Friday, October 21, 2016

Snow Bunting, Carr Naze

What a beauty.... despite it being windy as hell on Carr Naze this afternoon, this ultra-accommodating Snow Bunting allowed a few non-blurry shots as it fed on the paths along the northern side. Hard to beat.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Spurned again

The first unpromising day on patch in a good while (crappy strong winds from the wrong direction) and the offer of a dirty twitch to that extension of Shetland known locally as Spurn was the proverbial no-brainer this morning, and a day in the very entertaining company of Filey comrades Pete, Dan and Chris ensued. Our main target was of the course the 'transvestite Dunnock' (Chris's description - nice), followed pretty closely by the Isabelline Wheatear, and happily, both remained in situ for us as we rocked up absurdly late to the party.

Of the Accentor: having been neutralised by a trillion images of these pinko invaders over recent days and having relentlessly patrolled my corner of the coast on red alert for the merest whiff of a custard supercilium, I can happily report that connecting tamely with the real thing was anything but an anti-climax. In truth, it was great; a beautiful, characterful and utterly class Sibe grubbing around exotically among the gravel and weeds of the Quatermass-esque Easington Gas Terminal was as absolutely good as it sounds.

Of the Wheatear? Well, despite it's temporarily dishevelled and bedraggled appearance, it was just the education I'd hoped it would be; indeed from a learning perspective, it was a class act. For sheer aesthetic sharp-intake-of-breath gorgeousness, however - go twitch a Sibe Accentor, you won't regret it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Malt teaser

So here's how I spent much of my day... I hit the circuit late this morning, in fact 'enjoying' a lie-in til about 8 am (thus proving to both my wife and myself I have yet to turn 100% into a glassy-eyed psychopath - still hovering healthily around the 95% mark), and soon found myself on the clifftop, going through the larks and thrushes feeding in the open fields. Walking back along the field edge towards the Tip, I flushed a sandy-coloured warbler with strikingly white outer-tail feathers (alarm bell #1), which bolted into the nearest hawthorn.

Over the course of the next hour or so, I had regular, brief but good views of the bird at close range as it skulked in the hedge, occasionally responding to a little pishing and tacking, while putting a call out to the ringing contingent and awaiting their arrival. Late date, long-term easterlies and a barrage of far-flung Asian rarities swamping the east coast aside, this bird was clearly from a long way away. Thanks to the recent developments and reshuffles of the Lesser Whitethroat group, the features of potential eastern birds - including halimodendri - have increasingly been on the radar. But while I've had several of what I consider to be very strong candidate Siberian blythis before (including a striking, calling bird a couple of weeks ago), this bird was the proverbial sore thumb.

I'm thankfully in the habit of writing up field notes and sketches again these days, and so an uber-concise summary is as good as it gets on here for now, but a combination of the following would seem to raise a pretty convincing flag for Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat, S.c.halimodendri:

Warm, sandy brown upperparts, extending concolourusly onto nape and crown
Warm, pale brown underparts, contrasting strongly with white throat
Entirely white outer-tail feathers (t5) and extensive white on at least t4 and t3
Small-bodied, large-headed, apparently short-winged, 'cute' appearance
Long tail, often cocked
Habitat preference (initially found on the ground, in the open)

Long story short, three hours later and thanks to the strong wind, dogwalkers, other birders, bouncing twice and escaping once, our sandy little quarry had us beaten. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Eastern Crowned Warbler, Bempton - Oct 2016

Another quick one .... after a forgettable few days of toil for scant returns (despite the oh-so-promising conditions) here at Filey, it was good to crack and pay homage to this, well, absolute beauty over the bay at Bempton. Well done Dave - it couldn't happen to a better warden and nicer chap.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Candidate Siberian Lesser Whitethroat, Filey 3rd Oct 2016

A quick one to document a good candidate for Siberian (blythi) Lesser Whitethroat from the east hedge of the Tip here at Filey this morning (with apologies for crappy over-exposed photos - no time to change and check settings...). I actually heard it before I saw it, after pishing out a small group of 'crests from the hedge - a quick rattle, instantly tasty (and familiar from recent 'homework' on them) - and then fired off a series of shots as the bird popped out; I also whipped out the sound recorder pretty sharpish, but it gave no further call before I managed a very clear recording of the ill-timed, increasingly loud approach of a farmer spreading pesticides in the field I was stood in...

Taking into account the bright sunlight (which can of course influence the nuances of plumage colouration, especially on subtle subjects like these), it's without doubt the palest, warmest and brownest of all the candidate blythi I've observed (theoretically a more 'southern' bird?); from all angles, the upperparts (including the nape and much of the crown) remained the same almost Common Whitethroat-like shade, and extensively white outer-tail feathers and a weak, almost absent mask were also noted.

