Champions of the Flyway!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Scandinavian Herring Gulls, Filey Dams - 27th Dec 2017

A cold northerly blow and wintry showers overnight and during the day today, and a couple of hours free locally - firstly for an hour or so's bay/seawatch from the car on the seafront, and latterly for an hour or so at the Dams. Not a great deal on the move over the sea, although a smart 1cy Glaucous Gull and at least two Scandinavian Herring Gulls made it worthwhile, and with a big high tide and rough seas, the newly-expanded freshwater of the Dams seemed worth a shot for bathing gulls.

And it was. As well as the beast of Glaucous Gull that dropped in for 15 minutes or so while the sleet came straight into the hide (see next post), Scandinavian - i.e. argentatus - Herring Gulls were immediately conspicuous. Just to contextualise, they're a rare but regular visitor in the winter months (almost always during and after such conditions) here, although almost always in the lower single figures at best. It's likely more occur, but a combination of under-recording, under-awareness and the lack of opportunity to nail 'clear-cut' birds as they pass the Brigg means they remain a novelty in the annual report, and almost always from the coast.

However, a quick scan of the small Larid flock on the freshly-created main lagoon revealed at least five distinctly darker-backed birds, interestingly four of which were clustered together; over the course of the next hour, I recorded at least eleven clearly legit argentatus (on combinations of mantle colour, wing-tip pattern and size/shape) and several others were either too brief or not conclusive. And that's a lot - in fact a record away from saltwater at Filey - boding well for similar checks in similar conditions through the winter here.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Filey, December 2017

A quick update from the last couple of weeks.... after the occasionally productive sea-watches and bouts of strong northerlies in late November, this first half of December hasn't quite provided the kind of conditions that inspire early starts and pre-dawn windscreen scraping, but there's been a few enjoyable sessions of winter birding to enjoy. A couple of seawatches at the turn of the month produced single Pom Skuas, small movements of waders, odd Bonxies and plenty of divers - the latter of which involves Great Northerns with a pleasing predictability at the moment.

There are up to three at the moment in the northern bay, continuing an increasingly reliable multiple wintering presence over recent years; Black-throats, meanwhile - always the rarest of the trio - have put in two appearances, on 1st and 15th. On the land, one of up to three Chiffchaffs in the willows at the back of the Dams caught my attention briefly at the end of November, sounding like a tristis but giving less-than-satisfactory views; happily, presumably the same bird played ball on 4th of this month, showing and calling nicely.

Otherwise, a foray onto farmland near Gristhorpe Bay on 14th produced a field full of activity - 22 Snow Buntings were a pleasure (the first sign of any local flocks this winter), 16 Grey Partridges were encouraging, over a hundred Skylarks was a stand-out count and winter thrushes and Snipe were inbound in the weak sunshine.

In the same area, a flock of about 75 Pink-feet contained two birds of particular interest on closer inspection - one sporting a neck collar bearing the inscription VXA, and the other a GPS collar (with the number 41). A little research reveals both were ringed in Iceland in the summer during their annual wing moult, and 41 has so far commuted between Northumberland, the Solway Firth and North Yorkshire since arriving in the UK in October. More on these two to follow.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Filey seawatch, 29th November 2017

A quick one from this afternoon... I've been away for a few days giving talks in the interior, and made it back home to the coast for lunchtime - and thus dumped the gear, quickly fed, donned the thermals and slid down the muddy cliff to the Brigg hide for a seawatch in promisingly strong northerlies, wintry showers and plunging temperatures. As it turned out, there wasn't a great deal on the move, but the inherent wildness and solitude of the Brigg on days like this are more than enough justification.....

.... and both Common Scoter and (the only) Little Auk played nicely for the shaking camera against the tempestuous backdrop.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Round Two - Filey seawatch, 13th Nov 2017

juvenile Glaucous Gull

Another day, another highly enjoyable seawatch on the Brigg, with a moderate NW and early wintry showers calming and clearing later. Again, no great numbers and nothing rare, but a good selection of classic late autumn species and a pleasure to be there for four hours with barely another sign of humanity....

Common Scoters over the Brigg

Trek count - see here for the site

Grey Heron

Red-breasted Merganser

Black-throated Diver

Sparrowhawk - I watched this bird coming in off high from the north-east before circling the Brigg, getting harassed by gulls and then leaving back over the sea, SE towards Flamborough

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Filey seawatch - 12th November 2017

Just back (happily in one piece - it was a particularly eventful climb back up the cliff in these challenging conditions) from a six-hour seawatch, with the promising scenario of gale force northerlies, raging seas, an airflow from the Arctic and the time free to relish it. As it turned out, it was high on aesthetic drama but low on birds (at least regarding abundance), with no big numbers on the move as one would wish for in such circumstances; there were, however, some enjoyable highlights, and it was a day very well spent in the company of the birds and the birds alone.

Little Auks are a classic quarry in such conditions, and happily, 14 made the notebook by the end of the day; slightly less happily (at least for the bird involved), one was the more literal quarry of a now well-fed Great Black-backed Gull (see below). Two classic hoped-for species had the good grace to bullet through at close-range through the white horses - a Leach's Storm-petrel mid-morning and a Grey Phalarope an hour or so later. Other notables included a Great Northern Diver close in the bay and nine duck species including a female Long-tailed.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

IBOC 2017 - family album

Just back from the States, where we were proudly representing Filey and Flamborough Bird Observatories at the International Bird Observatory Conference 2017 (IBOC2017) in Cape May, New Jersey. I'll be writing about it in more detail within several upcoming articles, but with so much to process and build upon after what was an extraordinarily inspiring time (and so much else to do now we're back), it seems smart to kick out a succession of posts here just to keep the plates spinning.

(Thanks Bjorn for the above photo of the team vismigging at Higbees at sunrise!)

We forged great friendships (and strengthened existent ones) with comrades from all over the world, learned so much, found inspiration at every turn and above all felt very much part of a global Obs community - from which there will be many partnerships and positives to follow. So with apologies for lack of detail (for now) and photo indulgence (it's good to have them in one place and accessible beyond social media), here's a few photos that reflect the camaraderie and team spirit of the conference, its fantastic people and of the greater Cape May Bird Obs family:

(and thanks to Bjorn, Am and Maina for other photos above)

More to follow!