Champions of the Flyway!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

New Sensations - Filey, 22nd April 2020

Short-eared Owl - even less awake than I was
Another cool, clear, sunny morning and, as hoped, another batch of new arrivals here in Filey. Firsts for the year in the golden early light included Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Green Sandpiper (among a trickle of waders on the move) and Sedge Warbler, with a Swift past the study yesterday afternoon.

Nipping out for breakfast 

Green Sandpiper calling and heading east
A couple of Lapwings north
Four Golden Plovers south-east
Barn Owl prepping vole burrito
Lazy-ass Brown Hares

Monday, April 20, 2020

It's A Hard Nocmig

A Common Sandpiper in the flesh.... 
So, we're four weeks into the (partial) lockdown, and the skies outside are clear and blue, the wind is a brisk easterly roaring in off the North Sea, and the pressure is high - the perfect ingredients for a lockdown on vismig, nocmig, and indeed anymig....

... and a spectrogrammed apparition of one as it migrated over the house at 2304hrs last night

Not that I'd be spoilt enough to complain; I can access peace, birds, nature and breath-taking views on my daily circuits from the house, and for that I'm eternally grateful. But with the brakes pretty much slammed on re: migration and high pressure set to dominate for some days to come, it seems like a good opportunity to reflect on that new element of my local birding that many of us around the country, and no doubt the world, are experimenting with - Nocmig.

A Redwing migrating in daylight....
I started almost three weeks ago at the beginning of April (see here for a quick recap of what Nocmig is, and my DIY set-up) and have managed to record every night since - this despite tech issues, battery fails, human error, and various other limitations I'm slowly getting to grips with - and have, to my surprise, scored every night.

... and the evocative tsseeps of a night migrant a couple of nights ago

Trapping a little sound-recorder into the gap of a window pointing out into the alley and pressing record is pretty much as basic as it gets, and I'm looking into ways of improving my situation, but if you're thinking about giving it a go, hopefully it's some encouragement: If I can make it work, you probably can...

A Common Scoter navigating the waves on the Brigg....
As mentioned in that first post, I have serious limitations here which basically put me off any previous attempts, the biggest being physical contraints - I have no garden, I live in a 100% urban setting in the middle of town, and we're surrounded by what is effectively a sonic fortress of tall, terraced buildings.

... and a flock navigating the chimney pots of central Filey earlier this month

This means the 'reach' of my recorder is limited to a small piece of sky above my study window, and there's no parabolic capabilities (although I'm working on that); it also means the absence of any suitable habitat (and light/sound pollution) act as deterrents for migrants that can easily body-swerve the centre of town a few hundred metres in either direction.

A migrant Whimbrel at a local wetland....
Additionally, I have to contend with the ambient noise of an urban setting (as evidenced by the razor-sharp quality audio of humans arguing, laughing, coughing, urinating etc, as well as cats humping, dogs barking, and a wonderful spectrum of other sounds straight off a BBC Radiophonic Workshop LP). Last - but by no means least, trust me - is the, er, mixed blessing of living smack-bang in the middle of an increasingly amorous and vocal Herring Gull colony.

... and a migrant over the house last night

Red-listed they may be, but when they effectively write off 50-60% of an overnight recording, even I start to lose a little sympathy with them; worse still, they have an amazing variety of calls, which cover all frequencies, shapes and sizes on the spectrogram. 'Nemesis' doesn't even come close.....

Herring Gulls = bastards
But there are several upsides, too. Firstly, my location - I may be deep in the concrete and clay of an urban setting, but I'm also just a couple of hundred metres from the North Sea; the potential for picking up birds using the coast as a flightline, or picking up species coming in off before they gain height, is exciting. and while it's only speculation, this may already explain the number of Redwings and Common Scoter flocks that have skirted the chimney pots on many nights so far.

Aha! A Redwing sneaks through among the audiohell of Herring Gulls
And, it's only spring - this may be a toe-dipping prelude to a full-on deep-dive later in the year, and it may take me somewhat longer to scroll through the nightly spectrograms than the gull-limited 45 minutes at present. Even in present conditions, which are as discouraging as you can get here (strong wind straight onto the exposed recorder from the east, wind carrying a lot of extra ambient wave noise from the sea, high pressure, clear skies etc), I still had Common Sandpiper, Gadwall and Whimbrel migrating over my house last night.

Meadow Pipit  - a diurnal migrant, and a surprising addition to the #Nocmig list this week
Fantastic! Early days, but it's exciting stuff, and has the capacity to get much better still....

(*I may have already used that title for our local Nocmig Whatsapp group, but as regular readers are aware I know better than to let a good pun go to waste....)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

More Signs Of Spring

A few timely and heartening signs of spring proper in recent days - Chiffchaff (top two), Willow Warbler (three and four), male Blackcap and a local Common Buzzard enjoying the sun (and peace).

