Champions of the Flyway!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Filey, 21st - 27th September 2012

After famine, a feast of sorts. Something had to give, and as of this last week, the gloves came off in anger; seemingly endless low pressure systems finally gave way to an encouragingly messy chart. Initially that involved an encouragingly blustery northerly, and so the sea took priority on the 21st for a few hours from first light, with big counts of Manxies, Red-throated Divers and the two commoner Skuas, as well as a Great Northern Diver.

The 22nd continued in the same vain, with a moderate northerly producing a Pomarine Skua, five Sooty Shearwaters, and a good selection of wildfowl, including double figures of Pintail and pale-bellied Brents, Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Scoters in the hundreds. An entertaining morning seawatch, but finally the land justified some attention, and so into the Top Scrub.


With an hour or so to kill in the field and news of a Yellow-browed Warbler at the Tip, I camped out in a favoured sunny, sheltered corner and waited. Within thirty minutes, I was rewarded with both an Icterine Warbler (yep, another) eventually revealing itself in deep cover and then, flitting through the canopy of the sycamores, my first Yellow-brow of the season. A wonderful morning's birding, and a very welcome shot in the arm.

In contrast, a long session in the field from first light on the 23rd was promising but quiet, the lack of any cloud cover or precipitation no doubt preventing much action despite an easterly wind. By nightfall however, the wind had strengthened and the rain was pummeling down, and the 24th was another day.

Pied Flycatcher

The rain finally eased by around midday, and birds were obviously arriving in the misty drizzle, including   Bramblings, Siskins, Wheatears, Song Thrushes and Redstarts; but the worsening weather made observing nigh on impossible, and an ultimately prizeless several hours  - coming within a whisker of nailing what was surely a ........  - was excruciating, to say the least. A story for another time.

But then, there's always tomorrow, and tomorrow - the 25th - was an absolute blinder. The kind of day that amply justifies crawling out of bed before dawn on a cold and rainy morning, and the kind of day that provides the slow-burning fuel through the lean periods.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

The first couple of hours were encouraging, but hard work, as the rain again worsened and drove us into the cafe to sit out the worst. By 0930ish however, the torrent had reverted to light-ish rain, and we split up across the northern area. My choice of walking slowly north up Long Lane - an avenue of sycamores and hawthorn, joining into the Top Scrub at its conclusion - was a very good one.

Within the first few metres, I stood stock still as a wave of passerines flooded past - Redstarts, Robins, Blackcaps, and finches - topped off by a Barred Warbler, briefly appearing at very close range before spiriting away with its kin.


A few minutes later and the view opened out onto Short Hedge, instantly buzzing with activity; a flurry of migrants braving the conditions, including Redstarts, warblers, finches and more besides. And then, a heartbeat-skipping sprite materialised, flitting between the umbellifers and hawthorns within the feeding party; a bright, double-winged barred phyllosc of the Greenish kind.

After hastily summoning a couple of nearby birders, the bird showed again briefly, called several times and moved closer; at which point, the bird was disturbed (of which the less said here the better). Suffice to say, it looked like we may well have lost our chance at a conclusive identification, and there was every chance that a potential killer had got away, for the second time in 48 hours.

Tree Pipit

Retreating to the flat through heavy rain for a brief lunch break, the rain again appeared to be easing shortly afterwards; hence, back on with the waterproofs, and back onto Long Lane. Birds were evidently arriving all the time, and approaching the junction with Short Hedge once again, the show was back on.

Redstarts, Siskins, Bramblings, pipits, wagtails, a few common Sylvias and Phylloscs, a couple of Pied Flycatchers and various other species were busy feeding along the hedgeline, and within a couple of minutes, a pristeen Red-breasted Flycatcher alighted, tail-cocking and wing-flicking, in plain view in the nearest hawthorn. Already soaked but resolutely going nowhere (obviously), I'd barely exhaled before a Wryneck flew along the hedge and dropped onto the track, again in plain view. A scene to savour over and over again.

The Greenish in the hand

An hour or so later, still raining hard and still surrounded by birds (including a Merlin along the cliff top), I stepped into the stubble field at the top of Long Lane, crouched down to watch a movement nearby, and found myself face to face with, thank the gods, the Greenish Warbler, actively feeding and temporarily tolerant of my presence. A few minutes of unbeatable views and pretty decent record shots later, and I again put the news out.

Another RB Fly later (by the Top Scrub pond, presumably yesterday's bird), and again I bumped into the Greenish, this time on call, within nearby conifers allowing several others to catch up with it this time at least. 

By 1500, the rain had again become torrential and had set in; grudgingly, it was game over for the day, and time to start researching the finer characteristics of Greenish-type subspecies. The minutiae of which deserves a seperate post anon, but the upshot is, our bird failed to fit neatly into any subspecific bracket, showing atypical characteristics for each; still, a Greenish is a Greenish, and that'll do just fine.

juvenile Goldfinch

The 26th encouraged ten hours pretty much straight in the field across the recording area, with light to moderate winds (swinging from SE to N steadily through the day), bright spells, some cloud and the threat of (but sadly no actual) showers, skirting either side of us.

