Champions of the Flyway!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

What a (Mig)Week - 10th-18th Oct 2020

Hello, gorgeous - Rustic Bunting, Filey, 14th Oct 

Well, that was a blast. What would, in a pre-pandemic world, have been our local Ringing & Migration Week (Migweek) here on the coast was sadly impossible in its traditional form, but it was a least still very much a period to remember, for all the right reasons - great birding, birds, people, places and experiences. 

Firstly, the success of our virtual 'Mini' Migweek - an online substitute for our physical programme - was wonderful; thanks to the enthusiasm and participation of our partners (Flamborough Bird Obs, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, RSPB Bempton Cliffs and Yorkshire Coast Nature) we were able to deliver a suite of migration- and birding-themed content, the backbone of which was a series of live online talks.

Talking to the wall and not a live audience is an odd adjustment to make, but we all did our best, and from the reactions of our wider community, it worked - in fact, judging by that reaction (and the fact that it was truly accessible for all, wherever you are), it worked even better than usual in some respects. Huge thanks to my good friend and Mini-Migweek partner in crime Ana for all here hard work. You can still access all the live talks online, for a couple of weeks at least - well worth the watch here.
Pale- and dark-bellied Brents on the move through Filey bay 

Secondly, I spent pretty much every waking hour in the field, either at work or play (or, more often, both). A succession of my Yorkshire Coast Nature Migration Specials were wonderfully timed - migration resolutely did not disappoint, for me or, more importantly, the many lovely clients I've had the pleasure of guiding this week. Flamborough was, as it so often is, the great provider for the Specials; I keep the options open on where to hit within striking distance, and I'm able to improvise accordingly, but it's hard to justify leaving the Great White Cape when it keeps on giving as it has this week. And not just for the YCN tours, either; Rich and I even managed some birding together and had a blast as always.

It wasn't all about the Cape (although it would've been more than enough on its own); I birded the backyard here in Filey, too, for various sessions during the week, and - while it may be harder work in various respects - I struck a uniquely rich vein in a memorable 24 hours midweek.

Rocking-horse faeces (contextually speaking) - a Filey Barred Warbler, 13th Oct 

After deep-cleaning the Saint Catherine's Hospice Shop here in Filey at record speed (volunteering is even more fun when your Mrs is your boss) in the morning, the afternoon of 13th in the Carr Naze / Country Park area was quality. A variety pack of late-autumn migrants included Woodcock, Bramblings and thrushes fresh-in, wildfowl on the move in the shape of Barnacle Geese, Goldeneye, both Dark- and Pale-bellied Brents, Mergansers and more, not one but two Merlins (one in off the sea), and then, fluttering innocuously among a dip-feeding gull flock off the Brigg end, a Grey Phalarope - the first (and perhaps last) of the year here.
Spot the hardcore non-gull - Grey Phalarope, Filey, 13th Oct 

Another kick around the bushes in the Country Park yielded more 'crests and thrushes, and then, munching on rosehips within a Greenfinch flock, a secretive Barred Warbler. No great rarity perhaps, but more of a prize than it should be here, being less than annual and hard to catch up with (and I think only the third I've found here?). With additional Ring Ouzel, SEO and more Bramblings, a very satisfying session...
Red-flanked Bluetail, Flamborough, 18th Oct

... which turned out to be merely the opening act for the headline act the following morning. Finding undisturbed areas that hold migrants here is increasingly difficult in recent times, but a plod over to the Tip - hard to reach presently, and thus unusually peaceful - paid out in spades.....
"Why don't you sit down and I'll come a lot closer?" 