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Birding For The Clampdown - 15th April 2020

Two tiny dots....
Another day in partial lockdown, and another stroll to Muston Sands, my favourite viewpoint here in Filey, just ten minutes from the front door. Another day with great results, too - after plenty over the Easter weekend (see last post), conditions again looked promising for broad-winged action, and happily, so it was.

... which are actually two huge beasts
Apart from the ubiquitous Common Buzzards (particularly visible today, in all directions, including over the town and the bay) it wasn't looking good, until two distant but wonderfully familiar shapes appeared together, circling to the north-west in the heat-haze.

Two (more) Common Cranes - that'll do nicely. Not the closest of encounters, but who cares - I've had plenty of crippling views here, including from the very same spot - and another great sighting from a very productive spring for flyovers. (postscript - they're entertaining various birders in the Scarborough area a little further north as write).

Common Buzzards - very much living up to their name these days

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Birding for The Clampdown - Easter 2020

One of two Marsh Harriers in off the North Sea
A few shots from the Easter weekend, with lots of movement at Muston Sands - including big counts and many hundreds of Linnets and Goldfinches, a nice steady trickle of hirundines, Yellow Wagtails into double figures, the three Great Northern Divers in the bay alongside a wonderful show from 12 Bottlenose Dolphins, plenty of raptor activity headlined by two Marsh Harriers and a Red Kite, and a fine showing of White Wagtails - four together on the golf course was the most I've ever seen in one group here.

Red Kite heading south
One of five White Wagtails (four together plus a fifth south) on Sunday
One of 12 Bottlenose Dolphins playing in the bay
A high, coasting Great Spotted Woodpecker
Two of many hundreds of Linnets on the move

Sand Martin - all three hirundines a regular occurence in recent days
Skylark - still small numbers moving
Euro Golden Plover heading inland 
Migrating Dunnock

Monday, April 6, 2020

Vismig, er, Platinum - 6th April 2020

Red-rumped Swallow, expertly captured as it passed the Gap by Keith (cheers for the photo KC!)
So despite everything, you may have noticed it's being going very well re: my local lockdown birding here in Filey, with visible migration being especially kind so far this spring. In the last couple of weeks, I've had Woodlark, Hooded Crow, Marsh Harriers, Red Kites, White Wagtails and lots of other quality flyovers, culminating in the fine prize of a Crane a couple of days ago - hence the 'Vismig Gold' part of my last post's title ....

Yellow Wagtail - first of the year
48 hours later and I'm a willing victim of my own hyperbole, with this morning providing quality in the shape of Yellow Wagtails (first of the year), a single Crossbill among a good push of finches, and the first mini-surge of hirundines - House Martins, Sand Martins and Barn Swallows all suddenly into double figures, providing a perfect supporting cast to nothing less than a Red-rumped Swallow...

House Martin
Despite putting in more hours vismigging (and general local birding) than I care to remember, it's a species that - although very much on the radar at certain times of year especially - has managed to body-swerve me on several occasions; I can think of at least two occasions when they've almost certainly flown right past me, fate pointing me in the wrong direction. But they're a tricky bird to get locally, with only a handful of modern records and, of course, a habit of bulleting by, never to be seen again.

Oystercatchers (note very different bill shapes)
Not this time. After word came through of one heading south via the Scarborough Birders Whatsapp, I altered position slightly to broaden my panorama to the north, and waited.... 17 minutes later and a loose group of hirundines approached, well spread and at full speed: manic checks of each, with barely seconds to do so, revealed a Sand Martin, a Sand Martin, a Swallow, a House Martin, a Sand Martin, a Sand Martin and BOOM! Just as it threatened to sneak by unappreciated, I clocked it against the low-tide sands of the beach as it hurtled south.

Immediately calling Keith, in position as ever just over 2km to the south at Hunmanby Gap, I garbled out a message, hung up and hoped, and for once it came good - barely a minute later and not only did it appear, it even made it into his DSLR viewfinder for long enough for an excellent action shot....

The first Marsh Harrier to make the house list!
Just to make a good day even better, as I sat at the dining table soon after returning, the gulls kicked off outside - and after grabbing the camera and looking out of the (ground floor, dirty, double-glazed) window), by sheer luck, I had two seconds of full-fat house tick mega Marsh Harrier disappearing behind the chimney stacks... my second large raptor for the Lockdown list, after the far more expected Common Buzzard, and a long hoped-for addition to the window list.

