Champions of the Flyway!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Little Auks vs Woodcocks

28th: Where else, after a short walk from your front door to the rocky shore, would you find both these iconic, evocatively wintry species just a few metres apart? After the land both enchanted and demoralised in roughly equal measures over recent weeks here in Filey, bar a late easterly surge in the next fortnight (which is looking sadly unlikely), it's all about the Brigg and Bay, and here was another reason why.

The Black Guillemot the previous day was an unexpected bonus, and with Little Auks on the move along the coast (including several dozen past the hide in the morning), an opportunity to spend a couple of hours on the Brigg was very welcome.

And happily, these high-Arctic, low-slung fraggles were skirting the shoreline and dropping onto the water's surface with comedic aplomb, just beyond the rocks; the very rocks which, after battling into the headwind and arriving low over the waves direct from the continent, this Woodcock dropped onto, a couple of metres in front of me.

.... which then (despite its surprisingly impressive pebble-shore camouflage) sneaked behind a pile of rocks, occasionally popping its head above the parapet and distracting me from a brief but quality seawatch (which included both Great Northern and Black-throated Divers). Class.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Black Guillemot, Filey - 27th Oct 2012

A satisfying personal first for the patch, after one - likely this bird - decided to spend an afternoon off the Brigg a few weeks back, while I was otherwise engaged in not-so-sunny Scarborough. Once again I was elsewhere, but thankfully this time the bird decided to stick around and wait for my return.

Feeding increasingly close inshore along the southern flank of the Brigg, we were able to gain great views of the bird as it worked its way along incoming tide. Never ideal for photography (with the sun directly behind), it entertained us for a good half an hour before we clambered back up the slope and into the blustery northerly.

Never an easy bird to see along the Yorkshire coast, it's the kind of species that may not reappear here for several years, and so after the frustrations of the previous week it was a welcome stroke of luck.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Filey, 19th - 26th October 2012

Short-eared Owl in off the sea

A later bulletin than intended, especially at such a time of year; but so it goes, and so a slightly more truncated update this time around. October hadn't been kind regarding encouraging conditions up until the beginning of its third week, when the charts held true and what looked like a near-perfect weather system developed.

Goldcrest, Carr Naze

Fast-forwarding to the 23rd, and there was high pressure over Scandinavia, a north-easterly airflow, and thick fog enveloping the coast - lacking only intermittent rainfall to complete the ideal scenerio, but still, very promising, and a thrilling day in the field ensued (see the last post here).

 Yellow-browed Warbler, Top Scrub

Come the 24th, and another wholly exhilarating dawn-til-dusk session, tracing and retracing throughout the northern area, in even thicker fog throughout; it's been many, many years since I've had the privilege of witnessing an arrival of thrushes to such a massive and constantly overwhelming degree. Numbers are practically meaningless, and we'll never know how many were involved, but many thousands is about as good as it gets.

Along with the multitudinal swarms of Fieldfares, Redwings and Blackbirds, Goldcrests were littered throughout the hedgerows, trees and within the weeds and grasses of Carr Naze, the first dry land on this side of the North Sea; otherwise, Robins were very numerous, and several dozen Brambling, small numbers of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Snipe, Redpolls, Mistle Thrushes and Ring Ouzels, a single Yellow-browed Warbler in Top Scrub, and hundreds of fresh-in Starlings and were also recorded. A brownish-grey Phyllosc hiding in the foggy Sycamores of Long Lane was momentarily pulse-quickening, but turned out be another late Willow Warbler; it'd be interesting to know exactly where from.

And then, finally, after several days of barely being able to see beyond one's hand, the fog lifted at around 1500hrs. It seemed impossible that there could be more thrushes than we'd imagined, but there were - many thousands more, carpeting every field, hedgerow, cliff slope and open ground in the area. A walk to the end of Carr Naze before darkness drew in produced a run of good birds - a Slavonian Grebe and a Little Auk off the Brigg, a Short-eared Owl in off the sea, and a Lapland Bunting buzzing overhead. An entertaining end to another wonderful day of migration.


