Champions of the Flyway!

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....