Champions of the Flyway!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Many happy returns

..... for yesterday: a birthday spent entirely in the field (just as it should be), and a pleasure from beginning to end. Up and out into a morning of promising conditions - easterlies, mist and cloud after overnight rain - with the intention of enjoying anything and everything that flew into my path, and with a particularly keen eye on nailing a scarcity.

A fine-toothed combing of the grassy plateau and slopes of Carr Naze was promising, with a sprinkling of fresh-in Wheatears (including some orange-flushed Greenland-type beasts) and a cracking Whinchat; the first surprise of the day followed soon after, when a bedraggled Corn Bunting - sadly a genuine rarity locally - gave brief flight and grounded views around the top of Long Lane, which hosted a decent cast of the commoner warblers.

Cutting out along Short Hedge (a fairly innocuous but personally lucky stretch of hawthorn, providing me with Dusky Warbler, Wryneck, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Greenish Warbler in the last two autumns), a single Redstart and Ring Ouzel were positive returns, until a repetitive, monotonous call pierced through the mist - nothing less than a Dotterel (only the second in a decade for Filey) gunned overhead and inland.

With an entertaining cast of migrants and a local rarity under the belt, the day had already provided more than enough, and the pressure was off for a wander over towards the Tip. A scan of the fields produced nothing but for a couple of poorly-hidden Grey Partridges and Brown Hares, but one of our local Barn Owls (over from the Dams) was on the hunt, and so I decided to lean on the gate and wait for it to hopefully patrol closer. It did, flushing several birds from the long grass in the process...

A Skylark, a Yellow Wagtail, and fantastically, a Richard's Pipit. Another less-than-annual scarcity and particularly unlikely in spring, it so happended to be the first I'd seen in many years, and a self-found first as an added bonus. Quite a day; if only all arbitrary celebrations on the calendar were as successful...

Tomorrow is the 30th, the anniversary of the little beauty below dropping in front of me on Carr Naze....

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bottlenose Dolphins, Filey

Much of the day in the field - and plenty to enjoy - but for now, it's all about these magnificent beasts, which thankfully headed north parallel to the very stretch of clifftop here in Filey I happened to be walking this morning. An absolute joy, really, and all the better for the views of adult guardians shepherding leaping calves through the North Sea swell (look closely, they're the ones checking out the world above the surface). And the peak cetacean period is still a fair way away.....

.... for a recap of last summer's unforgettable inshore invasion, see here (and as always, click on the images to enlarge - although don't expect much as they're already heavily cropped).

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thrillers in the mist

Which is overstating it just a little, but never mind. A quick one with a couple of highlights from a day ultimately dominated by thick, impenetrable fog and light easterlies. It was one of those days that felt promising, and coupled with the fact I've got a lot of BBS ground to cover, I spent pretty much all of it in the field.

A good sniff around the usual northern circuit in the morning culminated on a fairly quiet Carr Naze - all the better to chart Meadow Pipit territories - but a very smart Whinchat (new for the year) and a couple of Wheatears maintained potential. Come the afternoon, and unable to keep still with an easterly blowing, I decided on more BBSing along the edge of a hopefully deserted golf course.

It wasn't, and against all odds (and sense), parades of golfers variously lost their bearings and hacked their balls into the murk; entertaining, but not in a sustainable way, and so I ploughed on - reaching a couple of conifers on the clifftop, barely visible unless within touching distance. Which is where this little beauty materialised, turning an okay day into a very good one.

Firecrest - one of the most gorgeous birds on Planet Earth (and barely annual here)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Filey, 15th - 20th April 2014

Sand Martins and Swallows brave the cold winds at the Dams
A short, sharp round-up of a short, sharp week; guests staying + a heavy cold + the Easter weekend masses descending = very limited time in the field, but even with all that in mind, a few brief but decent sessions to report.

