Saturday, September 28, 2013

Invasion of the Yellow-brows - Filey, 22nd - 27th Sep 2013

I was lucky enough to witness the final approach of this bird's North Sea crossing, descending onto Carr Naze and landing within a few metres of where I sat on the afternoon of the 27th. Magical. 
After a generally quiet first three weeks of September (at least where passerines are concerned), there was at last room for real anticipation going into the final quarter of the month. Nailing a Wryneck on the 21st as high pressure finally replaced the procession of lows was a timely shot in the arm, and with an interestingly messy, mainly easterly airflow over the coming days, the diary was duly cleared.

Lots of Roe Deer around at the moment, including inquisitive family groups 
The 22nd was effectively tropical (reaching the mid twenties), and birding was replaced by paddling in the shallows on the beach and troughing ice cream as the day wore on. The 23rd was just as balmy, with clear blue skies and hot sunshine, although a breeze swinging steadily round to the south-east by the afternoon inspired more rounds of the coastal area - happily resulting in a fresh-in Yellow-brow (as well as a few more Phylloscs and a Pied Fly) flicking up before me at the top of Long Lane.

The first of the week, appearing in warm sunshine at the top of Long Lane on the 23rd
The 24th looked better on paper - and the murk and drizzle felt promising - although the reality was somewhat more sobering, with very few new migrants around. Waders overhead in the mist included plenty of Snipe and a few Grey Plover, and odd Song Thrushes and a few Chiffys hinted at a little incoming action; but a close-up, confused and much-hassled Marsh Harrier touring the County Park was about as good as it got by the end of the day.

This unfortunate Marsh Harrier was mobbed by at least six other species as it toured the country park
The 25th, however, was something else entirely. Misty, mild and almost perfectly still, the morning had the air of something special, but a sound hammering of local sites was in reality pretty disappointing; a few Redwings, Siskins, redpolls, Chiffys, and more wader movements (including e.g. Bar-tailed Godwit, Golden Plovers and a lot of Dunlins) were the pick, while three Pink-feet at the Dams continued to put on a fine show alongside a few Ruff and more Snipe and Dunlin amongst others.

Three Pink-feet, happily taking no shit from the wader-repelling local Moorhens
With most of the day gone and having hammered the key spots, it was time to head back onto Carr Naze, the narrow plateau that crowns the Brigg itself, intercut with deep gulleys on either side and topped with the remnants of this summer's umbellifers and thistles. The morning forecast showed a weak front passing over on a strengthening NNE wind by mid afternoon, and I was banking on it being enough to bring in a few new arrivals.

With the mist thickening and the wind steadily building, I had the place to myself, and a scan of the sheltered shore along the southern flank revealed no fewer than four Red-necked Grebes (more than doubling the year's tally), two Red-breasted Mergansers, 20+ Red-throated Divers and large flocks of Teal and Wigeon - an excellent haul. A short clamber halfway down the slope to grill the magic bush (a lone, stunted hawthorn with a fine track record) revealed two fresh-in migrants - a very tired-looking Song Thrush, and happily, a sprightly Yellow-brow, flying west and inland after a couple of minutes getting its bearings. Game on.

One of four Red-necked Grebes in the bay on the 25th
More slope-clambering followed before making it back up onto the top - just as the first, tsiping squadron of incoming Song Thrushes parted only to avoid a head-on collision with their wide-eyed observer. The weather worsened, the wind blew and the heavy drizzle began, and for the next ninety minutes or so, it was the east coast - and Filey - at its most exhilarating.

One of many continental Song Thrushes dropping out of the sky and onto the seaweed-covered rocks on the Brigg
Stood at the very tip of Carr Naze, a movement in the grass beside me materialised into a sodden Yellow-brow; then, amazingly, another in the grass behind me, while flocks of Song Thrushes continued to arrive at head height. Next up, a couple of Redstarts battling the rain, and then a Lapland Bunting calling and coasting westward along the cliff below me; then, hopping along the path, yet another Yellow-brow. 

A Yellow-brow appears in the magic bush....
Siskins, Redwings, Chaffinches and Robins all added to the new arrivals, and then a Snow Bunting dropped in out of the mist and onto the cliff path ahead of me - revealing another Yellow-brow close-by. Four were now on show immediately around me, having just touched down from arduous North Sea crossings onto the tip of a peninsula without so much as a bush in sight.

..... soon followed by no fewer than.....
Birds continued to arrive, with Bramblings wheezing overhead, more Song Thrushes, Skylarks and Redstarts, and then a Jack Snipe flushed from a patch of long grass and weeds. For the next while, it was a case of lapping up the drama and trying to get onto each movement, with the Leicas constantly topping up with rainwater.

..... four more in the grass on the tip of Carr Naze
As the light faded it was time to reluctantly head home, but not before multiple Yellow-brows hopscotched through the vegetation and along the path ahead of me. How many overall it's impossible to say, but a final notebook entry of '5+' was very likely an underestimate; a wonderful couple of hours birding.

Brambling in Long Lane, 27th
The 26th dawned sunny and warm with a moderate easterly, and although migrants were predictably hard to come by, a good hammering of the local area produced at least six well scattered Yellow-brows (as well as over 300 Pink-feet on the move in several flocks); more were likely present in the recording area, but unfortunately some areas of suitable habitat had to go untried.

Red-throated Diver heading over the Country Park
Come yesterday (the 27th), and with high pressure, light south-easterlies and more early cloud than had been forecast, the usual circuit beckoned. No prizes for guessing the stars of the show once again - at least five Yellow-brows were scattered across Country Park / Top Scrub area, and an otherwise quiet combing of Carr Naze produced two birds while scrutinising the magic bush - a tame, disgruntled Redwing, and then, magically, a tiny shape descending from above and dropping into the grass not five metres away. A distinctly knackered, somewhat overwhelmed and incredibly tame Yellow-brow.

Pink-feet over the Rocket Pole Field
With at least one more in Reighton Woods (and with few other new arrivals to speak of, odd Pied Flys and Chiffys notwithstanding), it seemed like a good idea to whip round a few likely spots to potentially raise the bar further. Drawing a blank in Church Ravine was compensated for by a quick session at the Dams - newly-arrived waders including two Curlew Sandpipers and a Little Stint - followed by a bonus ball YBW in a sycamore on the adjoining housing estate.

A very knackered Redwing on the slopes of Carr Naze
To Parish Wood, where a little encouragement from a tsooeeting MP3 enticed another two out from within the dense foliage. An impressive ten for the day in our relatively small recording area was quite a result; who knows how many have graced us with their presence over recent days, but I've personally been lucky enough to bump into more than a dozen, and there's plenty of time still on the clock......

Frankly, a joy.