Monday, November 10, 2014

Remember, remember

Little Auks - the undisputed stars of the show
 
Must try harder, I know, but a combination of dealing with more pressing matters of late, as well as trying to make the most of time in the field during what's left of peak season has all inevitably resulted in less activity on these pages. But such is life; hopefully I'll have more chance to direct energies this way now some or all the above start to ease up somewhat.

Avoiding the company of Cormorants (one of which is  colour-ringed)
 

First in line for the retrospective spotlight is the sea-watching pleasures of a couple of days ago - the 5th November - when the threatened strong northerly winds thankfully came to pass as hoped. Despite a heavy cold a head like a tumble dryer, after missing many of the most promising windows of the autumn so far, it would have taken plenty more than wild horses to keep me from the hide. So after the usual tightrope walk down the narrow, steep slope to the base of the Brigg (even more precarious after recent rains, when a surfboard is probably a better option for navigating the mudslide), shortly after dawn I was safely embedded behind the breezeblocks and it wasn't long before the show began.


Even without the birds, it was worth the effort just to witness the raging seas, blizzards of foam and spray and ultra-high tide, with conditions coinciding with a full moon; but then, without the birds, five minutes would've done the job. Seven and a half hours later, however, and I was still far from bored, having enjoyed another classic day's sea-watching at Filey.

Peregrine hunting over the Brigg (followed soon after by a Merlin)
 
Like all the most enjoyable seawatches, it was a combination of quality and quantity, and the rarer birds are often not the most memorable. Still, even for a place with a fine reputation for attracting Grey Phalaropes in the right conditions, three in one day is extraordinary, and at least 32 Pomarine Skuas is hardly an average day.

But it was the spectactle that really counted, with Little Auks unarguably the stars (at least 128 north and variable numbers temporarily present); 194 Red-throated Divers south, often in flocks of up to ten, as well as two Great Northerns; both Peregrine and Merlin speeding along the Brigg side; a handful of late Manxies, a couple of dozen Bonxies, and various wildfowl including Velvet Scoters, Dark-bellied Brents, Goldeneyes and Goosander....

A close fly-by Goosander
 
.... and no fewer than five Asio owls struggling against the elements and eventually arriving on this side of the North Sea, of which four were Short-eared and one was unidentifiable. All of the owls made heavy work of attempting landfall, and one struggled to reach the outermost rocks of the Brigg, pitching down as the waves and foam encroached ever closer. Somehow, however, after an arduous 45 minutes just about avoiding the drink, it summoned enough energy to head inland over the bay and town.

Spot the exhausted owl....
 
....so exhausted as to not give a flying one about foam
 
Twite, Snow Buntings and Rock Pipits braved the conditions and buzzed around the hide, while a quick check of the Top Scrub on the way back - trees bending, wind howling and apparently birdless - revealed a cracking Long-eared Owl at close quarters; a long overdue patch first to round off an excellent day.