Monday, April 14, 2014

Filey, 1st - 14th April 2014

A superbly tame Wheatear on the Tip

Not a great deal of time in the field owing to other commitments over the last fortnight, but plenty to enjoy nonetheless. From the beginning: The first few days of the month were characterised by cool easterlies and mist, with modest numbers of passerines getting through as a result - except for a few Wheatears (including four on 3rd, three of which were together at the Tip), plus small scatterings of Fieldfares, Song Thrushes, Redwings, Blackbirds, Robins, Chiffys and Goldcrests.

A pair of Avocets briefly at the Dams on 4th (plus odd Woodcocks and Snipe locally) were the pick of the waders, but with the winds swinging into the south-west, it was time to get reacquainted with my chosen clifftop watchpoint at Muston Sands on the 5th for some long-awaited vismigging.

The year's first ducklings at the Dams at the start of the month

Three and a half hours worth of quality and quantity followed: of the former, the star bird was a Crane, circling over the Brigg before disappearing into the ether late morning (my tenth self-found here in two years - amazing), as well as a Red Kite west, several Common Buzzards (plus an interesting, as-yet-unidentified Buteo which may or may not feature here again soon), and a Corn Bunting south at head height (barely annual here, and therefore a real headliner).

Avocets leaving the Dams, 4th

More than enough reward, but amply backed up by some impressive passerine action, most of which was streaming south - over 400 Linnets, 173 Goldfinches, 100 Meadow Pipits, plus Wheatears, Bullfinches, Bramblings, the first Swallows of the year and various other bits; most of the birds were hugging the line of the cliffs in the brisk wind and passing wonderfully close (often at foot level) as a result. A great early spring morning.

Pied Wag on Carr Naze

A day co-leading a tour for Yorkshire Coast Nature on 6th was enjoyably successful, despite the unfavourable conditions (cool, very windy, mostly dull and showery) for our target species of Goshawks and Adders, which we enjoyed prolonged and excellent views of. (More YCN action to follow thorugh the coming months.)

Male Adder, North Yorks

Crane #10 (and the worst photo yet)

Attentions turned to human visitors for the next few days, and aside from bumping into the odd Wheatear and a few Sand Martins on non-birding walks, it wasn't until the 12th that I was back in the field properly. Another vismig session from Muston Sands followed, and while not nearly as productive as the one described above, there was still a fair amount of passerine traffic, and several personal and patch firsts for the year in the shape of Yellow Wagtail, House Martin, Blackcap and Sandwich Tern.

Fieldfare at the Tip

With the revolving door of our unofficial B&B still very much in motion, it'll be a while before I'm back to full strength from a coverage perspective, but I'll be sneaking out with more regularity over the coming week or two.... and for those interested, I've grasped another previously avoided nettle and joined the inevitable Twitter steamroller - see the upper right-hand column if you're interested.

Roe Deer

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Return to Craggy Island

"Who are all these pasty-looking bipeds and where the f-'s the Med?"

Almost effortless, wholly gratuitous, and well worth it. When the news came through of a Crag Martin down the road at Flamborough on Friday I was otherwise engaged with dear (non-birding) friends - who'd driven all the way up from the south-west and were leaving in the afternoon - so a dirty twitch wasn't even worth a passing thought; and when it appeared to have left the building a couple of hours later, that seemed to be that with no harm done.

Friends on their way but with new ones having just arrived (our place often turns into a free B&B during the holidays, and is all the better for it), news of the bird having reappeared on the other side of the Head mid-afternoon was a little stickier; worth a hit and run, or asking for trouble? Thankfully comrade Dan made the decision for me, and was soon on his way from Scarborough via Filey after my excuses were made and accepted domestically.

Twenty minutes later and with enough decent light to spare we were parking up on the cliff-top, and before we'd got out of the car, there it was, hawking around in front of us. We spent the next hour or so enjoying a wonderful performance, with the bird patrolling the slopes just below where we stood, and periodically materialising within a couple of metres of our increasingly wide eyes (provoking gasps and toddler-like squeals from the three or four of us enjoying the show).

As regular readers may know I'm not predisposed to enjoying the twitching experience, for a variety of reasons - with no disrespect to those that do, it's just not my idea of a good time on anything more than the odd occasion - but this was far from the nightmare scenerio that has conjured fantasies of mass murder on numerous previous occasions. We did wonder if this might be down to the surprising and heartening presence of so many younger birders; either way, great to see the creaking and often repellent demographic significantly refreshed, and long may it continue.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Filey, 15th - 31st March 2014

A knackered migrant Starling on Carr Naze

Female Long-tailed Duck off the Brigg
Mid-March continued with more fairly modest signs of movement, including pulses of Meadow Pipits, Pied Wags, Chiffchaffs, Linnets and Siskins amongst others; not a great deal to get excited about, and so a good time for us to swan off back to London for a week or so. By the time we'd returned, an easterly airflow has set in (continuing into early April) - a feature of a static weather chart that look mouth-wateringly perfect - if it only it were autumn, that is.

Razorbill action
As always there was plenty of interest, however, despite the unhelpful conditions. Back in the field on 25th, more finches were on the move, an immature Peregrine gunned clean out to sea (ie, not one of the local breeders), and a particularly smart Scandinavian Rock Pipit greeted me on the grassy northern path of Carr Naze. The following few days were fairly quiet, although the lingering party of five Snow Buntings in the Top Fields typically distracted me for hours on end as they went about their business just a couple of metres away.

