Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Royal Longevity Performance


Don't you just love getting info back on ringed birds? A few months ago, after a fantastic week in Cape May, we took the ferry across the bay and overnighted at Rehoboth Beach, a small resort town in Delaware. We picked a perfect morning for a walk along the beach - the sun was shining, barely a soul around, and the gulls were in fine photogenic form - and in amongst the latter dropped a Royal Tern for all of five minutes or so.


After realising the bird was ringed (just a metal, no darvic), I decided to try and photograph it from as many angles as possible in the hope I could put together its combination on the laptop later. To be honest I didn't expect it to work - the chances of the bird taking flight, of me missing a couple of digits, or of too many obstructions in the way of the camera were high, but remarkably (and in no small part thanks to the aforementioned gulls) the bird was amazingly accommodating, even reacting perfectly to a little shepherding so I could change the angle on the ring.


It's been a while since I'd submitted the details so i'd all but forgotten about it, but I've just received an email back from the North American Bird Banding Program (see below) - and remarkably, the bird in question was ringed down the coast (in Virginia) in the nest in 1992 - making it over 25 years old! A quick search online reveals this species longevity record to be 30, so while this individual may not be a record breaker, its still an amazing story: Nevermind was less than a year old, Automatic For The People was still a few months away, and just like this bird, it was the summer I moved out of my shitty small-time seaside town into the big bad world....


.... how appropriate, then, that 25 years later we should both find ourselves back in small-time seaside towns just a little further north than those we'd fled....

Monday, January 29, 2018

Champions of the Flyway - update from the Terriers


There's only six weeks to go until we - the Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers - set off for the Negev, ultimately to wander round the desert like increasingly dishevelled lost puppies during Race Day itself. But, it's safe to say that in this case, it really is all about the journey; we're here to help shine a light on, and fund-raise for, a cause which should be close to the hearts of any free-thinking lovers of the natural world.


That journey began towards the end of last year, when the wheels started turning and the good people at Zeiss stepped up and offered some logistical support for our team, which consists of myself, my long-term close friend, colleague and general conservation legend Rich Baines, the ever-dynamic and inspired York-based birder Jono Leadley, and the embarrassingly talented and but disarmingly modest (yep, I hate him too) wildlife artist, Darren Woodhead. All my team-mates are obsessively birdy, rabid about conservation (locally and globally), brimming with enthusiasm and positivity, and are all lovely people: not a bad line-up, eh?


I was fortunate to take part in last year's race, which was an amazing experience and I was very proud and appreciative to raise several thousand quid for the cause, thanks to the donations of many good folk, friends and strangers alike. This year? Well, there's no point in doing these things by halves, is there? So it's a pedal-to-the-metal, no-holds-barred, head-against-a-brick-wall, carpet-bombing approach to fund-raising (sorry everyone! Well, not really...), and here we are with just a few short weeks to make a difference.


For those of you who aren't familiar with the cause, I'd urge you to have a good look at the Champions website and see for yourself what a brilliant initiative it is. Every year, the recipient country and cause is different, but always targets the illegal killing of many, many millions of migratory birds as they battle through the Mediterranean flyway, one of the busiest and most important avian superhighways on the planet. This year, Champions brings together Birdlife Croatia and Birdlife Serbia to launch an on-the-ground campaign aimed at changing hearts and minds, silencing the guns and the tape lures, and educating communities as to why it's still not too late to turn the tide.


If it all seems a bit distant and international, I always try and remind myself exactly what species are being slaughtered, on an industrial scale, and in what numbers. I was shocked enough to find out that no fewer than 25 MILLION birds are killed on the flyway every year, and just as shocked to discover which ones were perishing pointlessly in the highest numbers. I've nicked these graphics from The Killing, a report by Birdlife international in 2016 (which is available in full for free here.). 'Sobering' hardly begins to describe it.


