Champions of the Flyway!

Friday, January 14, 2022

Review Of The Year, 2021 - Part Four

Red-eyed Vireo, Shetland, Oct '21 

This is the final review of '21 post, summarising Oct, Nov and Dec. Click here for Parts One, Two, and Three

It was always going to be a pleasingly stacked and packed last quarter of bird-related adventures, with a full schedule including lots of guiding, surveying, event-organising, recreational birding and more here in Yorkshire, and two contrasting but equally wonderful trips to Scotland.....
Golden Eagle, the Highlands, November

Late September /  early October signalled my only off-island adventure of the year (actually of the last two years....), a week on Shetland with birding brothers Rich, Dan, Will and Darren. We were based in Hoswick, a village on the eastern side of the mainland, and despite sometimes challenging weather conditions (to be expected, after all), we had a blast.
Western Bonelli's Warbler, Shetland, Oct 

It was our first time dedicated to the mainland, and we developed a routine of sorts - bird hard on a local patch in the morning, and sniff out new places (or divert for local twitches) in the afternoon. A lot of great birding, innumerable laughs and fine company against a backdrop of such beauty was much appreciated....
Red-breasted Merganser, Shetland

..... and just the break needed to reset for the rest of a busy season back in Yorkshire. See here, here and here for more on the trip.
Bramblings, Shetland

Woodcock, Spurn

Upon return, it was straight back into the action - guiding, surveying, Migweek and more. Again, my YCN Autumn Migration Discovery Days were a huge pleasure to lead, again they were mostly centred on the greater Flamborough Head - and again the Great White Cape provided (and then some). As mentioned in the last post, Fortunes were consistently kind on our chosen days, and while they're by no means the MO on our tours, rarities are always welcome, and our knack of finding and bumping into them was seemingly unstoppable...

With Red-flanked Bluetail (below), 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 all crossing our leisurely path over just a handful of days, it could hardly have been better scripted.
Siberian Chiffchaff, Spurn

And then it was Migweek. A nine-day (I know) celebration of birds, birding, migration and community across a network of local sites and venues up here on the Yorkshire coast, including Flamborough, Filey, Bempton, Hunmanby Gap and Buckton, Migweek is traditionally held in the second week of October - ideally (and, thankfully, often) coinciding with a major wave of incoming migration from across the North Sea.
Red-throated Diver, Filey

It's been a pleasure and a privilege to co-ordinate Migweek since I started it up seven years ago, but most especially, it's been a joy to have engaged and inspired many thousands of visitors - many not fitting the 'traditional' demographic, and often discouraged from the birding world - to enjoy the wonders of migration, via various means, and often for the first time.
Incoming Whooper Swans

I'll be dedicating a seperate post to Migweek soon, so will keep it brief here - save to say, many people enjoyed a free, packed programme of ringing demos, exclusive talks, drop-ins, guided walks and more again this year; the migration was fantastic, too, with big arrivals of iconic late autumn species and plenty of scarcer and rarer visitors to keep the juices flowing.
In off! Short-eared (above) and Long-eared (below) Owls arriving from mainland Europe at Spurn

The autumn continued with two weeks' guiding a little further down the coast at the wonderful Spurn Bird Observatory. After the success of our two late autumn weeks guiding there last year, we expanded the schedule this autumn, with Rich leading the five-day residential groups, and I leading our 'day-tripper' clients - in daily teams of no more than four, as always - in late October and early November.
One of many continental Woodcocks - a quintessential Spurn icon in late autumn

The combination of big skies, seas and estuary (and the light and conditions they amplify), bleakly beautiful landscapes and legendarily thrilling bird migration means Spurn is a uniquely magical place, and never more so than in my favourite birding window of the year of late autumn; owls, ducks, thrushes, geese, finches, pipits, waders, buntings, raptors, swans and more, often in exhilirating waves, often visibly arriving from over the North Sea. Quite why we didn't lead these trips before there is beyond us, but they're up and running now....
One of the first birds we enjoyed on our Spurn Discovery Days - Two-barred Warbler!

.... and autumn '21's dates were a joy. Conditions can be a little more challenging at that time of year, but more often that not, that's the pay-off - messy conditions bring lots of birds and memorable birding experierences (and benign conditions a lot less). We had lots of action, often on the same day, and the mix of habitats means a guaranteed variety of iconic species, whatever the weather. There's more detailed summaries of our Spurn weeks here and here (and our Autumn 2022 dates are now up and bookable via the YCN site here). 
A quiet ringing session for our clients at Spurn got suddenly busier when this Dusky Warbler turned up in the net....

Back on home soil, local birding as autumn (kind of) became winter continued to provide, with Tundra Bean Geese (and big movements of Pink-feet), Lapland and Snow Buntings (a few of the former, many of the latter), Little Auks, late Sootys and skuas, continuing arrivals of thrushes and finches, Red-necked Grebe, Black-throated Divers, lots of Great Northern Divers, Jack Snipe, Iceland Gulls and other seasonal fare in the latter weeks of the year.
Snow Buntings were a semi-permanent fixture here at Filey through the early winter
While two Iceland Gulls (a barely annual species locally) were a further self-found treats
Not forgetting our wonderful week in the Highlands as guests of the good folk at the Grant Arms Hotel. For several years now it's been a November tradition, whereby I give a few talks and lead a few excursions, and we get to enjoy the spoils of this beautiful place, one of our favourite areas in the UK (or indeed anywhere).

After last year's plague-affected cancellation, we could barely wait for this year, and it was a week to remember. More here.

Snow Geese

So, not the worst of seasons, and not the worst of years, despite everything. Birds and wildlife, along with my amazing partner and lovely friends, kept me sane throughout, and going into 2022, I know how lucky I am. Here's to a fine year ahead for all you good people.