Thursday, November 26, 2015

Little Orcas

Late autumn and strong northerlies meant camping out in the sea-watch hide on the Brigg all weekend, and there could only really be one show-stealer....

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Unusual behaviour of Great Northern Divers

These two juvenile Great Northern Divers were in the bay by the sea-watching hide at the weekend during the northerly gales (and were part of a record-breaking 11+ I had on the day), and behaved in a way I've never seen or heard of before; maybe it's not so rare, and the photos are pretty crappy in the poor conditions, but worth posting as an aside.

The two birds were a considerable distance apart and began calling to each other - a high-pitched, eerie moan - before swimming directly towards each other, still calling frequently. They then circled each other closely a couple of times, and began bill touching - apparently non-aggressively - for a good ten seconds or more, which included gently gripping each other's bills, before circling each other closely again and swimming off side by side.

Monday, November 23, 2015

In praise of the Obs

As some of you may already know, here at Filey Bird Observatory & Group (FBOG) we try and go the extra mile with our annual report, and our 2014 edition was just published to some very welcome and gratifying acclaim - most recently thanks to Rare Bird Alert. Click the link below to read their review, where you can also order a copy (and if you're thinking about doing so, remember all proceeds go straight back into our local voluntary work....)

Rare Bird Alert review the 2014 Filey Bird Report

What many might not be aware of, however, is the work that goes on behind the scenes - so while I'm here, a timely and reverent nod to my colleagues. I'm proud not only to be part of the team who put together the report, but also part of the team who run the good ship FBOG, through rarely becalmed (and often tiresomely choppy) waters. We're a tiny Observatory by any standards, with no premises, no paid staff, no financial backing; hence, we're total reliant on our members (the lifeblood of the group and its work), and a small, dynamic team of hard-working volunteers who resolutely take care of business with a quiet passion and skill. How so few people can do so much (and for so little credit) is an inspiration.

First and foremost, the fundamental responsibilities of a Bird Observatory are to monitor bird populations and migration, and to run an active ringing programme. Easier said than done with such a small number of active regular observers here, and sadly fewer still are prepared to participate in monitoring and surveying; but again, thanks to a dedicated team, we're producing the goods and the results. Maintaining a meaningful ringing programme, meanwhile, is theoretically even more of a challenge (especially with no premises and paid staff), but we're very lucky to have a young, highly-skilled and enthusiastic ringing team in place - who, despite full-time jobs and having to travel to get here - manage to more than do us proud (and more so than ever in 2015).

We've made outreach, engagement, events and activities a priority over the last few years, increasing our efforts to the point where it's a major part of what we do. In addition, the ownership and management of several nature reserves represent another important component of FBOG's concerns, and (while relatively low maintenance to oversee) are of incalculable worth in an otherwise heavily-disturbed and monocultural ghetto. A total overhaul of our website and online presence, meanwhile, has seen us become one of the most welcoming, contemporary and outward-looking Obs / bird groups I'm aware of, with a consistently growing membership and support to show for it.

But it's the largely unsung work that a small nucleus of positive, forward-looking people do behind the scenes that is particularly inspiring - the kind of boring, time-consuming, and often unpleasant stuff that goes on day-in, day-out, and keeps the Obs afloat, from a team who in truth are only ever an injury or two shy of having to put the tea lady on as centre-half.

And you wouldn't believe how much unnecessary shit they have to put up with, from all manner of sources - and yet put up with it they invariably do, with far more class than is required. It's been, and continues to be, an education. Having been involved in running local wildlife groups / local recording / organising outreach and events etc over many years - often in quite fraught and challenging situations - I can honestly say that there are more martyrs and agendas to deal with in this deceptively unsleepy seaside town than anywhere else I've been involved with. But the truth is, all the pointless crap is ultimately worth it, for the birds and wildlife, for the community, for the greater good. So, huge respect to those involved - you know who you are.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pinks in space

Funny how one's perception of the start of a season is defined by certain things, and funny how that perception can change over time, between different events, species, natural signposts. Personally speaking, autumn's psychological starting pistol has always been the sound of tssipping Redwings on a clear, still night, at least for as long as I can remember; since moving up here to the Yorkshire coast over three years ago, however, the playful yapping and chaotic constellations of incoming Pink-footed Geese have become at least as evocative and iconic, and I never tire of them....

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Swan Vistas

The relentless southbound Whooper passage continues over recent days, and what a joy it is to behold - is there anything quite as awe-inspiring as migrating swans? I'm unlikely to get better photos than I was lucky enough to capture the other day (see here), but to give a little context, here's a selection of different perspectives, all from the bay, over the last couple of days.

I'm not sure if the flock of 42 passing the Filey lifeboat were witnessed by the crew, but they certainly were by fellow birders as they passed Buckton, Bempton and Flamborough a short while later. The photos of the flock hitting Flamborough Head were taken from the end of the road here in Filey, about ten miles way.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Common Seal in the bay corner

This young Common Seal chose the bay corner as a haul-out spot for several mornings this week; interesting to compare how much its appearances changes in and out of the water....

Friday, November 13, 2015

Whoopers on manoeuvres

What a joy. Looking at the forecast, I'd written today off as a work day, but after a call from my good friend George regarding a Common Seal hauled up again in the bay corner (more of that later), I couldn't resist - only ten minutes away from the front door after all, via the short cycle to Coble Landing and a quick stroll on the beach.

A couple of minutes into the beach section of the journey, and even with the wind howling and the waves crashing, the unmistakable sound of Whooper Swans filled the air. With a rare combination of lucky circumstances - the sun behind me, the birds directly approaching me, the flock occupying the only corner of blue in an otherwise battleship-grey sky, and the camera actually on the right settings - I fired away, grinning inanely, as is always the case when such a spectacle occurs, in such a beautiful setting, all on one's doorstep.

Monday, November 2, 2015


Scandinavian thrushes arriving over the cliff - Fieldfares...

It's that glorious time of year when it's all about arrivals from northern climes. A small number will have coasted down along this side of the water, but the majority of migrants at this point in the season have arrived directly from Scandinavia and beyond. There's nothing quite like witnessing migrants making landfall after an arduous passage over the North Sea, and in fact it's arguably my favourite aspect of birding; it doesn't get much better than occupying the clifftop of my local patch and witnessing migration in one of its purest and simplest forms.

... Redwings ....

... and Blackbirds

And the predators that follow them: a huge, dark juvenile Peregrine that arrived from way out over the waves on 31st Oct - wonder where it originated?.....

... and a Sparrowhawk that came in from on high on the same day, and immediately set about hunting for its next meal