Champions of the Flyway!

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Flamborough Spring Wanderings

From demure.... 'majestic'
These unique circumstances that we're all dealing with have naturally impacted pretty much everyone's spring birding routines, but fortunately for me, the adjustments have been pretty minor at worst: less time and opportunity to spread out along the coast (as I've enjoyed in recent years), a forced hand re: where to camp out for visible migration, and plenty more reliance on shank's pony in order to reach my favoured spots. That many are within walking distance, and that these are the only 'sacrifices' I've had to make, kind of put any inconvenience into perspective, of course....

Common Buzzard arriving in off the sea and past the old lighthouse
Local Barn Owl on the hunt just after dawn on the outer head
Breeding Stonechat (female)
Singing Common Whitethroat - good densities in suitable habitat
Just like old times, then - with the vast majority of my birding this spring limited to the immediate area here in Filey, incorporating the same pros and cons of those days when my birding mentality was obsessively and stubbornly patch-or-die. Of that, I'll follow up with a post in a day or two; but thankfully there have also been limited opportunities to enjoy Flamborough, too.

One of south Landing's Tawnies

One of the main reasons for this being the Breeding Bird Surveys I'm conducting across the headland this spring, on behalf of Wold Ecology. Over the course of them I've bumped into plenty of bonus collateral, as is often the case at Flamborough; in addition to a good cast of migrants, from warblers to Hobbys, the first visits in early April provided Firecrest and Grasshopper Warbler, the second a very smart Channel-type Yellow Wagtail (followed soon after by a swift diversion for a certain shrike), and the third - well, they're coming up next week, so fingers crossed...

Worth the diversion.... Brown Shrike

(with Bridlington Harbour in the background)
Additionally, with both my folks still living there, as well as the seabird colony a couple of minutes away, dropping in on them all is a necessary pleasure. So while it may've been a much-reduced service, I've still managed to get my Flamborough fix this spring, so things can't be all bad.

Kittiwake collecting nesting material from a local pond

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Nocmig update - April 2020

Grey Plover - a single bird  'peeyoowee'd over on the night of the 25th
A little late, perhaps, but here's a summary of my nocturnal migration recording adventures for the month of April 2020 - my first month, and my first primitive attempts, at this exciting and addictive new string to the birding bow.

Little Ringed Plover - a regular and vocal guest on the spectrograms
I've had lots of queries re: how it's done and with what gear, etc., and - with the caveat that in respect of nocmigging I'm very much a beginner - here's a quick recap. Regarding gear, I use an Olympus LS-11 digital sound recorder, which I bought some years ago for recording calls and songs in the field; it's discontinued I believe, and there are various newer and better similar hand-held devices, but it does the job just fine for now at least.

Greenshank - a single bird was recorded on the last night of the month
Others use an array of different set-ups, depending on budget and circumstances, with the standard method involving an external mic (often with a parabolic reflector, or DIY equivalent) set up in a garden. I have none of these, and still get what are still (to me at least) surprisingly productive results....

Where the magic happens.... by jamming a little hand-held sound recorder into the crack of the window just left of the defunct satellite dish.... 
....out into the alley and up into the ether
The playback (or, more accurately, the look-and-playback) process is pretty straightforward, and involves uploading the recording from a memory card onto the laptop, which is then opened via a (free) software program called Audacity. I could bang on about it more here but it's much better explained, all in one place, on the Nocmig website here.

Gadwall have featured surprisingly regularly on my nocmig recordings - which have tied in well with daytime records locally
As mentioned in a recent post on the subject, the lack of a garden - and the fact we live in a 100% urban setting in middle of Filey (surrounded by bricks, mortar and concrete in all directions) with a very limited sliver of sky to 'capture' any calls - effectively killed off any enthusiasm for previous attempts; it just didn't seem worth it, especially with lots of street noise and - and this is hard to do justice to - the cacophony of satanic howls and screams that comes from living in the middle of a very loud Herring Gull colony.....