Scandinavian Rock Pipit
Come the 29th and a couple of Robins on the Brigg were feeding amongst the boulders and along the tidal reefs; out of the corner of your eye, you could almost imagine them as Bluetails on Shetland... almost. Their orange-grey-olive tones suggested (the features generally associated with) a continental origin:

A check of the bay, with a brisk easterly coming straight in off the sea, in the evening was very quiet, except for an adult Med Gull among the Commons and Black-heads out on the waves - a nice surprise, and a rare bird locally.

Merlin, gone in a flash in the fog after narrowly missing a Snow Bunting

Female Brambling, Short Hedge
An hour's early vismigging from Muston Sands followed by a morning at the Dams and East Lea on 30th was entertaining enough without any stand-out highlights (single Pink-foot with the Greylags notwithstanding), but the afternoon provided more encouragement - a Merlin attacking the Snow Buntings before heading south-east, a tame Brambling on a farm track (narrowly escaping becoming Sparrowhawk lunch), Meadow Pipits into three figures and Chiffys up to 20 for the day.

Chiffchaff, Golf Course Pond

Had enough of 'em yet? I haven't
The fog rolled in and stayed in on the last day of the month, and Carr Naze and the Brigg were magically silent (and surprisingly productive) - the two Robins remained, joined by two Scandinavian Rock Pipits and a Redwing amongst the rocks, a Weasel on the slopes, and best of all, a female Long-tailed Duck, which materialised fairly close inshore for a while, and disappeared just as quietly.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Filey, 1st - 15th March 2014

Young Grey seal on the Brigg
With spring finally taking hold, time to get back into the swing of writing up regular summaries of local adventures here at Filey. Traditionally using the arrival of the first long-distance migrants as the starting point, I'll rewind a little further back for good measure and kick off at the beginning of March this time round....

Dunlin on the Brigg
In a generally quiet first half of the month, I continued to check the bay daily, the Brigg regularly and the Dams / East Lea every few days at least, while the Top Fields remained firmly on the agenda for wintering passerines. In the bay, the lingering Slavonian Grebe roosted with a few Great Crests on 3rd, but had moved on by the next day, while a few Little Gulls continued to grace the waves into the second week (after a memorable few weeks with them locally).

Dark-bellied Brent Goose
The open waters were relatively uneventful (at least compared to the preceding months), although there were exceptions - in addition to a modest scattering of the aforementioned grebes, Red-throated Divers, Eiders, Wigeon and others, three Dark-bellied Brent Geese on 10th included one superbly tame bird that hung around the Brigg for a few days, a raft of 25 Whooper Swans were offshore on 12th, and a Bonxie (my first of the year) headed north on 13th.

A dishevelled Grey Wagtail on the beach huts
Watching two Black-throated Divers simultaneously on my high tide scan on 10th, meanwhile - after suspecting a multiple wintering presence for some time - was very satisfying (and exceptional locally); after a couple of further sightings mid-month, the Black-throats slipped quietly away, reflecting a general exodus of bay-dwellers during the period.

Adult Med Gull from the study window - the house list grows (very slowly)....
At the Dams and East Lea, the variety and abundance of wildfowl slowly but surely built up during the course of the month, although nothing too out of the ordinary joined their increasing ranks, and the best of the bunch were two Goosander on 7th.

Passerine migrants began to register by the second week, and a window of high pressure encouraged a surge of pipits and wagtails on 9th, which included the year's first (and my earliest ever) White Wagtail on Carr Naze; singing Chiffchaffs and hissing Goldcrests were ubiquitous sounds in local hedges and woodlands from then onwards, and numbers of Linnets, Goldfinches and others began to build steadily.

Back up in the Top fields, Snow Buntings continued to entertain, and at times it was hard to leave them alone..... 15 on 12th included a colour-ringed bird which, surprisingly, was trapped in France just a fortnight or so previously (see here for full details). Small Tortoiseshells, Puffins, Kittiwakes and Redwings all began to appear in increasing numbers, and the second half of the month would see plenty more action.

Guillemots and (several) Razorbills - if you're bored, why not try finding them?

Friday, March 28, 2014

More snowballs

I spent yesterday morning pounding the regular coastal circuit of Carr Naze, the top fields and north cliff, with a brisk, cool easterly and thick cloud keeping the spring at bay. With a few hour's grace before the forecast heavy rain arrived around mid-afternoon, I headed out into the fields in the hope of passerines.... but just as I reached the furthest point from shelter, the heavens opened with a vengence, and stayed open from then until after dark.

With nothing much to lose (once you're soaked, you're soaked), I took my time on the way back through the stubble fields, and was rewarded with five of these beauties looking somewhat forlorn in the downpour. With no sightings over the last week or more (and no sign on the outward journey), I'd assumed they'd finally left - maybe they have, and these are new birds? - but either way, kneeling down in a muddy clifftop field getting drenched under torrential rain is nowhere near as grim as it sounds when you're in their tame and entertaining company.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Scandinavian Rock Pipit

It wasn't just low flying Peregrines along the cliff path yesterday - amongst other highlights, this subtly-hued Scandinavian Rock Pipit was killing time on Carr Naze before an imminent North Sea crossing.