Champions of the Flyway!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hot Dams

Black-tailed Godwits - hard to beat

It's that time of year already (as if there was any intervening time to pause for breath this summer) - waders are flooding through, over both land and sea, and leaving the latter for another time soon, our modest but magnetic local freshwater reserve of Filey Dams has been the place to be over the last week.

Male Ruff 

Within that period, we've clocked an excellent thirteen wader species there, with each day (and sometimes each hour) bringing a changing of the guard. It all kicked off on the 24th, when an early morning session in the murk was looking quiet, until three Avocets, three Ruff and 56 Lapwing materialised from nowhere.

Wood Sandpiper

Since then, we've spent an unhealthy amount of time hogging the hides, often for several sessions a day, and it's been a joy. Ruffs have peaked at seven, Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers have all peaked at five (but with plenty more involved), Lapwing flocks have been almost omnipresent, with stunningly decked-out Black-tailed Godwits, increasing bands of Dunlins, plus Greenshanks Redshanks, Common Snipe, Whimbrel and Curlew all on the board.


Perhaps the best day so far was yesterday, when thunderstorms hit suddenly and hard, magically depositing a a multi-species flock - from Dunlins to Greenshanks - right in front of the hide. And it's only just begun.....


Male Ruff

A very nice view, incorporating Greenshanks, Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlins, Lapwings, Ruff....

Wood Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper

Friday, July 26, 2013

Filey, 1st - 25th July 2013

Avocets at the Dams, 24th

Leaving it this long since the last local round-up usually means there's been little of note to report, and the midsummer (or winter) doldrums have firmly taken hold. Not so this time, however; in fact quite the opposite - it's been such an entertaining few weeks, there's been plenty to post about outside of the chronological summaries and time has instead been dedicated to enjoying as many daylight outdoors as possible.

The start of July seems like a long, long time ago, but signalled the beginning of month two of our seasonal monitoring in the bay; beyond that, much spare time was often spent similarly looking out over the ocean (although usually on Carr Naze or the Brigg for more dedicated sea-watching). Throw in regular hits on The Dams and East Lea (our local wetland reserves), and the choices are enviable.

Arctic Skua, passing daily in modest numbers

The first week of the month saw good movements of Common Swifts (often in three figures), Curlews, and Sandwich Terns (and small numbers of Arctic and Common), and the odd Grey Heron in off the sea; in the bay, a sprinkle of non-breeders included Great Crested Grebes, Common Eiders, Red-throated Divers, and Common Scoters were beginning to move in their hundreds (with variable groups of a handful to a hundred also in the bay).

Adult Little Gull - always a joy on a seawatch

By the second week, subtly positive changes included a few more Manxies and Arctic Skuas coming through, the first Red-breasted Mergansers, Wigeon and decent Teal flocks on the move, Scoters consistently in three figures, Sandwich Terns numbers steadily increasing, and incoming Whimbrels starting to outnumber Curlews.

A small part of the 500+ strong scoter flock in the bay - spot the male Velvet (click to enlarge)

The first returning Sanderlings, Purple Sandpipers, Turnstone, Med Gull, Greenshank, and Little Egret stopped by, an early Sooty Shearwater cruised south and an unseasonal Red-backed Shrike at the Tip were all easily distraction enough, but the on the 9th, a single Minke Whale - at the time, exceptional - was the harbinger of an unforgettable fortnight to follow.

Some of the 56 Lapwings that dropped in to the Dams on 24th - spot the male Ruff

Which is something to be left for next time and deserving of more specific attentions, but lord, what a fortnight; more to follow on the subject soon (but plenty of photos here, here and here). By the third week, said cetacean-watching happily dominated daily proceedings but inevitably involved avian diversions; while watching multiple Minkes on the 18th for example, I'd single Little Tern and Little Gull north and a good cast of waders including summer-plumaged Knot and Black-tailed Godwits, while on the 22nd and 23rd, single Pomarine Skuas lolloped south beneath the vantage point.

A bit more Ruff, same time, same place

Little Gulls have graced several other days since, as have Crossbills, with several in off the sea and odd singles or couples knocking around on Carr Naze and elsewhere (sadly lacking nice stripey wings); most the action, however, has concerned waders. It's that time of year when possibilities increase with each day, and when the right conditions conspire, anything can happen.

