Champions of the Flyway!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Invasion of the Yellow-brows - Filey, 22nd - 27th Sep 2013

I was lucky enough to witness the final approach of this bird's North Sea crossing, descending onto Carr Naze and landing within a few metres of where I sat on the afternoon of the 27th. Magical. 
After a generally quiet first three weeks of September (at least where passerines are concerned), there was at last room for real anticipation going into the final quarter of the month. Nailing a Wryneck on the 21st as high pressure finally replaced the procession of lows was a timely shot in the arm, and with an interestingly messy, mainly easterly airflow over the coming days, the diary was duly cleared.

Lots of Roe Deer around at the moment, including inquisitive family groups 
The 22nd was effectively tropical (reaching the mid twenties), and birding was replaced by paddling in the shallows on the beach and troughing ice cream as the day wore on. The 23rd was just as balmy, with clear blue skies and hot sunshine, although a breeze swinging steadily round to the south-east by the afternoon inspired more rounds of the coastal area - happily resulting in a fresh-in Yellow-brow (as well as a few more Phylloscs and a Pied Fly) flicking up before me at the top of Long Lane.

The first of the week, appearing in warm sunshine at the top of Long Lane on the 23rd
The 24th looked better on paper - and the murk and drizzle felt promising - although the reality was somewhat more sobering, with very few new migrants around. Waders overhead in the mist included plenty of Snipe and a few Grey Plover, and odd Song Thrushes and a few Chiffys hinted at a little incoming action; but a close-up, confused and much-hassled Marsh Harrier touring the County Park was about as good as it got by the end of the day.

This unfortunate Marsh Harrier was mobbed by at least six other species as it toured the country park
The 25th, however, was something else entirely. Misty, mild and almost perfectly still, the morning had the air of something special, but a sound hammering of local sites was in reality pretty disappointing; a few Redwings, Siskins, redpolls, Chiffys, and more wader movements (including e.g. Bar-tailed Godwit, Golden Plovers and a lot of Dunlins) were the pick, while three Pink-feet at the Dams continued to put on a fine show alongside a few Ruff and more Snipe and Dunlin amongst others.

Three Pink-feet, happily taking no shit from the wader-repelling local Moorhens
With most of the day gone and having hammered the key spots, it was time to head back onto Carr Naze, the narrow plateau that crowns the Brigg itself, intercut with deep gulleys on either side and topped with the remnants of this summer's umbellifers and thistles. The morning forecast showed a weak front passing over on a strengthening NNE wind by mid afternoon, and I was banking on it being enough to bring in a few new arrivals.

With the mist thickening and the wind steadily building, I had the place to myself, and a scan of the sheltered shore along the southern flank revealed no fewer than four Red-necked Grebes (more than doubling the year's tally), two Red-breasted Mergansers, 20+ Red-throated Divers and large flocks of Teal and Wigeon - an excellent haul. A short clamber halfway down the slope to grill the magic bush (a lone, stunted hawthorn with a fine track record) revealed two fresh-in migrants - a very tired-looking Song Thrush, and happily, a sprightly Yellow-brow, flying west and inland after a couple of minutes getting its bearings. Game on.

One of four Red-necked Grebes in the bay on the 25th
More slope-clambering followed before making it back up onto the top - just as the first, tsiping squadron of incoming Song Thrushes parted only to avoid a head-on collision with their wide-eyed observer. The weather worsened, the wind blew and the heavy drizzle began, and for the next ninety minutes or so, it was the east coast - and Filey - at its most exhilarating.

One of many continental Song Thrushes dropping out of the sky and onto the seaweed-covered rocks on the Brigg
Stood at the very tip of Carr Naze, a movement in the grass beside me materialised into a sodden Yellow-brow; then, amazingly, another in the grass behind me, while flocks of Song Thrushes continued to arrive at head height. Next up, a couple of Redstarts battling the rain, and then a Lapland Bunting calling and coasting westward along the cliff below me; then, hopping along the path, yet another Yellow-brow. 

