Champions of the Flyway!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Semiconverse Flycatcher - Filey, 28th April

Out since first thing under leaden skies and with a blustery north-easterly blowing, it looked like today's notebook entry for the morning circuit around the northern area would make for, well, very light reading; until this interesting little gem appeared that is, in the last few metres of habitat before the walk back through town.

A highlight in any circumstances (let alone with barely any other sign of migration evident), this stunning male 'Pied' Flycatcher was another timely reminder to keep the faith. Understandably elusive given the crappy conditions and often going awol for long periods, most locals nonetheless caught up with it subsequently as it kept its distance at the southern end of Parish Wood.

With just a couple of us left, it wasn't until the bird finally came low enough to briefly show its upperparts that alarm bells rang, however mutedly. While tracking the bird through the camera's viewfinder failed in getting a clear shot, it succeeded in revealing a surprisingly large, distinctly pale rump patch; in addition, from some angles a diffuse, encouragingly-shaped suggestion of a paler collar could be seen.

We continued to stay with the bird (at least, when it occasionally decided to show) in order to nail further plumage characteristics; possibilities were shuffled around and subdued hopes of something a little more special kept us on our toes (which were unseasonably cold by then).

Alas, most features fit with the initial ID, and the rump and collar problem, though intruiging, may remain just that; although if anyone who knows more wants to try and convince otherwise, I'd be more than happy to hear from them. It seems possible to us that the bird may harbour more than just hypoleuca genes, and thoughts are welcome.


Postscript - a few days on, the majority of opinions expressed from people better qualified than I go for hybrid Collared x Pied.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Filey, 22nd - 26th April 2012

Singing Willow Warbler

After spending the best part of a week back in London, tying up loose ends and seeing friends, we loaded our gear out of the storage unit, into a whale of a hire van and drove back, in apocalyptic conditions and via a gridlocked M1.... and thus our final physical ties were severed with our home city of many years, and Filey officially becomes the centre of the known universe.

Fly-by Whimbrel
22nd: A stroll around the Brigg and Carr Naze in the morning with our dear friend (and cupid) Eike under stormy skies provided a cracking male Ring Ouzel along the southern flank, a welcome first for the year and evidently fresh in between rain showers; an early afternoon wander around the south side (The Glen, Donkey Bridge, south cliff etc.) included a recon of Golf Course Pond; not exactly undisturbed, but still hosting a Common Sandpiper - one more wader than the Dams could manage, with zero wader habitat and very high water levels there presently.

Ring Ouzel on the clifftop at Long Lane
23rd: A second blessed day in the first month here, and a second jackpot from the short stretch of footpath along the north of the Tip - three Common Cranes approached noisily from the north, circling for several minutes and giving great views before slowly heading south. (More details here).

As well as the Cranes, a day total of 24 Chiffchaffs (as well as a sprinkling of Willow Warblers and Blackcaps), a pair of Grey Partridges (resident around the tip), a 190-strong Linnet flock, the Peregrines acrobatically pair-bonding and very close encounters with Roe Deer and a Fox in Parish Wood made for an entertaining morning in the northern area; a while at the Dams towards the end of the day produced 28 Swallows and a drake Mandarin (which had arrived earlier in the day).

singing male Blackcap (with bling), Church Ravine
24th: A bright and sunny morning after showers overnight, and a circuit incorporating Church Ravine, Long Lane, Carr Naze and the Top Scrub, was notable for more warblers (25 Chiffchaffs, six Willow Warblers and 14 Blackcaps) and two smart male Greenland Wheatears; but otherwise, it was a quiet one after yesterday's excitement.

Herring Gull (with aberrant wing pattern), the Dams

25th: The same route as yesterday (i.e. concentrating on the eastern half of the northern area) in cool, overcast conditions with a moderate ENE wind promised something, but in the end provided little in the way of new arrivals. A Whimbrel low and close up over the Top Scrub, and a male Yellow Wagtail knocking around the Dams, luminous in the afternoon's torrential rain, rescued a pretty hard-going and damp six-hours plus out on the patch.

