Champions of the Flyway!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Filey, 6th - 31st October 2013

Mealy Redpoll

So October 2013 finally idles to a halt, after plenty of highly enjoyable, always pleasurable and occasionally exceptional birding here in Filey. Another lengthy period to cover in a single bulletin, but with several of the more special days having already been amply covered of late, not quite the insurmountable task it may first appear to be.....


The first five days of the month, generally pretty subdued, were previously covered here; the 6th, however, was unexpectedly memorable for the impressive passage of 1,850 southbound Pink-footed Geese, which we enjoyed over a couple of warm and sunny mid-morning hours from the nearby clifftop. The 7th, 8th and 9th were equally mild, with winds remaining stubbornly in the west; hence, two Yellow-brows in Parish Wood and a Curlew Sand at the Dams were appreciated bonuses, and a Balearic Shearwater feeding offshore was as good as it got on the sea.


Which all changed dramatically on the 10th, with howling, gale-force northerlies, raging seas and torrential, squally showers all battering the Brigg hide, happily occupied for an extended seawatch through ubiquitous filters of foam and spray. Six entertaining hours - and two Leachs' Storm-petrels, 150 Sooty Shearwaters, five Pomarine Skuas, plenty of Manxies, Bonxies and ducks (including Velvet Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks) - later, and sadly the light began to fade and it was time to bail out.

One of many flocks of Bonxies during the northerlies....

But tomorrow is a new day, and the 11th was arguably even better; more howling northerlies and raging seas, but better light, and even better seawatching - including three Long-tailed Skuas, another Leach's, over 250 Sootys, two Balearic Shearwaters, over 150 Bonxies, and ten Blue Fulmars (including the darkest I've ever seen), amid plenty of quality back-up. Absolute bliss.

... and one of many hundreds of Sootys

With the winds veering gradually into the east, intermittent mist and drizzle arriving and seawatching quietening down, I turned my attentions to the land on the 12th and 13th. Constant arrivals of passerine migrants and a healthy changeover of birds meant there was plenty to entertain throughout, with highlights including a Woodlark calling and coasting at head-height along Carr Naze, a small arrival of Mealy Redpolls in Top Scrub, single Twite and Short-eared Owl in-off, and good numbers of common migrants including plenty of Bramblings, Redwings, Robins, Fieldfares, Goldcrests, Wrens and finches. All well and good, but surely there had to be something special hidden amongst the more expected fare?

Little Gull at the Dams

Come the 14th, and still the winds kept an easterly component, still the cloud banks came, and still the birds arrived; but still, the pursuit of more glittering prizes remained challenging, and a Red-breasted Flycatcher fresh-in on Long Lane (plus a couple of Ring Ouzels and Mealy Redpolls) was the best I could do. So it goes.

Whooper Swans

It may not have been quite so clear at the time, but something had to give, and on the 15th, it finally did. What looked like being another initially promising but ultimately anticlimactic morning session patrolling the coastal circuit was turned on its head with a single, isolated, indignant tac from the depths of a hawthorn hedge, and after a few silent and anxious minutes wait, I was up close and eye-to-eye with Filey's fifth-ever Dusky Warbler. Bingo.

you little beauty

Promising conditions continued on the 16th, but aside from a Merlin, more Ring Ouzels, Mealy Redpolls and plenty of common migrants, it was hard work; not that it mattered too much, with the previous day's reward still strongly resonating. The sunny and clear 17th, then, was to be a day reluctantly dominated by chores and errands, and I had to wait until mid-afternoon to hit the patch.....

you little beauty #2

.... and what a blinding couple of hours then unfolded. The trail of events is best absorbed here, but in brief, I was presented with an Eastern Lesser Whitethroat, a Siberian Chiffchaff, two Yellow-browed Warblers and (almost unbelievably) another Dusky Warbler, within barely an hour, and all scarcely ten minutes from my front door. Ultimately, it really is worth the effort.

