Champions of the Flyway!

Friday, March 17, 2023

Quabbin Reservoir, Mass - 3rd March '23

An afternoon outing with the fam to the Quabbin Reservoir (specifically the Dam, near the visitor's centre) for a wander round, notable for an extremely close Bald Eagle (one of several) and a flock of 15 Snow Buntings on the bank of the dam, joining 160+ American Robins enjoying the melt.
It's a place we've visited many times over the last 15 years, but you never forget your first time - in this case, back in 2008, when we stumbled upon a ridiculously tame flock of Pine Grosbeaks feeding on a tree in the car park..... grainy, digi-binned (pre-DSLR!) photo at the foot of this post.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Quaboag River, western Mass - 3rd March '23

A brief but pleasant session on the Quaboag river with brother Ned on our final weekend in the US, just a few miles from the family homestead - a cold and sunny morning with plenty of activity and signs of early migration on and around the river.
Wildfowl on the water included Ring-necked and Black Ducks, Goosanders and Hooded Mergansers, Bald Eagles and Turkey Vultures circled overhead, and the first major arrival of Red-winged Blackbirds (complete with malfunctioning-robot-toy song) and American Robins were evident along the roadside.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Plum Island, Massachusetts - February '23

American White-winged Scoter - numerous and ubiquitous 

After the first few days at the family homestead in western Mass, then four days in Maine (see last post), we headed south down the coast to Plum Island, a short and pleasant train ride through snowy New England forests and seaside towns.
Northern Harriers - ditto

We were there for a very enjoyable three days and nights with family from Rhode Island and NYC, staying in a perfect BnB overlooking the expansive, bird-rich tidal saltmarsh, and just a minute walk to the beach.
North American Horned Lark - one of an approachable flock on the saltmarsh

Lots of walks, mostly along the beach, up to the Merrimack River estuary, down into the Parker River Reserve, over to Newburyport and elsewhere locally; lots of birds, too, with Northern Harriers omnipresent (and numerous), plenty of wildfowl on the saltmarsh (with particularly good numbers of Black Ducks and Pintails), and big numbers of all three Scoter species along the shore and in the mouth of the river - many, many hundreds at any given time, with White-winged and black the most numerous.
More Northern Harriers (above and below)

Great Northern Divers, Slavonian Grebes were also ubiquitous inshore, Purple Sandpipers hung out on the breakwater nearby, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Great Blue Herons, Merlin and Red-tailed Hawks were among species frequenting the saltmarsh, Long-tailed Ducks, Eiders and more were also offshore, and Horned Larks were the passerine highlight along the strandline of the saltmarsh on the reserve. Quality winter birding.
Slavonian Grebe
Black & White-winged Scoters

Monday, March 13, 2023

Maine, mid-February '23

Red-breasted Merganser

After a month in New England, we've been back home in Old England for a few days now, and while I have brief opportunities to rattle through the memory card I should grasp them.... starting with a few from Maine, where we had a wonderful days with our old, ex-pat friends Kat and George (and Indigo, and many dogs, chickens etc).
American Red Squirrel 

We'd had it planned long in advance, and as it turned out, our timing was almost unbelievable - detailed in full previously, in this post - but the giant beast below had something to do with that thrilling serendipity.... just to add to the story, incredibly it hasn't been seen since. There's luck, and then there's luck.
Steller's Sea-eagle, near Georgetown, Maine. Yikes. 

It was cold, it was beautiful, it was a lot of fun, and we wish it was longer; but a few days with family on Plum Island, Massachusetts beckoned, and so we were on our way after four days and nights.
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Eastern Bluebirds
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pine Siskin

Thursday, March 2, 2023

A Swift 1K - one year, 1000km, £4200+ for Swifts!

Filey beach, 17th Jan '23 - a memorable run not only because it was a beautiful, steely pink sundown on my deserted beach (note frozen 'tache), but because it was my longest to date - all the way to the chalk cliffs of Speeton and back, and then further, totalling 14km. I paid for it afterwards....