Barn Owl  

26th: Overnight south-easterlies and overcast skies looked good, and with the wind dropping, milder air circulating and showers moving through, again the sense that something could happen was easily enough inspiration to start early and cover the whole northern area. Alaa, again it wasn't to be, and new arrivals were surprisingly scant, although a cracking chak-ak-aking Ring Ouzel fresh-in at the top of Long Lane made efforts worthwhile.

Chiffchaff, Church Ravine

A baywatch from the top of the Glen in the hope of tern movements in a dark and showery mid-afternoon produced no Sterna or Chlidonias, but two Velvet Scoters (the semi-resident pair), 12 Common Scoters, four Eiders, two Great Crested Grebes and a Brent Goose heading north.

 Wheatear, north cliff

And so month one enters its final few days. A curious few weeks, with migration being distinctly muted and stuttering thus far, even accounting for the time of year and where we are; the endless depressions which've dominated April's charts have evidently blocked the path of a great many migrants, and those that have made it so far have done so unassumingly, almost via the back door.


Still, finding a Great Grey Shrike and three Common Cranes is very satisfying way to get out of the blocks, and more than I'd bargained for this soon; if the spring ended now, I'd be more than happy with it, but I've a feeling there's more to savour just around the corner.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hear my Crane a-comin' - Filey, 23rd April

Back to Filey after the best part of a week in London (having now fully shipped out), today was the first day with serious time to kill on the patch, and the first in many with a relatively calm window of opportunity weather-wise. Relatively gentle north-easterlies and overcast skies promised something, but aside from good numbers of Phylloscs, the first hour or so was quiet – until a series of familiar deep, croaking sounds echoed from the west.

After a few seconds scanning, there they were - three magnificent Cranes, approaching from high (and quite distant – surprising how far their calls carried and/or how my ageing hearing is holding up...), making their way slowly down the coast.

Having found them at 1303 and put the news out (apparently pretty much everyone connected subsequently), I watched them for almost five minutes as they veered south, thermalled over the Dams and the west of town, and eventually moved on. By coincidence, I picked them up on the northern edge of the Old Tip, within fifty metres of where I found the Great Grey Shrike a couple of weeks back; surely time to pitch a tent there and make it permanent.....

Friday, April 20, 2012

Green Bee-eaters, Agonda beach


Omnipresent, tame and entertaining around the guest house and beach at Agonda. More from the home straight of the trip to follow.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Filey, 1st - 16th April 2012

male Bullfinch, Church Ravine

This being the first bulletin from a self-imposed exile here on the Yorkshire coast, with a feature-length episode to begin. Our new home of Filey is likely to dominate proceedings, and I'll be out birding here as often as physically possible (with quality birding starting within a couple of minutes of the door, an irresistable temptation). Flamborough will doubtless also feature regularly, being close to hand and regularly visited.

male Wheatear, Carr Naze

So we've been safely installed in our flat by the sea since the 1st, much of our time early on being consumed by domestic necessities (you should've seen the place before we attacked it). We are, however, almost done with the fundamentals now and there's increasing opportunities to steal out and hit the new patch in anger.

We picked up the keys on 27th March, the first birds viewed in the bay (excluding gulls) being a pair of Velvet Scoters bobbing around just off the end of the Glen (a few hundred metres south from our new place) as we licked our ice-creams in the unseasonably warm sunshine.

plague proportions

1st: The first evening's birding (which was cool, sunny and bright with a light NW) included nine Chiffchaffs (seven of which were in Church Ravine), a male Stonechat by the Yacht Club (seen regularly thereafter), four Eiders off the Brigg (a constant presence in single figures over the fortnight), the Velvet Scoters still off the Glen, and my first Sand Martin of the year coasting north.


