Champions of the Flyway!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Filey & Flamborough Ringing & Migration Week - 14th-22nd Oct 2017

Happy to report that it's almost that time of year again, and that this year we're pairing up with our friends across the bay to provide a bigger and better programme of events (see full schedule below); full details are at the foot of this post, but while everything is free, there are a couple of talks that require advance booking: mine on Sunday 15th and Yoav's on Saturday 21st. Contact me via to book places, and for any other enquiries.

The Filey & Flamborough Ringing & Migration Week kicks off on 14th October and this year it's bigger and better than ever! While our respective recording areas create a seamless zone of coverage along this famously bird-rich stretch of the UK coastline, 2017's programme sees the two neighbouring Observatories collaborating for the first time for a wonderfully varied programme that is, as always, absolutely free and open to everyone.

Building on the successes of last year's Filey Ringing and Migration Week (which in turn built on FBOG's long-running annual ringing weeks many years previously),
this joint event - which actually runs for a full nine days - aims to provide a wealth of accessible, exciting and instructive activities that are all suitable for everyone, from beginner to expert, young to not-so-young, novice to experienced.

Both Observatories are running daily ringing demonstrations, where our experts are on hand to show the birds up close and explain their amazing journeys. Recent Ringing Weeks have involved the catching of everything from huge arrivals of Scandinavian thrushes and Goldcrests to Short-eared Owls and Sparrowhawks and Siberian gems such as Pallas's, Yellow-browed and Dusky Warblers; families and children are especially welcome, and it's a rare occasion when a younger attendee isn't entranced by these awe-inspiring travellers in the hand. The Filey ringing station remains in its traditional spot in the Country Park (turn left after the cafe for 100 metres) and will be operating from dawn to dusk each day, while Flamborough's team will be stationed at the dedicated ringing lab at the Living Seas Centre, South Landing, from 10 to 12 each morning.

Guided Migration Walks are taking place daily at a variety of spots across both recording areas - including Bempton Cliffs RSPB - and are all led by local experts who are more than happy to explain the mysteries behind the arrivals and departures as they happen. In addition, we'll be hosting Visible Migration Drop-in Sessions for those who want a taster of this wonderful live spectacle along the Yorkshire coast.

There's also a varied programme of five evening talks, which kick off with RSPB's Mark Thomas sharing his exclusive insights about Protecting the UK's Rare Breeders (a collaboration with our friends at Scarborough Birders), and ends with the inaugural Martin Garner Inspirational Talk on the final Saturday night - Yoav Perlman on Israel - Where Migration is Defined. Yoav's knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for migration are well known, and as a close friend of the mighty and much-missed Mr Garner, we couldn't have found a more perfect speaker.

Remember, it's all free, voluntarily run and open to everyone. See you there!

Mark Pearson (co-ordinator)

Note that all ringing demos and talks are weather-dependent and final updates will be posted at 7pm each evening on and - be sure to check before attending.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Potential Baltic Gull? - Filey, 28th Sep 2017

From this afternoon's otherwise genteel and uneventful seawatch.... interesting feedback on this bird (hence posting), some better versed than I tentatively suggesting it's a probable fuscus - but with much overlap (and no ring), tentative seems like the best word for it.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Back in the ring

So the autumn so far has been something of a, well, slow burner for migration up here... which in many ways has been just as well, with few opportunities to truly get in the thick of it. There have been plenty of the aforementioned stolen hours here and there, however, mostly at Flamborough pre- and post-work, but these last two days have been the first of the season where time off and encouraging conditions have coincided - and so I've spent both birding from pre-dawn here in Filey until the birds ran out late afternoon.

And what a pleasure it's been. Nothing too rare, despite the easterly airflow and variable fog and cloud (unfortunately punctuated by extended sunny periods), but finally a couple of days where landbound migration kept in a spring in the step, an eye on every suspect movement and an ear on every incoming call. A couple of hours in the Carr Naze area before work on 25th in the fog produced a dark-headed flava wagtail in off, frustatingly beating the auto-focus in the process, but a handful of continental Song Thrushes and a fresh-in Yellow-brow on the cliff to path were enough to get the juices flowing for the upcoming free time.

Dawn on Carr Naze yesterday (26th) was initially quiet, but an hour or so after first light and birds began to arrive through the banks of fog - first a few Song Thrushes, then a Mealy Redpoll, then a few more Song Thrushes - and before long it was time to check Top Scrub, where Dan and the team had the nets up and were already catching. A (very strong candidate) Siberian Lesser Whitethroat - more on this bird to follow, but it was a cracker - in the hand was quickly followed by a Firecrest darting through the misty canopy, three Yellow-browed Warblers tsooesting and Pied and Spotted Flycatchers among commoner migrants.

Back home for a quick breakfast and after running the Mrs to work, back in the field within 40 minutes and up to Gristhorpe Bay to check the clifftop scrub and hedge for grounded migrants. A slow scan of the fenceline, and bingo - a sharp-as-a-razorblade male Red-backed Shrike stared back at me before resuming its pest control duties. Ignoring the group of five Whinchats nearby, I snuck closer, and the shrike snuck closer to me, leaving me with fantastic views and twenty very, very well spent minutes together. The rest of the afternoon meant more patrols of Carr Naze and Top Scrub, and plenty of variety - Bramblings, Siskins, more thrushes and other finches, a scattering of common warblers (including ever-present and vocal Yellow-brows), an upsurge in Robin, Dunnock and Goldcrest numbers - and despite much activity drying up by mid-afternoon, even at dusk there was evidence of new arrivals, with new Robins and Song Thrushes on the Carr Naze clifftop.

