Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Filey, 11th - 20th September 2014

Male Redstart, Carr Naze 
 
So with the first ten days of the month having already produced plenty more than their equivalent time slots over the previous two years, the middle of September rolled around with high hopes and some promising weather projections on the horizon.

High pressure and warm sunshine on 11th made for pleasant but fairly quiet circuits on the land, although new birds trickled in during the day - a sprinkling of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Wheatears and Whinchats were well scattered, both Pied and Spotted Flycatcher arrived in the Top Scrub, and most surprisingly, a familiar musical wheeze from the same area the signaled the arrival of a particularly early Brambling. Sustained efforts through 12th produced a few more new arrivals in the shape of a few Redstarts, flycatchers and warblers, but was otherwise disappointing.

"Sorry, am I early?"
 
Thick fog overnight and early morning produced an exceptional grounding and movement of Meadow Pipits on 13th, however, with masses of birds heading south-east out into the gloom of the bay - a minimum of 1100 were recorded doing so during the morning alone, and a systematic (and yes, very knackering) count of the Top Fields revealed an amazing moving carpet of birds across the area, particularly in the freshly ploughed areas, totaling around 1200 in all.

Huge movements of Meadow Pipits occurred on 13th
 
The season's first Lapland Bunting circled several times with Skylarks in the same area (with presumably the same bird present for several days afterwards), and a further small arrival of passerines included two Stonechats, with singles at the Tip and on Carr Naze; after losing them as a breeding species a couple of years ago, they're a strangely rare occurrence locally these days. The soft tic of incoming Song Thrushes in the mist became pleasingly regular, and with the forecast promising more mist, easterlies and even drizzle, anticipation was duly raised.

Stonechat - a welcome arrival of a recently rare visitor
 
With good reason, and soon justified by a vocal and typically spritely Yellow-browed Warbler closely investigating the human source of the weird pishing sound in the middle of Parish Wood the following morning. Again particularly early, our first of the year coincided with an arrival in the north and east during the period, and was naturally a joy (as they always are). I've had the pleasure of finding a couple of dozen since moving up here a couple of years back, and yet their appeal as a harbinger of exotica barely dims with each new tsooest.

Song Thrush on the Brigg - damp and tired, but made it here safely (just)
 
Commoner migrants (especially warblers and chats) continued to arrive in small numbers, with Long Lane's avenue of sycamore and hawthorn eventually revealing a candidate Siberian Lesser Whitethroat, skulking quietly in the shadows. Two distinctly decent birds for the day, then, plus a modest but encouraging array of new arrivals, and more potentially productive conditions promised for the following days....

Stonechat (left) and Whinchat, Carr Naze
 
With the wind veering into the north-east and strengthening overnight, it was time to turn attentions back towards the sea, which had hitherto been predictably quiet (and indeed often barely visible) over the preceding days. A dawn start in the hide on a humid, overcast morning of 15th instantly produced, with plenty on the move - the best of which was a close-in Balearic Shearwater, supported by 11 Sootys, 30+ Manxies, both common skuas into double figures, a few ducks and terns on the move, and the Black Guillemot back in the bay for its final day.

Activity slowed up by 0930, and with the mist increasing, the land beckoned; several circuits of the key sites revealed few new arrivals however, and after refuelling, the afternoon session was timed to coincide with the forecast bank of fog and light drizzle approaching.

Whinchat, Carr Naze
 
As regular readers (particularly of autumnal bulletins) will know, one of the most inspiring and exciting aspects of my local birding is the witnessing of front-line falls of migrants on the grassy plateau of Carr Naze, the first contact incoming passerines have with dry land on this side of the North Sea. It requires just the right conditions and the right timing, and thus happens rarely - but when it does, it's a genuine thrill, and there's nowhere else I'd rather be.

