Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Filey, 1st - 15th August 2015

Not exactly the best of photos, but it pretty much perfectly encapsulates why I love the magic of autumn patch birding - fog, easterlies and drizzle on an otherwise deserted Carr Naze, and a great bird fresh-in on the edge of the cliff (in this case, the UK's first Greenish Warbler of the season)
 
It's been a good month. In fact, the preceding couple of weeks were far from poor, with local scarcities including European Storm-petrel (my first in-the-field record here - on a northerly blow on 27th), a handful of Poms, a Little Tern, a couple of juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls and a gorgeous adult Long-tailed Skua on the last day of July among others. So after giving my notebooks, this site and the Filey Bird Obs latest sightings archive the once-over for research purposes, I headed into the new month with a suitably seasoned perspective on upcoming possibilities.

Taken in the same spot on a somewhat sunnier day - buzzed by a Bonxie while seawatching from the top
 
Those resources serve to temper as well as inspire, of course, and while there were many highlights from the previous three Augusts on the land and over the sea, they also illuminate less rose-tinted realities; like, for example, how - despite more efforts than I care to recall - the same month last year failed to produce a single passerine scarcity (thank the gods for sea-watching). Better luck this year?

A seawatch bonus ball and patch gold - a Kingfisher heads north past the hide
 
The first couple of days were quiet, but the 3rd saw wader traffic increasing significantly, the best of which were two Spotted Redshanks over the Brigg, plus an adult Roseate Tern and another Yellow-legged Gull south (all less than annual, and therefore year-list gold dust); a Little Stint at the Dams at dusk rounded off a very productive day, followed a couple of days later by a sunny seawatch on 7th, providing both a Kingfisher (just about annual) and three more Pomarine Skuas.

The unforgettable sight of at least 2,700 Gannets engaging in a constantly morphing, action-packed feeding frenzy close inshore
 
A hugely enjoyable and successful Filey Wildlife Weekend followed (see here, and thanks to all who helped and attended), heralding a period of warm and calm conditions. Perfect for encouraging bait-balls offshore, which in turn encouraged breath-taking exhibitions from thousands-strong maelstroms of marauding Gannets, and up to three Minke Whales (and 16 Harbour Porpoise) on the hot and sunny evening of 12th. Thrown in an early Red-necked Grebe and a couple more Poms courtesy of the sea, and the first half of August was shaping up pretty well.

A somewhat non-plussed juvenile Swallow
 
Looking at the weather forecast for the morning of 14th was tantalising; one the one hand, with high pressure building over Scandinavia, a north-easterly airflow across the North Sea and (crucially) misty, murky conditions overnight and into the day here on the coast - all the composite pieces for an early taste of continental drift migration. On the other hand, it's rarely quite so simple: mid-August is indeed early for passerine scarcities, especially for Filey (although I've had Icterine Warbler on the same date a couple of years ago), and no matter how perfect the conditions may seem, they by no means necessarily deliver (see above).

Juvenile Skylark on Carr Naze 
 
Still, I hardly needed my arm twisting, and after a disappointing couple of hours sea-watching from dawn, I reached the top of the slope at the end of Carr Naze; pausing for breath in fine drizzle and mist, I looked up to see a Whinchat alighting on hogweed close by - the first of the autumn, and an encouraging sign. A few more paces, and glancing back across the same stand of clifftop umbellifers, a Phyllosc flicked up briefly before soon evaporating - strong supercilium, green(ish) above and clean underneath, and a maybe a hint of a wing-bar? Game on....

Greenshank at the Dams
 
Inevitable drama ensued when the bird disappeared over the cliff-edge, with no hint of the direction it may have taken; but to cut a long story short, good fortune was on my side this time, and after some nervous rounds of cat-and-mouse, everything fell into place: flitting from one side of the peninsula to the other was indeed a pristine Greenish Warbler, only the second here in a decade (after I was lucky enough to find the last, three years back), good enough to call and even stick around long enough for friends to enjoy. Quite an end to the first half of the month, and a perfect omen for the coming weeks.....