Wednesday, April 22, 2015

(Putative) Spanish Wagtail, Filey - 22nd April 2015



A brief, clearly exotic and pattern-fitting overshoot to the sun-kissed east coast this afternoon, specifically East Lea, a small reserve close to the Dams (my new 'office' for the spring - expect more over-the-laptop drop-ins forthcoming). Flava minefields notwithstanding, all the features (to the best of my knowledge) fit Spanish, including the call.... more to follow.



Saturday, April 18, 2015

Up close with Filey's Barn Owls


Barely a day's birding has gone by over recent weeks here Filey that hasn't been illuminated by at least one of these beautiful beasts hunting close by. After a very successful breeding season last year, we have several pairs in the area and a comparitively thriving local population.


On the face of it, an increase in encounters may imply the more the better and all is well, but it seems likely that such a sudden surge in day-hunting may actually suggest quite the opposite. Voles - a principle food source - experience boom-and-bust population cycles, and after the former, the latter is now due, and our Barn Owls may well be trying to compensate for this. How they fare is open to question, but for now, it's a real privilege to have them so close at hand.




Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The day the circus came to town


Spring is finally, truly kicking in here in the frozen north, and so time to start catching up on the activities of recent weeks. The latter part of March and the first week or so of April were low key bird-wise (although two early Sand Martins on 24th were a pleasure), but then it can often be an especially uneventful time of year, exacerbated by the expectation of what lies ahead. Add assignments, writing up sections for bird reports and back-to-back visits from two sets of old friends and their delightful kids to the mix, and there wasn't a great deal of patch activity to speak of.


Contrastingly however, it also a period of positive and widespread media coverage of Filey and our local natural history. With the BBC's Springwatch team due to film an Easter Special centered around Bempton Cliffs just across the bay, the opportunity to promote Filey Bird Observatory, our work and the town in general was very welcome, and two bouts of filming - several hours scouting for and shooting waders on the Brigg, and then a briefer session on Carr Naze trying not to swear on camera - resulted in a healthy few minutes making final cut, aired on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

BBC Springwatch at Easter Special (Filey from about 45 mins onwards) - watch here  (on the iPlayer)



Apparently watched by over three million viewers over the Easter weekend, it also provided the opportunity to spread the word via other means, with local BBC and commercial radio ringing up for interviews (the first of which was live on air, unforgettably punctuated by my four-year old friend Stanley's exasperated exclamation of "BOR-ING" half way through), lots of coverage in local printed media, and a lot of attention via social media and elsewhere. Great for the group and the area, and all good fun in its vaguely surreal way.

Martins' excellent Birding Frontiers website also published an article of mine to coincide with the transmission of Springwatch, exploring the people and places behind the scenes here on our particularly blessed part of the coast - you can read it here.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Spring (delayed)


The relentless strong westerlies and low pressure systems look set to continue for some days, so to tide things over a little longer, a few more signs of a stuttering spring: Brown Hare at our Old Tip reserve, a Reed Bunting coming into breeding plumage, and a Wren carrying nest material, both at the Dams.




Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Black-bellied Dipper - Harpham, East Yorks





Well, that was fun. A beautiful sunny afternoon, a couple of hours spare, and a twenty minute drive south-west into the East Riding with local comrade Nick 'The Gap' Carter to the sleepy, picturesque village of Harpham. We were there in the hope of catching up with the long-staying Black-bellied Dipper, and being such committed, shit-hot twitchers, we were out of the blocks within literally months of the bird's arrival.




After being reported daily for many weeks and then suddenly no reports for a couple of days, we were prepared for the possibility that it may have finally moved on; no matter, a crystal-clear chalk stream with displaying Lapwings and singing Treecreepers by the path and barely another soul around was making for a pleasant jolly anyhow. But, soon enough the star of the show bowled past us and upstream, settling nearby and clearly not giving one about our close-up presence.



After a good twenty minutes or more enjoying the show, we started setting off back, only for the bird to settle again under the bridge beside us. Just for the hell of it, I sat by the bridge on the edge of the stream, and instead of flushing, the bird kicked back, had a relaxed preen, started feeding again, and then (magically) started to sing for several minutes, barely three metres from where I sat.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Martin garnered

The first long-distance spring migrant of the year = instant happiness
 
Plenty of Goldcrests are moving through at the moment
 
An early-ish mosey around Carr Naze, the Brigg and the surrounding area this morning in crisp, early spring sunshine was always going to be a pleasure, but if I could bump into the first trans-Saharan migrant of the year then it'd kick-start the long-awaited new season in style. Despite the biting northerly breeze, very happy to report that it surprisingly didn't take long, when out of the sun and in off the sea came the first Sand Martin - inspiring an involuntary sharp intake of breath, a quickening of the pulse, and a psychological corner turned.