Standing at the gate and scanning the Meadow Pipits feeding in the marshy grass for a scarcer relative revealed not an interesting Anthus, but - better still - an electrifying Emberiza. A dream find, and everything was suddenly, blissfully well with the world. The pipits flushed, the bunting didn't, the sun came out, and we got to know each other very well indeed. Perfect.
Fieldfare - a small part of the cast that made a beautiful mess of my sonogram from the night of the 13th

An exceptional, unforgettable 24 hours on the home patch, right? But there were more wonders to be plundered, sandwiched inbetween those diurnal sessions. I'll provide a full summary of recent results with the overnight recorders soon, but it's fair to say - after some seemingly unbeatable returns a few days previously - the metaphorical bloody doors were blown off on the night of the 13th....
A record-breaking night of nocmig from the study window, completing a crazily productive 24 hours birding here in Filey... 

Back at Flamborough, and the roll-call of wonderful quality and quantity migration continued to grow daily, and then hourly: thrushes, Goldcrests, finches and more arriving en masse, and scarcer visitors for my groups over the week included Red-flanked Bluetail, Dusky Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Siberian Chiffchaff, Barred Warbler, Firecrest, Yellow-browed Warblers, plus Lapland Buntings, Ring Ouzels, and the always breath-taking spectacle of incoming Short-eared Owls (one dramatically dropping beside us on the clifftop out of a brutal storm).
Hmmmm; maybe karma exists, after all.....

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Northern, Rustic and Beautiful

"Hello! I'm rare!" Rustic Bunting, Filey, 14th October 2020 

Occasionally, just occasionally...... the right winds, the right time of year, the right time of day, the right circuit to take, the right place to scan, the right bird to fall upon - and no dogs, noise, people, disturbance, pressure, distractions or other crap. Just a beautiful, accommodating, often-dreamed-of rare bird, waiting to be found, and feeding happily in the sunshine here in Filey. Just occasionally, it really does all comes together.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Raining Birds - House Nocmig, Filey, 10th October 2020

The other night, 10th-11th October, was the beginning of our virtual, 'Mini' Migweek; I was guiding all day and then hosting our first talk soon after, and time was tight - so for once, setting a recorder up on North Cliff wasn't possible and I focused on the events at hand, thinking maybe I'd at least run the first recorder out of the study window after the talk.


Which, after a great presentation (thanks Rich!), I almost forgot to set - but a good couple of hours after dusk I remembered, put on its plastic cover and jammed it in the open study window. Scrolling through the sonogram the following evening, it seemed like it was going to be a quiet one; no big deal, after providing true nocmig gold a few nights earlier, picking up a Dotterel gunning over the house. A Grey Plover was about it for much of the night, until, a succession of showers - some light, some heavy - beginning at around 0345hrs, and the first few tseeps of Redwings....


....Long story short, a veritable deluge of thrushes ensued, and I had the pleasure of counting more than 900 Redwings and 40-odd Blackbirds in a rain-affected sono-window just a couple of hours long; but, with plenty of the calls almost hidden either through distance, rain, or both, I couldn't leave it there. And so last night I decided to physically listen to the busy few hours of the recording pre-dawn, just to see if I'd missed any.


 The results were fantastic, and it turns out there were in fact a minimum of 1109 Redwings and a fantastic 113 Blackbirds, and a host of other flyovers I'd missed by just visually checking - four Moorhens, a Snipe, two Golden Plover, three Song Thrushes and (my first nocmig record of) a Brambling - many hidden in the aural drumming and the visual barcode of the rain.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Shoulda, woulda, coulda

(Photos: Red-flanked Bluetail, Yellow-browed Warbler, Brambling, Barred Warbler and Goldcrests)

Spoiler alert - annoying, privileged bleating to follow, for which I apologise with a  dismissive shrug (this is my little corner for birding indulgences after all). So we should've been on Shetland for the last ten days (actually 27th-7th, when it all really kicked off), specifically Unst, specifically a perfect cottage almost as far north as you can go in the British Isles; a return for the Terriers to this birding paradise that promised much last year, and - without going into too much painful detail - emphatically, overwhelmingly delivered this year. 

If we'd have been there, we'd have been tripping over dream birds, fulfilling lifelong ambitions, and gasping at our perfect timing - a barrage of avian gems at our feet in the most iconic and fitting of landscapes. 