So, what have we been up to? Plenty. Blogging (here and elsewhere - and expect much more to follow); slaying social media (via all our Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as our dedicated team page, more of which in a while); speaking (we've been talking to lots of bird clubs, societies and RSPB groups over recent weeks, with many more to come in the remaining time - and what a wonderful response!); shaking the can and twisting arms (metaphorically and literally); approaching businesses and groups for sponsorship (and offering pretty sweet deals in return - contact me for more info); and, in a few day's time, we'll be launching our Flyway Sale. So if you've made it this far down this post, here's your reward - fair warning of a special sale we're holding via our Facebook page throughout February....

Basically, we're flogging loads of ace stuff at stupid prices, with 100% of the brass going straight to the cause. This will include: bespoke Darren Woodhead originals, Yorkshire Coast Nature whale trip and forest safaris, expert-guided Birding Days across Yorkshire, exclusive Zeiss merchandise, and much more - all at at least 30% off the normal prices - but it'll be accessible only via our Facebook page. So, be sure to click here, give us a like, and look out for the sale of the century!

If you'd like to contribute to the cause, every little helps. It takes less than a minute to donate, and by doing so, you are a Flyway Champion. Click here - and thank you!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Winter Wonderland



Well, that might be stretching it a little, but it's an enjoyable time of year out there. A morning session at our mostly frozen East Lea reserve was enough to show that there's plenty going on here on the coast at the moment, with a mix of iconic midwinter species on the move and dropping in. There's been a significant influx of thrushes over recent days, with birds arriving on the coastal strip (fleeing even lower ground temperatures on the continent, inland, or both), and a steady stream of Fieldfares, Redwings and Blackbirds (with a few Song and Mistle Thrushes thrown in to complete the set).


There's also build-ups of Wigeon and Teal locally - see the distinctly spring-like behaviour of a pair of the latter further down the page - but the stars of the show were 24 White-fronted Geese (pictured here variously mingling with ferals and ignoring the farm cat - can you spot it....?) which are likely the flock from earlier in the week which has pulled in another five birds since then.










Saturday, January 20, 2018

Kilo Wren - embracing the darkness...


... of the seawatching hide. A long time ago (about a fortnight) in a galaxy far, far away (about 15 minutes from the house)..... Everyone needs a pocket-sized friend from the dark side on a quiet sea-watch, especially one which mercilessly wipes out an entire population of insects (presumably from the resistance) deep with the darkness of the hide.






Help us save migratory birds this spring - read about my team's mission here: Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers

Friday, January 19, 2018

Out in the cold (for a couple of hours)


A brief run out with the old man this afternoon and, for want of much else around, we had a go at the Hawfinches reported around Brompton and Thorton-le-Dale. A few jumpy birds at the latter were as good as it got, but an unexpected thrush bonanza at the former (in the snowy field opposite the church) was a real bonus - not least for this cracking Ring Ouzel which hopped out and showed well for a few minutes. Amazingly there were all six commonly-occurring thrushes side by side in the field - not something you'd expect on a sub-zero January day..... a quick look at the mostly-frozen Mere in Scarborough on the way back was fairly quiet, although a few Goosander were making the best of a hard day's fishing.



Thursday, January 18, 2018

International Bird Observatory Conference - the RBA article

As regular readers will know, I was lucky enough to attend and speak at the International Bird Observatory Conference in Cape May, New Jersey a couple of months ago, and I've co-written up the experience (excellent birding included) with my good friend Maina from Manomet for Rare Bird Alert here:

The World's Observatories Flock Together - IBOC 2017

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Glaucous Gull at the Dams


Catching up.... this from a couple of weeks back (27th Dec), when a cold front and associated biting northerly winds and snow showers swept through. After a disappointing seawatch, I checked in at the Dams for an hour or so, where I was hoping the newly-scraped central area may attract gulls at high tide; aside from the excellent selection of Scandinavian Herring Gulls, after a while this beautiful white-winger dropped in, evocatively just as the snow began to fall.