 
A second followed about an hour later, in between a walk around the base of the Brigg, ostensibly for Scandinavian Rock Pipits (briefly successful, with one of two fleeting birds showing an emerging littoralis dress code). With time of year (and lack of foliage) in mind, the quiet hunt for a Firecrest goes on, although checking the increasing numbers of Goldcrests is hardly a trial; around 16 were in the Top Scrub and Church Ravine this morning, where five Chiffys flitted and intermittently sang before a snow and sleet storm provoked a sudden silence.

Chiffchaff, Church Ravine
 
A brief Scandinavian Rock Pipit on the Brigg
 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Shelducks & sunblock


A pretty quiet period here on the patch, with not a great deal to report bird-wise over the last fortnight (and, despite daily efforts, the few highlights there have been have all successfully given me the slip); but for a scattering of Goldcrests, a few smart Scandinavian Rock Pipits and Chiffchaffs and the odd Snow Bunting, there's minimal movement at the second.


Regular visits to the Dams at this time of year provides opportunities to watch courtship and social interactions between various waterbird species, and few have been as entertaining and complex as those perfromed by Shelducks. As many as nine are presently in situ there, and as soon as the sun shines and the hormones kick in, they're obliged to start to duking it out, temporarily turning a peaceful wetland into West Side Story.


Talking of the sun shining (or not), the solar eclipse on 20th turned out to be mighty impressive, and a timely treat for our wedding anniversary; just the right amount of cloud cover allowed us to (somewhat foolishly) stare directly at the action, with darkness and temperatures descending dramatically. (Photos below).






Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Baby steps

Drake Teal looking fine at the Dams
 
Almost mid-March, and almost there.... and always an odd time of year; on the one hand, full of expectation and (over)excitement at the prospects of the coming season, and on the other, aware that the shadow of the late winter/early spring lasts much longer than one would hope, and it's by no means a constantly skybound trajectory. So, up here in the north especially, it's a question of self-regulating the anticipation and enjoying each subtle change as it happens.

Wren on the rocks in the bay
 
As usual I've been dividing my time between the wetlands of the Dams and East Lea and the saltier air of the Brigg and the bay, and with the very welcome benefit of earlier sunrises, it's been a pleasure getting slowly back into the habit of sneaking out before much of the world has woken up and making the most of the relative peace and solitude.

Nothing says early spring like northbound Pink-feet...
 
The first Stonechat of the year on the clifftop yesterday
 
With possibilities over the coming weeks broadening incrementally, so will my local horizons, with farmland, woodland and clifftop habitats all increasingly worthy of attention; before long, once again I'll be spoilt for choice, no doubt confusing the hell out of me as I leave the house and weigh up the possibilities. Still, better spoilt than deprived.

The Barn Owls are back in business at the Dams...
 
Of the year list? Well, accentuating the positive, at least I'm into three figures. More on that (melo)drama to follow soon.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Autumn 2014 in Filey, part II

From Fea's Petrel to White-billed Diver via plenty of other highlights.... click the link:

Birdguides - Autumn 2014 in Filey, part II




Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Good Year for the Rosies: January & February


Part one of the year-list challenge to raise money for Coquet Island's Roseate Terns (see here for details)

"Year-listing, eh? Hahahaha"
 
Firstly, a disclaimer. As anyone good enough to read my ramblings here and elsewhere may have noticed, I prefer to accentuate the positives of patch birding, and rarely (if ever) dwell on the negatives; we all have a unique catalogue of hard-luck stories unavoidably accumulated over time, but I'm a great believer in that karmic cliche of it all balancing out in the long run, and of letting the less welcome memories fade away undocumented.

This time round, however, rather than keeping on the sunny side, I'm breaking the habit; failures as well as successes, frustration as well as satisfaction, all in the name of a good story – a first-hand, un-airbrushed perspective on the trials that this year-listing thing involves, and with it the opportunity for readers to sigh empathetically or snigger mockingly as fortunes ebb and flow. Consider it a kind of emotional blackmail – turning pity into pounds, I'm open for donations 24/7....

Mute Swans returning to the Dams
 
Thus, writing up the year as it unfolds from the cold, hard, arbitrary angle of the year-list will at least be a novel exercise, especially during periods where the gods appear committed to a targeted malevolence – just the case, as it happens, during much of the year so far. It's been a somewhat inauspicious beginning, shall we say, with plenty of effort reaping scant rewards and a series of frustrating near-misses rubbing in the salt for good measure (feel free to reach for the cheque book at any point, by the way).

With the key migration seasons still a long way away and most of our winter bird populations well settled, the first two months of the year were always going to be about the bonus birds – those hard-to-get long-shots that, if you're lucky, put in special appearances after severe weather, or just happen to materialise by chance.

