Champions of the Flyway!

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Long-tailed Tits, Flamborough - May '24

What a cracking week, bookended by a fantastic couple of days guiding at Flamborough for my Yorkshire Coast Nature Migration Specials. Our timing couldn't have been better - that is the idea, of course, but you've got to love it when a plan comes together this well! - and we enjoyed a host of classic species, from rare drift migrants to local specialities.
Of the former, we cashed in on the extraordinary influx of Red-backed Shrikes - star birds of both days, and we even watched a pair displaying! - as well as two Icterine Warblers, one of which was the tamest, most vocal Icky I've seen in the UK; add to that Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchat, Wheatears, an interesting, unidentified Acro and plenty more, and the migration force was strong....
... while for the latter, we couldn't not soak in the glory of the seabird colony, especially at Bempton, where we'd great views of Puffins, singing Corn Buntings, Barn Owl and more. A joy to be on the mighty Head - now to Spurn for a week's guiding down there. Shit life, eh? ;-)
*Of course, the camera played very much second fiddle to getting my teams onto everything over the two days, but these just-fledged Long-tailed Tits were too much to resist.....

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Filey Fall - 22nd May '24

Jesus, well that was fun. A bit of context first: there's been an excellent run of conditions this month on the coast, with easterlies and rain encouraging drift migration and the classic species / scarcities associated with them; however, I've had very little opportunity to get out locally due to other commitments*, with just the odd hour stolen here and there since getting home from Romania a little over a week ago.
Today, though, had the tasty words 'office day' written on the calendar, and one of the good things about being self-employed is, well, 'reshuffling' all that important desk-based stuff to, er another time. After a severe, very wet, very windy weather front went through (from the east...) overnight, through the morning and into the early afternoon, it looked promising for when the conditions calmed - which, by about 1330, they did.
Work went out of the window and I went out the door, and headed up to my beloved Carr Naze, here on my doorstep in Filey. Chatting with Rich on the phone as I opened the car door, a greyish warbler flew past me, which turned out to be a Garden Warbler - encouraging. Back on the phone to Rich, and a flash of red, grey, black and white likewise whizzed past me - Red-backed Shrike, surely? A check of the fenceline where it headed and bingo - my first (UK) bird of the spring.
Game on, or an isolated lucky strike? Well, fifteen or so minutes later, and I was sitting on the southern slope of Carr Naze watching not only another two male Red-backed Shrikes (!), but two Bluethroats, simultaneously, all from the same spot; so, yes, it turned out to be the latter.....
Again, a little context - I've found plenty of Red-backed Shrikes here in Filey over the years, but a notable year would be, well, more than one or two; even more pleasingly, Bluethroat was one of my notable self-found omissions here - despite seeing three or four here, I'd not actually found my own, in twelve years. Until today, that is....
Further patrols of the Northern Coastal Area (Top Scrub, Rocket Pole Field, Long Hedge) revealed a bare minimum of five male Red-backed Shrikes - making them the commonest grounded passerine migrant in the area!
Back on Carr Naze, and we (there were now a couple of other birders around) established that the Bluethroat tally was three; dare I say it, but really, just like the old days.... other migrants included Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher, Arctic Tern and an acredula-type Willow Warbler, but it was the shrikes and the 'throats that stole the show. What a session!
*guiding in Transylvania, guiding locally, and breeding wader surveying up on the Moors... I know, cry me a river (although I have been ill, too, so it's not all rainbows and unicorns)

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Nocmig Update - Flamborough, January - April 2024

The first Little Ringed Plover of the year was recorded on 24th April

As usual I ran an mp3 recorder from a garden in the village, and while it was hardly a classic period, there was plenty of interest as ever.


headphones for audio clips!

A couple of random test nights in January clocked up Redwing, Dunlin and a flock of Pink-footed Geese, before 12 nights were covered in February from around mid-month. Pink-feet featured again on a handful of nights, while early Song Thrush movements peaked at a notable 16 on 16th; odd Blackbirds, Redwings and a Fieldfare (25th) also featured, while Teal, Coot and Grey Herons were logged on multiple nights. Two Curlews (28th) and a single Snipe (24th) hinted at early wader passage.


A total of 24 nights were covered in March (despite plenty of suboptimal conditions), with an expected upturn in activity. Thrushes are often a feature of the month and small numbers of Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, and a Fieldfare (22nd) were eclipsed by good numbers of Redwings: various double figure counts then went up a gear mid-month, with peaks of 131 on 14th and 151 on 19th.

Migrating Common Gulls were a feature of many early spring nights


Wader passage was particularly poor both in quality and quantity, with the only notable records being a large movement of Oystercatchers on 22nd, Golden Plover and Snipe on 28th, regular Curlews (with substantial, multiple flocks over on the night of 12th), and the uplifting chattering of a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits going over on 5th. Teal were once again regular, as were Coots, Moorhens and Grey Herons, while both Common and Black-headed Gulls featured on several nights.


Common Scoters - stalwarts of early spring nocmig, as flocks migrate nocturnally overland from the Irish Sea to breeding grounds in Scandinavia and beyond – never disappoint, and the first flocks recorded were comparatively early, on 3rd, 6th and 12th; large flocks beeped over on the more expected date of 20th, with a further four flocks on 22nd and one on 23rd.

