Friday, January 23, 2009

Flamborough Head & area, East Yorkshire - 24th - 28th December 2008

Several days back to Flamborough with Amity over the festive period, combining social get-togethers with time in the field, maximising the brief hours of daylight both on the Cape of (erratically) Good Hope and at nearby sites along the coast.

A brief, late wander on the outer head (around the gorse field and clifftop) on the 25th produced a female Peregrine, 14 Purple Sandpipers along the shoreline (as well as Curlews, Turnstones, Redshanks etc.), a male Stonechat, and two Red-breasted Mergansers, a handful of Red-throated Divers and good numbers of auks moving offshore.

A few hours with our good friends Rich (local conservation revolutionary and upsettingly routine finder of superstar vagrants) and Gaynor (partner of the above and role-model female birder) on the morning of the 26th, concentrating on Northcliffe marsh and the surrounding fields and hedgerows; overcast with a cold easterly, and great conditions - for October....

But productive nonetheless. Chinwagging in the driveway of R & G's place - an ex-coastguard cottage with a view and a house list which would make most birders drown their Leicas in floods of tears - we heard the unmistakable calls of nearby Waxwings, presumably from adjoining back gardens (although they chose to stay out of sight).

A short walk from Selwicks Bay towards Breil Nook, and again, auks were present in good numbers, with six Common Scoters south (with Guillemots) and Fulmars already occupying ledges. Into the stubble fields (with permission!) for winter buntings, which can occur in the area in impressive flocks - no big counts this winter, but we did manage to find two Lapland and one Snow Bunting before viewing the marsh.

confiding Rock Pipits on South Landing beach

A mobile flock of around 70 Lapwings circled above us, three Pink-footed Geese arrived on the water with a group of Greylags, a female Stonechat occupied the fenceline, and a Short-eared Owl hunted low over the marsh; meanwhile, a confiding pair of Peregrines patrolled the cliffs, and on the walk back, a pair of Dark-bellied Brent Geese flew low over the golf course and dropped into the bay.

A family visit to Filey Brigg on the 27th, produced an expected (but always enjoyable) winter roll-call, including 25 Common Scoter and four Common Eider in the bay, three Red-throated Divers, plenty of Oystercatchers and Turnstones, five Dunlin, ten Purple Sandpipers and a single Ringed Plover. Many Guillemots were offshore, and c40 Golden Plovers were flying over The Dotterel ( a local pub, unfortunately) on the way home.

Black Redstart, Bempton Cliffs

A visit to nearby Bempton Cliffs RSPB on the 28th - home of multitudes of breeding seabirds and appreciative visitors in the summer, relatively peaceful and innocuous (but at least as beautiful) in the winter. A chance to test drive the new D-SLR (courtesy of JM Pearson, bless you young man), and within a minute of reaching the cliff, a sooty-plumaged Blue Fulmar kindly soared by at close range (see below); a good chance to practice with the camera after too long making the best of the dark art of digi-binning.

Another pair of Peregrines performed beautifully overhead, pair-bonding noisily and dramatically, and the cliff-top fence was surprisingly popular with passerines - several Rock Pipits and a male Stonechat were par for the course, but about eight Song Thrushes - apparently fresh in, and soon heading inland - were unexpected, and a Black Redstart, which flew vertically up the cliffs and perched briefly on a fence-post just in front of us, was a fine surprise (being a locally rare bird in the depths of winter).

courting Fulmars, Bempton Cliffs

Auks and Fulmars were numerous on the sea, where at least five Harbour Porpoise were heading along the shore towards Flamborough, and a Weasel hopped across the path near the visitors centre.

male Stonechat, Bempton Cliffs

A few hours in South Dykes (the southern third of Danes Dyke) was amazingly productive, especially for a family walk..... already spolit for Firecrests on home territory (Abney Park Cemtery, a local patch two minutes from our door, is home to several this winter), a quick cheating session with an MP3 of the species via my mobile illicited a response within a minute.... at least one bird had been seen on and off in recent weeks, but a lucky strike nonetheless.

Up in the woodland on the eastern side of the dyke, we were lucky enough to have a Long-eared Owl fly across the gully and into the trees, and then a Barn Owl quartering the fields close by. Back in the car park area, and a familiar call was coming from the trees by the top of the path - two Willow Tits were easily the surprise of the trip, and

Rock Pipit, Bempton Cliffs

Fulmar, Bempton Cliffs

Blue Fulmar, Bempton Cliffs