Which was more than likely a big reason why it just didn't happen; odd new birds here and there, including a momentarily-promising Reed Warbler, fresh-in Whinchat and Redstarts on Carr Naze, odd new Pied Flys and plenty of overhead migration - but, aside from the now sociable Greenish Warbler (which was even good enough to jump into a net just before the ringers packed up) and two remaining RB Flys, it was hard work.

 Redstart fresh-in on Carr Naze

As for the 27th, for once I'd prior commitments to keep, but still managed to steal an hour or so late morning. Light northerlies brought drizzle and then heavy rain, and heading for Church Ravine, expectations were not too high, with no reports from others in the field; but within a couple of minutes I'd connected with a Yellow-browed Warbler and two Firecrests, flitting through the foliage and regularly contact-calling. A fitting end to the kind of week that more than justifies living out here in the bleak, cultureless provinces .....

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Greenish grass of home

The crowning glory of a killer day in the field yesterday from first light (the 25th), I was lucky enough to find this Greenish Warbler, plus a Barred Warbler, a Red-breasted Flycatcher and a Wryneck, in a maelstrom of migrants all within the same thirty metres or so of cover here at Filey. Magical.

Much more to follow, but it's an interesting bird showing arguably atypical characteristics, as well as calling atypically on at least some occasions; after much researching and trawling, however, it doesn't fit neatly into any subspecific bracket. So as it stands, it's an odd Greenish, which'll do just nicely; where it's from, who knows, but it's very welcome here.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Birdwatch magazine article

No time for an outdoor update presently - what with easterlies, rain and the sky slowly coming light - but instead a shameless plug for the first of two articles I recently wrote for Birdwatch magazine, published in the September 2012 edition. Click the link below to view. Part two follows in this month's issue, out on Thursday...

 Birding Brits Abroad article - Birdwatch, September 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

East coast goodness

Find your own Yellow-brow (it's in there somewhere)......

22nd: A quick one, what with dawn approaching and opportunities to enjoy, but as of today, the drought is officially over. An entertaining few hours sea-watching from first light (Pom Skua, lots of ducks, Brents, a few Sootys and more besides) was followed by a two-hour window on terra firma, and at last, a promising break from the satanic south-westerlies.

A few minutes later and I got as far as the eastern end of the Top Scrub, where a mixture of shrubs and a strip of successional woodland herald the first cover for migrants after clearing the North Sea. Clear blue skies and light to moderate northerlies, while hardly the perfect storm, at least encouraged more scrutiny, and a sheltered sunny corner seemed like the perfect place to hang around for a while.

A few Goldcrests, Chiffys, Blackcaps, Coal Tits and Lesser Whitethroats later, and bingo, a Hippolais warbler darted into the undergrowth. Some minutes later, and better views revealed - here it comes - yet another Icterine Warbler. If I've a totem bird for 2012, it's an easy call.

With word of a Yellow-browed fresh-in a kilometre or so west at the Tip, phones bleeping and radios crackling (yep, it's an autumn weekend), I decided to dig in for a little while and see what happened. A few minutes later, and there in the crown of a sycamore (just a few metres above the Icterine's chosen bolt-hole), a Yellow-browed Warbler materialised. The sprite that never dulls, the harbinger of possibilities, and a little beauty at anytime, anyplace.

Bar-tailed Godwit on the Country Park

An east coast bird observatory in late September with impending easterly winds and rain forecast? There are worse places to wake up.

Pied Fly in the canopy of Church Ravine

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Filey, 15th - 20th September 2012

It's tempting to call this bulletin the calm before the storm, but fate may be equally tempted, and after such a taxing September so far, that surely wouldn't do. But, after what seems like about four years of perpetual south-westerlies, tomorrow signals the beginning of a change, due to last several days (even theoretically, tantalisingly, involving easterlies and rain by Sunday). Parallels with a five-year old on Christmas Eve abound.

Kingfisher on the Brigg

Anyway, the last few days have been, well, not as bad as they could've been. Motivation doesn't come quite as easily when the aforementioned cursed SW's continue relentlessly, but at least at a place like this, there are choices. Hence, a seawatch on the early morning of the 17th promised little under clear blue skies, but provided two stunning Long-tailed Skuas, which ambled north together just a few minutes after I'd set up the scope.

Fresh-in Wheatears by the seawatching hide

The best spot for seawatching is at the base of the Brigg, either in the hide when the conditions dictate, or on the seat outside when possible. This spot provides a panoramic view not only of the sea but also of the Brigg itself, an aestheically magical, multi-layered rocky plateau which snakes out into the ocean, providing a perfect place to feed and rest for all manner of birds and beasts.

