Champions of the Flyway!

Sunday, August 14, 2022

A Swift 1K - a thousand kilometres for Swifts!

Rehabilitated Swifts, by the wonderful Chet (photo: c Merv Page) - any donations will help pay for this and more! 

Two minutes of your time, friends, for the Swifts - sadly, they're leaving us again as we speak, but happily, we can help them when they come back...... 

Swifts are one of our most iconic and magical birds, migrating thousands of miles every year to raise their families here in the UK. They make great neighbours, are steeped in folklore and have lived with us for countless generations - and, for me and many others, they're the true embodiment of the English summertime. 

BUT, they're in big trouble, for various reasons - one of the main ones being loss of nest sites. They rely on us for their homes - cracks and crevices in our eaves and roofs - where they raise their chicks every summer. Renovations and 'improvements' are forcing them out of existing houses, while new builds are bereft of nesting sites.
The Sheffield Swift Network - a community of amazing volunteers in my family's home city - are doing great things to help Swifts survive and prosper in the Steel City, by creating nest sites (Swift boxes), campaigning (e.g. for the provision of Swift Bricks in new builds), care and rehab (raising and releasing orphaned chicks), raising awareness and generally being Swift Champions. 

Regular readers will know I try and fundraise every year or two, just to try and give something back (in whatever small way) for those who are doing amazing work for birds and wildlife. In recent years it's been Roseate Terns for RSPB Coquet Island, Quails and other endangered migrants for Champions of the Flyway, Turtle Doves (last year), events and campaigns for e.g. Jean Thorpe Wildlife Rescue, and various other causes. 

This year, it's all about Swifts, and I'd really appreciate your help. My target is an initial £1000 and 1000km - the former (hopefully) in donations from you good people, the latter via running and cycling. Last year my Couch to 500k for Turtle Doves raised an amazing £4,000+, and while I don't expect to hit those heights annually, this year I'll be pushing myself further: instead of running 500km over the twelve months (which was some feat by my modest standards!), I aim to reach 1000km, through a combination of running and cycling. 

It could be a 50/50 500km split, but I'm hoping I can do the majority via running - maybe 60/40 if possible. Either way, it's a lot more than I've managed ever before, so let's see.... as of now (early August), I'm a full five months in with seven to go, and after a slow start, I'm on schedule. But I'll need the motivation, encouragement and guilt of fundraising for Swifts to push myself towards the line, especially as summer turns to autumn, and autumn to winter....
Any contributions will directly help these magical birds, funding swift boxes and tape loops, rehab costs, events, campaigning and more. Please give what you can, and I'll update you regularly here - not just on how my target-chasing is going, but on exactly how, why and when your money will help Swifts. Donate here (it only takes a minute). THANK YOU LOVELY PEOPLE! 

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Whales, dolphins and more - YCN Pelagics, mid-Aug '22

Well, they've made us work for 'em, but then, that makes the rewards all the sweeter. Three Yorkshire Coast Nature boat trips on the bounce this week, and after a previously slow start to the cetacean season (despite plenty of other highlights), we scored across the board this week.
In fact, we were treated to great experiences with all three of our cetacean targets over the three trips - Bottlenose Dolphin, Minke Whale, and Harbour Porpoise - with both Common and Grey Seals thrown in to complete the set.
That's me done for a few weeks - Scotland and Shetland beckon - but if you'd like to join me, my Autumn Migration Specials kick off when I get back.... here's to a great season ahead! 

Friday, August 12, 2022

A Filey summer evening

A quick one with a few choice shots from this evening. It's been a good day - the culmination of three days straight out on the boat guiding our Seabird and Whale Trips (more on those here tomorrow), back in time for a swim in the bay with the Mrs, and then a nip around the local area here in Filey: Hirundines trickling through along the cliff top, neon juvenile Willow Warblers brightening up Top Scrub, a Barn Owl hunting close and unfazed, and a lovely sundown at the Dams, where Wood Sandpiper, three Green Sandpipers, five Snipe and a Black-tailed Godwit were enjoying the mud, many more hirundines were swirling in to roost, and more Willow Warblers buzzed in the last of the sunshine.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Killingholme, 8th Aug '22