The following day (25th), and hopes were still high, despite the best of the weather system fading; at least observing conditions were much improved, with light winds and good visibility. A majority of migrants had predictably shipped out, leaving just a few thousand (!) thrushes, but waves of all the key species continued to arrive, Ring Ouzels were easier to find amongst congeners (and numbered at least eight), and there was surely a sibe gem somewhere....

But, despite constant best efforts, and an aforementioned weather system to quit a job for, not a hint of a rarity, or even a scarcity; proof that even near-perfect conditions don't necessarily always deliver. Even a rapid response to a report of a brief Pallas's Warbler in Parish Wood resulted in the appearance of, guess what, another Yellow-brow.... not to disrespect such wonderful little birds, but quite how we managed to avoid the real prize that was surely lurking here during these three or four ultra-promising days is a mystery.

 Brambling, Top Scrub

So for some reason, it wasn't meant to be. Still, there are worse ways to run oneself into the ground, and October still had some juice left in the tank, especially out on the water.....

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Invasion of the Scandinavians

23rd: Thick fog, poor visibility, and an excellent autumn day on the patch. The weather charts for this week - beginning Monday (yesterday) and continuing through until Thursday or Friday - have been looking very good for some time, and against all expectations, they've remained just as encouraging right up to the wire.

Otherwise engaged for yesterday, it could have been much worse; although there was an impressive influx of commoner late autumn species, two Yellow-browed Warblers were the pick, and hence a relieved exhalation with everything to play for going into today and onwards.

Come this morning, into the pea-souper, and into multitudes of birds, fresh-in from over the North Sea and beyond. While observing was challenging to say the least, it was a day to appreciate and soak up the overall experience. Hard to do justice to, but it was one of those days where the natural phenomenom of migration not only played out but took over, and it was a privilege to be here to enjoy the show.

The hedgerows, scrub and secondary woodland were alive with birds - swarms of Goldcrests feeding relentlessly and delicately through the shrubs and trees, allowing ridiculously close approach as only they can; rowdy flocks of thrushes, raining from the skies and weighing down the hedgerows; Robins hopping out at every few paces; and Bramblings, Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs sprinkled throughout.

Goldcrests - hundreds graced us with their presence today

Meticulously sifting through the 'crests, although fruitless (so far) in the sense of finding a rarer gem, was a treat in itself; especially when it involved standing within the foliage, pishing gently, and being instantly surrounded by numerous doe eyes at point blank range, inquisitively staring back and wholly fearless.

Redwings and Fieldfares on the cliff edge

Onto Carr Naze, the grassy plateau crowning the Brigg, and into an almost otherworldy scene dominated by impenetrable fog, soundtracked by a combination of waves crashing from all points below and the constant wheezes, chacks and tseeps of myriad thrushes, funneling along the peninsula in squadrons hundreds strong, swirling in tandem with the fog and  descending onto all available dry land.

The best day so far this year for Robins, with dozens present across the coastal strip

Fieldfares and Redwings - comfortably four figures of each - dominated, with Blackbirds not far behind, and a healthy sprinkling of Robins, Goldcrests and Bramblings (plus odd chiffchaffs, Reed Buntings and Blackcaps), making a scene to savour, especially for the hour or more when, miraculously, I had the place to myself.

Fieldfare, Carr Naze - one of thousands today

Four Ring Ouzels and a couple of Mistle Thrushes made it a six-thrush day, but the rarity never materialised; which matter not a bit on a day with such pleasures. And there's always tomorrow, or Thursday....

Latest article published

Freshly published by The New Nature (the excellent new portal for writing about wild London)......

Mark James Pearson describes an epic, endlessly fascinating story that few of us are intimate with but is playing out around us, throughout the spring, autumn and beyond, day and night...  click here to read

Sunday, October 21, 2012

An odd warbler

Found by local birders Trevor and Julie in feeding in the trees along the seafront, this bird caused plenty of interest for a while on the evening of the 19th, especially on account of several apparently anomalous features.

