Champions of the Flyway!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'The evolution of the annual bird report has taken a refreshing step forward here....'

One of last year's Dusky Warblers - the subject of one of many articles in the 2013 FBR

.... that's according to Birdguides, whose review of the 2013 Filey Bird Report can be read in full here. Why not support our entirely voluntary work and buy yourself a copy - for only £8 - from here?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lagopussy Galore

Apparently this is my 666th post, and it was very nearly chirpy little waders on the Brigg; all well and good for other occasions, but it would've been a shame not to dedicate this one to something suitably demonic. For once, then, the timing was perfect.

It's been what you might call a challenging month, and birding has necessarily taken a back seat over recent weeks; today, however - despite uninspiring conditions (south-westerlies, mild, low pressure) - it felt good to just get out onto the patch and enjoy whatever happened to cross my path.

After a typically entertaining session on the Brigg end with an inquisitive and characterful gang of Purple Sandpipers (more of them later), I set off back towards the hide, and two very vocal Bewick's Swans cruised south overhead (more of them later also). So far, so good, and for the hell of it I tried a seawatch (with zero expectations - midday on a SW is not the stuff of dreams): pretty much the first birds in the 'scope were two small skuas - an Arctic, and surprisingly, a cracking juvenile Long-tailed. More than enough, then, to remind me how lucky I am to have access to such luxuries on my doorstep.

A Snow Bunting and several Twite fresh-in on the slope at the very end of Carr Naze soon followed, and heading back along the path, another Twite flew past me with several Goldfinches, clearly agitated; following it in the bins, suddenly a large raptor appeared in the field of view, seemingly motionless but in fact cruising steadily into the wind and towards me.... pale head, brown belly, white tail, dark carpals - bingo. My first local Rough-leg (and first anywhere in some years), somewhat less-than-annual here, and it's getting closer by the second.

It could hardly have got any better, but it did. For the next few minutes, the bird decided to circle over my head, hunt, hover and soar, fixing me with its death stare on numerous occasions, and clearly not giving a flying one. Straight from Scandinavia, over the North Sea (and into a head wind), and a vision of murderous exotica - and a day to remember for a long time to come.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Filey, 21st - 30th September 2014

Swallow, Carr Naze
And so to the third and final summary of September's exploits here on the patch. Unlike the preceding post (covering the ten days over mid-month), this one doesn't involve quite the same attention to detail, it's highlights being somewhat less equally scattered.

After a very entertaining and productive week on the land, the forecast for 21st was all about the sea. Strong northerlies in late September immediately conjure up rose-tinted images of skuas deftly harrying unlucky gulls or racing by at lightning speed, lines of shearwaters arcing effortlessly over breaking white horses, and a wide cast of other hardy seafarers rapidly filling up the page. As it happened, it was even better, and soon turned into one of those sessions that you know is destined to become a classic long before it ends.

Long-tailed Skua, 21st
With the wind howling and the sea raging, it was particularly good to have the protection of the hide, and almost immediately the action began. Sootys were an almost constant presence as they cruised into the head wind, outnumbering Manxies by three to one over the course of the morning; Skuas were also on the move, often in small, sudden surges, with initial frustration at their distance and the conditions (and thus having to leave fair proportion unidentified) steadily turning to satisfaction as their identities became steadily clearer.

As is sometimes the case on days like these, some species tend to follow certain flight-lines, and most shearwaters were following one of two as they rounded the Brigg and headed north - a fairly distant one (perhaps 800/900m out), and a closer one (around 450/500m). With both firmly established in my field of view, the radio crackled into life, with Mark at Buckton relaying news of a Fea's-type Petrel having passed Flamborough 'about 15 minutes ago'. With no mobile or internet coverage in the hide, we were otherwise blissfully unaware of what may or may not be approaching us; as it happened, it may not of mattered (easy to say in retrospect), but it surely did no harm to be forewarned of such a tantalising possibility hopefully on its way.