On top of the expected gulls, terns, waders and seals, the same seawatch also involved a cast on the rocks just a few metres away which included several Rock Pipits, Wheatears, and most entertainingly, a Kingfisher, alternately perched on boulders or hovering and diving into rock pools. Beautiful.

Pink-footed Geese heading south just after dawn

While hirundines, Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Siskins and other species have streamed overhead to varying degrees, migrant passerines have remained all but absent from the land, at least until the 19th, when Goldcrests numbered over twenty in the Top Scrub alone, with a single bird fresh in almost on the tip of Carr Naze; other signs of non-resident life included yet more Coal Tits (pretty much everywhere) and a small sprinkling of Sylvia warblers. Hardly impressive but a start at least.

The prettiest of Glaucous Gulls

Another essentially unpromising seawatch, this time from dawn on the 19th, provided a surprising and particularly crappy-looking third-winter type Glaucous Gull, a nice bonus on another sunny morning. The Dams, meanwhile, remains stubbornly quiet on the wader front, although wildfowl numbers and species are steadily increasing there.

So, hardly an unforgettable autumnal week here on the coast, but a few entertaining bits and pieces at least; and now, at last, it's all about the weather charts.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

An early Glaucous Gull

A three hour seawatch under clear blue skies first thing this morning was far from dull (especially given the continuing south-westerlies), the highlight being this third-winter type Glaucous Gull, in off the sea, onto the end of Carr Naze, and soon off to the north.

 An unexpected bonus, even if it did look as if it'd just been through about six hours on spin dry.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Filey, 7th - 14th September 2012

Pick up a Pec; win

Well, it had to get better, and it did. Returns this week have been much improved, which is hardlt saying much but is especially pleasing considering the unfavourable south-westerly airflow has remained stubbornly in place.

Turtle Dove, Dams

An early seawatch and a wander around the land on the 7th was unremarkable but for three fresh-in Wheatears on the Brigg end (see last post), but the hot, sunny and often blustery conditions encouraged some aerial movements on the 8th, with a couple of Common Buzzards, a Hobby chasing hirundines over the golf course and a Marsh Harrier lolloping in off the sea.

Several hours seawatching from first light on the 9th produced a varied selection of waders and wildfowl, the highlights being the first flock of Pink-footed Geese heading south, plenty of Bar-tailed Godwits, and another very accommodating Balearic Shearwater; over 4000 Gannets were on the move, most presumably from somewhat further north. With time to kill in the hot afternoon sun, I kicked back on the clifftop overlooking the bay and enjoyed multiple skeins of Pink-feet following the coast southwards, clocking 216 for the day.

Turnstone, Redshank & Dunlin on the Brigg

Back down for an early shift in the sea-watching hide on the 10th, with a roll call including 720 Teal, a good cast of other ducks, three Sootys and 30 Red-throated Divers during an entertaining five-hour shift.

The Dams - our local small but perfectly-formed wetland on the edge of town - has been notably quiet, with just a sprinkling of the commoner waders enjoying the fairly expansive but underpopulated mud since the water level was lowered a couple of months ago. But it's the kind of place that you write off at your peril, and that has an especially rapid turnover of birds during productive periods.

Purps on the Brigg

Hence, there are many worse ways to kill time than shack up in one of the hides, kick back and wait. Recent sessions have been unproductive, but something had to give sooner or later. Firstly, a couple of hours there on the morning of the 11th was rewarded with the increasingly rare, now barely annual sight of a Turtle Dove - the first (and likely last) of the year here, pottering around on the mud with Woodpigeons for a while before being spooked shortly before I had to leave late morning.


And then secondly, a sudden sprinkling of waders later in the day instantly produced a long-awaited rarer congener - a Pectoral Sandpiper, on the very same patch of mud, in the company a handful of Dunlins. The chances of my connecting were slim, but so be it; maybe if it was good enough to stick around, I'd be able to catch up with it at some point. Thankfully, that some point was the following evening, at dusk.

Monday, September 10, 2012

You Wheatears and then three come along at once

.... which is arguably the worst pun to darken this journal thus far, but is also somehow irrestible, so there it is. Three always beautiful, always spirit-lifting Wheatears appeared out of nowhere onto the rocks of the Brigg during a seawatch the other day, constituting just about the only passerine migrants to grace the area of late.

Hardly a rare occurence, but a reminder that there are pocket-sized, long-distance migrants out there, making their way to Africa as we speak, even though they may not be stopping off and tipping their hats to us here in Filey quite as often as we'd like at the second.

Not that all is lost, by any standards; multitudes of other migrants are gushing through, especially at sea; more of them soon. Still, a wind with any kind of eastern component would be more welcome than ever; any time in the next couple of weeks will be just fine.