Champions of the Flyway!

Friday, January 26, 2024

Sunny days in January

That rarest of things, an actually sunny day here this winter, and a well-timed date with the old man for a razz around locally. First stop was Troutsdale in the hope of some early season Goshawk action, which was a success, with at least six up and at 'em as the morning wore on:
...then onto Scarborough harbour, via a quick glance off the seafront, where at least eight Harbour Porpoise were close inshore:
... with a Great Northern Diver and a Guillemot kicking around in the harbour:
... and finally onto hte Country Park here in Filey, where high tide encouraged a nice selection of waders onto the marshy grass - lots of Oyatercatchers, a few Redshanks, Knot, Turnstones, a Dunlin, and this smart Bar-tailed Godwit.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

School of Birding – First class dismissed!

This article was first published here on the Zeiss website in January '24 

We're very happy to report that our inaugural School of Birding – supported by Zeiss, and hosted by the Grant Arms Hotel, deep in the beautiful Scottish highlands – was a great success, and our ten guest-students left us with the wind beneath their primaries and the thermals rising to meet them! 

We – Simon (Pawsey) and I, with help from our good friend Sue (Williams) of the Birdwatching and Wildlife Club (BWWC) – began formulating our plan over a year ago, and over the twelve months leading up to our first School, we put a lot of work into (and had a lot of fun) developing our vision into what we hoped would be the perfect week of education, inspiration and entertainment for our guests.
One of two very close White-tailed Eagles during the week..... 

 “Simon & Mark are both not only excellent teachers, but all-round great blokes - friendly, helpful & entertaining! I thoroughly enjoyed the whole week, and to learn so much into the bargain was an unbeatable combination. I would have loved to just do the week over again!” Sheena Langford

Beavering away at our plans, honing our topics and themes, choosing the right locations, and making sure that – whatever happened – everybody would feel like they'd had a great trip full of great birds and memories, our hope was to create a unique schedule that would allow everyone to grow, engage, and truly prosper, whatever their level of expertise, and whatever their experience.
... and the other! 

 “I can't stop thinking about last week, how much I learnt, and most importantly where it's going to take me next. I don't think I realised at the time quite how revolutionary it was, but you've really fanned a spark that was just flickering!” Sarah Hutton 

So what is the School of Birding? Well, it's a week of applied communal learning, outdoors and indoors, with one main aim – to turn our class into better birders. Why? Critically, the answer is different for everyone – which is why we tailor our efforts to ensure everyone's individual aspirations are addressed, while making sure everyone gains the skills, confidence, and awareness to leave us feeling truly like a better birder, and with the passion to continue developing their birding skills in various ways. 

“A new and unique approach to developing field skills our wonderful hobby. The ID sessions were nothing sort of a masterclass. I would highly recommend the school to anybody with an interest in birds.” Mike Lawson
So, as a guest/student/client/team member (take your pick!), what might you expect? As soon as our team arrive, they're there to enjoy the course, with as few distractions as possible, for a full week. That means all guiding, lectures, transportation, planning, meals (full board at the Grant Arms, including their award-winning three course dinners) and everything else, bar a bedtime story (although even there we might make exceptions). The intention is to leave behind the complications of daily life, and focus on the joys of birding, with like-minded folk, in a fully supportive and positive environment. 

“Spending a week with 11 people who love birding too was a real pleasure. Being educated, informed and entertained by two passionate birders who were so enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge with us, made it even better.” Jackie Scarf
Male Long-tailed Duck 

As a very basic first requirement, we're committed to providing what we hope is top quality guiding, all day, every day. Simon and I relish every opportunity to share our knowledge and passion, and it's effectively impossible for us not to do so; whether it's in the forests for Crossbills and Crested Tits, in the valleys for eagles and various other birds of prey, on the coast for seaducks, waders and geese, or various other locations and habitats, our guests get the best of our guiding skills – but the School of Birding is so much more than that. 

“Far exceeded my expectations - I have already recommended the course to friends. Hope to be able to attend further courses in the future.” Jonathan Young
Golden Eagle, Strathdearn

As a perfectionist, and someone who often works alone - and as someone who was anxious to set the bar particularly high - collaborating with Simon is an absolute dream. We're similar in many ways, and to just the right degree - and yet bring a host of different aspects to the table; as well as being one of the best wildlife guides i've ever met, he's also one of the best communicators I've ever come across, and has endless supplies of enthusiasm and passion. Essentially a perfect team, if I don't say so myself!

“Highly recommended for all levels of birders - highly organised by knowledgeable and enthusiastic professionals, friendly, patient and helpful to all their guests. I could go on and on. I loved everything. It’s the best week I’ve ever had!” Elizabeth Lawson
Greater Scaup, Jemimaville

Another strength of our School is its inherently immersive nature. There are a range of other courses out there, but the majority are spread out, often over weeks, meaning the retention and application of whatever skills are available become faded before they've had chance to take hold. We've deliberately created a situation that allows our team to practically, directly apply their skills within hours of learning them, and the satisfaction we felt watching our guests achieving their (and our) aims, in real time, was absolutely priceless. 