It's a wrap! As I type here in the middle of a (very beautiful) heavy snowstorm in western Massachusetts, the clock runs out on my 12-month challenge to raise funds for Sheffield Swift Network, which began way back on 1st March '22. 

My challenge had two targets: The first was physical, in which I aimed to run and cycle 1000 kilometres over those 12 months. Having hit 500km the previous year (raising funds for Turtle Dove conservation), I was pretty sure I could do it, barring injuries or other unforseen issues, and an additional 500km on the bike wouldn't be a huge struggle; ideally I'd make it a 60/40 split (600km running, 400 cycling), which I'm happy to say is how it panned out in the end.
Filey beach, June '22. Warm enough to jump straight into the North Sea after my run on this and many other occasions in the summer - bliss!

The second was fundraising, of course - an initial £1000 target (1K distance, 1K funds - hence, a Swift 1K...), with all funds raised going to the wonderful team of dedicated, inspiring volunteers who make up the Sheffield Swift Network (more about them a little later). Happily, as support grew, so did my target - £1500, then £2K, £3k, and eventually an unexpectedly lofty £4K. All donations and support came from a great many kind souls and my only means of connecting with them was via social media - a timely reminder that the latter really can be a force for good.
Filey Beach, May '22

So I'm going to use this post to reflect (and indulge) a little; the challenge became a really enjoyable adventure over the course of this last year, and I ran in many places and in many circumstances in my efforts to keep eating up the kilometres, wherever I happened to be. 

Personal Achievements 

With the emphasis on the word personal - we're talking about a 50 year-old out-of-shape asthmatic with genetic high cholesterol and osteoarthritis in his feet, after all - but it's all about context, isn't it? A few years ago, the idea of running for a bus would've filled me with fear; a couple of years ago, the idea of running 500km in a year (or 40km a month) would've seemed outlandish; even a year ago, hitting 600km in a year, or 50km a month, was a lofty aspiration, now achieved. So, onwards and upwards, as long as the soft machine's apparatus allow, at least.
Killingholme, July '22 - almost a 'private' track at work, and venue of my fastest 5k and 10k's ever thus far....

5K PB - 24.48 - Killingholme, Lincs, 20th Sep '22. My first sub-25 minute 5K. 

10K PB - 55.51 - Killingholme, Lincs, 28th Nov '22. The arthritis limits the number (and speed) of tens I can do, so I enjoy them when I can. 

14K - the longest distance I've yet run - Filey beach, 17th Jan '23. A joy; and yes, I paid for it for about a week afterwards....
The other end of the bay, with Bempton Cliffs behind me. It's a long way back, but it's worth it. 

Where and when 

As you might expect, the majority of my running was close to home - I'm spoiled to have seven miles of sandy beach and sweeping panoramas on my doorstep, and that's my go-to, happy-place, dream of a track. I ran at all times of day, often at night, usually 5K, sometimes more, occasionally a lot more (see above - the 14K took me to the chalk of Speeton Cliffs, back, and more). In winter, it's all mine; in summer, I sometimes have to share it, which is tempered by the joy of jumping straight into the sea for a dip after a run.
Killingholme, November '22 - just the birds and the mud for company....

Elsewhere locally, there's the seafront, which is a good option when the tide is high; trail runs through town to the clifftops and Carr Naze; and loops out of town and back via Primrose Valley. The latter two were new alternatives introduced in the winter when the weather was lousy, the tide was high and I needed to push myself outside to keep roughly on schedule.... I've also varied my running, incorporating styles and landscapes I'd previously shied away from; I'll pretty much run anywhere these days (as long as there aren't too many steep hills - my loathing of them diminishes none). Thus I've enjoyed trail runs both close to home and further afield, tracks, streets, muddy clifftops and more this year. 


