Saturday, September 21, 2013

Filey, 1st - 21st September 2013

Wryneck, today

Which sounds like a dauntingly long period to summarise, but in reality there's much less to wrap up on account of time spent out of action and/or out of the area. The in-laws arrived from Massachusetts at the start of the month, and thus time was (happily) spent with them and the Mrs, locally for a few days, and then on a very lovely five-day road trip in Scotland and Northumberland. Hence, little to report for the first nine days, although a walk on the Brigg on the 3rd did produce a Clouded Yellow scaling the southern flank of Carr Naze.

Arriving back in Filey late evening of the 9th, I counted my blessings carefully; having prepared as best I could for being awol during a seemingly inevitable classic east-coast fall over the preceding days - the weather maps showing killer conditions and easterlies days in advance and right up until the night before, when it all suddenly, mercifully imploded - I returned home having missed almost nothing, and having enjoyed beautiful weather in the Highlands, East coast and national parks to the north of us. Off the hook and then some.

Spotted Redshank at the Dams, 16th - another addition to the patch list

With the winds in the north-west and picking up in strength, I couldn't resist an early seawatch the following morning (10th), which was peculiarly unproductive; aside from five Sootys, 16 Arctic Skuas, six Bonxies, Red-throated Divers into double figures and a few ducks moving, it was an unexpectedly quiet four hours. A yellow-and-green warbler which I picked up coming in low over the waves frustratingly evaded ID, despite appearing too large and chunky for a Willow/Chiff and landing close to the hide; two Wheatears were less of a challenge, as was a smart juvenile Red-necked Grebe close-in by the steps on Carr Naze, which bizarrely shadowed and appeared to beg from a male Eider, who was unsurprisingly having none of it.

Keeping the faith with the forecast, it was another five o'clock alarm call on the 11th, with the strong NW blowing and a dramatically rough sea smashing the Brigg and cliffs (not to mention a decidedly hair-raising journey down the end of Carr Naze to get to the hut, overnight rain having turned the cliff into a mudslide - one of many to follow in the coming months). But it was more than worth it.

Little Stint, Brigg, 13th

The first hour or so was quiet, but activity soon picked up, and before long it was game on. It's never easy to wax lyrical about memorable seawatches - by their very nature, you really have to be there - but in four hours (0630-1030) we'd clocked a Sabine's Gull, two Long-tailed Skuas, at least one smoky Blue Fulmar, two Velvet Scoters, 20 Sootys, good numbers of Manxies, Arctic Skuas and Bonxies, and ducks including e.g. Pintail, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and just shy of a hundred Common Scoters. Carefully ascending the greasy slope brought an unexpected reward in the form of a tame, freshly-arrived Snow Bunting. An excellent morning's birding.

The only bird of note to turn up while I was out of town was a Little Stint at the Dams, the first - and at that point, possibly last - of the year; although I was yet to see one locally, it was hardly a reason get the tissues out, and I figured I'd catch up with one at some time soon enough. Thankfully, however, it stuck around, allowing me to nail it in heavy rain that afternoon (and as it turned out, we were the last to see it, as it flew east with Dunlins before we left).

Four of twelve Grey Herons, having arrived from many miles out to sea....

The 12th looked somewhat less promising, with light south-westerlies, and so it came to pass - although an otherwise quiet seawatch was enlivened by a further two Red-necked Grebes, both heading north. A kick around the land produced little but for a couple of Crossbills overhead and a few hundred Meadow Pipits. The Dams continued to hold waders, with nine species present, as well as a moulting male Pintail within the Mallard flock.

Back down the slope for a seawatch from dawn on 13th, and although the wind had a little north in it, it failed to make much of an impact, and after a couple of hours I decided to head out onto the Brigg end to check through the large gulls and assembled waders. With the tide rapidly encroaching, I'd probably fifteen or twenty minutes at best, but after failing to find a Yellow-legged (or much-awaited Caspian) in the gull flock, an immediately interesting little wader scurried behind a rock amongst a scattering of Dunlins, Purple Sandpipers and Ringed Plovers.

.... and all twelve heading inland

Obviously a stint but not close enough to identify with confidence, it soon took flight with a small group of Dunlins - only to loop around me and land on the water's edge just a few metres from where I stood. After wasting time employing carefully-considered fieldcraft, I soon realised my efforts were pointless, walked straight up to it and crouched within two metres.

Clearly now a Little Stint (although more strongly-marked than the Dams individual), the bird barely registered my presence, alternately feeding, snoozing and resolutely refusing to get flustered. A wonderful experience, and quintessentially Filey; I know of nowhere else where one can enjoy shorebirds at point-blank range against such a dramatic and beautiful backdrop.

Three Ruff at the Dams

A weekend in Leeds playing a show and hooking up with old friends followed, and then back out at dawn on the 16th - down to six degrees celsius and with a brisk westerly blowing, expectations were again low, but with a nice expanse of exposed mud and an impressive September track record, at least the Dams might produce a quality drop-in. Not one, but two, in fact - both for barely a few minutes, both before 0730, and both hard-earned patch ticks - a vocal, nervy Spotted Redshank and Jack Snipe, each unimpressed with the local Sparrowhawk family and soon on their way.

Four fly-by Bar-tailed Godwits (much scarcer than recently omnipresent Blackwits), a couple of Ruff and several Buzzards rounded off a surprisingly productive early morning; sadly not replicated on the 17th and 18th, but the latter date did however provide the season's first skein of Pink-footed Geese heading high and south in clear blue skies.

Black-tailed Godwit...

Still the westerly / south-westerly airflow held sway, reducing options and anticipation to a minimum; hence, scant notebook entries continued on the 19th and 20th, with the latter date at least providing an impressive flock of twelve Grey Herons directly in off the sea before circling Carr Naze and heading over the bay.

A rare lie-in today (21st) - with westerlies persisting and a sunny morning becoming ever warmer - was long overdue, although with Yellow-brows and the like raining down on Shetland, a southbound wander with the Mrs along the clifftop seemed like a good idea. It being the weekend (and with the weather being so good), tourists are everywhere and visiting birders are scattered in the usual places; hence, scrutinising an under-watched and relatively undisturbed stretch of nearby coastal habitat while taking in the killer view became a solid plan A.

.... and once more with feeling

With a Yellow-brow freshly-arrived on Carr Naze, clearly there were choice incoming passerines that hadn't seen the weather map, provoking even more in-depths scans of the mixed scrub below us. A long-shot, perhaps, but a successful one - before long, about an eighth of a bird otherwise concealed within hawthorn slowly and graciously turned into a Wryneck. Bingo.

As with last year, the first three weeks of September have been pretty much a write-off for passerines (thank the gods for waders and seabirds); however, with just the slightest reshuffle of the weather chart, something finally gave today, and just maybe there's a more productive week ahead.....

Another shot of this afternoon's Wryneck