Champions of the Flyway!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Farne Islands (1) - unbridled joy

A last-minute call from our dear friends Rich and Gaynor offered up the golden opportunity to hit the Farnes for a long-anticipated day trip the last Thursday; too good to miss, what with our days off coinciding, the forecast looking perfect, the timing for enjoying the breeding seabirds ideal, and a certain special tern back for its summer holidays within its congeneric brethren.

And what a day. The conditions (flat calm seas, warm sunshine), circumstances, company and birds were all perfect. More to follow, but for starters, the aforementioned oceanic wanderer which happily performed for us at the beginning and end of our time on Inner Farne.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Noisy neighbours

Surveying the productivity of part of the local Kittwake colony here in Filey in conjunction with the good folk over at RSPB Bempton is a fascinating exercise in itself, but has various added bonuses - one of which is the close encounters it provides with the local Peregrines...

Happy to report they've done well this year, with over-enthusiastic juveniles turning up all over the shop at the moment, sat on the rocks on the Brigg, chasing inappropriate prey or crash-landing in fields; they, and the adults, are often heard before seen, usually advertising their presence at impressive volume. Never a dull moment here on the coast.

Particularly happy with the above shot, showing the wings folded back over each other for the final dive - a technique I've not noticed before.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Long-tailed Ducks in the bay

Another summer, another season monitoring the bay, with the bonus of finding and enjoying various collateral when circumstances allow. Although still early, a couple of days ago I thought I'd check for cetaceans from Carr Naze, and within ten minutes I was watching the year's first Minke out in the calm waters; within the hour, my wife Amity had joined me and we'd a total of three in view. Hopefully a harbinger of things to come over the next few weeks and months....

While scanning for whales, I picked up these two very smart Long-tailed Ducks distantly off the Brigg; happily, they've appeared intermittently since, and yesterday morning ventured well into the bay corner, despite boat traffic and a lot of shoreline disturbance.

After an adult male in summer plumage almost exactly two years ago, it's the second summer in three I've recorded LTDs in the bay. With few (if any) previous summer records, whether it signals a change in status or is just a reflection of increased coverage is open to debate (with the same question applying to the the sudden upsurge in cetacean activity).

Monday, June 9, 2014

Filey, 15th - 31st May 2014

Red-backed Shrike, Carr Naze
Better late than never... a belated round-up of the second half of May, delayed on account of full-on birding throughout and followed by work and guests since then. I had the decks pretty much clear for the period, and thus was out in the field as much as possible, often for most of each day.

Little Egret (and Jackdaw security)
The results were mixed and hard-won against a backdrop of almost no noticeable migration, as has been the case thorughout the season - grounded migrant day totals rarely involved a second hand for counting (and often only a couple of fingers), waders were all but absent, and sea-watching was deathly quiet. Conversely, conditions were often tantalisingly favourable, and often kind to other sites either side of us on the coast; a continuing reminder of the capricious nature of east coastal birding.

Wood Sandpiper, East Lea
From the beginning: a dawn visit to the Dams and East Lea on 15th produced the autumn's first and only Wood Sandpiper initially skulking at the former site and then briefly out in the open at the latter. The same first light tactics there on 17th were just about vindicated with a Little Ringed Plover and a Common Sandpiper, followed by ongoing Breeding Bird Surveys on the coastal strip in the late morning sunshine, where a cream-crown Marsh Harrier circled in high and off the sea, buzzed by Swifts.

Marsh Harrier over the sea....
Duly inspired to spend three early afternoon hours looking skywards at my favoured Muston Sands watchpoint drew a total blank, and several hours back there from mid-morning the next day (18th) was almost as unproductive - Sod's Law, then, that a walk through the middle of town a while later should yield an Osprey thermalling north.

.... and an Osprey over the town
Favouring the Dams and East Lea early again the following morning (19th) instantly produced, as an immature Spoonbill - one of several species I've somehow managed to avoid since moving to Filey - sneaked quietly southbound shortly after dawn; the first Little Egret of the season dropped in a while later, before being hustled off the premises by local gulls and corvids.

Little Egret
Come the 20th, and promising conditions inspired a full circuit of the coastal sites (after a blank early check of the wetlands); unfortunately little to show for it besides single Spot Fly and Garden Warbler, but a Curlew Sandpiper and 16 Common Terns through at the Dams were unusual bonuses.