A beautful, warm and sunny day on the south bank of the Humber at Killingholme, and a relaxed day's surveying along the river. Regular readers will know how much I enjoy my work here, extending back several years now - I get to see it in all conditions, in all seasons and in all its brutally industrial and post-apocalyptic but often bird-filled glory.
This time I had the pleasure of at least 3,260 Black-tailed Godwits - many on the reserve today, although commuting to and from the river (hence nice photo opps) - as well as many hundreds of other shorebirds, from Common Sandpipers to Whimbrels and Avocets to Dunlin. As well as the commoner stuff, it was great to bump into this very smart moulting adult Curlew Sandpiper on the reserve, too. A long but productive day, as they often are here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Nocmig Update - Filey, Jan-July '22

Please use headphones to enjoy the sound files!

Snow Bunting - a new nocmig species, recorded in February over North Cliff

After a very busy few months, finally an opportunity to bring nocmig activities up to date. Here's the first half of the year's results from here in Filey - firstly from the North Cliff, and latterly from the study window here in the town. 


A Quail migrating over the recorder on the night of the 8th May was the first since two in July last year (the only local records of this elusive and scarce migrant last year and, so far, this year)

I ran the Audiomoth (a palm-sized, pre-programmable recording device) throughout the first half of the year up on the North Cliff here in Filey, and while it wasn't quite the rollercoaster of last spring, there was still plenty of activity to enjoy and add to the dataset. Highlights included Quail, Jack Snipe, Snow BuntingsRing Ouzel, good movements of Redwings and Common Scoters, Tundra Bean Goose, and pleasingly, a nocmig Chiffchaff!


The recorder rolled for 18 nights in January (and continuously from 14th), picking up a small but decent range of seasonal species and some welcome highlights, mostly from a purple patch mid-month. Of the latter, my first nocmig Jack Snipe on 19th and a Tundra Bean Goose on 15th were very welcome, and of the former, records included Common Snipe (regularly), Grey and Golden Plovers, Wigeon and Teal, Grey Herons and Pink-footed Geese. A bonus Little Owl near the recorder on 16th was a rare local record.

Ring Ouzel - recorded at both North Cliff and over the house


19 nights recordings produced a reasonable cast in February, with Teal, Snipe, Black-headed and Common Gulls, plenty of Moorhens, Coot, a flock of Pinks (11th), single Sanderling and (unusually) a Great Black-backed Gull, at least two Whooper Swans (14th) and Oystercatchers on multiple nights, but the clear highlight was a flock of Snow Buntings on the night of 6th, another new species for the nocmig adventure:


An equipment error knocked out the first third of March - not the greatest loss, with conditions being poor - which they unfortunately continued to be for much of the rest of it; but March is always a busier month for species variety, and so it transpired this time. Wildfowl were represented by a flock of Pink-feet on 21st, regular Wigeon, a few Teal and Gadwall and regular Mallards, but - while it was nothing quite like the Flamborough movement - Common Scoters still scored well late in the month: a total of 29 flocks between 23rd and 28th peaked with 14 flocks on the latter date.


Common Scoters - males, females (lower-pitched 'beeps') and loud wingbeats as the flock passes over the recorder 

Chiffchaff - one of the more satisfying nocmig registrations! 

Expected early spring movers included a few Grey Herons, Coots and Water Rails, lots of Moorhens, ten wader species including Knot, Grey and Golden Plovers, while passerines were represented by a surprise Chiffchaff deep into the night on 15th (complete with calls gaining and fading as it passes the recorder!), as well as a few Skylarks, Starlings, Fieldfare, a few Song Thrushes, lots of Blackbirds and good numbers of Redwings - of the latter, there were 1556 registrations through the month (all from 13th onwards), with peaks of 302 on 23rd and 271 on 29th.


Despite a total of 21 nights recorded (others were lost due to high winds, an unfortunate theme of the month), April was quiet overall, with both species numbers and their relative abundance remaining low. The usual suspects put in variable appearances - e.g.Moorhens, Water Rails, Oystercatchers, Teal, Wigeon - while just singles of e.g. Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover and Little Grebe were recorded.


Passerines were also few and far between with the exception of Redwings, which figured on most nights in the first half of the month, peaking at 239 on 4th; a Ring Ouzel on 17th was a decent bonus, however, and Common Scoters continued to register up to 18th, with a total of 13 flocks (peaking at four on 13th).