Common Scoters - stars of the show so far
But after a beautiful chance encounter with a low flying flock of beeping Common Scoters while brushing my teeth late night on 31st March (see here) and the potential they illustrated (especially in lockdown circumstances), I decided it was time to give it a whirl; after all, what was there to lose? I'm happy to say that, thus far, it's just got more exciting and addictive as the weeks have worn on; extraordinarily, I'm yet to have a blank night - despite all the limitations, the gulls effectively wiping out 60-70% of airtime most nights, and the vaguaries of conditions....

So, what have I picked up? For April alone (not including these first nine nights of May, which have been really productive - more to follow), a relative treasure trove of avian wonders winging their way over the chimneys, restless gulls and sleeping humans of midtown Filey. By entering my counts on Trektellen - a great data-storing website that I've been using for more than a decade - not only do the counts contribute to the bigger picture and a wider understanding, but the site does the stats for you, and spits out all manner of graphs and charts to placate even the most needy of nerds.

Here's the totals in simple form, and looking at them in species order, there's lots of surprises. Six duck species (and likely one or two more - especially Tufted Duck - if wingbeats could be seperated), including regular Gadwall, a Common Pochard and best of all, of course, shedloads of Common Scoters... rails (Coot, Moorhen and Water Rail), while the most expected of nocmig species, are still great to register, if only to imagine their ungainly forms and dangling legs up just above the rooftops...

Nine shorebird (wader) species is a great return, with the stand-outs so far probably being Grey Plover and Greenshank, but the regularity of Whimbrel, Little Ringed Plover and (especially) Common Sandpiper, as well as Curlew, Dunlin and Redshank, is fascinating. Gulls (shudder) have at least included a Great Black-back, which flew over and instantly silenced the entire Herring Gull colony (hmm, a future ploy...?), and night-migrating Black-headeds, while both Jackdaw and Carrion Crow have also registered as flyovers in the dead of night.

A contintental Song Thrush, freshly arrived on the nearby clifftop in autumn. Who knows, one of those recorded over my house this April could be this bird returning to the continent..... 
Without a doubt the most surprising and fascinating aspect so far, however, has been the variety of passerines. Beyond thrushes, I didn't expect any, to be honest; and the lack of any available habitat (and the red flag of gulls) seemed like extra deterrents to any brave songbird, which would surely body-swerve the concrete jungle and wailing sirens in favour of a safer route nearby. But, I'm very happy to say, I was wrong....

Meadow Pipits are diurnal migrants - at least, most of the time....
I'm keeping my discipline here and avoiding writing about the brilliant surprises of May (although you can access them on Trektellen here of course), but April started the ball rolling and it hasn't stopped yet. Thrushes were indeed the most expected, and Redwing was a regular tsssiipping pleasure, clocking in on the majority of nights. Blackbird and Fieldfare also figured, as did plenty of Song Thrushes exiting the UK for the continent (but no Ring Ouzel as yet, night or day this spring - looks like autumn then!).

A migrating Robin, two nocturnal Meadow Pipits and an Alba Wagtail were all unexpected bonuses, but perhaps the most surprising few seconds of all to register on the spectrogram contained the night-flight migration song of a Blackcap. At the time, this was the first warbler I'd recorded skimming the chimney pots and after posting the spectrovid on Twitter, a barrage of replies along the lines of 'I just had that too' and 'of course, Blackcap!' etc. was a happy testament to both the fledgling nocmig community and social media.

Just a Blackcap....
Just a Blackcap, I know; but a Blackcap that fluted out a little migration song as it navigated just metres over my sleeping head in the middle of an urban environment, in the middle of the night, which would otherwise have gone completely unnoticed (and unappreciated). And May was to up the stakes further.....

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Spring Shorebirds On The Brigg

Purple Sandpiper, with strong hints of spring
A beautiful, peaceful afternoon spent latterly on the Brigg here in Filey in the hope of a few waders - happily not disappointed, with a handful of Purple Sandpipers, Turnstones, Dunlins, Whimbrel, Curlew and Oystercatchers, and a single Sanderling. Breeding plumage is starting to show on several species pictured - love this transitional time of year and these transitional plumages.

Purps at work
Purps, showing contrast in comparative plumage and moult