Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Nocmig update - June 2020

Black-tailed Godwit - a new addition to the nocmig list mid-month
After a fascinating and productive first two months (see here and here), June inevitably saw expectations significantly lowered for nocturnal migration recording here in midtown Filey, for a few reasons. Firstly, the drop-off in migrant activity, as the spring seasons ebbs; secondly, the ramping up of noise from the gull colony; and thirdly, the ever-shortening length of nights. There were, however, some highlights and surprises along the way, justifying the efforts involved....

Curlew - one of the more regular waders so far

Briefly back to those negating factors. Re: the slowdown in migration, this was always going to happen in June, and the diversity of species recorded, as well as their frequency, was in fact better than realistically expected. Regarding the gulls, well, living in the midst of a Herring Gull colony is one thing; purposely recording their ever-increasing, nightmarish soundwall, and then analysing it visually and aurally, has to be one of the less sane aspects of my birding passion, especially with the added squeals, screams and whines of the chicks...

(Euro) Golden Plover - a new addition on 10th
... but as long as there were odd diamonds in the mine, it was worth to carry on digging all month. When factoring in the aformentioned soundwall (as well as the receding nocturnal recording period) - realistically, a couple of hours each night of anything like analysable material - the variety and abundance of records was actually pleasantly surprising.

Of the 'stock' species, Oystercatcher registrations dropped, but interestingly, Water Rails (five, up from singles on April and May), Moorhens (30, up from 12 in April and 24 in May), and Grey Herons (11 - twice as many as previous months) all rose significantly, while Little Grebes (two - as previous months) and Curlews (eight) held their own.

Shorebird variety and abundance was down as anticipated, but Dunlin, Redshank, Knot (3rd), Whimbrel and the aforementioned Curlews all made the tape, while two new species put in (sonic) appearances - European Golden Plover on 10th, and a Black-tailed Godwit on 18th.

After the passerine discoveries of April and May (particularly the vocal, night-migrating warblers - a real thrill), I expected little or nothing in June, not just because of the drastic reduction in activity, but also the difficulty in picking them out in the checkerboard gull-soaked sonogram... but fantastically, I managed to pull out my second Spotted Flycatcher of the season, on 9th - which is exactly two more Spotted Flycatchers than I've seen in Filey this spring! So, another good month; July may be a more challenging still, but stay tuned to see what transpires....

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Filey Albatross Revisited

If you're not a fan of 'contextual' and 'record' shots, look away now.... I've only just had chance to have a better look at my attempts to capture the Black-browed Albatross as it cruised serenely past the Brigg a couple of days ago (yes, i am still buzzing...), and it turns out there's a few more that at least chart its progress from the bay, past the Buoy and the Brigg, and beyond.

If you'd prefer better pictures of this beautiful beast, either take a look here, or just scroll through social media from the 2nd and 3rd (if you're a birder, you'll know what I mean....!). If however, you just want to revel in a dream occurrence and self-find on your home patch, then look no further.

Just me then? Never mind....

Friday, July 3, 2020

Four Filey Thrills for World Seabird Day

Black-browed Albatross cruising west into Filey Bay from Bempton in summer 2017. What is likely to be the same bird did just the same yesterday - but this time I was watching it approach.... 
So, yesterday I watched a Black-browed Albatross glide by a few minutes from my front door, today is World Seabird Day, and.... well, I need no further reason to justify procrastinating by messing about with a vaguely thematic post here.

Juvenile Long-tailed Skua passing the Brigg
Regular readers will know that, since moving back up to the Yorkshire coast eight years ago, sea-watching has been a hugely important and enjoyable part of my local birding. For the first five years I was stubbornly rooted to Filey for this, and - bar out-of-county/country trips - pretty much all other aspects of my birding; less so in these last three years (when a more holistic and less site-obsessive approach has won out), but still, the majority of my sea-watching is still done here in my hood. And looking back, what a fine time I've had of it.....

Roseate Tern on the Brigg
I've been lucky enough to have had incredible seabirding experiences in many other places over these last few years, too; over the bay at Flamborough and Bempton, out on the waves of the North Sea off our beloved Yorkshire coast leading many a fine YCN pelagic, off the south-west of Ireland in the thick of petrels and shearwaters.... but for the sake of brevity and clarity, I'll keep this one specifically to Filey, my home patch for the last eight years. Alright, in no particular order, then, here's four of the best....

Red-throated Diver over Carr Naze 
Four diver species in 45 minutes
1st December 2014 was one of those mornings you very nearly don't bother, and didn't look too promising, but with late migrant Snow Buntings, Blackbirds and a Mistle Thrush on Carr Naze (the 'topping' of the Brigg) and a grunting flyover Tundra Bean Goose on the way down the slope (a local rarity), the omens were good; as was the back-up, with a classic cold winter's selection including Long-tailed Duck, Little Auks, a late Pom Skua and Mergansers.