Barnacle Geese, 22nd
A surge of activity from the south followed, including the first confirmed Long-tailed Skua of the morning, a succession of Sootys, a Velvet Scoter, a handful of Little Gulls, and a cracking Blue Fulmar. But as the clock ticked, hopes faded - for other observers, at least - with more than 30 minutes having passed since the bird had left Flamborough's airspace. I'd no intention of giving up quite so easily however, and about five minutes later, what should appear in my 'scope - luckily along the nearer shearwater flight-line, and in close company with a single Manxie - but a certain star Pterodroma.

Barnacle Geese, 22nd
Thankfully I'd changed lenses from the 30x wide angle to the 25-60x zoom in anticipation, and - despite the adrenalin and excitement - was able to close in for intermittently good views as the bird followed a mercifully relatively predictable path through the waves. At no more than 450m for the first while, the bird (as expected) followed the line adopted by preceding shearwaters and became steadily more distant, but thankfully not before I was able to get everybody else onto it; over the course of a good five minutes or so, purring and yelping were the commonest sounds in the hide before the bird eventually disappeared to the north.

Red-throated Divers in the bay, in various states of moult...
Aftering venturing outside to get reception and relay the news as quickly as possible, it was back to the hide, and seven and a half hours later, final counts included nine Long-tailed Skuas, 141 Sooty and 63 Manx Shearwaters, two Velvet Scoters, the first Pink-feet of the season, a Blue Fulmar, good counts of wildfowl & Red-throated Divers and various other sundries.

The following days were, as might be expected, a little anti-climactic, but not without interest on the sea. The morning of 22nd was relatively quiet, but a well-timed evening seawatch produced a Balearic Shearwater, another Long-tailed Skua, more Sootys, Little Gulls, and commoner skuas and terns - plus a flock of 24 Barnacle Geese, following on from two other flocks earlier (of 34 and 18), totaling 74 for the day of a rare and unpredictable passage migrant.

Charmed in the Top Fields
With unfavourable winds (mainly from the west or south-west) effectively killing off all hope of action on the land, the sea became the default option, and while not reaching the same heights, plenty of to enjoy in the shape of odd Long-tailed and Pomarine Skuas among fairly healthy tallies of their commoner congeners, decent Sooty movements, an increasing variety of wildfowl, the aforementioned movement of Barnacle Geese alongside the first week of Pink-foot passage, and transient and occasionally very impressive assemblages of Little Gulls (with up to 700 on 24th).

Big movements of Meadow Pipits occurred during the period
While expectations were suitably low on the land, persistence paid off on the last day of the month, when amongst a roving passerine flock in the Top Scrub, a vocal Firecrest announced its presence (only the second of the year of a less-than-annual species here); a nice end to what became a pretty quality month overall.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Staithes pelagic, 2nd Oct 2014

Juvenile Gannet
A very pleasant afternoon on a YCN pelagic with some of the team for the last sailing of the year. Unfortunately somewhat beaten by the choppy sea conditions and therefore cetacean-free (but for Harbour Porps), but a few nice highlights and a typically good craic nonetheless.

The pick of the day was unarguably a Short-eared Owl, which appeared high and to the east, unfortunately with a mob of angry gulls on its case - just what you need as you're finally in sight of dry land after a long flight from Scandinavia into a brisk headwind. Gulls are, of course, fascinating, intelligent, challenging and often beautiful; they're also often absolute bastards too, and we took it upon ourselves to play god by chumming slowly in the opposite direction, and thus (successfully) distracting the mob while the owl made its escape.

"Thanks guys - laters"
Arctic Skua
Juvenile Gannet
Puffin, still with bill sheath

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Filey, 11th - 20th September 2014

Male Redstart, Carr Naze 
So with the first ten days of the month having already produced plenty more than their equivalent time slots over the previous two years, the middle of September rolled around with high hopes and some promising weather projections on the horizon.

High pressure and warm sunshine on 11th made for pleasant but fairly quiet circuits on the land, although new birds trickled in during the day - a sprinkling of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Wheatears and Whinchats were well scattered, both Pied and Spotted Flycatcher arrived in the Top Scrub, and most surprisingly, a familiar musical wheeze from the same area the signaled the arrival of a particularly early Brambling. Sustained efforts through 12th produced a few more new arrivals in the shape of a few Redstarts, flycatchers and warblers, but was otherwise disappointing.