A classic fogbound autumnal Carr Naze scene - Brambling and Redstart sharing an umbellifer
 
The drizzle began, the north-easterly strengthened a little, and the birds appeared; suddenly fine cast of new arrivals materialised, including handfuls of Garden and Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Wheatears, Song Thrushes, Redstarts, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, plus singles of Ring Ouzel and Sedge Warbler.

Juvenile Bullfinch, Parish Wood
 
Entertaining enough as it was, but made all the more memorable by a calling Dotterel staging two fly-bys in the mist, barely higher than head height - my second this year, and only the third here in a decade. A grilling of the nearby Top Scrub happily produced a similar and healthy selection of new arrivals, as well as single Redwing and Fieldfare (both early firsts of the season), Brambling, Common Whitethroat, Lapland Bunting and - fantastically alongside both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers - a just-in Red-breasted Flycatcher in the last couple of sycamores before the clifftop. Classic autumnal east coast entertainment, and every minute a joy.

Garden Warbler, Carr Naze
 
Murky, promising conditions continued throughout 16th, and a constant trickle of migrants arrived during the day. Carr Naze hosted a particularly interesting (and at times alarming) array of not-from-around-here Willow Warblers, as well as more Garden Warblers and Redstarts scurrying along grassy paths, a surge of Chiffchaffs, and another mini-arrival of Bramblings; the Country Park area, meanwhile, was alive with birds feeding in the cover of of Top Scrub and Long Lane. The latter's sheltered avenue of trees often concentrates canopy feeders, and so it was during a fogbound afternoon - Goldcrests, finches and Phylloscs all gleaning prey from the underside of dripping, slowly wilting leaves.

Wood Warbler = gold dust
 
Better still, persistence paid off big time when a truly rare sprite fleetingly revealed itself among the greens and greys - a much hoped- / searched-for Wood Warbler. One of only a handful this century here in Filey (and substantially rarer here than, say, Pallas's or Marsh Warblers), and one of those birds that I could easily never find on the patch, no matter how long I stick around, and thus particularly satisfying.

Tree Pipit on Carr Naze
 
Come 17th, and I finally had to turn my attentions away from relentless daily circuits and towards non-avian concerns - specifically, a long-planned and much anticipated whirlwind trip back to London, to see Kate Bush play live. Thanks to dear friends of ours we'd managed to bag a pair of tickets when they went on sale for about four seconds several months ago, and the chances of ideal birding conditions coinciding with a barely-more-than-24-hours excursion off-patch were slim enough for me to pretend not to notice the vaguely troubling mid-September date.

Sedge Warbler, Carr Naze
 
And so the day of the show came around (not before an early morning assault on a wholly fogbound Carr Naze, however, which hosted a new roll-call in the shape of a Jack Snipe, a Merlin and smattering of new passerines). With such productive conditions miraculously holding, and increasingly tasty scarcities making landfall on the east coast as a result, it was with some resigned inevitability that a glance at my phone as we boarded the train revealed seven texts and four missed calls - a Rustic Bunting had just appeared on Carr Naze.

Another very tired Song Thrush, this one not even bothering to run away on Carr Naze
 
Inevitable curses and surges of self-pity were quickly dispensed with (and Kate bush was magical, in case you were wondering), and I was back out in the field about twenty minutes after getting off the train home, with several hours of daylight remaining on 18th. Out in the field, comrade Dan was on a roll, briefly refinding the Rustic Bunting in the morning and then a new Red-breasted Fly at the Tip early afternoon; hooking up on Carr Naze (after I'd just stumbled on a new Yellow-browed Warbler on the cycle up), we were immediately into more birds flitting through the knee-high vegetation.

Rustic, shmustic
 
An hour or so later, and with the light quickly fading, we were back at the eastern end of Top Scrub for a final check. In a beautiful twist of fate, nothing less than a Little Bunting materialised in front of us (with Dan kindly allowing me a share of his Emberiza voodoo), feeding tamely in the nearest Sycamore. Karma fully restored and then some.

"Enjoy Kate? Good. I waited around especially."
 
