Thursday, September 3, 2015

Filey, 16th - 31st August 2015

The first of a fine selection of Wrynecks during the last half of August, this bird showing beautifully on Carr Naze
With a productive first fortnight of the month culminating in an early and unexpected rarity (in the shape of the Carr Naze Greenish on 14th), any early autumn pressure was already alleviated heading into the second half of August; if it turned out to be poor in the field, so be it - after already eclipsing the same month last year, anything else would be a bonus.

Pied Flycatcher - a pleasingly numerous and iconic fixture of several falls during the period
The 15th provided two Little Terns north past the Brigg and an exceptionally early Fieldfare feasting on berries in Parish Wood, but the beginning of the month's second half was otherwise fairly quiet (but for a nice selection of common waders at the Dams and East Lea, including a Wood Sand and plenty of Ruff). With a pleasingly messy chart overnight on the 18th, however (bringing variable winds, drizzle and fog), Carr Naze was surely worth a shot for the possibility of grounded migrants first thing.

Marsh Harrier - an increasingly regular sight in early autumn
Comrade Dan thought likewise, already kicking a Wryneck out of the grass by the time I'd arrived (which soon disintegrated), but Willow Warblers, a Whinchat, and a distinctly knackered Spot Fly on the clifftop in the drizzle all bode well. We were soon joined by George, who mentioned he was hoping for his first decent view of a Wryneck - prompting a swift re-materialisation as the bird nonchalantly began hopping around on the path in front of us in the steadily brightening morning light.

We weren't the only ones stalking migrants on Carr Naze
With the cloud breaking up and temperatures rising, we headed the short distance to the sheltered, sun-trapping northern side of Top Scrub in the hope of more new arrivals; having barely had chance to hop the gate, we clocked on to a single bird heading close past us and over towards the north cliff - Wryneck #2. Two Wrynecks would of course have done just fine at that point, but the possibility of more classic early autumn scarcities was very much on the cards; with this in mind, we were soon scanning a small cast of warblers and flycatchers enjoying the profusion of insects on offer - one of which, conveniently sitting out on an exposed branch against the now clear sky - soon turned into a cracking Icterine Warbler; our first of the year of a (just about) annual continental drift migrant, and the third scarcity of the morning safely in the bag.

Icterine #1 (Top Scrub, 18th)
Incredulity gave way to barely stifled laughter when a bird emerged from the scrub soon after, sat calmly atop a pine, and turned out to be Wryneck #3. After enjoying our spoils in the warm sunshine, we decided to head a little further along towards the corner of Long Lane, where another small handful of insectivores were active. Half-absently firing the camera at a warbler and glancing at the image on the screen, it was with an almost ungratefully over-casual tone that I found myself mentioning "another Icterine" feeding in front of us.... five scarcities in a couple of hundred metres? Sometimes it really does all come together.

Wryneck #3 (Top Scrub, 18th)
The following day saw far fewer thrills on the land, but a trio of hard-to-get local scarcities maintained my lucky streak - two Spotted Redshanks over the Brigg, a Black Tern off it, and a Yellow-legged Gull on the beach; the presence of up to three Wrynecks in the magic bush, meanwhile - even assuming two of which were ours - added at least one more to the running total. A pleasantly mixed bag of species over the next couple of days included a Little Stint (south past the hide with a Dunlin and a Grey Plover, no less - not a sight I expect to see very often), a Red-necked Grebe, several Sooty Shearwaters and Little Gulls at sea, and a few Pied Flys among commoner migrants in the bushes.

Icterine #2 (Top Scrub, 18th)
So far so good, but with the wind again swinging into the east, there was no time for laurel-resting, and by close of play on 23rd, the cloud had thickened, the wind strengthened and the birds again began to arrive. A last-ditch session on Carr Naze in fading light revealed five fresh-in Whinchats, eight Pied Flys, eight Willow Warblers, seven Pintails low overhead, and best of all, another Wryneck bolting swiftly inland before night fell.

Temminck's Stint, East Lea, 18th
Suffice to say, it wasn't a problem making it into the field for dawn on 24th, and the team - now including Nick, awol from the Gap - duly spread out, covering several areas along the coastal strip over the course of the day (a satisfying phrase to use, for the first but hopefully not last time). It soon became clear that a serious fall of continental migrants had taken place overnight, and as the day wore on, it was obvious that birds were still arriving in waves.

What better way to end a hard day's birding (24th) than watching a Wryneck dropping onto the clifftop in front of you....
To cut a long story short, it was a memorable day of both quantity and quality, of multitudinous common migrants and a fine cast of scarcities, and a day of shared spoils; between us, we'd uncovered one, probably two Icterine Warblers at Gristhorpe Bay (Nick), a Red-backed Shrike and a Wryneck at the Tip (Dan), and for me, a Wood Warbler, a Wryneck and an Icterine Warbler in the Carr Naze / Country Park area. Six scarcities on another cracking August day here on the patch, and that's before the other passerines....

Red-veined Darter, Long Hedge - Filey has been easily the best place in northern England for this migratory species in 2015
The undisputed stars of which were Pied Flycatchers, clocking in at a minimum of 62 for the day (of which I was fortunate to see at least 45); their characteristic wing-flicking and bill-snapping was the defining feature of the day, and new birds were arriving throughout. Slightly more numerous still were Willow Warblers (at least 75), with minimum tallies of at least 15 Garden Warblers, 12 Whinchats, 12 Wheatears, 11 Redstarts, nine Spotted Flycatchers, three Lesser Whitethroats, eight Common Whitethroats, three Reed Warblers, two Tree Pipits and a Fieldfare, plus two Marsh Harriers and two Short-eared Owls and a long list of waders on the move - the best of which was a wholly unexpected (less than annual, and far rarer in autumn), elusive and educational Temminck's Stint at the far end of East Lea later in the day.

The next few days were somewhat quieter, but still provided small numbers of migrants, and the cast of waders at the Dams / East Lea continued to grow and evolve; the pick of the bunch were a further two Wood Sandpipers, but a good year for this species soon got better, however, when peaks of four together later in the month took the overall tally into double figures. Otherwise, Greenshanks and Green and Common Sandpipers were omnipresent, Blackwits regular and Ruff numerous among other species.

As the winds became fixed in the west towards the month's end, the dust was allowed to temporarily settle on what was unequivocally a quality August here in Filey; and with the forecast showing a northerly airstream for the beginning of September, it was time to look out to sea.....