hours of pretty meagre returns, I checked the southern side of Arndale, a wooded ravine on the Country Park. I expected little, especially as it was typically well disturbed by dogwalkers and tourists, but I've had good returns here over the last few years - Dusky Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail and Marsh Warbler all springing to mind - and it paid off again when I heard the distinctive shweut! of a Greenish. I found the bird in a small stand of trees nearby, and before I had time to wonder if it was yesterday's bird, a second began calling emphatically, just a few metres away....
... ridiculous, but there they were, not just calling to each other, but one even responding with regular bursts of song (see below); more concerned with each other than me, I had a very special ten minutes or so with them before they filtered into the densely-wooded ravine.

Beforehand, then, two Greenish Warblers in ten years seemed like a pretty decent return here; 24 hours later and I'd doubled my tally. Autumn really is the greatest time of year.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

(Still) The Greatest Show In Town

What a bird, really. It's provided for and indulged me in every way possible - over multiple years, multiple visits, multiple scenerios (sat on the cliffs, flying past at head height, landing, sat on the sea, taking off, sleeping, preening, landing just beneath me, flying above and below me, etc....), and even at multiple locations (including its unforgettable fly-by at Filey last summer), but it never even vaguely gets old.
Every encounter is a thrill, and today's - with a particularly lovely family of clients on a bespoke guiding day - was up there with the best, and sharing such experiences makes them all the more enjoyable. Yep - still the greatest show in town, by an absolute mile.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Pale and dark morph Arctic Skuas, Filey Brigg

From this afternoon on the Brigg - an obliging pair that sauntered right past us. More on today to follow.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

YCN Pelagics, 12th & 13th Aug '21

Two back-to-back trips this weekend (one twilight, one full length) were a bit more challenging than usual on account of the wind and choppier conditions - but fortune favoured the brave, and all our clients had unforgettable experiences, thanks in no small part to our Bottlenose friends...
On both days we were joined by dolphin pods which included very young calves, and on both trips they came to us, and played, bow-rode and generally showed off beautifully for extended periods. Grey Seals, Harbour Porpoises and a great selection of seabirds, including Great and Arctic Skuas, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns, lots of auks and Scoters, huge feeding frenzies of Gannets and much more - but for the migration lovers, the standout highlight was a Marsh Harrier (see foot of post) which we picked up way, way out over sea, which eventually battled in over the boat and then over the highest sea cliff on England's east coast, into a strong westerly wind. Magic.