Purple Sandpipers on the Brigg

2nd: Birding on the first morning as a legitimate Fileyite was too much to resist, and so I jumped out of bed (ok, floor - the bed hadn't arrived yet) at dawn and headed north again via Church Ravine and Arndale, and then along the beach to the Brigg. I had the wave-smashed shoreline along its southern flank to myself, and spent a long time enjoying the waders feeding at very close quarters - Turnstones, Oystercatchers, a couple of Curlews and the local stars of the show, 15 Purple Sandpipers. A joy.

The requisite cast of seabirds (Fulmars, Kittiwakes, auks, Shags, Gannets etc.) were in numerous attendance, while eight Chiffchaffs and a Bullfinch collecting nesting material in Arndale were modest passerine highlights. A couple of days of non-birding commitments followed (mainly involving paint and cleaning products), thankfully coinciding with consistently lousy weather from the north (and thus no birds to speak of).

5th: A long-awaited (or so it seemed) opportunity to do a full circuit of the local patch to the north – Church Ravine, Arndale, Carr Naze, North Cliff, and then the Old Tip and Parish Wood for the first time – was eagerly taken. A sunny, cold and clear morning after 48 hours of battering north-easterlies and rain looked a little more promising, but produced arguably just a single migrant - and the dream start.

Great Grey Shrike

6th: A southbound wander (the Glen, Donkey Bridge, the golf course and clifftop) mid-morning in overcast conditions and a moderate westerlies was quiet but for a House Martin north along the cliff (first of the year), four Siskins likewise and a handful of Common Scoters in the bay; the 7th was likewise fairly uneventful, with five Sandwich Terns in the bay (first of the year) being the highlight (and the Dams being even quieter).

female Bullfinch collecting nesting material in Arndale
8th: A good hammering of much of the northern recording area from shortly after dawn produced a little more action, in changeable conditions - showers, mist, occasional brightness and light westerlies. A Red-necked Grebe amongst 43 Shags out in the gloom preceded a damp and dishevelled Wheatear on Carr Naze (both personal firsts for the year), a few Redwings, Chiffys and Goldcrests were scattered, another Wheatear buzzed around the top fields, and the Shrike followed me around various hedgerows, further brightening the morning in the process.

Shore Larks on the top fields

9th: Another circuit of the northern patch from dawn (spot the developing theme), and then also the Dams, in damp and drizzly conditions with light to moderate south-westerlies. A few more signs of movement included two Pink-footed Geese and three singing Willow Warblers at the Dams (the latter firsts for the year), a scattering of thrushes (migrant Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Redwings and Fieldfares), Chiffys well distributed, and a Common Snipe at the Top Scrub pond.

But the day's highlights had been knocking around intermittently for a few days in an endless, undulating ploughed field by the Old Tip – a pair of elusive and very smart Shore Larks played nicely for a few minutes before melting back into the ether. The Shrike also saw fit to put in a brief farewell performance, making for a quietly quality couple of hours birding.

an unpopular Tawny Owl in the Glen

10th: A change of scene and straight to the Dams for a couple of hours of what ultimately became shivering masochism in the cold, blustery westerlies – single Swallow (first of the year), Sand Martin, and two House Martins gunning through were as good it got, all before 0700.

11th: A milder morning with lighter westerlies and increasing drizzle, and a trawl around the northern patch produced modestly positive returns – the best of which being a flock of 24 Pink-footed Geese across the bay, off the Brigg and then north, and a White Wagtail by Carr Naze pond; a Grey Heron in off and a flock of Jackdaws east and out of sight over the North Sea were timely reminders of migration in action.

Pink-feet heading north off the Brigg

12th: A first visit to East Lea (another quality habitat) before the Dams from just after dawn, and then a northern loop around the usual coastal spots, was again quiet; the prevailing low pressures and winds from the west and north evidently preventing much migratory flow during most of the month so far.

13th: A previous evening on the lash with house guests and a predictably late start meant minimal expectations of a lunchtime wander in sunny, clear and cool conditions – all the more enjoyable, then, to stumble upon seven Wheatears and two White Wagtails, as well as a summer plumage Dunlin, on Carr Naze. A late session at the Dams produced ten Swallows fresh in and a Kittiwake bathing amongst the larger gulls.

