Champions of the Flyway!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Flamborough Head - 24th - 30th December 2009

Back home for an extended festive break, and opportunities to get out onto the head on most days. Conditions were generally good, with plenty of bright spells, sharp frosts and lots of snow still lying from last week's heavy falls up here. Christmas morning was perfect for a clifftop walk between North Landing and the lighthouse, overlooking thousands of Guillemots on the ledges and sea and various winter species across the mixed farmland.

Cold-weather movements included thousands of Jackdaws and Woodpigeons, plenty of Lapwings and Golden Plovers, a trickle of winter thrushes and Starlings, and several hundred Skylarks in the fields - most of which were in the winter stubble between the marsh and Breil Nook.

Zig-zagging through the stubble, two Lapland Buntings rose with the larks, and at least five Twite were in with the Linnet flock (as well as several Reed and Corn Buntings). A little further along the clifftop and another much more accomodating group of (exclusively) Twite fed along the path, giving close views in the sunshine. A pair of Peregrines patrolled overhead, a Stonechat was in the bay and a few Red-throats moved south.

Boxing day morning began with a call from Rich, delivering news of a White Stork in the fields between Lighthouse Road and the Timoneer; sore-headedly stumbling out of bed and delivered to the spot a couple of minutes later, I watched the bird conveniently wander across a gap in the hedgerow with Phil. Initially assumed to be the same bird which was seen over preceding days in the north-east, photos showed our bird to be unringed, and therefore a different individual.

male Pheasant, and stork-shaped snowman

Ubiquitous but still awfully nice Tree Sparrows

A walk around South Landing, Beacon Hill and Hartendale on the morning of the 27th was pretty quiet, with the recent long-staying Water Pipit on the beach having apparently sodded off several days ago and not much time to check the woodland. However, a scan around the old fish ponds at the foot of Crofts Hill produced two pipits perched on the telegraph wires above the pools / marshy field....

Both commuted between the wires and the flooded field several times, and I fired off a series of shots of the nearer bird and noted various features before leaving in a rush and hoping the photos would solve the ID. (Comparisons with photos of the South Landing Water Pipit rule out the possibility of the same bird changing location.)

Habitat preference certainly favours Water Pipit (although Rock Pipits are occasionally seen away from the shores and clifftops here, and vice versa); as do various plumage features, including the overall ground colour of the underparts and upperparts, the supercilium, and most convincingly the extent and coloration of straw-yellow on the bill and the white outer-tail feathers (see photos). The consensus thus far is all in favour of Water Pipit, but it's an interesting bird showing features of both species.

The 28th saw a trip off the head and up the coast (see below); the 29th, and a morning walk in wintry conditions on the northern side of the head, from the village to Sixpenny Hill and along the cliff the Thornwick Bay - not a great deal unsurprisingly, but a close-up Woodcock at the reedbed, a Common Snipe on the clifftop and a distant, cardiac-arresting Tesco's carrier bag showing charcteristics of Snowy Owl perched on a rock in a ploughed field.

A full circuit of the head, from South Landing to North Landing, on the 30th was enormously enjoyable despite an almost total lack of birds - conditions had changed profoundly, and the Mrs and I enjoyed biting, storm-force easterlies, huge crashing waves, 'reverse snow' in the form of surf showers flying upwards from the coves and cliffs, and twenty or so unconcerned Eiders bobbing like lottery balls. Back to Hackney late eve, and out scouring local patches on New Year's Day - the highlight being our our long-staying Cetti's Warbler in nearby Clissold Park.

While it's breaking the habit and cross-pollenating between websites, it's also an excuse to upload a photo of this exceptionally accomodating and gorgeous little bird, which has taken up residence - on the edge of a duck pond, in a permanently over-disturbed urban park, in the middle of London - for almost ten weeks now. Plenty more photos on the Hackney site here.