Dusk till Dawn: 14 hours on the York Bird Race

When I moved to York for university last October one of my top priorities was where would be my new local patch and how was I going to go about exploring new areas to go birding here in York. Having spent my birding life in Staffordshire, moving to a new area was exciting. Despite it still being an inland area, there’s still a variation in the nearby countryside that’s different to what I was used to.

Since moving to University, I’ve spent many afternoons after a morning in lectures cycling or getting the bus to new areas to explore. My methods of transport have slightly limited me and so has the lack of time I’ve had due to settling into university life, but I’m beginning to feel familiar with birding in York, especially after discovering my new patch.

This was all put to the test last Sunday when I joined a team in the York Bird Race. The teams of four dashed around the York area to different reserves and areas to record as many species as possible within the given time. Other ‘mini races’, like the one in York, took place across Yorkshire on Sunday, for example one at Spurn and Scarborough, and numerous others in the county since the start of the year. In addition, ones in Northumberland and Norfolk a few days before. The idea of doing a Bird Race is very intriguing and without a doubt enjoyed by those birders who take part. The day had a very competitive feeling to it but this idea fed the drive and excitement of the day without taking away the core of enjoying and appreciating the range of birds and areas found in and around York. On the day, the collaboration of birds recorded by all the teams was 102, and of course such records are important in reflecting birds recorded in previous years.

However, the extremes of Sunday come nowhere near some of the surreal Bird Race events which take place in other parts of the world. The insane ‘Birding Rally’ takes place over six days across the deserts and jungles of northern Peru. In the 2013 rally, 835 species were recorded by six teams comprising of members from the US, UK, Spain, Brazil and South Africa. Such an event has been described as the extreme of competitive birding.

On Sunday morning, our team (the York Upstarts) started out at 3.30am. This was in the hope of getting ahead by recording some more common species early on and to record Long-Eared Owl with an early morning walk on Strensall Common. Unfortunately Long-Eared Owl didn’t make it onto the list, but the early start was made worthwhile after watching a Corn Bunting roost at dawn as birds awoke and scattered. We were onto a decent start, by 10am we had already recorded 75 species, these were the less stressful few hours as we easily increased our list.

The experience was interesting in terms of noticing those birds you take for granted when seeing daily. On the day, we didn’t see magpie until 2pm, a species which we imagine seeing daily. A common species we missed on the day was Grey Heron, along with Grey Wagtail. On the other hand, one of the highlights of the day was birding an area on the grounds of my university. Here we recorded Common and Jack Snipe. Snipe are one of my favourite birds and to see them zigzagging or flying by the university accommodation buildings was quite surreal!

Another highlight of my day was seeing Hawfinch at Castle Howard, a species I could never get bored of seeing. The day was very enjoyable. In total, our team recorded 92 species, which was in fact down from their counts in previous years. I was still pleased though, a respectable 92 species in a day and having visited new places to bird in York, it was very satisfying and I learnt more about birding in York.

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One thought on “Dusk till Dawn: 14 hours on the York Bird Race”

  1. Congratulations and also on being at York. My husband and I studied linguistics there in the 1970 s. Oops that must give away our age! He changed from Biology to linguistics and has always been an amateur naturalist and bird expert. I was involved in animal rights but have discovered the world of nature in more detail later on. I would like to have now studied ecology but I think at the time there was little of real interest and scientific thinking very behaviourist. On a recent visit I noticed how the library bookshelves and research had opened up to more exciting areas e.g. so much about consciousness in the psychology section. Good luck with your studies and I hope you find or can create a like minded group to explore the nature around York.

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