Common Scoters were, as always, a wonderful highlight of spring nocmig


From a suitable conditions perspective, April was, well, undendingly dire: cold, wet, windy and grim, and nocmig was mostly a write-off as a consequence. 14 nights analysed was quite the achievement under the circumstances, and results were predictably modest. Wigeon and Teal put in several appearances, and Redwings peaked at 83 on 3rd, while other passerines were represented by single Blackcap (7th) and Robin (11th). 


Thank the gods for Scoters, then, and the few nights they graced the sonagrams – eight flocks on 3rd, two flocks on 7th, and a further two on 12th. Otherwise, the best of a forgettable month were a flock of Whimbrels on 14th and the year's first Little Ringed Plover on 24th.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

School of Birding - third class dismissed!

Our third School of Birding took place in April, once again based at the Grant Arms Hotel in the heart of the Highlands, and it was once again a great success. 

"The whole experience was fabulous!" Celia & Peter Hawe
"A fantastic week with two amazing instructors who complement each other very well. This was much more than a guided trip. I left the course with a new appreciation of the links between habitat, wildlife, and how we should approach nature" Andrew MacGarvey
We had a fantastic, fully engaged, very good humoured, eager and lovable school of ten clients/students/guests on the team, and Simon and I absolutely loved delivering our sessions, both indoor and outdoor, and the team really connected with the us, the course and each other - a dream of a week!
"Simon and Mark proved to be not just an excellent team of teachers but also great organisers and, perhaps the most difficult, completely in tune with and aware of the different needs of their guests. I've always believed that patience is the first requirement of a good teacher and their patience was exemplary. As a teacher myself, I know that good teaching doesn't just happen on its own but requires a great deal of planning and hard work in advance. This team had done the groundwork!" Donald Smith
We had pretty much the full spectrum of weather conditions, but stayed mostly dry and had several days of (whisper it) sunshine, and were even warm for extended periods! Birding highlights were many, as you would hope for the place and time of year, but included:
Excellent views of Golden and White-tailed Eagles; multiple Goshawks, including close-up fly-bys; breeding Black-throated Divers; accommodating Crossbills, Red Squirrels, seaducks, Ospreys, summer plumage waders, displaying Goldeneyes and much, much more besides. 

"For me, the extremely well thought out and carefully planned School of Birding was all embracing, inclusive, well managed in every aspect and lots of fun. It exceeded my expectations, and without question was a credit to both of you guys" Robin Arbenz
Thanks to our brilliant clients, and also to our supporters, Zeiss - the range of optics available for our team to use (and purchase at significant discounts!) is much appreciated!
"It was an excellent experience and I learned a lot. It was brilliant to be amongst a group of people (young and old) who were enthusiastic about nature and birds. We were so lucky to be led by two great guys who shared our enthusiasm and really knew their stuff" Katherine Kirk

Places are now available on our February and April 2025 courses - See HERE!


Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Running for Raptors - mission accomplished!

After a couple of months-worth of fundraising and training, the deed is done: as of Sunday (my birthday - don't ask!), I completed my first (and maybe last) half-marathon, in torrential rain, flooding and bone-chilling winds, for the wonderful Jean Thorpe Wildlife Rescue.
It's been an inspiring and (whisper it) enjoyable journey, both regarding the physical challenge and the whipping up of support to bank some substantial reserves for Jean and her work. Re: the former, well I've been running for a few years now, primarily in order to try and counteract genetically high cholesterol (an ongoing challenge), but also - despite osteoarthritis, asthma, dodgy joints, etc. - for the additional physical and mental gains it provides for me. Just a few years ago, I'd have laughed at any suggestion of where I am now, which is as clearer message as I can send to anyone thinking of starting out....
Over these last few years it's been a pleasure to fundraise for a variety of causes close to my heart, from Roseate Terns, to Turtle Doves, to Swifts (and the great people saving them) in Sheffield, my family's home city, to various species endangered on the Mediterranean flyways - and thanks to the generosity of the wider community (that's you), I'm proud to have raised almost £40,000 (with help from my teams!).
The East Yorkshire Half-marathon - no big deal to fitter, healthier folk than I, I know - was nevertheless easily my biggest challenge yet, and one that required some fairly serious training to prepare for (particularly with spring workloads hitting full swing - hiking those moorlands and co-leading a great School of Birding just before included). But the training went really well, with no injuries or other setbacks, and when the yesterday came around, I was as prepped as I could be.
But holy shit, what a day... thanks to my good friends Ana and Owen, and my consistently amazing partner Amity, what could easily have been something of a nightmare was a memorable adventure, as we negotiated comically dire conditions before, during and after. 

As accurately predicted on the increasingly alarming forecasts, Sunday morning in this particular corner of East Yorkshire was one of biblical, torrential rain, flash-flooding and biting northerly winds.
But we grinned and bore it (and shivered, laughed, etc), crossed the finish line on two limbs, not all fours, and before too long, we were back at the car, waiting for the tractor to tow us out of the muddy lake that was once something like a car park. Was it a pleasure? With healthy degrees of masochism and good humour, I think it was.
Thanks once again to every last one of you for your amazing donations and support - very, very appreciated, as I hope you know! I'm keeping the fundraising page open for a week or two, just in case I there's anyone out there who wants to provide a late boost - click here: Just Giving Raptor Run Donation Page