The first Whimbrel of the year at East Lea
A couple of hours at the Dams on 15th were enjoyable if only for small, buzzing flocks of Sand Martins and Swallows over the water, as well as my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year and a couple of soaring Buzzards to the west, but falling asleep in the hide in a pool of your own snot is generally a fairly good indication of when to withdraw promptly; I failed to take my own advice a couple of days later however, and couldn't resist another extended session at the Dams and East Lea on the morning of 17th.

Little Ringed Plover, East Lea
Having just received news of a flyover Serin a few miles south at the Gap (nice work boys), I didn't expect much in the cool, windy and dull conditions, but as it turned out, a productive couple of hours followed. The fringes of East Lea's pool held both Little Ringed Plover and Whimbrel (both personal firsts for the year), and amongst a surprisingly steady trickle of passerines heading north-west (including various finches and a Wheatear), a vaguely familiar toy-trumpet call cut clearly through the wind.

Northern-type Bullfinch
Thankfully the bird was approaching, allowing me to pick it up easily as it swept through - a male Bullfinch, repeating its tell-tale tooting, indicative of the Northern / Eastern race. Aware of the subspecies' relative paucity - not least in spring, when I can't remember ever actually hearing of any records - a quick chat with Martin at Flamborough regarding the call (and whether it is indeed diagnostic) confirmed its apparent rarity value. About the least expected scarcity of the spring so far, but no complaints....

As the sky grew darker and the wind stronger, hirundines began to assemble behind me over the Dams, and so the next couple of hours were spent embedded in the East Pool hide, enjoying the show and, theoretically, being in pole position for when the Red-rump dropped in.... it didn't, of course, but it mattered little, with the first real surge of these always uplifting trans-Saharan travellers making for a fine session - at least 60 Swallows, 50 Sand Martins and a single House Martin within it.

The next couple of days were mainly spent riding out the worst of the cold - except for an almost blank sky-watching session early afternoon 18th, saved by a Great Northern Diver in the bay - before a similar Dams / East Lea session (sitting in a hide being do-able, walking for very long not) today, 20th; again no real expectations, but again a nice surprise, this time in the shape of a Jack Snipe, flushed from my feet in an otherwise unaccessible corner of the reserve.

So, it could've been worse, but it's time to step it up a couple of gears for the coming weeks - wish me luck and watch this space.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reading festival

It's been far too long since I shamelessly plugged other activities here, so time to redress the balance...

I've uploaded a batch of recently-published pieces onto the wordpress site, including the latest in my series for Birdguides about birding in Filey through the year. The latest article focuses on the winter months, and can be read here (with part two to follow soon):

Postcards from the edge: Winter in Filey, part one

I was recently asked by Birding Frontiers to write a review of the much-anticipated Rare Birds of North America for the excellent BF website:

Book review: Rare Birds of North America

Busy times with Yorkshire's #1 eco-tourism company Yorkshire Coast Nature - as well as co-leading tours and writing the monthly bird sightings round-ups, I've recently written a short series entitled Yorkshire coast icons for the YCN website, re-published here:

I was asked to contribute the birds sections for the excellent Lost In London book a while ago, a taster of which is re-published here:

London's Herons

I continue to run the Filey Bird Observatory website, updating it daily and editing various new articles as and when. If you haven't bookmarked it yet, then here's your chance:

Filey Bird Observatory website

.... and I finally took the plunge and joined Twitter. Follow me at @Fileybirder here

Fileybirder on Twitter

Beware, more plugging to follow soon, but not before I've found a few more birds to talk about....

Monday, April 14, 2014

Filey, 1st - 14th April 2014

A superbly tame Wheatear on the Tip

Not a great deal of time in the field owing to other commitments over the last fortnight, but plenty to enjoy nonetheless. From the beginning: The first few days of the month were characterised by cool easterlies and mist, with modest numbers of passerines getting through as a result - except for a few Wheatears (including four on 3rd, three of which were together at the Tip), plus small scatterings of Fieldfares, Song Thrushes, Redwings, Blackbirds, Robins, Chiffys and Goldcrests.