A Yellow-brow appears in the magic bush....
Siskins, Redwings, Chaffinches and Robins all added to the new arrivals, and then a Snow Bunting dropped in out of the mist and onto the cliff path ahead of me - revealing another Yellow-brow close-by. Four were now on show immediately around me, having just touched down from arduous North Sea crossings onto the tip of a peninsula without so much as a bush in sight.

..... soon followed by no fewer than.....
Birds continued to arrive, with Bramblings wheezing overhead, more Song Thrushes, Skylarks and Redstarts, and then a Jack Snipe flushed from a patch of long grass and weeds. For the next while, it was a case of lapping up the drama and trying to get onto each movement, with the Leicas constantly topping up with rainwater.

..... four more in the grass on the tip of Carr Naze
As the light faded it was time to reluctantly head home, but not before multiple Yellow-brows hopscotched through the vegetation and along the path ahead of me. How many overall it's impossible to say, but a final notebook entry of '5+' was very likely an underestimate; a wonderful couple of hours birding.

Brambling in Long Lane, 27th
The 26th dawned sunny and warm with a moderate easterly, and although migrants were predictably hard to come by, a good hammering of the local area produced at least six well scattered Yellow-brows (as well as over 300 Pink-feet on the move in several flocks); more were likely present in the recording area, but unfortunately some areas of suitable habitat had to go untried.

Red-throated Diver heading over the Country Park
Come yesterday (the 27th), and with high pressure, light south-easterlies and more early cloud than had been forecast, the usual circuit beckoned. No prizes for guessing the stars of the show once again - at least five Yellow-brows were scattered across Country Park / Top Scrub area, and an otherwise quiet combing of Carr Naze produced two birds while scrutinising the magic bush - a tame, disgruntled Redwing, and then, magically, a tiny shape descending from above and dropping into the grass not five metres away. A distinctly knackered, somewhat overwhelmed and incredibly tame Yellow-brow.

Pink-feet over the Rocket Pole Field
With at least one more in Reighton Woods (and with few other new arrivals to speak of, odd Pied Flys and Chiffys notwithstanding), it seemed like a good idea to whip round a few likely spots to potentially raise the bar further. Drawing a blank in Church Ravine was compensated for by a quick session at the Dams - newly-arrived waders including two Curlew Sandpipers and a Little Stint - followed by a bonus ball YBW in a sycamore on the adjoining housing estate.

A very knackered Redwing on the slopes of Carr Naze
To Parish Wood, where a little encouragement from a tsooeeting MP3 enticed another two out from within the dense foliage. An impressive ten for the day in our relatively small recording area was quite a result; who knows how many have graced us with their presence over recent days, but I've personally been lucky enough to bump into more than a dozen, and there's plenty of time still on the clock......

Frankly, a joy. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Filey, 1st - 21st September 2013

Wryneck, today

Which sounds like a dauntingly long period to summarise, but in reality there's much less to wrap up on account of time spent out of action and/or out of the area. The in-laws arrived from Massachusetts at the start of the month, and thus time was (happily) spent with them and the Mrs, locally for a few days, and then on a very lovely five-day road trip in Scotland and Northumberland. Hence, little to report for the first nine days, although a walk on the Brigg on the 3rd did produce a Clouded Yellow scaling the southern flank of Carr Naze.

Arriving back in Filey late evening of the 9th, I counted my blessings carefully; having prepared as best I could for being awol during a seemingly inevitable classic east-coast fall over the preceding days - the weather maps showing killer conditions and easterlies days in advance and right up until the night before, when it all suddenly, mercifully imploded - I returned home having missed almost nothing, and having enjoyed beautiful weather in the Highlands, East coast and national parks to the north of us. Off the hook and then some.