Dunlin, Carr Naze pond

Less to report on the 14th, despite best efforts around both the northern and southern patches in increasingly heavy rain and north-westerlies: a peak of 18 Common Scoters in the bay and Tawny Owl still roosting in a garden shrub in Church Ravine just about qualified as highlights.

16th: A forecast break in the generally lousy weather (set to continue for at least the rest of the week, apparently) was persuasive enough to hit the circuit, again from shortly after first light, and again for scant rewards. While taking great pleasure in making the most of my time in the field, it's fair to say that conditions, and migrants, have been less than inspiring thus far, and grinding out even the most expected arrivals has been a challenge.

White Wagtail, Carr Naze pond

That said, today like every other had its highlights. A thorough search of Church Ravine, Carr Naze, the Top Scrub, the Tip and the surrounding fields yielded precisely nothing of note, until a few Swallows and a solitary Wheatear saved the morning session on the northern limit of the recording area. With the skies brightening slightly and the wind still light (if from the north-west), setting up camp at the Dams for the early afternoon seemed like as gooder plan as any.

Kittiwake at the Dams

A steady trickle of hirundines, a Peregrine deftly dispatching a Woodpigeon and a briefly singing Blackcap looked to be the pick, until 1440ish – a long time coming (and the most likely to occur) perhaps, but a Common Buzzard happily justified the stake-out, thermalling high and west in a brief window of brightness; a first large raptor for the new patch.

Common Pochard (x something else)

A few days back in London beckon, to tie up loose ends and then haul our gear up here; beyond that, as much time in the field as possible.... fingers crossed conditions improve and the migrants arrive en masse before the month is out.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lucky Shrike - Filey, 5th April

“I am a messenger from the birding gods, and the message is: 'you have chosen wisely'” 

This lip-smackin', starting-pistol crackin' Great Grey Shrike made a pleasant morning's inaugural patch-working unforgettable, and provided a dream beginning for birding adventures in the new manor.

Rolling out of bed (our only piece of furniture thus far outside of the kitchen) at dawn this morning, I'd been looking forward to an early session after checking the forecast – cold, sunny and clear with relatively light winds, after 48 hours of bone-shaking north-easterlies and wintry showers.

Quite a contrast to the balmy beach weather of last week, and hardly full of promise, but at least hinting strongly at the possibility of migrant action. And so I headed north out of the flat with the sun rising over the bay, via Church Ravine, Arndale and onto Carr Naze, the plateau which crowns the Brigg.

Trying and failing for a maybe a Wheatear or a Black Redstart, I bumped into another local birder, shot the breeze for a while, exchanged numbers and then headed along the north cliff path. Breathtaking vistas of the coastline and its breeding seabirds were ample distraction, before heading south from the cliff edge towards The Old Tip.

"hmmm, tasty Reed Bunting" 

Having spent much of this first week here in Filey making our new place habitable, I've had a couple of recon wanders close to home, but this morning was the first chance to cover a more comprehensive loop route incorporating the Old Tip, a reclaimed area of rough grassland, low scrub and bordering hedgerows.

With my mind wandering to a conversation I'd had the day before (with Richard at Flamborough) about how I'd be more than happy nailing just a couple of scarcities in this first year here, I looked up to the vision of pristine butcherbird staring back at me from a budding hawthorn in the morning sunshine.


count the passerine mobsters 

After a few minutes of good views (albeit into the light), the shrike then gracefully plucked a large insect out of the sky and landed much closer, in perfect light, in the top of the hedge I was stood by. Over the next five minutes the bird gave me the best field views of Great Grey Shrike I've ever had – on my first proper circuit of the new patch. Priceless.


As yet entirely unconnected to the local grapevine, taking Colin's number on the Naze earlier turned out to be extremely timely, and within a few minutes of making the call various local birders had arrived and were enjoying the shrike – excluding a few singing chiffys (probably not fresh in), the only genuine migrant I'd seen all morning.