Monday, May 25, 2015

Afternoon teas and the birds and the bees

It's so easy over at Flamborough,... Amity and I spent much of yesterday making a few social calls in my old neighbourhood, including a mighty enjoyable few hours up on the outer head with Martin, Sharon, Yoav, Adva and kids. Chatting in the garden with the sun shining and tea and brownies at hand, look what decided to start hawking insects with the local hirundines. Effortless birding....

Friday, May 22, 2015


Alright, so it's not exactly Falsterbo or Eilat, but it's all relative. Yesterday morning's Breeding Bird Survey of Arndale seemed strangely quiet, until I realised I had company (and a sharp male sparrowhawk takes a lot of beating), while a brief window of warm southerly air encouraged a particularly scruffy Red Kite to come in off the sea this afternoon; unkempt perhaps, but more fortunate than the Common Buzzard that flew into the hornet's nest of the local rooftop Herring Gull colony, just about making it past my study window and inland.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Filey, 1st - 15th May 2015

Grey Seal pup on the Brigg
Plenty of time in the field, and plenty of entertainment (it is spring after all), but unremarkable just about covers it from an ornithological perspective. It's often a strangely tricky period, despite the time of the season and the possibilities it offers (see the last two years equivalent posts here and here, for example); a cluster of quality birds towards the end of April and then a burst of activity at the end of May seems to be the prevailing pattern lately (although looking at the present long term forecast isn't recommended ...)

Wheatear on the Brigg
The first few days of the month were spent playing at and enjoying the Filey Folk Festival - busier and more fun than ever, and always a riot (and a houseful) - and thankfully nothing of any note was missed as a consequence. The following days saw variable trickles and pulses of migration against a backdrop of unhelpful winds and conditions, but most of the expected long-distance arrivals put in appearances to varying degrees:

Kittiwake bathing in Carr Naze Pond
Whinchat on Carr Naze
Warblers were reasonably well represented, hirundines and Swifts were ubiquitous (and occasionally numerous on days of heavy passage), Common Sandpipers frequented the Brigg and the wetlands (which were illuminated by Yellow and occasionally White Wagtails), small numbers of Wheatears moved through the coastal strip, and Cuckoos sang from several sites.

Goosander on East Lea
Common Sandpiper, East Lea
Highlights were hard to come by, but a few at least peppered the notebook and kept the year-list just about ticking over. Lengthy 'office' shifts at East Lea produced a Hobby on 6th, Little Ringed Plovers on 9th and 10th (different birds, with the latter bearing a yellow colour ring), and a Wood Sandpiper through, also on 9th - sadly accentuating our lack of wader habitat locally by arriving during a heavy shower but soon thinking better of it after a brief circuit.

Black Redstart by the seawatch hide
A smart female Black Redstart hopping amongst the boulders of the Brigg on 8th was a pleasure (and a surprisingly tough species to catch up with locally), and a Spotted Flycatcher at the golf course on 12th brightened up another otherwise quiet sky-watch from Muston Sands. With evil westerlies set to continue into the critical late May window it's hard not to fear the worst, but anything can happen during peak migration seasons, and there's still time for the spring to come good.....

Grey Heron, East Lea

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cormorant vs Coots

So this is what happens when a Cormorant fancies kicking back on the nearest 'island', which just happens to be a Coot's nest.... from East Lea, a few days ago.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Filey, 14th - 30th April 2015

With May in full swing, time for a catch-up for the second half of April here on the patch. Conditions were unfortunately rarely very promising over the course of the fortnight, with no warm, gentle southerly airflows to inspire broad-winged wanderings, no classic passerine fall conditions, and little to encourage notable movements on the sea; hence, it was a question of mixing it up and hoping for the best.

Brisk west-south-westerlies for 15th looked good for visible migration, and three early morning hours later at my favoured clifftop vantage point I'd enjoyed a male Ring Ouzel (above) coasting north at eye level, two Corn Buntings (a locally scarce bird), plenty of Sand Martins and Swallows, the year's first House Martins, two White Wagtails on the neighbouring golf course and good numbers of finches on the move, including over 300 Linnets.

It wasn't to last, however, and the next few days were very quiet for migrants (but for a pair of Little Ringed Plovers dropping in at East Lea), and included lengthy, almost blank seawatches in strong northerlies, reinforcing just how quiet this time of year can be on the sea. Common migrants continued to trickle in quietly, plenty of firsts-for-the-year arrived, and two gorgeous male Greenland-type Wheatears on the Tip on 21st were a reminder of how far some trans-Saharan migrants still have to go after reaching us.

Despite trying to prove otherwise by hammering the patch with a robotic mania in recent Aprils, overshooting spring scarcities are a genuine anomaly at Filey; still, blind faith and/or dogged persistence were bound to pay off one day, and pay off they surely did on 22nd. A 'dark-headed' wagtail with a strange call dropping in at the back of East Lea was exactly the kind of reason I'd been camping out there with metronomic repetition, and to be confronted with a spanking male Spanish Wagtail was well beyond expectations. More on this to follow, but it's the kind of bird that instantly refills a gradually emptying tank in the blink of an eye.

The same day provided the first singing Cuckoo of the year and two more White Wags, before a quiet 23rd preceded a better 24th; warm sunshine encouraged warblers and hirundines to take centre stage, and high up in the blue above Carr Naze, two Red Kites and an early Hobby shared the same airspace in the late morning. Messier, cooler conditions over the next few days were generally unremarkable, but more patience at East Lea for several hours on 29th was again repaid in full by a cracking male Grey-headed Wagtail within a constant changeover of flavas, totaling at least 17 for the session.

Of the year list? Well, without going into too much detail, I'm unlikely to be breaking any records.... to do so I'd need some luck, swift and/or widespread co-operation, and ultimately more time in the field, and only one of those factors is realistically subject to change over the rest of the year (and here's hoping it does sooner rather than later!). The irony of two rare wagtails - very likely the highlight of the spring, and possibly also the year (re: iberiae) - not qualifying as additions isn't lost on me, but it is at least a humbling reminder of the arbitrary quirks of taxonomy...

Patch list (as of 5th May) - 127

Friday, May 1, 2015

Grey-headed Wagtail, Filey - 29th & 30th April 2014

Ever get the feeling a theme is developing? After last week's (apparent) Spanish Wagtail - which seems to get better and better the more research and feedback it inspires (more on this soon) - I've been checking the marshy fringes of our modest but always promising little East Lea reserve pretty much daily (and indeed for many days before, but then seeing nothing makes for a less interesting narrative).

Scrutinising the changeover of Wagtails has been mighty entertaining, as it was on maybe my twentieth auto-scan of the far shore on the afternoon of 29th; amazingly, looking like an imposter in a Batman mask, a cracking male Grey-headed Wagtail M.f.thunbergi had materialised, strutting around nonchalantly in the company of a few male flavissimas.

While not quite as off-the-radar exotic as its Iberian predecessor, it's still a rare bird, with only one or two claimed annually in Yorkshire in recent years, and only one other record from Filey this century (in 2007). The bird was present again briefly yesterday (30th) but not today (1st), but with all of May still to come, it's a safe bet I'll be looking for the next continental flava with some relish....

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A distinctly British Flava

One of those memorable occasions when it's just you and a beautiful bird which suddenly materialises out of nowhere, and the bird seems not care (in this case, dropping in just a couple of metres away and bursting into song before heading on its way). Even taking into account recent events, is there a smarter subspecies of Yellow Wagtail than flavissima?