So, it's been a really productive spring so far under the circumstances. Let's hope those circumstances remain practical enough for the enjoyment of local daily wanderings and the birds I'm fortunate to enjoy on them; either way, I'm making the most of it.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Birding for The Clampdown - Vismig Gold

A speck of dust on the 'scope / your device's screen?
Lucky, I know - lucky to be able to time my daily outdoor venture for what would hopefully be the optimal period for broad-winged activity (late morning) yesterday, and lucky that my favoured viewpoint is all of 12 minutes from the front door, and about as isolated and ideal as you can imagine.

Nope - it's a huge, beautiful Common Crane! (same photo, cropped)
So it was yesterday morning, with the sunny intervals, mostly patchy cloud and a southerly airflow - at the right time of year for bigger wanderers on the move. Realistic targets (outside of the ubiquitous Common Buzzards, Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and Peregrines) in early to mid-April in favourable conditions include Red Kite (I've had a few this spring) and Marsh Harrier (a regular scarce migrant), perhaps an Osprey with luck (a handful a year, often in spring), or something rarer still....

Here's one I made (found) earlier - a few springs ago in the same place
... like a Common Crane, for example - less than annual locally but a species I've been fortunate to find multiple times during skywatches in the Filey area in recent years. After warming up with my first Marsh Harrier of the year, wheeling ever higher as it coasted north (which would've done more than fine as the day's highlight), I scanned the skies to the north, and picked up a distant blob, travelling high and north-west, with a constant flight path and what appeared to be slow, broad wings....

My first migrating Marsh Harrier of the spring heading north 
I moved to the Harpia, picked it up in the haze as it gained height, and bingo - a Crane, lolloping majestically up the coast. Now, more than ever, what an absolute joy to behold.... I put the news out via local whatsapps (it only takes a few seconds to type species, location, time and direction - technology is amazing, eh...!) and happily it was tracked as it coasted up beyond Scarborough - always a pleasure when news gets out fast and everybody has a chance of enjoying it.

Reed Bunting
Passerines were still on the move, too, with Meadow Pipits and Chaffinches making up the majority, and bonus balls including Corn bunting and Brambling. Another good day - here's hoping there are more to come this spring.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

New Adventures In Lo-Fi

Common Scoters on the move off the Brigg - but that's by day....
Thirteen days into what will no doubt be a lengthy (partial) lockdown and it's all about making the most of wildlife under the restrictions - by appreciating existing pleasures fully and also finding new ways to explore aspects of birding and nature that were previously untapped. Of the latter, especially now we're into the spring proper, there's the nocturnal migration of birds, or Nocmig.

A Common Scoter in the bay - not skirting chimney pots on Rutland Street
But how? Put simply, by recording the noises they make as they pass overhead: point recorder skywards, press record, download and analyse afterwards, identify species and numbers. Of course it's a bit more complicated than that (especially the identifying part), but that's essentially it, and anyone can do it; and as you might expect, many more people are, with so much more time on their hands and limitations as they are. If we can't go to them, then let them come to us.

The study, including a window not only to my limited sliver of housebound vismig, but also with a suitably gripping gap in the top section...
I've been meaning to get into Nocmig for an age, but a lack of a practical venue for a recorder - we have no garden, are surrounded by multi-storeys of bricks and mortar on all sides, and have a very limited sliver of sky available to us - was enough to dissuade me thus far. But through a combination of reasons, I've finally taken the dive (or rather, dipped my toe in) - not least because, as mentioned above, just like everyone else, I'm hoping to make the best of the situation and find new ways make the most of our limitations.

...where the recorder....
The final straw came on the evening of 31st March (a few nights ago) when, while brushing my teeth, I heard a low, loud flock of Common Scoters migrating over the house at around 2300hrs - magical! - and with reports of a big nocturnal overland movement of these wonderful seaducks underway, it got me thinking as to how I might yet fashion a Nocmigging opportunity from these humble surrounds..... the answer - well, a short-term stop-gap answer at least, was this: dust off old Olympus hand-held sound recorder, cocoon it in bubble wrap, jam it in the opening at the top of the partially-opened study window on the first floor, press record, and hope for the best.

.... points out into the alley and into the night...
That was several nights ago now, and despite the vaguely comedy DIY method, it works - in fact, it's kind of thrilling already. Of two nights I've gone through, both have featured multiple flocks of scoters, including some so low you can hear there wing-beats as clear as day - as well as multiple migrating Redwings, Song Thrush, Fieldfare, and several mystery calls (there'll be a lot of the latter, trust me....).

.... and is already producing exciting results, including this spectogram of a flock of very low Common Scoters
I'm looking at ways to make the recording process more successful and effective - at least within the limitations of sticking a mic out of my study window in the back alley - but it's a start, and hopefully there'll be plenty more eulogising about this new little adventure to come soon.