Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Filey, 1st - 15th September 2015

Male Common Redstart, having just dropped in alongside us on the clifftop
Swings and roundabouts. After a cracking August on the patch, the first half of September was more miss than hit, and more what might have been than what actually transpired; still, some decent birds and birding nevertheless, and just one of those promising but ultimately underwhelming periods that inevitably occur from time to time in the midst of a migration season.

Grey-headed Wagtail, East Lea
For the first week or so, it was all about the sea, with a north-westerly and latterly northerly airflow dominating. A Balearic and five Sooty Shearwaters on the first morning of the month bode well, and a satisfying six hours the following day produced a Long-tailed Skua, another Balearic Shearwater, seven Sootys and 25 Arctic Skuas. The forecast for 3rd looked better still, and with a monster swell at Brigg level effectively obscuring most of the avian action but, fortunately, the wind speed and direction allowing observations from halfway up the slope without the risk of perishing (a rare combination), treats included a pristine adult Long-tailed Skua, a summer-plumage Black-throated Diver, an adult Pomarine Skua and another Balearic Shearwater.

Heavily cropped (!) Sparrowhawk at the Dams
Come 4th and, with the northerly picking up speed and limited time on the clock, we nailed two Long-tailed Skuas and ten Sootys first thing before prior arrangements had to be fulfilled. On the one hand, having to leave the patch with the perfect sea-watching conditions about to kick in was a nightmare scenario; on the other, at least it was Spurn we were headed for, where we were to represent Filey Obs and Yorkshire Coast Nature at the third annual Migration Festival. Long story short, the planned sea-watching on Saturday morning there was unfortunately a write-off (howling storms, leaking tent, no sleep etc.) and so, with a fine list of storm-blown treasures tantalisingly coming through from just a couple of miles away, I expected the worst from back on the patch.

Redstart at the Tip
As it turned out, I somehow got away with it, apparently missing only a few more Balearics and Sootys passing the Brigg; but I couldn't help thinking that if I'd have been back in the hide, I'd have scored substantially higher, bedding in and staying there all day. Still, thankfully I'll never know, and the blow was more than softened by a Migfest that was a huge pleasure to be part of - more of that to follow. Back in Filey for late Sunday afternoon, we even managed to twitch a brief Curlew Sandpiper at East Lea before collapsing soon after.

Bar-tailed Godwit on the Brigg
Back down the slope and in the hut for dawn on 7th, and a moderate NW at least provided some solace in the shape of a Long-tailed Skua, a Balearic Shearwater (spot the developing theme?) and a satisfying haul of 44 Sooty Shearwaters. Another Balearic first thing on 8th (plus a Velvet Scoter in the bay) preceded a shift of balance from the sea to the land, with a south-easterly airflow due to take over.

Initially calm and clear conditions predictably provided little on 10th aside from the odd Whinchat and a male Redstart (which dropped in right alongside us as we picked brambles on the clifftop), but with the easterlies due to hold, it was surely worth forensically scouring the area over the coming few days...

Teal over the Brigg
Which naturally we did, with somewhat mixed results. With Yellow-brows very much on the hit list (and the first exceptionally early wave arriving on the coast) as well as other scarcities, I spent more time (fruitlessly) staring up into canopy than was probably healthy, but as it turned out, a far less expected (and much rarer) passerine was there to be found. A brief drop-in at East Lea - venue of my Flava-full escapades in the spring - produced a distinctly cold and interesting-looking Yellow Wagtail among a small group of albas, clearly warranting a little more scrutiny.

Some creative fieldcraft, a reel of photos and typically educational input from a certain Mr Garner of Flamborough later and happily we'd the year's second Grey-headed Wagtail - a rare county bird (averaging just a couple per annum) and a quality scarcity to reward a long day's efforts. A little more sobering, however, were the following few days, which - despite the right winds, rain and weather fronts - stubbornly resisted conjouring either quality or quantity, and provided a timely lesson in how no matter how good the theory is, practice is something else entirely.

A Sooty Shearwater heading south this morning...
There were bits and pieces - Tree Pipit, Redstart and two Whinchats together on a metre of fenceline at the Tip on the eve of 11th, two Kingfishers on the Brigg on 12th, the autumn's first Snow Bunting in off on 13th, among others - but it was left to the sea to round off the fortnight on a higher note, and this morning's (15th) four hour stint in the hide was unexpectedly entertaining.

...and a Balearic doing likewise
A moderate southerly hardly inspired much expectation, but by late morning I'd been treated to a juvenile Long-tailed Skua and a Balearic Shearwater (it's turning into a good autumn for both these species at Filey), plus eight Sooty Shearwaters, two Little Gulls, 14 Arctic and eight Great Skuas among a decent supporting cast. Not a classic first half of September, but not so bad either, especially when it's all within fifteen minutes of your house.