These features included: seemingly (perhaps abnormally) long, bright orange bill, and orange legs; permanently drooped wings; often flicked and cocked tail (combined, giving a curiously chat-like impression); clumsy feeding actions (recalling e.g. Hippolais); and interesting plumage tones - dull olive-brown above, and dirty buff below, with clean white undertail coverts and (from certain angles) a yellowish wash to the face and belly.

However, most the above features, combined with the fact the bird held its bill permanently open and appeared bulky overall (on account of being 'fluffed up'), suggest it sadly wasn't in the rudest of health, despite feeding successfully; hence, the buck stops at an atypical Willow Warbler, with muted plumage tones (perhaps suggesting an eastern origin?). Interesting bird, mind....


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Filey, 12th - 18th October 2012

It was one of those weeks that felt like a month (on account of time and effort in the field), that was entertaining in patches (and provided a handful of scarcities along the way), and yet was ultimately frustrating, with near-misses and false starts the dominating themes. 

Yellow-browed Warbler, fresh in to the Top Scrub

At this time of year, it's all about expectations, especially here on the coast with a productive patch on the doorstep. Hence, with uninspiring conditions continuing throughout the previous week, expectations were suitably low, and the few highlights were thus small mercies to be grateful for. 

Ring Ouzel pursued by Magpie, Long Hedge 

However, all that was set to change as the 12th dawned, and we were in the field for first light, full of anticipation. The preceding evening produced strong south-easterlies and torrential rain, and while the weather chart wasn't a classic, it promised plenty – despite the fact that the wind had swung around to a tree-bending, flag-cracking westerly. 

Brambling on Carr Naze

With not a great deal to show for the first couple of hours efforts, migrants then counter-intuitively began to arrive en masse through the day, battling hard into the head wind; with comrades Paul and Dan, we covered the northern area multiple times, with military precision and hopes constantly high.....

.and for all the unfulfilled hopes of uncovering a gem, it was an entertaining day. Thrushes and finches arrived in squadrons throughout, some making it no further than the cliff sides or long grasses; Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Redwings were the most numerous, followed by Chaffinches, Goldcrests, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings, Siskins and small numbers of Bramblings, Yellowhammers and other passerines. 

Snow Bunting, Carr Naze

But with mouth-watering arrivals further up the coast, there's no denying the sense of what might have been – especially because of a tantalising near-miss that occupied and ultimately beat us for a good couple of hours on the blustery coastal path on the north cliff; sadly best left as a very promising unstreaked acro.

Working the grassland strip in a line, Paul flushed a plain-looking warbler, which flew low in front of us, ditching down a hundred metres or so away; flushed a second time, we pieced together a few more features, and had reason to get a little more excited; a third time, and it looked very, very good. Even allowing a few inconclusive but mouth-watering photos, the bird was in view for a few seconds, before bolting down the cliffside and deserting us for good. The one that got away, and then some.

Purple Sandpiper on the Brigg

The 13th, while lacking the promise of the previous day, at least allowed for easier observing conditions, with a much lighter (moderate) westerly blowing under clear skies. New arrivals were limited, until a cluster of migrants appeared out of nowhere in the north-west corner of the Top Scrub at around 1100 – most were Goldcrests, but travelling with them were a Red-breasted Flycatcher and not one but two Yellow-browed Warblers.

An unexpected pulse of action that was over in seconds; otherwise, the morning was mainly as you were, with good numbers of thrushes and finches, always welcome Lap and Snow Buntings, and a smart Great Northern Diver close in and north.

The 14th was mainly bright with a variable strength northerly, and relatively small numbers of new arrivals of species previously mentioned – often promising, especially with birds dropping onto the grassy slopes of Carr Naze regularly – but never quite hitting a higher gear. A similar story for both the 15th and 16th – many hours each day fine-tooth-combing the area, with limited rewards.