May was a similar story, with pretty much blanket coverage and not a whole lot to show for it outside of the more expected species, but a Quail on 8th was a very welcome record (after the first in July last year); the same productive night also produced Bar-tailed Godwit, a late Redwing and the first Arctic Tern of the year. 

Arctic Tern

Otherwise, Common Sandpipers figured on eight nights, both Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers, Whimbrels, Lapwings and Redshank were among the wader selection, and a Spotted Flycatcher on 17th was the pick of the passerines.



The recorder-wedged-in-the-study-window-and-pointed-into-the-alley technique was again employed in the spring, but more sparingly these days, depending on opportunity, conditions and of course the Herring Gull colony; the latter's noise builds through the season and dominates the spectrograms from late April onwards (although the lure of possibility still just about inspires efforts well into May...).


Thus, March is often the most productive month, which was the case again this year. Passerines are always a particular pleasure to record here, as they're all genuinely on the move by default - and these included Robin, Fieldfare, lots of Song Thrushes (peaking at 16 on 22nd), good movements of Blackbirds (peaking at 181 on 24th), and last but never least, Redwings - excellent totals, especially late in the month, peaked at 375 on 23rd 483 on 25th, with 1387 registrations overall.

Oystercatchers were (predictably) the most numerous waders, but Redshanks featured on several nights (with four on 23rd), as did Curlews, Knot, Ringed Plovers and Golden Plovers, with singles of Grey Plover and Lapwing. Expected species included Coots, Grey Herons, Water Rails, Black-headed and Common Gulls and Moorhens, with wildfowl represented by Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Wigeon and of course, Common Scoters - flocks of the latter beeped over the house and out over the North Sea on multiple nights from 13th onwards.

Pink-footed Geese registered on several nights in March 

Opportunities in April were much reduced (to 11 nights) - and the gull colony rendered more than half of the nightly spectro useless by mid-month - but lots of the regulars put in appearances, with the addition of a Little Ringed Plover on 16th and Whimbrel, Green and Common Sandpipers at the end of the month; May was somewhat of a losing battle for the same reasons, but a Ring Ouzel and another Little Ringed Plover on 1st, Common Sandpipers on several dates, Whimbrel, Dunlin and Knot all made the 'scrawling through a bar code' analysis (just about) worth it untill the gulls undeniably won by late month.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

New England, July '22 - Hummingbirds

We've been back home for just over a week, before which we enjoyed 16 days in the States with our lovely family - variously in Vermont (five nights in a quaint small town) and Western Massachusetts (in the sticks at the family homestead, and in Greenfield in full-on, joyous uncle mode). It was all about the family, which was more than fine, but as always, there were local walks and poke-around sessions with the bins and camera.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were well distributed (as you'd expect around there in the height of summer), but as always, the best and closest encounters came in the garden in Warren, where watching them at point-blank range while sitting on the porch with bagels and coffee was a routine pleasure (missing it already of course). What birds, really.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Morning migration - Filey, 1st Aug '22

Oystercatchers - lots on the move this morning

What a lovely morning. As mentioned, I've been away a lot lately (and will be again in a couple of weeks), so I'm hoping to make the most of this early autumn window with as much local birding as possible; after hitting the ground running with a Cory's Shearwater (less than annual here) a few days ago, this morning was my next opportunity to dig in and lap it up again, and it didn't disappoint.
A flock of five Little Egrets head south-west and over the bay

A mild, almost windless morning with a flat calm sea and some welcome cloud cover looked good for wader passage, which happily turned out to be the dominant theme: 179 Oystercatchers, 26 Whimbrel, 42 Knot, 21 Turnstones, 27 Dunlins and 23 Redshank (plus smallers numbers of e.g. Ringed Plovers and Curlews) all headed purposefully south, while five Little Egrets and most of the 39 Manxies did likewise. Great views of a Balearic Shearwater were followed by a similarly accommodating juvenile Caspian Gull - both firsts for the year locally - while passerines showed some movement with 21 Swallows south, a Skylark in off the sea, 18 Meadow Pipits and two juvenile Wheatears, one of which I watched bound in over the waves from the north. What a blast.
A flock of Whimbrel heading south over the sea