"Birds? You should've done mammals, mate. Here, have a toke on this"
 
Geese, gulls and grebes were naturally the main targets, with the rarer possibilities of each most often occurring in the winter months. In many early winter seasons – particularly quiet, mild ones – few such oddities show up on the radar, but that's just how it goes sometimes; a whole host of them have appeared this year, however, and against the odds, almost all have somehow so far conspired to avoid the year-list. (flat donations or a chosen rate per species - I'm easy either way...)

First up were a group of five Tundra Bean Geese (less than annual, every few years at best) that my bird race team had in the Top Fields on 4th Jan. I say my bird race team – I'd have been there if not sat on a train near Doncaster on the way back from a trip, so no complaints there. Not the case a week later though, when, in the spirit of being in it to win it, instead of staying indoors on a distinctly unpromising morning I headed for the Brigg; and instead of heading for the Brigg end, I noticed Fulmars were moving, and so decided to dutifully tally them from within the (mobile signal-proof) hide.

Curlew against the Coble Landing
 
Finally stepping out of the hide several hours later, a barrage of calls and texts describing how (presumably the same) five had drifted along the edge of the bay, over the town and then the Brigg before finally heading north agonisingly revealed that if I'd have stayed home, I could have walked out of the door and leisurely twitched them from the road outside my house; alternatively, if I'd walked to end of the Brigg first (as I usually do), I'd have seen them easily and received all the messages in time. The only place I could possibly miss them would be in the hide, with the doors closed, counting bloody Fulmars. (How many Beans make five? None).

Oystercatchers in the bay
 
Next up, news of a group of seven White-fronted Geese (again less than annual) feeding by the sports club off Scarborough Road, tantalisingly just obscured from my field of view from where I sat patiently awaiting a sign of life at the Dams. It was almost dusk, but only a five to ten minute ride at most should get me there comfortably - redemption time, surely. This, however, was the only day in the last year or more the bike was out of action, and a half-hour walk would be pushing it, so I called comrade Nick on the off chance of a ride; an affirmative, and it was game on. Despite best efforts, however, the intervening minutes ticked by like hours, and by the time we got there, we'd somehow missed them by a hair's breadth.

Knot in the bay corner
 
At the end of January I got word of a Waxwing on the local council estate, not five minutes away; unless there's an influx later in the year, likely my best chance. Inevitably it appeared on the one weekend we'd arranged to be out of town, but still there was hope – it'd returned the next morning and I was due back that afternoon. Four unsuccessful attempts later, and loitering suspiciously around the entrance to the local Primary School finally began to seem like the terrible idea it clearly was in the first place.

Diving Shag off the Brigg - colour-ringed on the Isle of May, Scotland as a chick last summer
 
The losing streak continued in earnest with a further succession of near-misses, many of which were at sea (despite putting in more hours sea-watching that I care to remember). Think four days on the trot with nothing and then a morning off in order to narrowly miss a Black Guillemot (less than annual and unlikely to occur again this year), and then five essentially blank mornings the next week with Glaucous Gulls waiting to plod by on the other two (a tricky one to pull back, as illustrated by my success rate of one in three years). On mornings when I opted for more unproductive Dams stake-outs, meanwhile, Red-necked (should still get) and Slavonian (lucky to get another chance) Grebes cunningly sneaked by. Safe to say, a certain theme seemed to have developed by this point.

Wren on the Brigg
 
All of which is, at least, inspiring an increasingly philosophical approach. At the beginning of the year my time was my own and I was going hell for leather either trying (and failing) to increase my chances of finding the long shots, or chasing others that ultimately got away; now, however, I'm in the midst of studying, which means I'll be operating at a much-reduced capacity from here onwards. So like it or not, a far more measured attitude is needed, and the roll-call of near-misses described above has at least proved a timely shot across the bows for future trials and tribulations.

Scaup (fourth from left) - a minor victory....
 
And there were year-list victories too, of course. Many an almost birdless vigil at the Dams did eventually produce a result in the shape of a particularly shy, scruffy-looking Scaup just before dusk on a freezing January evening (very hard to catch up with locally), particularly vindicating given what hard work it was; a cracking drake Surf Scoter (a great find by local birder Colin W) off the Brigg, meanwhile, had the good grace to hang around long enough to make it onto the list (and for several days afterwards). So, small mercies, and while the majority of those valuable cold-season bonus balls have somehow slipped through the net, a good hand is overdue, and it can only get better from here......

Hits: Scaup, Surf Scoter
Misses: Nurse, the screens
Total species (up to end of Feb): 98
Target: 180

For details of how to pledge your support, please go here

"Jesus, cheer up - there's ten months to go yet"