I must've checked the bathing and loafing gulls at the Dams hundreds of times over the last six years, and one of my local birding anomalies during that time has been the total lack of rarer large gulls there - but for an Iceland Gull that half-heartedly circled and thought better of it a couple of winters ago, not a sniff, until this bird. It's interesting to speculate if the more extensive and depth-variable water resulting from our recent habitat improvements has already made it more attractive these species? Either way, a perfect start for the new-look Dams.






Tuesday, January 16, 2018

White-fronted Geese, Filey Dams


Back from London after dark yesterday and with White-fronts arriving on the coast, I was hoping not to miss out; called in at the Dams after dropping the Mrs at work this morning and bingo - 19 in front of the East Hide. Beauties, and another early indication of how the overhaul at the Dams is already pulling in the birds. Talking of which, there's a Glauc I forgot to post from a couple of weeks back - to follow....




Saturday, January 6, 2018

Less than three months .....

Over the next ten weeks or so, I'll be gently cajoling whoever is good enough to listen into coughing up anything - a few quid, a few hundred quid, or a few thousand (hello rich people, some of you must be nice!) - to help save the millions of birds being brutally slaughtered as they migrate through the Mediterranean; or more specifically, to help change minds, landscapes and cultures away from killing and towards cherishing and lasting protection. I've put together a team of very lovely like-minded Yorkshire birders in order to raise as much as we can in this short window of opportunity, and you can find out more about our team and the cause right here: Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers - Champions of the Flyway. For the full story, read on....


Champions of the Flyway helps save species that are disappearing fast from the British landscape, including Turtle Doves

For my friends in the wider birding community (and any other community we're both part of!), here's everything you need to know about the race (and why you might want to take the thirty seconds to make a donation to our Just Giving page here...... )

In March 2018, four intrepid Yorkshiremen journey to Israel to take part in the famous Champions of the Flyway bird race - an international event to find as many bird species in the wilds of the Negev Desert... in just 24 hours! How they fare in the race is in the hands of the gods (and the desert sun), but how they fare in their high-profile campaign to raise funds for international bird conservation is in yours ....

Teams from around the world will gather at this globally-renowned Middle Eastern flashpoint, smack bang in the middle of the Eastern Mediterranean Flyway – one of the the busiest and most diverse of nature's superhighways on the planet, where multitudes of birds flood north and then south between continents on their epic migratory journeys. But it's a journey laced with great danger - and countless millions of these avian miracles succumb every season to the brutal travesties of illegal hunting.


Thousands of Quail are needlessly slaughtered as they try to reach their European breeding grounds every spring

Which is where Champions of the Flyway comes in. It's a bird race, yes, and a hotly-contested one - but it's really all about fund-raising, and using those funds to directly combat the illegal killing of migratory birds through on-the-ground action, campaigning and education. With a global appeal and having already raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for local projects, Champions transcends borders, divisions and barriers – be they geographical, political or cultural - and each team is there to raise as much money and awareness as they can to help stop the slaughter.

Which is where we come in. In these dark days of a Yorkshire notorious for its persecution of wild birds, the Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers are here to represent the true Yorkshire spirit – tenacity, passion, inclusivity, and a healthy dose of sheer bloody-mindedness. In the name of international, grass-roots conservation, we're flying the Yorkshire flag on the global stage, and showing the world what God's Own County really thinks about illegal wild bird killing.

Which is where you come in! In order to make a real difference, we need as many contributions as possible, however small or large – every penny counts and will help to save these avian wonders from hunting along their epic, cross-border journeys. Everyone who contributes can proudly call themselves a Champion of the Flyway, and it only takes a few seconds!

Visit our Just Giving page here!

… and read all about the project and its previous successes, the campaigns, the teams, this year's story and much more on the Champions website here!



London talks, January 2018


I'm in London all next week (from the 8th) giving a series of talks in the area - hope to see some old local friends there!