Today? Well much the same in truth, although again, a steady turnover of birds, including at least five well-spread Yellow-brows, my first Ring Ouzel of the season chacking along Short Hedge, more new Robins and thrushes, a Dunnock watched arriving high and in off (a real highlight - I'm not kidding!), new Pied Flys and chats, and the constant promise that the next bird might just be the big one; but if not, who cares - it's a joy.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Israel, March 2017 - extras

Better late than.... a few leftovers from the memory card which slipped my mind until now - what a place!

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Flamborough spring

A much-delayed summary of an enjoyable and productive season down the road on the Cape....

As explained in previous posts, it was all about the workload this spring: tons of (very productive) surveys, wrestling with academia (intensively beavering away up to my end-of-May BSc deadline), wildlife guiding and event leading, and three-days-plus a week working at the Living Seas Centre (as well as nature writing and other bits and pieces) made for a manic few months. But it was all good - to have such an enviably rich and varied working week, all of which is directly related to the study or promotion of birds and wildlife, is a privilege that I don't take lightly.

But it does inevitably mean far less time for (single) patch birding, and simultaneously more opportunity for diversification. Gone are the rigid, self-imposed boundaries of the Filey recording area (although four and a half years obsessive hammering were hardly dull), replaced by a more opportunistic, ad hoc approach - which has not only cleansed my birding palate, but has paid off rewardingly. For the first year since returning to the Yorkshire coast five years ago, I saw my first Redstarts, Ring Ouzels, Pied Flys and Tree Pipits of the year not on the coast, but on territory in the forests and moors; and the majority of my half-decent self-finds (and indeed minor twitches) were outside my formerly strict FBOG recording boundaries. As good as a rest, as the saying goes.

Excluding the aforementioned surveying and guiding elsewhere across the county, the majority of those snatched, opportunistic birding sessions have been down the road in the Flamborough Bird Observatory recording area. A 25-minute drive and home to most of my working week at the LSC, the greater Headland has generously provided for me over these last few months, despite only impromptu stabs at select locations there. There's a more in-depth overview here, but with spring now conclusively behind us (and the first signs of the birding autumn kicking in), a brief look back of my Flamborough spring season seems timely.

After a quiet April (just as well, with lots of long days and few birding opps), May soon kicked the spring into gear. A message on the Obs whatsapp on the way to work re: a Siberian Stonechat just a few minutes from the centre on 6th was a timely reminder of the area's potential - after good views pre-work, I stole a half-hour lunch break for second helpings, and promptly bumped into a singing Wood Warbler in the ravine. Later in the day and after filling up the feeders, an interestingly late, dark, long-billed Mealy Redpoll appeared, signing off a great day within a stone's throw of the office.

Although opportunities for sky-watching from the LSC patio during promising conditions were naturally limited to five minutes snatched here and there, I was hopeful of quality flyovers - the first of which were three Spoonbills (which had been reported heading south at Filey) battling into the wind from the office window the following day; a classy and locally very scarce addition to the work list. Another successful local twitch followed a week later when Lee put out news of a flighty male Serin he'd briefly seen by the lighthouse; a couple of flight calls and high speed views later, and happily a quick roll of the die before work had hit the spot.

A week later still, and Thornwick Pools - a five-minute drive (or diversion) from the LSC - looked like a good option pre-work, with showers sweeping through and the possibility of a few waders dropping in. Happily, and just as colleague Ana arrived, a Temminck's Stint magically did likewise... a less-than-annual species on the Head, the bird was initially jumpy and hassled by the (attempted) breeding LRPs, but eventually settled and gave good views for a couple days.

A couple of weeks peppered with bits of interest around the LSC and beyond followed, before a quick buzz around the outer head south of the lighthouse on 4th June produced a surprise female Red-veined Darter on the clifftop path - the first of the year for the recording area of what is another less than annual species - and what seemed like a nice bookend to an enjoyable season.

However, while leading a seabird boat trip out of North Landing a few days later (on 9th), we chugged back into the bay just as a Common Crane circled over the cliffs and into view behind us... quite a surprise, and quite a challenge to communicate both the exact location and the gravitas of the sighting to our puffin-lovin' audience. But the good karma of not rushing off and leaving our punters as soon as possible on the beach paid off beautifully when, as I was bidding everyone goodbye in the car park ten minutes later, I picked it up circling slowly north-west and heading towards Bempton - allowing everyone to get better (and surer-footed) views. Better still, two days later it miraculously and very thoughtfully chalked itself up on the work list by staging a timely fly-by as I happened to glance out of the office window. Karma indeed.

And then there was this beast, of course, which - after several near-misses - finally played ball at the end of June.....

So, despite a lack of extended time in the field, opportunistic sessions snatched here and there made for quite a season down the road... let's hope there are similarly productive scores now the autumn as arrived.