There have been many, which not only kept it interesting, but also inspired me to look at every trip, near or far, as an opportunity to get kilometres on the board. I've run in five countries, multiple US States, on beautiful islands closer to Norway (Shetland) and Eritrea (Lesvos) than home, in native forests, in cities, on many a beach and clifftop, into several seas.... 

So, in roughly chronological order, here's my totals. 

Filey, North Yorkshire - 285.5km. Almost half my overall 600km running total was local, and how lucky I am to enjoy it. 

Killingholme, Lincolnshire - 120.5km. For several years now this riverside enclave, surrounded on three sides by industry and one by the mighty Humber, has been one of my regular bird surveying sites. They are long days (even before you count the driving....) with significant gaps between counts, and what is effectively a private riverside running track at my disposal - so I make the most of it there.
My penultimate 5k in Greenfield, Mass a couple of days ago. Snow, ice, full of cold, but so close....

Greenfield, NW Massachusetts, USA - 20km. A New England small town, home to my brother- and sister-in-law Ned and Anna, and my two magical nieces, Oona and Poe. We visited for a few days last March (in the first month of my #ASwift1K), briefly again in July, and last week - which is when, and where, I concluded my challenge. It's worth pointing out that the latter runs were with a heavy cold and were the first after breaking my toe about two weeks previously in Maine....
And the last run of the challenge, also in Greenfield. Nailed!

Warren, Massachusetts, USA - 38km. Amity's family home here in the woods of Western Mass, and usually our base when we're visiting out here. I ran twice here back in April (freezing, below), a bunch of times in July (boiling), and again last month (freezing again). My nemesis, Bragg Hill, is at the beginning of each run, thank the gods.
Masham, North Yorkshire - 5km. A riverside run at the end of April last year, and the last of my 40's (we were there for a quiet getaway for my 50th). 

Spurn/Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - 26km. I was again fortunate to spend three five-day weeks guiding there last year (in May, late Oct, and early Nov), and it's a great place to run (below), even when the weather's lousy.
The Dordogne, France - 14km. A lovely week with family in the wilds of the Dordogne to celebrate my old man's 80th, and some quality woodland trail-running into the bargain. 

Saxton's River, Vermont, USA - 15km. Another lovely family getaway, this time with Amity's side and in a lovely little New England village in the wilds of Vermont in July. 

Aberdeenshire, Scotland - 10km. As part of a memorable road trip, Amity and I spent a lovely few days in the Aberdeenshire countryside, exploring neolithic sites and stone circles. Nice running, too.

Lerwick, Shetland - 15km. Two runs along the town's bayside (below) while staying with our dear friends Eike and Andrew during the above road trip.
Yell, Shetland - 6km. We spent a few wonderful days holed up in a remote cottage on Yell, and a run in the rain there (below) was a pleasure.
Lesvos, Greece - 21km. Nine days with birding brothers Rich and Will on the idyllic Greek island of Lesvos in autumn '22, and plenty of opportunity to run along the beach front (and then jump straight into the Aegean, emulating my summer habits back in Filey). 

Anagach Forest, Highland, Scotland - 20km. My regular week guiding and speaking at the wonderful Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown-on-Spey in November, and several opportunities to enjoy some proper off-roading in the native Caledonian Pine forest just behind the hotel (below), most memorably with my good friend (and ace local bird guide) Simon for company.
Bristol, UK - 5km. Squeezed in a hungover urban run while staying with our lovely friends the Kotecha-Kennedys over New Year. 

Wiscasset, Maine, USA - 5km. With my dear old friend George (below), and just before I broke my toe, putting the whole target in jeopardy with two weeks to go. (Thankfully two runs in Greenfield, Ma. a few days ago just got me over the line in time.... note prophetic ad on the speedway bleachers)
So, one year on, and it's going to be great handing over more than four grand - all donations from you good people - to the wonderful Sheffield Swift Network to help them continue their amazing work, helping save Swifts in the Steel City and beyond. They do so much, all voluntarily, all for the love of Swifts - check out their work, and consider helping them in any way you can, here: Sheffield Swift Network website