The picture above is pretty much the only one I got that implies a more extensive cold grey influence around the forecrown and face (included for reference but not nearly as noticeable in the field). The one below, showing the crown front-on, gives a good idea of just how much the brown dominated the head coloration generally... smart bird, and a pretty good shout as far as I know.

Monday, September 12, 2016

White-rumped Sandpiper on the Brigg

From last Friday, sandwiched neatly between my driving theory test (in a booth in an office in Scarborough, message-ridden phone bouncing off the walls of a locker) and a fantastic Spurn Migration Festival (more of that to come). I've banged on a million times both here and elsewhere about the magic of the Brigg for uniquely close-up and heart-stopping experiences with ultra-tame, clockwork-toy waders - it was a major part of my talk the next day at Migfest too as it happens - and so regular readers will know how much pleasure I get out of communing with them on this magnetic tidal promontory.

Being otherwise engaged with breaking distances and hazard perception when the bird was found (by visiting birders - well done Simon and Kevin), we wisely dispensed with both as Rich and I tore it up back to Filey and headed down onto the Brigg, where a hot-out-of-the-blocks Dave (Aitken) informed us of the bird's buggering off 15 minutes before. A good scour of likely feeding places and small scattered wader flocks yielded nothing, and it wasn't looking at all promising. "Don't worry, you'll probably tread on it in a minute" was Dave's optimistic take on events, and amazingly, within a couple of strides, I literally almost did....

Like many other less-rare predecessors, it didn't care a bit, immediately carrying on feeding around us and trotting nonchalantly by our feet as we struggled to get far enough away for photos. Just a wonderful, wonderful bird, shared with good people (mostly from the greater Flamborough crew), at one of my favourite spots on the planet; and I know I've said it ad nauseum, but where else would you get so close to such a special little shorebird?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


A wonderful morning - one of those that makes you acutely, emphatically aware of why you bother to get up and roll the die. It started out innocuously enough, with the usual cycle to the Country Park, walk along Carr Naze and scramble down to the seawatch hide not suggesting much was going on overhead before training the scope on the sea. With a brisk south-westerly blowing and the northerly airflow of a couple of days ago long gone, the sea was predictably dead - in contrast to the last few days, when long sessions have yielded several Long-tailed Skuas, a Cory's Shearwater, a couple of Poms and other seasonal goodness - and so I wandered out onto the Brigg to check the waders (and my messages)...

I glanced up to see a flood of hirundines bombing down the same slope I'd gingerly negotiated an hour or so before, and then looked further up to see more at higher altitudes, heading south, south-east, and south-west.... clearly something big was underway, and within a couple of minutes I was back up onto Carr Naze and in position, facing north-west along the cliff-edge. For the next 90 minutes - roughly 0800 to 0930 - it was a constant, exhilarating barrage, with masses of House Martins and Swallows, a good few Sand Martins and regular Swifts whipping up over the cliff and past me in their droves, at all conceivable heights. Counting was fantastically difficult, with a mess of a notebook covered in arrows pointing to new pages and columns, with dozens becoming hundreds becoming thousands. Just a an absolute joy to behold.

Contact with Keith and Nick a few miles down the coast at the vis-mig bottleneck of Hunmanby Gap revealed a similarly excited and manic situation unfolding there, and between us we witnessed perhaps the biggest and most intense hirundine movement ever here in the Filey recording area. Full counts to follow, but my totals (0750-1050) - low as they are, having no doubt missed many - happily read:- 4470 Swallows, 3650 House Martins, 95 Sand Martins and 15 Swifts. Priceless.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Brigg me sunshine

With tides, light and solitude in your favour, there's nowhere quite like the Brigg in late summer (and indeed throughout the autumn, or at any other time of year for that matter...). With a bit of fieldcraft and patience it's often possible to get absurdly close to feeding waders. There'll be more to come over the next few weeks, but following on from the Little Stint the other day (I had two this morning as it happens, but the light is usually poor in the morning), here's a few standard bearers - Sanderling, Knot and Dunlin.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Little Stint on the Brigg

The now happily annual ritual of stint-whispering on the Brigg end came a little earlier than usual this year; for the third year running, sitting still for a while was all that was needed for the bird to come remarkably, sometimes catchably close.

Friday, August 26, 2016


I still can't seem to get enough of Fulmars, to the point where I'm still constantly distracted by them during sea-watches (and thus they may well be responsible for me missing the Bulwer's as it sweeps by in front of the hide). But there's few more beautiful sights than one approaching at close range out of a storm and into the evening sunshine, and the end of the Brigg is the perfect place to experience them.