"Sorry, am I early?"
Thick fog overnight and early morning produced an exceptional grounding and movement of Meadow Pipits on 13th, however, with masses of birds heading south-east out into the gloom of the bay - a minimum of 1100 were recorded doing so during the morning alone, and a systematic (and yes, very knackering) count of the Top Fields revealed an amazing moving carpet of birds across the area, particularly in the freshly ploughed areas, totaling around 1200 in all.

Huge movements of Meadow Pipits occurred on 13th
The season's first Lapland Bunting circled several times with Skylarks in the same area (with presumably the same bird present for several days afterwards), and a further small arrival of passerines included two Stonechats, with singles at the Tip and on Carr Naze; after losing them as a breeding species a couple of years ago, they're a strangely rare occurrence locally these days. The soft tic of incoming Song Thrushes in the mist became pleasingly regular, and with the forecast promising more mist, easterlies and even drizzle, anticipation was duly raised.

Stonechat - a welcome arrival of a recently rare visitor
With good reason, and soon justified by a vocal and typically spritely Yellow-browed Warbler closely investigating the human source of the weird pishing sound in the middle of Parish Wood the following morning. Again particularly early, our first of the year coincided with an arrival in the north and east during the period, and was naturally a joy (as they always are). I've had the pleasure of finding a couple of dozen since moving up here a couple of years back, and yet their appeal as a harbinger of exotica barely dims with each new tsooest.

Song Thrush on the Brigg - damp and tired, but made it here safely (just)
Commoner migrants (especially warblers and chats) continued to arrive in small numbers, with Long Lane's avenue of sycamore and hawthorn eventually revealing a candidate Siberian Lesser Whitethroat, skulking quietly in the shadows. Two distinctly decent birds for the day, then, plus a modest but encouraging array of new arrivals, and more potentially productive conditions promised for the following days....

Stonechat (left) and Whinchat, Carr Naze
With the wind veering into the north-east and strengthening overnight, it was time to turn attentions back towards the sea, which had hitherto been predictably quiet (and indeed often barely visible) over the preceding days. A dawn start in the hide on a humid, overcast morning of 15th instantly produced, with plenty on the move - the best of which was a close-in Balearic Shearwater, supported by 11 Sootys, 30+ Manxies, both common skuas into double figures, a few ducks and terns on the move, and the Black Guillemot back in the bay for its final day.

Activity slowed up by 0930, and with the mist increasing, the land beckoned; several circuits of the key sites revealed few new arrivals however, and after refuelling, the afternoon session was timed to coincide with the forecast bank of fog and light drizzle approaching.

Whinchat, Carr Naze
As regular readers (particularly of autumnal bulletins) will know, one of the most inspiring and exciting aspects of my local birding is the witnessing of front-line falls of migrants on the grassy plateau of Carr Naze, the first contact incoming passerines have with dry land on this side of the North Sea. It requires just the right conditions and the right timing, and thus happens rarely - but when it does, it's a genuine thrill, and there's nowhere else I'd rather be.

A classic fogbound autumnal Carr Naze scene - Brambling and Redstart sharing an umbellifer
The drizzle began, the north-easterly strengthened a little, and the birds appeared; suddenly fine cast of new arrivals materialised, including handfuls of Garden and Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Wheatears, Song Thrushes, Redstarts, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, plus singles of Ring Ouzel and Sedge Warbler.

Juvenile Bullfinch, Parish Wood
Entertaining enough as it was, but made all the more memorable by a calling Dotterel staging two fly-bys in the mist, barely higher than head height - my second this year, and only the third here in a decade. A grilling of the nearby Top Scrub happily produced a similar and healthy selection of new arrivals, as well as single Redwing and Fieldfare (both early firsts of the season), Brambling, Common Whitethroat, Lapland Bunting and - fantastically alongside both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers - a just-in Red-breasted Flycatcher in the last couple of sycamores before the clifftop. Classic autumnal east coast entertainment, and every minute a joy.