But we're not. Following the advice of, and out of respect for, a section of the local community, we grudgingly opted to cancel this year's trip; hard enough with everything else going on, but the daily and latterly hourly dose of salt rubbed into the wounds by perfect weather systems and perfect birds over these past days has been, well... character-building. 

Just to add plenty of insult to injury, it seems as though most the UK birding scene descended on the islands anyway chasing ticks and treats, meaning our social media feeds have resembled a constant, Dante-esque loop of the 'let's take a look at what you could've won' nose-rubbing at the end of Bullseye.  We even had to cancel our Plan B, which was a holiday cottage on the Northumberland coast opposite Lindisfarne - again, steering clear of the gory details, that would've been a very productive substitute - but alas, also not to be because of virus concerns. 

After various other trips going down the swanny this year and with various other issues to deal with, Shetland very much represented an escape hatch, however brief, and a chance to momentarily forget the shitstorm we're all working through these days. Whether we'll make it to Unst again, who knows, but it would seem unlikely - trying somewhere new rather than trying to claw back what was a clearly exceptional ten days this year is probably a more positive and enjoyable route to go down. 

So yes, I know, there are much worse places to be stuck, I'm very lucky to live here, and I do indeed appreciate all that, as regular readers will know. In that spirit, I birded pretty much constantly over these last ten days, hoping that karma might deliver a special something to make for a happy ending; sadly, karma had other ideas, but there was lots of enjoyable birding to be had, a few highlights of which are posted here. 

Here's to a safe, healthy and happy rest-of-autumn. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Killingholme, 8th October 2020


A long but engaging day on the south bank of the Humber, where we're resuming our surveys throughout the autumn and winter (having resumed those on the north side, at Paull, last month). Over the bridge early this morning between walls of rain and juggernauts; back over the bridge this evening as the sky glowed crimson and the rush hour ebbed. Inbetween? Four figures of Black-tailed Godwits (above), hundreds of Dunlins, Avocets (below), Redshank, Lapwing and Teal, lots of Curlew, Snipe, Knot and other waterbirds, plus close-up Marsh Harrier (below) and lots of Chiffys (bottom) and Redwings in the scrub along river. It's good to be back.

Prrr-sistence is Fertile - Nocmig Dotterel, 7th Oct 2020

A quick one to celebrate these three rare and beautiful little prrrrs that almost escaped detection as I sleepily analysed my overnight nocmig recording before falling into bed last night.....    

In between the residual aural distractions that throw shapes all over the sonogram, and with my eyes rapidly closing, there they were - the diagnostic, tell-tale calls of a (Eurasian) Dotterel at 0013hrs! I've had many a nocmig reward for my efforts so far, but this is perhaps the sweetest to date - a species that is only recorded every few years here in Filey, and one which made me work hard for it. Satisfaction guaranteed....
Here's one I made earlier (Flamborough, 2018) 

Talking of Nocmig, how about a free online talk - as part of our virtual, 'Mini' Migweek (10th-18th Oct) - explaining the why, what, where, how and when of nocturnal migration recording? Not a problem - see here for details of this and many more free virtual treats this coming week!

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Flamborough, 4th October 2020

Red-flanked Bluetail, Old Fall 

A mighty fine, bird-filled ten hours straight in the field at Flamborough with comrade Rich involving hundreds of tomato-soup-stained Robins, heaps of Chiffys and Goldcrests, good numbers of Song Thrushes and Redwings, Red-flanked Bluetail, Great Grey Shrike, Redstarts, Spot Flys, a scattering of Yellow-browed Warblers, Firecrest, Ring Ouzels, Crossbills and much more....
(Common) Redstart

 Flash mobs of these ticking timebombs everywhere

Yellow-brow - as iconically autumnal as a curling Sycamore leaf
A very showy Barred Warbler in the bay brambles
Three Scandinavian thrushes side by side - Song Thrush, Ring Ouzel and Redwing