Over the weekend of 10th-11th Sept, with tent, telescope and tripod in the car, I attended the Bird Migration Festival (#Migfest) on Spurn Peninsula, based at Westmere Farm, Kilnsea. Despite having to leave at 10am on the Sunday to get home and despite enduring persistent rain throughout Saturday, I did enjoy myself immensely, saw some good birds and I think learned a few new things. In this post I’d like to share a few of my highlights and reflections on Migfest 2016, which is in its fourth year now.
The indoor talks were well attended – but it would be unfair to suggest this was entirely due to the rain, although I’ll admit the daytime sessions offered a welcome excuse for even the most dedicated migration watchers to retire indoors and mop down their optics. At times in the main barn, set out like some rustic 200-seat auditorium one had to crane to focus on the presentations against a background of drumming rain on the barn roof, chirping sparrow chicks ensconced in lofty crannies and juvenile swallows testing their wings among the rafters.
A presentation on Saturday (Mike Lanzone – ‘Put a Phone on it’) showed how far technology has come since the dawn of satellite tagging projects. In the USA, he has been pioneering the use of miniaturized ‘I-phone’ technology attached to birds for scientific studies, revolutionizing the speed and sheer quantity of data gathering, accumulating in days the meagre data points that took entire seasons before. Eagles soaring along mountain ridges and catching thermals can now be plotted in real time; Snowy Owls in The Great Lakes have been tracked as they hitch-hike on ice floes to get about the lake in quest of seals; and even prosecution has resulted from raptor persecution detected in real time with mobile-network positioning, as tracked hawks go mysteriously to ground in remote areas, with law enforcement directed straight to the evidence.
We were greatly entertained on Saturday evening by the unexpected double act of Bjorn Malmhagen and David la Puma, (‘A Tale of Two Peninsulas’), on the remarkable similarities between two peninsula bird observatories on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Falsterbo in Sweden and USA’s Cape May respectively. Both presenters left the audience gasping at the spectacle and statistics of visible migration at their respective centres of bird study and chuckling at their warm humour. The recent collaborative friendship between Spurn Bird Observatory, Cape May and Falsterbo will no doubt be a rich source of mutual inspiration and innovation in the field of bird ringing and migration (see International Relationships on Cape May page for more on the collaboration).
As TV naturalist Mike Dilger put it in his summing up that night Migfest is like a friendlier more intimate Birdfair but with great birding to be had at the same time. On the bird front he’s right…despite the almost incessant precipitation of Saturday (I think it paused briefly on maybe five occasions, only to think better of it), there were some good birds to be seen, particularly a fine slew of waders. My list clocked up 18 different species including both Godwits, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper, not to mention a much acclaimed Kentish Plover. My final all-species tally by Sunday morning was 74, but I know there were at least 20 more species that others reported. Indulge me a moment – here are a few memories that will stay with me from #Migfest2016:
- Relishing the warm sunshine and chill air of Sunday morning at The Warren while in waves overhead passed loose, bounding flocks of Meadow Pipits, clocking several thousand over just a couple of hours counting.
- Swirling flocks of Golden Plover, looking like a quite different species up high in the sky compared to their flight patterns down low over the estuary. I’ve never noticed that before.
- Squishing in to a hide at Canal Scrape and finding in rapid succession Redstart, Whinchat and Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler, Snipe and Grey Wagtail – all passing through Spurn on their migration journey.
- Witnessing the next generation of inspiring young birders; accomplished teens united by an enthusiasm and dedication to learn and share their experiences. As pointed out by BTO Director Andy Clements, who is in regular conversation with many of these young people via twitter, they enjoy unrivalled access to the top names in bird conservation through social media in a way which was inconceivable a generation ago (and is equally rewarding for both parties).
Long after my tent has dried out, my records have been submitted to Birdtrack and the digestive after-effects of my surfeit of hog-roast and stuffing have passed….these are the recollections that will remain of a weekend on the Spurn Peninsula, a veritable birder’s Mecca and a truly special place at the south-eastern extremity of Yorkshire’s coastline.