Summer-plumage Knots heading south over Carr Naze

An early morning session at the Dams - quiet the evening before - in murky, drizzly, misty conditions on the 24th was excellent, with a trio of Avocets fresh in from the north, and then three Ruff (with no less than 56 Lapwings) suddenly dropping in out of the gloom. With five each of Green and Common Sandpiper also there, it was a timely reminder of the how enthralling a modest bit of mud can be at this time of year.

Sanderlings and Redshanks, ditto

At sea and on the Brigg it's mainly about the waders too, with shimmering flocks of Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, Whimbrel, Redshank and various other species heading south or stopping by. A fine few weeks, and it's all set to get better and better from here....

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The last of the whales

....for now at least, as other commitments take priority and sea / weather conditions deteriorate here at Filey (there are still odd Minkes out there, but optimum conditions have passed, at least for the time being). An amazing week or so, to be fully summarised here and elsewhere soon; for now though, photos from, and of, my preferred watchpoint on the end of Carr Naze on the Brigg. There were few places I'd rather have been.

A juvenile Minke in the bay (and our whale-watcher comrade Chris, from Leeds, on the right)

Looking east along the Brigg from the watchpoint

Looking out to sea (Scarborough and Long Nab in the distance)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Savour The Whale

Or, rather, whales, once again.... another unforgettable day here at Filey, the third in a row that's involved being in the company of multiple Minke Whales just beyond our particularly beautiful stretch of the North Yorkshire coast.

Events over these last few days have been remarkable, and it's hard to believe we're actually getting used to having whales knocking about right on our doorstep. A more detailed summary of our cetacean stars to follow soon, but for now, a few shots of a particularly accommodating individual from this afternoon.

Having disappeared underwater for a good while, the whale approached the feeding frenzy from below, and suddenly created a giant air pocket, disturbing the seabirds.....

....surfacing away from the air pocket (note the Gannets above right, only just avoiding becoming collateral)...

...... and taking them (and presumably its prey) entirely by surprise

More direct tactics were used at a slightly more distant feeding flock a few moments later....

......the straightforward lunge proving just as effective

Monday, July 15, 2013

Minke Magic

It's turning out to be quite a summer for whales here on the Yorkshire coast, and today's cetacean spectacle was one to remember for a long time. Sightings of one or two Minke Whales have been pleasingly regular over the last ten days or so, stretching back to the ones just off Whitby harbour we were lucky enough to have the company of on the 6th; since then, we've had singles off the Brigg here at Filey on most days since, and other watchpoints to the north of us have also registered odd sightings.

A couple of days ago, one was sadly found dead on the beach at South Bay, Scarborough, prompting fears that 'our' whale had tragically succumbed to entanglement in crab and lobster pot lines. Tragic indeed, but we'd a strong suspicion there were actually various individuals patrolling our stretch of the coast.

Come this morning, and with a calm North Sea bathed in warm sunshine, we watched, and steadily picked up whales in different directions and at different distances.... half an hour's co-ordinated effort by four of us, scanning together from the top of Carr Naze, produced a minimum of six Minkes simultaneously gracing Filey's inshore waters, and I don't think any of us would be too surprised if there turned out to be a dozen out there. Magical.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


After stopping over with the old man in Flamborough last night, an early morning walk to the beach at South Landing was on the cards, despite the thick fog that greeted us as we left the house. Hoping for a little wader action, heading down the slipway expectations were suitably lowered, with the tide at its highest and the lifeboat crew starting a practice session.

Surprisingly however, a small flock were busy feeding along the sandy strandline, and allowed fantastically close approach. Consisting of 20-odd Dunlins and four frankly gorgeous Sanderlings in various states of summer/winter moult, we camped out with them for a while before disturbance beckoned. They got used to our presence within a minute or so, and soon ignored us completely, coming so close as to render the 400 lens useless at times....

One of the birds (arguably the prettiest, in stunning full summer splendour) was colour-ringed and flagged, which will no doubt prove fascinating when I get the results - check back for updates....

Talking to Ian M about them a little while afterwards, he told me he's been checking South Landing almost daily of late and there have been precisely zero waders recorded, so we got lucky, even with (or perhaps because of) the fog. There followed an overflowing moth-trap to empty and a dramatic, nail-biting climax to the first Ashes test. Not a bad morning at all.