Spotted Redshank at the Dams, 16th - another addition to the patch list

With the winds in the north-west and picking up in strength, I couldn't resist an early seawatch the following morning (10th), which was peculiarly unproductive; aside from five Sootys, 16 Arctic Skuas, six Bonxies, Red-throated Divers into double figures and a few ducks moving, it was an unexpectedly quiet four hours. A yellow-and-green warbler which I picked up coming in low over the waves frustratingly evaded ID, despite appearing too large and chunky for a Willow/Chiff and landing close to the hide; two Wheatears were less of a challenge, as was a smart juvenile Red-necked Grebe close-in by the steps on Carr Naze, which bizarrely shadowed and appeared to beg from a male Eider, who was unsurprisingly having none of it.

Keeping the faith with the forecast, it was another five o'clock alarm call on the 11th, with the strong NW blowing and a dramatically rough sea smashing the Brigg and cliffs (not to mention a decidedly hair-raising journey down the end of Carr Naze to get to the hut, overnight rain having turned the cliff into a mudslide - one of many to follow in the coming months). But it was more than worth it.

Little Stint, Brigg, 13th

The first hour or so was quiet, but activity soon picked up, and before long it was game on. It's never easy to wax lyrical about memorable seawatches - by their very nature, you really have to be there - but in four hours (0630-1030) we'd clocked a Sabine's Gull, two Long-tailed Skuas, at least one smoky Blue Fulmar, two Velvet Scoters, 20 Sootys, good numbers of Manxies, Arctic Skuas and Bonxies, and ducks including e.g. Pintail, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and just shy of a hundred Common Scoters. Carefully ascending the greasy slope brought an unexpected reward in the form of a tame, freshly-arrived Snow Bunting. An excellent morning's birding.

The only bird of note to turn up while I was out of town was a Little Stint at the Dams, the first - and at that point, possibly last - of the year; although I was yet to see one locally, it was hardly a reason get the tissues out, and I figured I'd catch up with one at some time soon enough. Thankfully, however, it stuck around, allowing me to nail it in heavy rain that afternoon (and as it turned out, we were the last to see it, as it flew east with Dunlins before we left).

Four of twelve Grey Herons, having arrived from many miles out to sea....

The 12th looked somewhat less promising, with light south-westerlies, and so it came to pass - although an otherwise quiet seawatch was enlivened by a further two Red-necked Grebes, both heading north. A kick around the land produced little but for a couple of Crossbills overhead and a few hundred Meadow Pipits. The Dams continued to hold waders, with nine species present, as well as a moulting male Pintail within the Mallard flock.

Back down the slope for a seawatch from dawn on 13th, and although the wind had a little north in it, it failed to make much of an impact, and after a couple of hours I decided to head out onto the Brigg end to check through the large gulls and assembled waders. With the tide rapidly encroaching, I'd probably fifteen or twenty minutes at best, but after failing to find a Yellow-legged (or much-awaited Caspian) in the gull flock, an immediately interesting little wader scurried behind a rock amongst a scattering of Dunlins, Purple Sandpipers and Ringed Plovers.

.... and all twelve heading inland

Obviously a stint but not close enough to identify with confidence, it soon took flight with a small group of Dunlins - only to loop around me and land on the water's edge just a few metres from where I stood. After wasting time employing carefully-considered fieldcraft, I soon realised my efforts were pointless, walked straight up to it and crouched within two metres.

Clearly now a Little Stint (although more strongly-marked than the Dams individual), the bird barely registered my presence, alternately feeding, snoozing and resolutely refusing to get flustered. A wonderful experience, and quintessentially Filey; I know of nowhere else where one can enjoy shorebirds at point-blank range against such a dramatic and beautiful backdrop.

Three Ruff at the Dams

A weekend in Leeds playing a show and hooking up with old friends followed, and then back out at dawn on the 16th - down to six degrees celsius and with a brisk westerly blowing, expectations were again low, but with a nice expanse of exposed mud and an impressive September track record, at least the Dams might produce a quality drop-in. Not one, but two, in fact - both for barely a few minutes, both before 0730, and both hard-earned patch ticks - a vocal, nervy Spotted Redshank and Jack Snipe, each unimpressed with the local Sparrowhawk family and soon on their way.

