Champions of the Flyway!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Filey, 31 from '13 - #31

Not even close to the better photos I've taken here in Filey this year (and of a bird I didn't even find), but for several reasons, a fitting bookend to this series. Colleague and good friend Dan and I have been lucky enough to study the birds of Filey Bay over the last few breeding seasons for an ongoing environmental project, spending many waking hours over recent summers scanning the inshore waters. Despite the obvious advantages (and indeed pleasures) of the study, we'd been a little disappointed not to have picked up anything too special during our vigils, and coming into the 2013 season, we'd tempered our hopes accordingly.

The preceding spring was far from dull, but where efforts and self-finds were concerned, it could've been kinder. All that swiftly changed, however, with a singing Marsh Warbler right by our vantage point in the first week of the summer's study, in early June; the shutters went up and and we were open for business. A couple of weeks later, and with warm sunshine and settled conditions dominating, I got a call from Dan, calmly informing me that he'd picked up what was very likely a male Surf Scoter with a small flock of Commons, about three hundred miles out to sea, and would I like to come and have a look? It soon came closer, kindly stayed for a week, put on a fine show for many appreciative pilgrims and generally tarted around like a exotic American seaduck should.

Not that we were to know at the time, but the scoter was a suitably stunning curtain-raiser to a summer that would prove unforgettable for all the right reasons, and would kick-start a rich vein of form that would continue pretty much to the year end (culminating with a certain very special Arctic wanderer). As I've alluded to recently, there's a fantastic team spirit up here on our stretch of the coast, and we all got lucky with cracking finds and great experiences over the last twelve months. What a wonderful year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Filey, 31 from '13 - #30

Three of this year's local Reed Buntings (from January, April and October respectively); a common but underrated and gorgeous British bird, thankfully doing well locally (in stark contrast to its Emberiza relatives).

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Filey, 31 from '13 - #29

Sanderlings are always a real pleasure to have around, especially when they reclaim their sandy shoreline from the tourists during the autumn and then stick around on the beach through the darkest months. It's hard to think of a bird more inextricably linked to the Yorkshire coast in winter, and of a more entertaining and photogenic subject.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Filey, 31 from '13 - #28

Another highlight from the bay (and in almost exactly the same area as a Brunnich's, but closer still), this gorgeous Red-throated Diver in mid-November spent a couple of minutes close by the seawall before thinking better of it and disappearing soon after.

Filey, 31 from '13 - #27

From one little beauty to another... after a fantastic period for Siberian warblers - I'd been lucky enough to find Siberian Chiffchaff, two Dusky Warblers, Siberian Lesser Whitethroat and multiple Yellow-brows over the previous few days here in Filey - I couldn't help wishing for a Pallas's to round the week off. Enter Nick and Sandra, who, in the process of moving in to their new place at Hunmanby Gap (in the south of the recording area, a little further down the bay), promptly found one right by their new gaff. Nice one chaps, and welcome to the team!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Filey, 31 from '13 - #26

What a bird..... during a quiet sea-watch in mid-September, I took a wander onto the Brigg end, in case the small groups of common waders had pulled in anything special (after recent success with e.g. Curlew Sandpipers). Cue this gorgeous Little Stint trotting among a handful of Dunlin, all of which almost immediately flushed to avoid the incoming tide - only to land effectively at my feet.

Locally less than annual, even a brief view would've done just fine, but to have the bird not only ignore my movements but for it to actually approach to within a couple of metres was absolute magic, and for me, quintessentially Filey.

Filey, 31 from '13 - #25

I can count the times I've had good views of Cuckoos in recent years on one hand, and I've never had anything like the photo opportunities that this amazingly tolerant and entertaining bird provided back in late May. Going about its neck-craning, full-on-singing, caterpillar-scoffing, ground-hopping business as I looked down from the cliff path above, it frequented the same bushes that hosted a Wryneck in September in an under-watched spot that has been good to me already.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Filey, 31 from '13 - #24

Not one, but two Dusky Warblers which I was lucky enough to find within barely more than 48 hours of each other this October. The fifth and sixth records for Filey (and the first in a decade), both were immensely satisfying finds - skulking, initially located on call, requiring plenty of patience and supremely exotic in their own subtly Siberian way. What autumn on the east coast is all about, and then some....