Still the conditions held promise, and still the birds arrived. 19th saw Redstarts and Wheatears in double figures, another new Yellow-browed Warbler, a handful of Tree Pipits and various other passerines appearing (including a wet, skulking, coronary-inducing Reed Warbler running through the grass at the tip of Carr Naze that cost me an hour, but gave me an adventure). A final stake-out of the Magic Bush (an isolated hotspot of cover on the sheltered southern slope) revealed two Lesser Whitethroats, one of which clearly fitted the criteria for a candidate Siberian.

The following day saw my luck holding up (better than my blistered feet and thousand-yard stare, at any rate), with another new Red-breasted Flycatcher appearing before me in the Top Scrub, and two more Yellow-browed Warblers there (one of which was soon trapped, interestingly showing a high fat score).

Candidate Siberian Lesser Whitethroat
 

So, quite a ten days, with a very satisfying haul of scarcities, common migrants and self-finds, pleasingly bucking the trend of recent mid-Septembers and reminding yet again how worthwhile it is to be up here and in the thick of it when the magic happens. And the month had plenty more in store....

Sunday, September 28, 2014

East Wind in the Willows


I'm in the process of putting together the next patch summary for the (very entertaining and productive) period of mid-September, and with so many migrants and quality birds I've happily more than enough material (photographic and otherwise) to fill, well, plenty of space - and thus it's worth singling out perhaps the most interesting species of the period, Willow Warbler.

This bird (also pictured above) was flushed almost from underfoot in the 'bomb crater' (a small, sheltered incline by the clifftop) and sat up briefly, allowing a few quick shots. Through the viewfinder of the camera, its pallid, washed-out overall colouration invited split second fantasies of perhaps an Iduna or similar.... next time perhaps...
 
A little context: 18th September, and the previous day had delivered me an early Yellow-brow and a candidate Siberian Lesser Whitethroat among a fine cast of fresh-in migrants. With easterly winds and thick fog dominating, an exhilarating session on Carr Naze - the very tip of dry land, and first contact for tired new arrivals after the North Sea crossing - produced a constantly changing roll-call of chats, warblers and more materialising in the sodden grasses and umbellifers of the clifftop.

This bird was feeding close by, and again momentarily sent the heart-rate speeding, mostly on account of its dark olive tones and particularly strong supercilium. Also pictured below. 
 
On high alert for something a little more left field, every bird invited scrutiny, and none were quite as simultaneously scary and fascinating as the Willow Warblers that skulked through the low cover. Although their subspecific identification (and indeed classification) is messy, it's still worth shining a light on the wide morphological variation between the simultaneous new arrivals. Great birds to study and chin-scratch over nonetheless, and its times like these when there's so much to learn and enjoy, you really don't need the rarity.


A bit more straightforward, and one of several lemon-yellow individuals in the same area of clifftop grassland. Photo taken on 18th.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Filey, 1st - 10th September 2014


Purple Sandpiper (right) and Dunlin on the Brigg
 
After what was a generally quiet August locally (see here), September 2014 began with the concern that it may follow the pattern of my previous two here in Filey - i.e., a frustratingly quiet first three quarters of the month dominated by a westerly airflow, finally kicking into gear for the final week of month.

Summer-plumaged Red-throated Diver over Carr Naze
 
As it happened, I needn't have worried, and the month has already broken with type on various levels. Perhaps straying elsewhere along the Yorkshire coast is healthy after all, with vaguely guilt-tinged forays to both Flamborough (well, the sea beyond it) and Spurn (for the excellent Migration Festival) during the first ten days of the month providing good birds, a good craic and perhaps a subconscious burst of extra enthusiasm for the patch.

Bonxie on the Brigg. Unfortunately the victim of some kind of pollutant and clearly unwell, but still able to fly (and thus evade rescue).
 