Those rewards did include another Yellow-browed Warbler (my sixth of the autumn here) in Long Lane on 15th, and a smart male Ring Ouzel in Long Hedge on 16th; perhaps most interesting was another teaser, towards the south of Long Lane on 15th. A Lesser Whitethroat, with pale lores, a brownish tone overall and extensive white in the outer-tail feathers intermittently appeared close by and looked a good candidate for an eastern race, but didn't fancy posing for photos or prolonged views. 

Sparrowhawk, Top Scrub

A similar theme for the 17th and 18th – diminishing returns in less promising conditions, although always with just enough encouragement to justify further multiple rounds of the hedges, copses, fields and clifftops. (And all these Jays straight from the continent are a blast).

So, on paper, far from dreadful – several Yellow-brows and another RB Fly to add to the self finds this autumn, some fine migration spectacles to enjoy, good company and, in patches, very entertaining birding. But, along with somehow conspiring to miss local scarcities including Marsh Tit, Black Guillemot and Little Auk by minutes over the last few days, and as I write (from the Scarborough hospital canteen) a Rosefinch in an area I've flogged endlessly all week (including this morning), it's a file-under-forgettable kind of week.

Next week? No expectations. At all.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hanging out (with) the bunting

Well, plural actually, with up to seven of Snow Buntings making the windswept clifftop of Carr Naze here in Filey a fine place to be at the moment. Wonderfully tame for those with patience, they've been a constant presence here for a week or so now, and hopefully they'll stick around longer.

More from a pretty full-on week in the field to follow in a day or two.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Filey, 5th - 11th October 2012


After a distinctly forgettable beginning to the month (no bad thing, being otherwise engaged for the most part), the 5th rolled around with no great expectations, but a full day in the field produced plenty of entertainment, especially for a clear day with increasing light winds. 

Goldcrests were liberally sprinkled throughout hedgerows, copses and scrub (with around 25 in total); migrant / dispersing Coal Tits and Reed Buntings remained onmipresent; redpoll, Brambling and Siskin were amongst the overhead migrants, while an impressive 24 Grey Partridges and at least 250 Skylarks occupied the top fields – a loose flock of the latter hosting the highlight of the morning, a smart male Snow Bunting.



The Dams was quiet, with the semi-resident Black-tailed Godwit and a few Redshanks the only occupants of the extensive mud, but an afternoon seawatch in light north-westerlies was surprisingly productive. A mixed feeding flock off the Brigg included Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns, a handful of Manxies (with another dozen or so heading north), several Little Gulls, and a pale morph Pomarine Skua for several minutes; a Barnacle Goose and a further four Snow Buntings, in off and onto the cliff slope above the watchpoint, rounded off an entertaining sunny day.

monster Bullfinch

High pressure, light winds and clear skies dominated the following few days, with a few skeins of Pink-feet the pick of a quiet period; thick fog preceded the sunshine on the 8th however, when what will hopefully turn out to be one of the month's highlights briefly graced the muddy fringes of the Dams main pool (more to follow....).

 Pink feet heading south over the Wolds

More of the same conditions for the 9th and 10th, although with the light wind swinging to the north, the former date saw distinctly continental immigration, with a total of eight Jays, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Lapland Bunting and two putative northern-type Bullfinches amongst the new arrivals. The latter date produced little, besides a distinctly welcome (and locally very rare) Dotterel in a clifftop field.

So, considering the conditions, not nearly as dull as it might have been, with some pleasant days in the field and good birding in the process. However, there's no escaping the reality that, as the peak period continues to ebb away with unfavourable conditions dominating, the autumn has indeed been relatively muted thus far. 

But, there's still plenty of time left on the clock; more than half of October awaits, and as I write, a brisk east-south-easterly and accompanying cloud and rain have replaced the tranquility of the last ten days. Tomorrow? Pistols at dawn........

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Join the Dotterel

10th: Another sunny, crystal clear day, with very little action on the deck once again - apart from this very smart, solitary Dotterel, in the coastal fields by Newbiggin wood. Thanks to Syd et al for the heads-up.

If the forecasts are to be believed (....), conditions are set to change over the next couple of days; here's hoping there's plenty still left in what's been a rather muted autumn thus far.