Four fly-by Bar-tailed Godwits (much scarcer than recently omnipresent Blackwits), a couple of Ruff and several Buzzards rounded off a surprisingly productive early morning; sadly not replicated on the 17th and 18th, but the latter date did however provide the season's first skein of Pink-footed Geese heading high and south in clear blue skies.

Black-tailed Godwit...

Still the westerly / south-westerly airflow held sway, reducing options and anticipation to a minimum; hence, scant notebook entries continued on the 19th and 20th, with the latter date at least providing an impressive flock of twelve Grey Herons directly in off the sea before circling Carr Naze and heading over the bay.

A rare lie-in today (21st) - with westerlies persisting and a sunny morning becoming ever warmer - was long overdue, although with Yellow-brows and the like raining down on Shetland, a southbound wander with the Mrs along the clifftop seemed like a good idea. It being the weekend (and with the weather being so good), tourists are everywhere and visiting birders are scattered in the usual places; hence, scrutinising an under-watched and relatively undisturbed stretch of nearby coastal habitat while taking in the killer view became a solid plan A.

.... and once more with feeling

With a Yellow-brow freshly-arrived on Carr Naze, clearly there were choice incoming passerines that hadn't seen the weather map, provoking even more in-depths scans of the mixed scrub below us. A long-shot, perhaps, but a successful one - before long, about an eighth of a bird otherwise concealed within hawthorn slowly and graciously turned into a Wryneck. Bingo.

As with last year, the first three weeks of September have been pretty much a write-off for passerines (thank the gods for waders and seabirds); however, with just the slightest reshuffle of the weather chart, something finally gave today, and just maybe there's a more productive week ahead.....

Another shot of this afternoon's Wryneck

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The first wave

The last few days have unequivocally signalled the real beginning of the autumn, with that unmistakable feeling in the air; and while the weather charts remain stubbornly resistant to kicking open the doors to passerine migrants, Pink-footed Geese need no such help, and this flock of 116 heading high and south this morning were a wonderfully evocative curtain-raiser for the impending avian invasion from the soon-to-be-frozen north.

It's something we'd expect to be seeing more of over the coming weeks, but the first flock is always a thrill, and as symbolic of the season as the first tseeps of Redwings, themselves not far away now.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The journey home

A few shots from our wanderings on the way home along the north-east coast - the Swallows and Med Gull from Lindisfarne and the Goosanders from Eyemouth.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monarchs of the Glen

A very lovely family road trip to Scotland this last week was a huge pleasure, and while not at all bird/wildlife orientated, I took the camera anyway just in case. This large group of Red Deer appeared above us as we took a break in the Cairngorms on the way home, a suitably evocative spectacle in stunning surroundings.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A little stint with a Little Stint

A boring sea-watch this morning (unlike others of late - see next post for full details) inspired a brief jaunt out onto the brigg to scan through the assembled gulls and waders. Brief on account of a rapidly incoming tide, I came across this little beauty tottering around among wave-dodging Dunlins, Ringed Plovers, Purple Sandpipers and the like.

Initially some distance away, the small flock including the stint took flight, landed much closer, and allowed approach to within two or three metres - indeed, as with the Curlew Sandpiper on the brigg a couple of weeks ago, I had to back up considerably just to allow the camera to focus. The bird actually refused to flush, or indeed break a routine of nap-feed-nap, leaving me wondering if I should've patted it on the head before leaving. Absolutely magical.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Filey, 24th - 31st August 2013

Icterine Warbler, Top Scrub, 25th

With migration kicking in and prime conditions descending on the coast, it's been a week of relentless patch-hammering, interspersed with heavy doses of often idyllic sea-watching. The former has been undeniably disappointing, with scarcities raining down either side of us and yet a frustrating lack of quality here in the manor; the latter, however, has been a pleasure, with plenty of highlights and very worthwhile sessions down on the Brigg.

