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.