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Winter Guiding On The Yorkshire Coast

  • Wed 29th Dec, 2021

Happy clients enjoying close-up Purple Sandpipers in the Filey sunshine © Mark PearsonHappy clients enjoying close-up Purple Sandpipers in the Filey sunshine © Mark Pearson

Purple Sandpiper © Mark PearsonPurple Sandpiper © Mark Pearson

As of yesterday (December 18th), my sixth and final Winter Birding Discovery Day of 2021 - and my last tour of 2021 - brought what was a wonderful year of guiding to a close. I'll look back at all the year's guiding adventures in more detail here shortly, but these coastal winter days - only introduced last winter, and then sadly disrupted by plague restrictions - have been a particular pleasure.

Snow Bunting © Mark PearsonSnow Bunting © Mark Pearson

More happy faces after (even closer) Snow Buntings © Mark PearsonMore happy faces after (even closer) Snow Buntings © Mark Pearson 

It's a different bag to guiding in other seasons, and a different approach is required; shorter, colder days with a higher chance of less pleasant weather means working even harder than usual to get the most out of them, and it's a challenge I've especially enjoyed, helped in no small part by really lovely, hardy, up-for-it clients.

Sunrise over Scarborough South Bay - not a bad way to start a tour.... © Mark PearsonSunrise over Scarborough South Bay - not a bad way to start a tour.... © Mark Pearson 

The locations involved vary, and depend on tides, forecasts, and local knowledge re: where the good birds are; theoretically we've the choice of various productive venues between Bridlington and Ravenscar, but for these tours, we've concentrated on Filey and Scarborough, both of which payed out wonderfully.

Filey Brigg © Mark PearsonFiley Brigg © Mark Pearson

Very friendly Sanderlings against the Badlands backdrop of Bay Corner... © Mark PearsonVery friendly Sanderlings against the Badlands backdrop of Bay Corner... © Mark Pearson

The aims of the days include focusing on a suite of iconic winter species against evocative local backdrops, all of which have their own unique stories to tell, and this always involves birds which I'm particularly passionate about; it's also about giving our guests a specialist local insight into where is best and why, as well as plenty of time spent on fieldcraft, ecology, migration, and habitats.

... many enjoying a fish breakfast © Mark Pearson... many enjoying a fish breakfast © Mark Pearson

It's easy to forget that locally, some of our most iconic and popular species are almost exclusively winter visitors, or at least easiest to track down in the winter - these include our often wonderfully tame local shorebirds (Purple Sandpiper, Sanderling, Oystercatcher etc), bay-dwellers (Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, grebes, Shags, Eiders, Scoters etc), Harbour Porpoises (so much closer and more reliable in winter), and coastal passerines including Snow Buntings and Rock Pipits.

Porpoises to the left of me, Peregrine to the right - here I am.... © Mark PearsonPorpoises to the left of me, Peregrine to the right - here I am.... © Mark Pearson

We were often blessed with benign (or even lovely) weather - maybe it's statistically not as likely to be as poor as my pessimistic inner forecaster tells me? - and packed in as much as we could, resulting in effectively dawn to dusk birding; in addition to a lunch break, there were, of course, breaks for hot chocolate and donuts as required....

Turnstone flash mob at Scarborough harbour © Mark PearsonTurnstone flash mob at Scarborough harbour © Mark Pearson

Depending on the tide and therefore access out to the Brigg and Bay, we either began or ended here at Filey, with consistently great results. Divers were a constant (and often close); Purple Sandpipers and Sanderlings entertained us on each day (and were often very close), with other waders including Oystercatchers, Redshanks, Knot, Curlew, Dunlin and more; Great crested Grebes, Eiders, Scoters, Shags, Guillemots, Razorbills and other sea-dwellers bobbed around just offshore; and Snow Buntings - never a given, and often unpredicatable - were very kind indeed, usually to with a metre or two....

Spot the Snow Buntings on Carr Naze © Mark PearsonSpot the Snow Buntings on Carr Naze © Mark Pearson

In stark contrast to the wild, untamed beauty of the bay and Brigg, Scarborough seafront is equally special, and - for a birding and wildlife experience - it's equally unique; where else can you watch porpoises frolicking incredibly close on a sea peppered with various bird species in one direction, under the watchful eye of accommodating Peregrines in another, and Turnstones running around (literally) at you feet in another, all against the backdrop of the sandstone cliffs, the picturesque harbour, the funfairs and the castle?

The end of some great days - moonrise at Scarborough.... © Mark PearsonThe end of some great days - moonrise at Scarborough.... © Mark Pearson

Other excursions can be often be factored into our Winter Days - these included calling in to see the Med Gulls at Holbeck, trying for Jack Snipe at a specific spot in Filey (both successful), and having fun with our thermal imager at dusk at the Dams (and we can adapt plans on the day to cater for requests and latest news).

I'm back out in Jan and February, BOOK HERE. And in the spring, my trips start in April BOOK HERE.

Mark Pearson

YCN Birding/Wildlife Guide