24th: Following overnight rain and north-easterlies, in the field pretty much dawn til dusk, despite (and because of) often thick fog and drizzle for much of the day. A decent selection of waders at the Dams first thing was followed by numerous circuits of the coastal zone; despite Redstart, Pied Fly, Tree Pipit, Willow Warblers, Wheatears and dozens of Painted Ladies on Carr Naze late morning, it never quite happened; but tomorrow surely had to provide.....

Pied Flycatcher, Carr Naze

25th: Onto Carr Naze for dawn after promising overnight conditions, and a small scattering of migrants hinted at a modest arrival; fine-tooth combings of here and all the local hotspots produced little more however, and so by mid-morning, the sea beckoned. With a brisk northerly blowing and the mist rolling back and forth, a stunning adult Long-tailed Skua, two smart Black Terns (a personal patch first) and a couple of Sootys refueled the tanks enough to justify the rest of the day again systematically digging for drift migrants.

A good scattering over the next few hours included twenty-odd Pied Flys, Whinchats into double figures, over thirty Willow Warblers, a few Garden Warblers, a juvenile Cuckoo, ten Lesser Whitethroats and more - all much appreciated and encouraging, but still no scarcity; time and mental energy were running down, and it seemed increasingly likely we'd miss out entirely this time round.

Curlew Sandpiper, Brigg

A little contemporary context: hard work at any time of year locally on account of both a lack of prime habitat and increasingly frustrating levels of disturbance, passerine hunting was further compounded over recent days by the masses invading for the (mainly warm and sunny) Bank Holiday weekend. This made for, well, interesting challenges to say the least - reflected neatly in the circumstances of finally finding a scarity in the shape of an Icterine a few hours later.

At that point (around 1800) I'd been in the field for twelve hours, by then engaged in a vaguely perverse battle to draw out the last few drops of almost-spent concentration and focus. Stood in the Top Scrub yet again beneath a dark, seemingly empty canopy, finally an encouragingly Hippolais-shaped movement shuffled forth against the light, mostly obscured by foliage; a challenge on its own, but with additional distractions within a few metres in the form of a sunburned beer monster belting out tone-deafeningly loud Elton John singalongs from his car stereo and thick black smoke billowing through the trees from one of many lighter fluid-flavoured barbeques, an altogether more demanding proposition. Ten minutes later and with further brief views obtained and a few record shots captured, I finally had it nailed, and against all odds, nobody had to die. This time at least.

Common Buzzard - one of at least eight on the 28th

Another full day in the field on the 26th was again disappointing, with a light sprinkling of common migrants but little else (although a Marsh Harrier over the Dams was a first of the season); a situation which looked like being repeated on the 27th, with slim pickings between dawn and mid afternoon. However, a distant Crane drifting high and south was a bonus (and the sixth of the year personally), and with other options exhausted, it was back to the sea.

Warm and sunny with barely any wind, conditions were hardly ideal for seabird passage; however, a brutish Pomarine Skua, a Balearic Shearwater (another personal first of the season), four Sootys and a pristine, supremely tame Curlew Sandpiper on the end of the Brigg made for a more than worthwhile four hours or so.

Willow Warbler, Carr Naze

By the 28th you'd have thought I'd have got the message, but with passerines still arriving along the coast I persisted with the land; a fruitless exercise but for another Marsh Harrier and a total of eight Buzzards through, and so once again, back onto the sea from mid p.m. onwards. Again, pure quality, in fact more so - a particularly beautiful adult Sabine's Gull, a summer-plumage Red-necked Grebe, no less than five Black Terns and a Velvet Scoter.

The last three days of the month were quiet but for a good selection of waders persisting at the Dams (including another Curlew Sandpiper, my fourth here this year), and with the in-laws over for the next while, transmissions will likely all but cease for a while.

"Are you ready, are you ready for love?"