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat

The latter part of the month has been steady without threatening to hit the same kind of higher gears - more new Yellow-brows, Snow Buntings, a couple of Merlins, more Mealy Redpolls, a few more Twite, superb close encounters with Whooper Swans, more Pink-feet on the move, a cracking Pallas's, and various others notwithstanding - and the dreaded south-westerlies continue to maintain a stranglehold for now. Still, if it's all over for autumn 2013, I can hardly complain. It's been a real blast.

Pallas's (ta Nick!)

One of many migrant Wrens during the easterlies - big, dark, leggy and long-billed.....

Thursday, October 24, 2013

There is a Swan sea

Like so many of late, it was another sublimely rewarding day to be out in my adopted manor here on the Yorkshire coast. Where other days have been about everything from sudden falls of landbirds, (luckily) finding rarities and scarcities, epic seabird movements over crashing waves and plenty more besides, today was all about sunshine, clear blue skies and classic late autumn star-turns.

One of the beneficial side-effects of starting again somewhere new, as we did here in Filey last spring, is the time it takes for the rule of diminishing returns to start taking its toll. Take Whooper Swans as a perfect example. I've seen plenty before in various locations, but they've somehow managed to avoid me so far here on the patch; until today, that is, when one circled the pool at the Dams just above me shortly after dawn. Another highlight worth the wait, and all the better for it.

A couple of hours later and Amity and I were perched on the very tip of Carr Naze, with clear blue North Sea below us. A Twite (rare here) and five Snow Buntings (always a joy) later, and a squadron of nine Whoopers approached from the north, high over the waves, heading straight for us. And that's exactly what they did - at eye level for the latter part, they came within naked-eye contact range, whooping gently to each other all the time, before hanging skillfully in a thermal just beside us, and eventually floating off over the bay.

Of course, they're easy to see with minimal effort, practically hand-fed at reserves with heated hides or padding about in muddy fields at favoured locations in the winter; but there's nothing like happening upon them by chance as they follow the coast in the final stages of their long southbound migration. Happy days indeed.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pallas's on the patch

A bit of class to round off a memorable week for Siberian warblers here in Filey. After filling my boots with eastern gems of late it would be churlish to complain about anything, but I must admit to a stifled but growing yearning for one of these incomparably beautiful waifs, or the seven-striped sprite as Mr Wallace would have it, over recent days.

Hours spent sifting through sycamore canopies with sneaky / desperate bursts of mp3 have drawn a total blank, however, and so a call from Nick (justifiably excited, which I think I might be if I'd got a Pallas's and a Yellow-brow alongside each other in my garden) was very welcome indeed. A well deserved harbinger of fine things to come for Nick and Sandy at the Gap - we're looking forward to having them around full-time, strengthening the local team further and widening our choice of local drinking partners....

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sixty minutes in Siberia

For the first time in lord knows how long I wasn't out birding all day yesterday, spending the better part of it swanning around Scarborough with the Mrs, returning to Filey for mid-p.m. and bolting out shortly afterwards into a pleasantly mild, golden-hued autumnal afternoon. Up into the Top Scrub soon after and a little activity included stupidly showy Mealy Redpolls, a Water Rail in a net ride and a sprinkling of common migrants - and then, within a couple of seconds of each other, the distinctive calls of both Siberian Chiffchaff and Yellow-browed Warbler emitting from the same sycamore.

With much variation in the many Chiffys around presently (including lots of abietinus-types) I've been keeping a constant eye, and more importantly ear, out for a tristis, and this bird (a personal first on the patch) was good enough to call repeatedly, show very nicely and tart around with the Yellow-brow before I decided to move on. A wander down the scrubby southern spur towards Jack's Cafe produced another Yellow-brow, feeding silently in the grass; at that point, an extra bonus to cap a very productive half-hour or so in the field.

With the sun still shining and the wind a whisper of its recent, frustratingly brisk self, a look at the sunny, sheltered southern side of Arndale seemed like a good idea; in retrospect, a very good idea. Reaching the Hawthorn hedge and woodland edge a couple of minutes later, flitting amongst the sunlit canopy was an Eastern Lesser Whitethroat, feeding avidly amongst 'crests and Chiffys (and highly skilled in avoiding a clear camera shot, but more on this bird to follow); clearly my luck was still very much in.