Garden Warbler, Carr Naze
Murky, promising conditions continued throughout 16th, and a constant trickle of migrants arrived during the day. Carr Naze hosted a particularly interesting (and at times alarming) array of not-from-around-here Willow Warblers, as well as more Garden Warblers and Redstarts scurrying along grassy paths, a surge of Chiffchaffs, and another mini-arrival of Bramblings; the Country Park area, meanwhile, was alive with birds feeding in the cover of of Top Scrub and Long Lane. The latter's sheltered avenue of trees often concentrates canopy feeders, and so it was during a fogbound afternoon - Goldcrests, finches and Phylloscs all gleaning prey from the underside of dripping, slowly wilting leaves.

Wood Warbler = gold dust
Better still, persistence paid off big time when a truly rare sprite fleetingly revealed itself among the greens and greys - a much hoped- / searched-for Wood Warbler. One of only a handful this century here in Filey (and substantially rarer here than, say, Pallas's or Marsh Warblers), and one of those birds that I could easily never find on the patch, no matter how long I stick around, and thus particularly satisfying.

Tree Pipit on Carr Naze
Come 17th, and I finally had to turn my attentions away from relentless daily circuits and towards non-avian concerns - specifically, a long-planned and much anticipated whirlwind trip back to London, to see Kate Bush play live. Thanks to dear friends of ours we'd managed to bag a pair of tickets when they went on sale for about four seconds several months ago, and the chances of ideal birding conditions coinciding with a barely-more-than-24-hours excursion off-patch were slim enough for me to pretend not to notice the vaguely troubling mid-September date.

Sedge Warbler, Carr Naze
And so the day of the show came around (not before an early morning assault on a wholly fogbound Carr Naze, however, which hosted a new roll-call in the shape of a Jack Snipe, a Merlin and smattering of new passerines). With such productive conditions miraculously holding, and increasingly tasty scarcities making landfall on the east coast as a result, it was with some resigned inevitability that a glance at my phone as we boarded the train revealed seven texts and four missed calls - a Rustic Bunting had just appeared on Carr Naze.

Another very tired Song Thrush, this one not even bothering to run away on Carr Naze
Inevitable curses and surges of self-pity were quickly dispensed with (and Kate bush was magical, in case you were wondering), and I was back out in the field about twenty minutes after getting off the train home, with several hours of daylight remaining on 18th. Out in the field, comrade Dan was on a roll, briefly refinding the Rustic Bunting in the morning and then a new Red-breasted Fly at the Tip early afternoon; hooking up on Carr Naze (after I'd just stumbled on a new Yellow-browed Warbler on the cycle up), we were immediately into more birds flitting through the knee-high vegetation.

Rustic, shmustic
An hour or so later, and with the light quickly fading, we were back at the eastern end of Top Scrub for a final check. In a beautiful twist of fate, nothing less than a Little Bunting materialised in front of us (with Dan kindly allowing me a share of his Emberiza voodoo), feeding tamely in the nearest Sycamore. Karma fully restored and then some.

"Enjoy Kate? Good. I waited around especially."
Still the conditions held promise, and still the birds arrived. 19th saw Redstarts and Wheatears in double figures, another new Yellow-browed Warbler, a handful of Tree Pipits and various other passerines appearing (including a wet, skulking, coronary-inducing Reed Warbler running through the grass at the tip of Carr Naze that cost me an hour, but gave me an adventure). A final stake-out of the Magic Bush (an isolated hotspot of cover on the sheltered southern slope) revealed two Lesser Whitethroats, one of which clearly fitted the criteria for a candidate Siberian.

The following day saw my luck holding up (better than my blistered feet and thousand-yard stare, at any rate), with another new Red-breasted Flycatcher appearing before me in the Top Scrub, and two more Yellow-browed Warblers there (one of which was soon trapped, interestingly showing a high fat score).

Candidate Siberian Lesser Whitethroat

So, quite a ten days, with a very satisfying haul of scarcities, common migrants and self-finds, pleasingly bucking the trend of recent mid-Septembers and reminding yet again how worthwhile it is to be up here and in the thick of it when the magic happens. And the month had plenty more in store....