Dusky #1 (both photos) - 15th-17th Oct

Dusky #2 - 17th to 19th Oct

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Filey, 31 from '13 - #23

Another one hot off the press, this winter-plumage (Common) Guillemot was busy fishing in the beautiful sunshine off the Brigg a couple of hours ago, and was one of many highlights on our Christmas Day walk here in Filey. Fittingly following its far more exotic cousin in the 31 from '13, Guillemots are fantastic birds that I've had the privilege of studying here in the Bay over the last two summers.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Filey, 31 from '13 - #22 (and Happy Holidays)

My wife Amity's festive interpretation of the Brunnich's, posted on Facebook just a few minutes after I'd uploaded the first images - and yes, it proved far more popular than my originals

For Christmas morning, how could it possibly be anything else? Three weeks after stumbling upon pretty much the bird of a lifetime, it's as still fresh, exhilarating and surreal as the moment when the penny dropped and I realised I was watching nothing less than a Brunnich's Guillemot, an almost mythical Arctic wanderer and a first for Yorkshire.

Hard to believe I've had such luck in my first eighteen months here in Filey, and after a brilliant autumn, I was more than happy with my lot as the autumn finally ebbed away; to then find such an amazing bird, of such enormous magnitude (and on a brief evening wander along the seafront, no less) was almost too good to be true, and I'll doubtless be banging on about it well into my twilight years.

The feedback (within minutes of the news breaking, from as far afield as East Asia and the USA) just augmented the buzz further; closer to home, another great thing about having set up camp here is the community spirit that thrives among a positive, enthusiastic and highly skilled bunch of comrades along our stretch of the coast. Thus, any big find is for the team, which just makes the pleasure even sweeter - stand up Rich, Dan, Keith, Martin, Phil, Jack, Steve, Nick and many others....

Filey, 31 from '13 - #21

From an hour or so ago up on the North Cliff on a cold, bright, beautiful Christmas Eve here in Filey - a flurry of Snow Buntings, the perfectly evocative and appropriate bird for the day. One or two would've done just fine, but 68+ was a treat indeed, followed by the closest and most dramatic of Peregrine hunting displays.

And here's one I made earlier (from Filey last winter):

Monday, December 23, 2013

Filey, 31 from '13 - #20

It was a great autumn to be here on the east coast, and while far from the rarest prize on offer, arguably the real stars of the show were these tiny harbingers of all things eastern, Yellow-browed Warblers. To contextualise, last autumn was below par locally for them, and I was happy to find about half a dozen here in Filey (and a couple more elsewhere); this autumn, however, was the best on record, and a bona fide influx occurred between the third week of September and mid-October.

Over the course of those few weeks I was lucky enough to find about 25 here (from a record-breaking year total of about 35), and was party to some uniquely memorable experiences with new arrivals - more here; hence, 2013 will always be inextricably linked to these always delightful Siberian sprites.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ivory Coast Nature

A 0700 start this morning with my esteemed colleagues from the mighty Yorkshire Coast Nature (after a late night on the lash) could have gone either way, but turned out just perfectly. 45 minutes later and we were approaching Patrington Haven (passing the caravan site where I used to live - long story) in hopeful pursuit of a very lovely immature Ivory Gull, a high octane, high Arctic wanderer that had been frequenting this particular corner of the Humber's bank for the last week or so.

Persuaded to return from its daily wanderings by a handily-provided rotting fish buffet, the bird had naturally attracted a lot pilgrims over the previous few days, and while twitching isn't generally my thing, certain birds just demand the attention. The dreaded negative reports via the bird news services (as well as the several dozen-strong huddle of statuesque birders looking in different directions) didn't bode well, and after loitering a while, we opted for a wander along the shoreline to soak up the stunning sight of hundreds of thousands of waders clouding the winter skies in swirling masses. Easily worth the trip for them alone, and if our target was to elude us, we'd lapped up a wonderful spectacle at least.

A little later, however, and word reached us of the star of the show heading upriver towards us from Sammy's Point, and so we ambled back into pole position in perfect time to watch it arrive from the east, to a fanfare of swoons and machine-gunning DSLRs. And what an absolute killer of a bird - just beautiful, and a real privilege to watch as it trotted between its favoured drinking, bathing and feeding spots, wholly disinterested in the rapidly-swelling ranks of devotees just a few metres away. After a good half an hour of stellar performance, off it drifted onto the river bank, and off we drifted back to the car, already eulogising appreciatively.

MJP, Dan, Rich  and Steve's woolly hat - Note Ivory gull just right of frozen fingetip

Back north then, but not before a celebratory lunch and nonchalant stab at Hornsea Mere's Grey Phalarope - conveniently reappearing close inshore on our arrival, and rivalling the gull for most ridiculously tame bird of the year award. Yorkshire Gold and then some.

Thanks to Dan for the blog title and Rich for the selfie - Barack who?