Waiting (in vain) for the bird to call with the sound recorder rolling, somewhat incredibly, after a barely another minute or so nothing less than a Dusky Warbler began tacking agitatedly in the hawthorn next to me.... after the satisfaction of finding Filey's fifth-ever barely 48 hours previously (present simultaneously in Collared Fly Hedge), to have another after such an already blinding hour's patch birding was, well, a thrill worth savouring. It's not often, but sometimes, it all comes together.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


(As in, more Dusky)... With heavy rain stopping play today, a little more time to edit the few half-decent shots I managed to grab of yesterday's (and the autumn's) star bird. Interesting to see how the colour tones change depending on the light and background, also noticeable in the field. I'm also hopeful I nailed a sound recording of the Dusky, a Brambling and a Ring Ouzel all within a few seconds (and metres) of each other, which when I've addressed my tech shortcomings might just make it onto here too.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

From Dawn Til Dusky

Another first light start here in Filey, and another morning seemingly ebbing away without a top-class reward.....but then, a perfect little Sibe in the bottom of a hedge makes everything alright. More to follow, but for now, back out into the murk...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


One of the many great things about moving out here is experiencing the migration of skeins of Pink-footed Geese in the throes of autumn. There's something inherently epic and heart-racing about watching flocks of these subtly beautiful Nearctic and Icelandic immigrants following the Yorkshire coastline towards their East Anglian wintering grounds, and a couple of days ago we had the pleasure of watching a locally exceptional movement just a few minutes from the house.

Another unseasonably warm and sunny day on the 6th tempted us out for a southbound clifftop walk, and with the Mrs picking brambles en route (there's an unending supply this year, as countless recent high-quality crumbles attest) I picked up the first flock, rounding the Brigg and battling the brisk westerly. Unlike previous days where a few groups totaling several hundred were a welcome but half-expected daily bonus, they kept coming, and kept coming - all 1,850 of them, in just two hours, from shortly before 1100.

Aside from a large flock using a flightline a few hundred metres inland, all skeins - ranging from 30 to 340 in size - traveled over the sea, on a narrow front between a couple of hundred metres and several kilometres from shore. As far as I can recall, it's most I've ever had the pleasure of seeing by some distance (outside of wintering flocks in situ), and another timely reminder of why even 'quiet' autumns here are never really quiet.

Flocks are invariably messy and ever-changing (one minute a loose V, the next a wavering S), and wonderfully conversational; their excitable yelps and barks are as much an evocation of the season as the high-pitched jingle of Goldcrests or the tseeps and chatters of Redwings and Fieldfares.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Birds of SNR - FIN

It's finished, or as good as. After six years increasingly obsessive study and a two-year lapse since I last had the keys to what was pretty much my own private nature reserve in the heart of central London, I've finally got around to nailing the online avifauna of my time there.

The Birds of Stoke Newington Reservoirs

With a year around the world followed by a little more than a year here on the Yorkshire coast occupying the intervening period, it seems like a very long time ago; still, better late than never, and it's been a blast reflecting on the highs and lows of relentlessly hammering the proverbial out of two human-made puddles in the dark heart of Hackney. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Filey, 28th Sep - 5th Oct 2013

Snipe, Dams

As alluded to in the last post, sustained easterlies at the perfect time of year aren't necessarily followed by migration-induced ecstacy, and unfortunately - despite the arrows pointing roughly in / from the right directions - the last week resolutely failed to produce the goods.

Pale-bellied Brent on the Brigg

Plenty of toil for limited returns, and barely worth breaking down into a daily digest despite long sessions on the patch each day; in short, the highlights were several Jack Snipe, a Snow Bunting, a new Yellow-brow (Church Ravine, 3rd), lots of Bramblings, small influxes of commoner migrants (Song Thrushes, Chaffinches, Robins, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs), odd skeins of Pink-feet and, well, not a lot else.

Dozing waders on the Brigg

Bling-festooned Turnstone

Not everybody wanted rain

Dunlin, Carr Naze pond