Champions of the Flyway!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Filey, 24th - 31st August 2012

Now that's (even) more like it. All too often, August can be full of promise, scant in delivery; but while the first three weeks of the month in Filey had its moments, the final week beautifully reinforced why there's nowhere quite like the East coast when autumn kicks in.

Those first three weeks were reasonably entertaining; no outstanding falls or killer rarities, but a steadily broadening spectrum of migrants as the month wore on, from seabirds and wildfowl to waders and passerines. However, as the last seven days approached, possibilities increased, and conditions looked promising for classic early autumn arrivals.


The 24th began mild and calm, but a strengthening easterly wind coincided with a front of thick cloud and rain moving in the south around 0830, producing a wonderful spectacle on Carr Naze. Multitudes of hirundines and Swifts materialised from nowhere, at all heights - some an ankle height, some distant specs in the ether, and everywhere inbetween - and proceeded to flood past in plague-like proportions for a good 45 minutes, as the drizzle came and went in gentle waves. Fantastic.

 Sandwich Tern

Otherwise, a sprinkling of common migrants (including fresh-in Pied Fly and Goldcrest) promised more from the light easterlies and mist, but the 25th produced little else, despite methodical floggings of the northern area throughout. It looked as if the encouraging conditions had failed to produce anything special; but the 26th was another day.

The forecasted blustery north-north-westerly happily came to pass, and the seawatch hide duly beckoned - there for around 0600, the heavy swell and crashing white horses made us work for our rewards, which were all the sweeter for it. The highlights were undoubtedly the two adult Sabine's Gulls which gunned south, about an hour apart, although a Balearic Shearwater and 43 Arctic Skuas (and plenty of other action) provided fine back-up.


Pleasantly flushed with success and with an hour or so to kill before prior engagements brought the curtain down, Dan and I hiked back up Carr Naze and wandered into the Top Scrub late morning, more from force of habit than anything else. With the wind bending the trees and the sun beating down, expectations were accordingly low and the apparent lack of activity was no surprise.

Which was far from the case when, seconds after rambling out flawed theories as to why the area we were stood in seemed peculiarly attractive to Icterine Warblers (Frank's in May, mine a couple of weeks back), what should choose to show itself beautifully on a sheltered, sunlit branch in front of us than a pristine Icterine Warbler. What a morning.

The 27th looked less promising, but the possibility of northbound stragglers after yesterday's movements was too much to resist; hence, back in the hut early doors. A generally quiet three hours were illuminated by two Long-tailed Skuas heading south at 0820, suitable compensation for several almost-definite-but-not-quite sightings the previous day.

Icterine Warbler

An early seawatch on the 29th had plenty of variety, with highlights including a Red-necked Grebe, two Little Gulls and a Med Gull, but the 30th was, to put it simply, an absolute joy. Following a calm and clear previous few hours, the strong northerlies hit exactly when forecast - along with driving, horizontal rain - mid-morning; after fulfilling a prior engagement in Scarborough, it was on with the waterproofs and a speed-walk along the deserted beach.

Into the hide for 1045, and John had already logged plenty of skuas and shearwaters coming south thick and (very) fast; with a wall of impenetrable dark cloud and rain providing a perfect curtain against which to watch them, the birds were either overwhelmingly close inshore or completely hidden in the gloom.

The next five hours were an almost constant pleasure, with an exceptional hour or so around midday, both during and immediately after the heaviest of the rain (and the strongest of the winds). Skuas and Shearwaters stole the show, with numbers - and views - the like of which I haven't seen for many years. I could wax lyrical about it endlessly here, but, as with all killer seawatches, you just have to be there.....

..... of Skuas, our day total of 207 Arctics was the best for some years, along with thirty-odd Bonxies, five Poms and no less than four Long-tails; of shearwaters, over 200 Manxies for the day, six Sooties, and the best views of a Balearic I'll probably ever have without making physical contact. Surprisingly, neighbouring sites (including Flamborough) had but a fraction of our quantity and quality, suggesting the conditions conspired perfectly for us and, for one day at least, nowhere else held a candle to the Brigg. Magical.

An early seawatch on the 31st was almost comically poor in comparison, but only served to reinforce how special the previous day was. A fine week ending a better-than-expected month; and now for September.....