Great Northern Diver over the Brigg
But somehow nailing all four diver species, including a bounding, banana-conked White-billed, in an unforgettable 45 minutes was something else entirely. More here. It's not all about the quick wins, however....

Ten Tubenoses in eight years
If you could've guaranteed me I'd have self-found ten species of tubenose in my time here at Filey, well, I'd have paid you handsomely, probably with my soul. But happily for me, that's a fantasy that (as of yesterday) became a reality without the need for such deals. Can you name them....? Well, from the smallest up, European Storm-petrels have played a wonderful part of most years here - usually in the scenario of summertime catching sessions on the Brigg, but also as (rare) sight records as they battle, seemingly against all odds, into gale-force winds and over towering white horses. Magical little birds. More, for example, here.

Spot the Balearic in a line of Manxies 
I've been fortunate to find a decent haul of Leach's Storm-petrels over the years, and they're the far more likely sight-record of the two here - but they're still gold dust comparitively speaking, and they always make you work for them (think bone-chilling northerlies and sea-spray....). We were also fortunate enough to catch one a couple years back, making for a perfect comparison with Euro Stormies in the hand.

European Stormy (left) & Leach's
Shearwaters are just about as good as it gets, characterising many of the best seawatches, whether in quantity, quality or both. Manxies and Sooties are the standard pair, and I've been lucky to witness many, and indeed dramatic movements, of both. Balearics, while globally threatened, are (counter-intuitively) becoming more regular, and I maybe average ten to 15 a year these days, with multiple day counts not now uncommon. Cory's are rare - rarer than many assume them to be - but fortunately for me, I've found three; Great is even rarer, and I finaly nailed my first one here last autumn.

Including the ubuiquitous (but ever-wonderful) Fulmar, that's eight, leaving two... firstly, a bird I'd dreamed of finding for years, in the exact circumstances it actually in which it happened - foreboding skies, a strong northerly, rolling seas, lines of shearwaters.... and a Fea's (type) Petrel scything through the wind like a knife through butter. A post from that memorable day, which included many other treats, can be found here. And finally, then, there's....

Classic views of Sooty Shearwaters from the Brigg

Yesterday's Black-browed Albatross
... which was a thrill, for many reasons. As mentioned, I've got a history with this species here, but in the spirit of focusing on the positive, well, who cares now I've found one? In ideal circumstances, too, at my favourite spot, with a good friend who I managed to get onto it as it sailed past all the local iconic landmarks that are imprinted onto my mind's eye. Perfect. More here.

..... and a heaven-sent BrĂ¼nnich's Guillemot
And then there's those days when everything just goes perfectly, and perfectly insane. My memories of that evening are as clear as a bell; as you might expect, when you stumble upon a dream find - a first for Yorkshire, and a first for (mainland) England - swimming innocently past you at the end of your road. The full story is here.

I can even remember the phone call to my much-missed friend Martin, who - of course - just made a unique event even more of a joy. Luckily for me I've gone on to top even the BrĂ¼nnich's from a rarity perspective (see here), but I'm not sure I'll ever have a more surreal, euphoric birding experience locally as this.

No skuas, Little Auks, seaducks, huge movements.... hmmm; for another time, hopefully?

Little Auk - one for another time
Happy #WorldSeabirdDay !

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Filey Black-browed Albatross, 2nd July 2020

What you mean, where is it? A heavy crop, with Bempton Cliffs (where it'd just launched from) in the background. It's bang in the middle of the frame. Click on image to enlarge....
You absolute beauty! just shy of an hour ago, the phone buzzes with news of a Black-browed Albatross across the bay at the Bempton Cliffs gannetry, having then apparently flown towards Filey... scrambling gear, car keys, trying not to hit old people in the road and within about four minutes I was screeching to a halt at the clifftop car park on the Country Park; a quick scan of the bay and then a sprint to the end of Carr Naze, where the nervous, more systematic scanning began.....

....or check out this even heavier crop, click to enlarge, and tell me that's not the greatest Albatross pic you'll ever see. 
Anxious minutes passed, my good friends Ana and Charlotte turned up, news followed of it back on the cliff.... stick or twist? After having a dramatic but ultimately successful experience with what was likely the same bird at Bempton a couple of years ago, there was no hesitation.

Heavy, heavy crop (middle-right) with both Flamborough Lighthouses in the background....
With the added impetus of having history with this species here on my Filey patch (a story for another time), it was time to focus and wait. Soon after, more news of it apparently leaving the cliffs again - or was it an accidental repeat message in the mess of communications? - so stay on target.... and then, as if in slow motion and soft focus, into my Harpia field-of-view it drifts, as if it was meant to be here (and not in another hemisphere entirely). You can probably imagine my reaction....

... and an even heavier crop of the same image
Great, perfect 'scope views, and I somehow even managed to shoot at nothing and get it through the camera too! These are genuinely both the worst and some of the best photos I've ever published here, so stoked am I to have captured this magical beast as it cruised past landmarks that are part of my DNA.