A pair of Avocets briefly at the Dams on 4th (plus odd Woodcocks and Snipe locally) were the pick of the waders, but with the winds swinging into the south-west, it was time to get reacquainted with my chosen clifftop watchpoint at Muston Sands on the 5th for some long-awaited vismigging.

The year's first ducklings at the Dams at the start of the month

Three and a half hours worth of quality and quantity followed: of the former, the star bird was a Crane, circling over the Brigg before disappearing into the ether late morning (my tenth self-found here in two years - amazing), as well as a Red Kite west, several Common Buzzards (plus an interesting, as-yet-unidentified Buteo which may or may not feature here again soon), and a Corn Bunting south at head height (barely annual here, and therefore a real headliner).

Avocets leaving the Dams, 4th

More than enough reward, but amply backed up by some impressive passerine action, most of which was streaming south - over 400 Linnets, 173 Goldfinches, 100 Meadow Pipits, plus Wheatears, Bullfinches, Bramblings, the first Swallows of the year and various other bits; most of the birds were hugging the line of the cliffs in the brisk wind and passing wonderfully close (often at foot level) as a result. A great early spring morning.

Pied Wag on Carr Naze

A day co-leading a tour for Yorkshire Coast Nature on 6th was enjoyably successful, despite the unfavourable conditions (cool, very windy, mostly dull and showery) for our target species of Goshawks and Adders, which we enjoyed prolonged and excellent views of. (More YCN action to follow thorugh the coming months.)

Male Adder, North Yorks

Crane #10 (and the worst photo yet)

Attentions turned to human visitors for the next few days, and aside from bumping into the odd Wheatear and a few Sand Martins on non-birding walks, it wasn't until the 12th that I was back in the field properly. Another vismig session from Muston Sands followed, and while not nearly as productive as the one described above, there was still a fair amount of passerine traffic, and several personal and patch firsts for the year in the shape of Yellow Wagtail, House Martin, Blackcap and Sandwich Tern.

Fieldfare at the Tip

With the revolving door of our unofficial B&B still very much in motion, it'll be a while before I'm back to full strength from a coverage perspective, but I'll be sneaking out with more regularity over the coming week or two.... and for those interested, I've grasped another previously avoided nettle and joined the inevitable Twitter steamroller - see the upper right-hand column if you're interested.

Roe Deer

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Return to Craggy Island

"Who are all these pasty-looking bipeds and where the f-'s the Med?"

Almost effortless, wholly gratuitous, and well worth it. When the news came through of a Crag Martin down the road at Flamborough on Friday I was otherwise engaged with dear (non-birding) friends - who'd driven all the way up from the south-west and were leaving in the afternoon - so a dirty twitch wasn't even worth a passing thought; and when it appeared to have left the building a couple of hours later, that seemed to be that with no harm done.

Friends on their way but with new ones having just arrived (our place often turns into a free B&B during the holidays, and is all the better for it), news of the bird having reappeared on the other side of the Head mid-afternoon was a little stickier; worth a hit and run, or asking for trouble? Thankfully comrade Dan made the decision for me, and was soon on his way from Scarborough via Filey after my excuses were made and accepted domestically.

Twenty minutes later and with enough decent light to spare we were parking up on the cliff-top, and before we'd got out of the car, there it was, hawking around in front of us. We spent the next hour or so enjoying a wonderful performance, with the bird patrolling the slopes just below where we stood, and periodically materialising within a couple of metres of our increasingly wide eyes (provoking gasps and toddler-like squeals from the three or four of us enjoying the show).

As regular readers may know I'm not predisposed to enjoying the twitching experience, for a variety of reasons - with no disrespect to those that do, it's just not my idea of a good time on anything more than the odd occasion - but this was far from the nightmare scenerio that has conjured fantasies of mass murder on numerous previous occasions. We did wonder if this might be down to the surprising and heartening presence of so many younger birders; either way, great to see the creaking and often repellent demographic significantly refreshed, and long may it continue.