Sanderlings in the Brigg
The 21st was warm and sunny with a southerly airflow, which, aside from two Hobbys (one in over the bay, the other at the Dams), was quiet - not including what was almost certainly a Honey-buzzard heading north (and away) from East Lea early afternoon. A late afternoon in the wonderfully close company of Arctic-bound waders on the Brigg end was some consolation, and time very well spent.

With more promising conditions following (an easterly airflow, variable cloud, intermittent precipitation), the next few days were dedicated to fine-tooth combing all potential migrant cover; retrospectively a bit of a blur, with countless patrols of the land producing next to no new arrivals, instead invoking an increasing sense of Groundhog Day. Not without highlights however:-

Spoonbill, Dams
A smart male Red-backed Shrike favouring the magic bush on Carr Naze brightened up proceedings, and provided some hope of drift migrants finally giving us the nod. A Spoonbill - on plumage, likely the same bird I had overhead a few days previously - arrived at the Dams on the 25th and proceeded to put on a fine show in the warm sunshine, but was soon overshadowed when a much rarer southern overshoot suddenly appeared before the clicking shutters embedded in the East Hide:

Night-heron, Dams
Filey's second Night-heron (after a single observer fly-by in the late eighties) was a real treat, and was a timely shot in the arm during the last lap of a fairly modest spring here at the Obs. A little more inspiration then for the 26th, which, with the warm airflow continuing, again looked good for broad-winged flyovers - and this time provided a happy ending, with a female-type Honey-buzzard circling high and north of East Lea in the early afternoon. A patch first for me of a less than annual species, and pleasing vindication for increasing neckache this spring....

A secretive Icterine Warbler in the Top Scrub
Despite best efforts and a good-looking forecast, another deathly quiet couple of days followed, but with the window starting to close, it was a case of ploughing on regardless. A cold, dark and windy morning of the 29th began at the southern end of Long Lane - where, from a patch of cow parsley (adjoining a caravan containing loud humans and canines), sang an otherwise invisible Icterine Warbler. Bingo.

The rest of the day spent searching all the coastal cover with no further joy was subsequently much less of a let-down, and the following day (30th) held at least as much promise (although after recent days and weeks, expectations were suitably tempered). As well as a couple more Red-backed Shrikes, Garden Warblers and Spot Flys, yesterday's Icterine Warbler continued to sing and show occasionally, and as a positive book-end to a slightly underwhelming period, I found a second (my seventh here so far), feeding quietly within the depths of the Top Scrub.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

I see a darkness

.... and a very sharply turned-out nocturnal beast within it. From a couple of weeks back here in Filey (catching up, slowly), and a very welcome addition to the Dams' already impressive avifauna.

A year or two ago I'd have had zero chance of getting any usable shots, but at about 80,000 ISO the camera performed admirably in what was barely twilight; gone by dawn, it was a treat to enjoy such fine views as the bird slowly materialised from deep within cover and then suddenly came alive, hunting avidly just as many of its neighbours were hitting the sack.

Summaries for the second half of May to follow....

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The needle and the spoon

From one bill shape to another (and back), both being attached to suitably whiter-than-white waterbirds. Certain species prefer to remain strangely anomalous, and of the three or four Spoonbills recorded locally since I arrived two years ago, all have sucessfully given me the body-swerve, despite increasingly near-misses.

But as a rare but annual visitor, it was only a matter of time, and happily an immature rewarded patience (and early rising) by overflying me at East Lea a couple of weeks ago (on the 19th). An hour or so later, and the spring's first Little Egret dropped in amongst the growing band of non-breeding Mute Swans, before being forcibly ejected by a Herring Gull and a Jackdaw.

What was presumably the same immature Spoonbill (there seem to be two or three touring the length of the coast this spring) then reappeared a few days later, this time having the good manners to drop in at the Dams and perform beautifully for much of the day.

Of course, any exotic and unfamiliar visitor raises the heckles of the locals around here (give me the strength not to make certain election-themed parallels) and it was soon the subject of unwanted attentions; less inclined to buckle quite so easily however, the bird weathered various storms and remained with us for much of the day.