The Brigg buoy meets a BBA (far right, mid-way down)


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Swift Redemption - Filey, 28th June 2020

With Crossbills and Siskins pouring out of the northern forests, as well as various other highlights including a point-blank Honey-buzzard arriving in off, Cuckoos, a Turtle Dove and more all gunning south (see last few posts), it's been a memorable week for visible migration at my Muston Sands watch-point here in Filey, and on the North Yorkshire coast generally. But even with all this competition, there's only really ever been one clear winner in the migration phenomena stakes....

... and it all came to a dramatic, unforgettable climax the morning before last (28th). With a moderate south-westerly and cloud forecast, it looked promising for the aforementioned irrupting finches to be concentrated along the coast, as they had been on several other exceptional mornings this week. There were a few, as it turned out, but they were barely noticed among the real stars of the show.

An 0340hrs alarm may sound a little harsh but, in order to catch the vast majority of activity at the moment, being in position for around dawn (even a little before) is essential - and my, how it's been worth it. It would've been for the views and the sunrises alone, but so much avian activity had been crammed into those first hours, even minutes, that to turn up even a little late to the party is to miss most of the action.

Walking the short distance to my vantage point a good 15 minutes before dawn, I looked up to see the bizarre sight of tight flocks of birds heading purposefully south in the gloom - amazingly, they were the first Swifts of the morning. But they were far from the last.

For the next four hours or so, we (with Keith a few kilometres south at Hunmanby Gap) were treated to an unprecedented, mind-blowing show of East coast migration at its most thrilling and visceral. Across a southbound flyway that stretched, variably, a good kilometre or so inland to my left and as far out to sea to my right, the barrage was seemingly endless; even better, the majority headed straight for me, with the shelter and height of the cliff providing a focal point for many incoming birds. Some even came within touching distance, almost brushing my cheek, and I could feel and hear the whoosh of their wings above and beyond the blustery wind.... magical.

In those four hours, we clocked a minimum of 16,500 birds.... Incredible, and the stuff of dreams for North Yorkshire vismiggers; a huge count, even by the previously unattainable standards of famous Swift bottlenecks like Spurn and Gibraltar Point, let alone our modest Filey bay VPs. That we had such a uniquely large cut of the cake was a privilege we'll not forget anytime soon, but why did it happen, and why did we score so highly?

Basically, a perfect storm, literally and metaphorically. The theory is that the majority of these birds are second-year, non-breeding birds, which effectively roam the UK and Europe in summer en masse, riding storm fronts and, with conditions conspiring, gathering into intense, narrow 'bands' of birds. With the prevailing weather systems 'trapping' an unusually high concentration of Swifts above us, the ideal circumstances then followed - in our case, those brisk south-westerlies and overcast skies focusing all the action along our stretch of coast as they battled south. The time of year is also a factor - late June and early July is the peak period for these huge counts at those aforementioned bottlenecks, and so if if were ever to happen to here too, then the timing was right....

As with so much associated with these mysterious beasts, there's still a lot of conjecture and a lot to learn, but with technology developing rapidly and traking techniques becoming less expensive and more viable, it's hoped we'll find out a lot more in the near future. Either way, magic is magic, even after you find out the techniques behind it....

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Honey-buzzard, Swifts & more - Muston Sands, Filey, 27th June 2020

Another very entertaining morning perched atop the cliff at my Muston Sands watchpoint just south of Filey town, on the high point of the bay's gentle curve.

With cloud and a south-westerly forecast, the hope was for a big push of Crossbills and Siskins - stars of the 'autumn' so far as they continue to irrupt from our northern forests - with the wind ideally nudging them along the coast and the cloud lowering their flight height.

In position for before dawn, it soon became evident that the wind was barely a whisper and the cloud was, well, thick fog, effectively writing off the first hour or so.

But tentatively, gradually, the blanket withdrew and the movements began, with Crossbills and Siskins in good (if not storming) numbers, plus a few waders, gulls, ducks, and other finches and passerines on the move.

But two iconic long-distance migrants stole the show, although there were almost 1500 more of one than the other. The latter number was today's Swift tally, which, while impressive, hardly does justice to the experience - a relentless, joyous torrent of birds zipping past at eye level, above and below, many almost brushing my cheek, and many others way, way out to sea. Ah, Swifts, seriously....

The other, meanwhile, is (over-)represented in these photographs, as it approached along the cliffs from the south (thanks Keith and Will for the early warning) - a breath-takingly smart and accommodating male Honey-buzzard, which performed ridiculously well and even made direct, extended eye contact with me as it glided north.....

A species that is less than annual locally and that I've caught up with maybe three or four times here over the last eight years, but never with such incredible views. Worth getting out of bed at 0340hrs? Absolutely.

Also on the move, pictured - Siskins (first two, below), Crossbills (next two), a vismig Dunnock, and Swifts (lower two).