 
 
So while the 1st was spent rocking gently on a little boat off the Cape, the 2nd saw a full day out on patch. The morning was spent getting our hands dirty, creating a gravel island at our East Lea nature reserve (with the added bonus of four Common Buzzards drifting low overhead and impatient groups of Ruff, Snipe and Dunlin buzzing around our spades); the land was otherwise quiet, as was an afternoon seawatch, at least enlivened by a Sparrowhawk arriving in-off.

An over-inquisitive young Roe Deer which took an age to finally get the message from its tongue-gesturing mum....
 
 
Mild and foggy conditions with a light easterly raised anticipation for the 4th, but with scarcities arriving elsewhere on the coast, a full day produced little in the way of local rewards. Conditions for the following day (5th) held true, however, and persistence paid off - an early start patrolling the northern area finally broke the autumn's scarce passerine curse, with a very welcome Red-breasted Flycatcher in Short Hedge. It's been a great month for this always pulse-quickening continental waif, but at the time I think this was the first to arrive in the UK this autumn.

Red-breasted Flycatcher, Short Hedge, 5th
 
Along with an encouraging sprinkling of commoner migrants - a few Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers, Whinchats, and Grey and Yellow Wagtails - chalking up the RB Fly meant leaving my post and heading off for a weekend representing Yorkshire Coast Nature and the Obs at the Spurn Migration Festival was that little bit more relaxed, with the added bonus of being spoiled with a fabulous wealth of grounded migrants there. Quite a place.

Speckled Wood - an increasingly common species locally
 
Whinchat - a good autumn so far for this species
 
The 8th was quiet (although it was the first day of the autumn where the Goldcrest count crept into double figures), and so with little to inspire on the land, a seawatch was in order on the 9th (despite the unhelpful south-westerly breeze). At the end of Carr Naze and just before the descent down the cliff to the hide, three Great Tits came in off the sea - a reminder that, during September, movements aren't restricted to the 'right' conditions - and an entertaining four hours on the Brigg produced a wide cast of migrants, including various waders, wildfowl and passerines and both the commoner shearwaters; a Marsh Harrier picked up miles out over the waves eventually came in right alongside us, but not before (bizarrely) harrying gulls along the way, in a decidedly skua-like fashion.

Marsh Harrier (and Gannet) off the Brigg
 
Pick of the day, however, popped up on my final scan, just as I was about to pack up - a first year Black Guillemot in the bay, constituting the second quality scarcity of the month so far. A rare bird anywhere on the Yorks coast (even here at Filey, where we do quite well for them, they're less than annual), the bird obligingly returned to the same area for the rest of the week, allowing a steady procession of admirers to enjoy it (and presumably swell their county lists in the process).

Black Guillemot (right, with Cormorant)
 
So, a far from discouraging first part of the month locally - and there was plenty to come around the corner....

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Birding Frontiers review the Filey Bird Report

'The passion and skill that has so clearly gone into putting the report together is admirable and the new edition easily qualifies as the benchmark for other local reports to aim for. All proceeds from the sales of the report go directly to the work of FBOG, and at £8, the report is a steal....'

David Campbell has reviewed the new Filey Bird Report for the Birding Frontiers website - read it  here 



Monday, September 22, 2014

Spurn Migration Festival 2014



Representing Yorkshire Coast Nature and Filey Bird Observatory, I had a blast at the Migfest, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in bird migration - see the full write-up here.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Flamborough pelagic - skuas and more

Juvenile Long-tailed Skua
 
with Arctic Skua (above)
 
More from the boat trip a couple of weeks back.

 
Pale morph Arctic Skua
 
 
Common & Arctic Terns
 

The team at Brid harbour

 

Beckoning in the Caspian (it worked)

 

"What's that Lucy? There's a candidate Baltic Gull heading that way?"
 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Flamborough pelagic - Caspian Gull


From a couple of weeks back... a bespoke Yorkshire Coast Nature pelagic out of Bridlington harbour and off Flamborough Head on 1st September, with great company and great birds - a real highlight of which was this exceptionally accommodating juvenile Caspian Gull. More to follow.