“Your insight, patience, humour and thoughtfulness, plus your commitment to making sure we all benefited as much as possible from every aspect of your tuition is unmatched by anyone I've met so far in the birding and guiding world. I am truly grateful.” Sarah Hutton
A real boon for us has been the involvement of Zeiss, who have been wonderfully supportive from the very start. Our School members have free access to a fantastic variety of top quality birding gear and state-of-the-art equipment – we have a range of binoculars, telescopes and thermal imagers for them to use, and even have the option of very special School of Birding discounts should they wish to follow them up. We're already looking to further develop our partnership with Zeiss – watch this space for more! 

“An awesome experience, loved every minute of it! Simon and Mark are such great guides. Looking forward to the next instalment!” Elaine Frew
Crested Tit behind the hotel in Grantown

We'll happily divulge plenty of guidelines and lessons during our sessions, but very, very few rules – although two are paramount. Firstly, there's no such thing as a stupid question; every query and every spark of curiosity is as valid as the next. Secondly, we don't do embarrassment; not only does everyone make mistakes (including us, of course!), but mistakes are an essential and positive part of every aspect of learning. Bring 'em on. 

 “The openness of Simon and Mark, being able to ask questions at any time (and not feel stupid for asking it). Their knowledge was astounding.” Jonathan Young
Where do we go from here? Well, we're very happy to have had all three of our initial Schools book up quickly – our first in November, and the next two, in February and April 2024. Beyond that, we're now accepting bookings for three more Schools – 18th-24th November '24, 3rd-9th February '25, and 1st-7th April '25. You can find out more by emailing Simon at - you heard it here first! 


“Apart from the obvious stuff – great birding, some amazing sights (and beautiful sites), lovely company, good chat and laughs, great food and accommodation etc – it was actually the chance to spend a week in the company of people ‘on the same page’ that was most inspiring and exciting for me. Boy, did you guys deliver.” Sarah Hutton

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Tophill Low, 19th Jan '24


With my leading several upcoming Yorkshire Coast Nature Birding Discovery Days there (watch this space!), Rich and I spent the day on a recon at the always productive and bird-filled Tophill Low reserve. Long-planned, we lucked out weather-wise, with a mostly bright and sunny day (after yesterday's heavy snow and recent heavy rains and strong winds).


Although we were there on a work ticket, it was also a rare chance to relax and have a proper day's birding together - always a pleasure - and we spent all day enjoying the avian bounty. Highlights included a fantastic, close-up drama at Watton NR when a young female Peregrine and a young male Marsh Harrier simultaneously decided to attack the Teal flock, three Smew (a male on O res, a female at Watton, and a female on D), plenty of vocal Marsh Tits, an especially tame Barn Owl, multitudes of winter thrushes, and the long-staying, very smart adult male Black-throated Thrush, which put on a fine show for us late afternoon.
Marsh Tit
Male Smew with Goldeneye
Male and female Gadwall

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Snow Day - Filey, 18th Jan '24 (pt 2)

As well as the passerines (see last post), there was plenty of other cold weather activity during today's lengthy and very enjoyable session - including a Long-eared Owl roosting nearby, two Woodcocks, a Jack Snipe, five Great Northern Divers along the bayside of the Brigg (the first time this winter they've been so numerous), a Bar-tailed Godwit feeding with Oystercatchers, Golden Plovers pitching down in the fields, and various flyover waders no doubt searching for unfrozen habitat.
(Oh, and a Redwing photo I forgot to put in the last post)

Snow Day - Filey, 18th Jan '24 (pt 1)

It's a rare thing to have snow here at Filey these days, and so when it comes, ideally you make the most of it; fortunately, today's fieldwork was sensibly postponed, and so plan B it was pretty much all day birding. Over five hours and 10 kilometres later, and some primetime mid-winter birding had been very much appreciated.
Snow flurries continued for the first hour or so, and temperatures remained well below zero throughout, with a biting NW wind; from late morning, however, the sun shone and the wind dropped a little, and conditions were even better than earlier. From home, I covered Church Ravine, the Country Park, Carr Naze, Top Scrub, the Top Fields, Long Lane and back, and cold weather movements were evident throughout.
After slipping on snow-covered ice and landing on my camera (thankfully just a smashed filter and a bit of slapstick to show for it), it got plenty of use - hence dividing the session into two posts: for this one I'll stick to passerines (but see the next one for plenty more). Of the former, there was some incoming and southbound movements and a bounty to enjoy in the Tope Fields / Northern stubbles:
168 Skylarks (124 in off, mostly in a couple of large flocks, and 64 Top Fields), lots of Redwings, Blackbirds and a few Fieldfares, plenty of Robins in the scrub, plus Brambling and Siskin in off - but, as has been the case several times lately, it was the buntings that stole the show.
Lapland Buntings were well represented, with two on Carr Naze, one in off, and (at least) eight with the feeding flocks in the fields; once again, there could be more scattered across the fields, but at least they played ball much better this time by actively mingling with the Snow Buntings (of which there were at least 56 - 38 in the fields and 18 south first thing). There were also lots of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers, and all species were often side by side.
More to follow in the next post.