Champions of the Flyway!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Barn Owl & Goosander, Filey Dams - 28th Jan 2021

Cold, wet and dark here in Filey today, but dragged myself over to the Dams for half an hour (thanks to eBird, or more specifically, to avoiding a break in daily checklists); glad I did, with a male Goosander looking regal on the area of unfrozen water before heading east, and then a spine-tingling fly-by from one of the local Barn Owls - straight towards me and very close past me, despite being fully aware of my presence and staring me down....'s outdoor attire (Jerusalem Bird Obs owl hoodie) - coincidence or lure....?

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Filey Bay Corner, 24th Jan 2020

A dawn walk with the Mrs in weak, milky sunshine and sub-zero temperatures along the beach and southern flank of the Brigg, where pretty much everything was frozen - including rockpools, seaweeds, flood run-off and the actual beach - but not the Purple Sandpipers and Sanderlings (pictured), for whom it's clearly just another day on their winter holidays.
Sanderling tracks in the sand - note lack of hind toe, a special adaptation that turns them into the superheroes of the shoreline

Friday, January 22, 2021

Sea Spray, Snow & Sunshine

A quick amble along Carr Naze here in Filey with the Mrs in the cold wintry sunshine, hypnotised by the breaking waves and then chillin' with the Snow Buntings. Could be worse...

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Quatermass And The Pinks

A day of rapidly changing skies and bone-chilling winds on the bans of the Humber today; not that I'm complaining, in fact, far from it. Not only does it give us the (much-appreciated) opportunity to work in bird-filled locations in these unsure times, but it also gives me opportunity to indulge my weakness for photographing birds against bleak, industrial backdrops.
Any shots I get are of course opportunistic, but today was ideal - sudden windows of sunshine illuminating Pink-footed Geese, Curlews and other iconic wintering species, often against not only apocalyptic, human-made settings but also brooding cloudbanks as they passed over the estuary.
Pink-feet were indeed the stars of the show (with several hundred in the area), but a single adult Russian White-fronted Goose (below - full frame and then crop) made systematic checks of an always partially-hidden main flock worthwhile.....
More accommodating Pinks
....while this extremely tame female Stonechat kept me company at one vantage point.....
... and Curlews staged close fly-bys at another.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Review Of The Year, 2020 - Part Four

Rustic Bunting, Filey, 14th October 2020 - oh, happy day

This is the final part of 2020's summaries, covering October, November and December. The previous parts can be found here: Part One (Jan-Mar) / Part Two (Apr-Jun) / Part Three (Jul-Sep)

But for a few challenges (all hardly earth-shattering in the grand scheme of things), the latter part of the year - and the late autumn in particular - was wonderful from a birding perspective. Keeping it local, while not the plan (back when plans meant anything), made for a memorable, birding- and bird-filled period where I was fortunate to be in the field pretty much every day. 

A pristine juvenile Iceland Gull arriving at Carr Naze, Filey

Of those plans: I'm guessing many reading this had the disappointment of cancelled trips in 2020, and one of those trips personally was to Unst - booked almost a year ago, and eventually abandoned a few weeks before we were due to leave (for ten days in late Sep / early Oct). Privileged problems, I know, but particularly teeth-grinding for the exceptional influx of avian gems throughout the whole period we were supposed to be there (and the influxes chasing them)...

Red-flanked Bluetail, Old Fall, Flamborough

So there was only one way to soften the blow - bird the hell out of every waking hour, and appreciate whatever happened to cross my/our path here on our little stretch of the Yorkshire coast. And birding the hell out of it was indeed the theme - beginning with a very special end to September....

Regular visitors here will know how much I love seawatching, particularly in those conditions that inspire special movements in the autumn and early winter; you'll also know how, after the first five years tied to Filey, over the last four I've often favoured my original backyard of Flamborough Head - a little further away (by a whole 20 minutes), but for the far better seawatching, very much worth it.

Sooty Shearwaters - the stars of the show

And with the new Obs hide providing much-needed shelter in the worst of the conditions, day-long watches were more practical if and when the big northerly blow came around... which it did, on the morning of the 25th, for three wonderful days straight -  and so, with the diary cleared, three wonderful days straight seawatching (at around ten hours a day) it was.  

Velvet Scoters - among the many quality species on the move during the northerlies

Immersed in the best of North Sea seawatching with a friendly cast to share it all with, we broke the all-time Flamborough Bonxie (Great Skua) and Arctic Skua day records, had the highest Sooty Shearwater day counts for decades, and added lots of bits and pieces to an ever more diverse passage over three (pre-)dawn to dusk days of happy wave-gazing. 

From there? Well, constant birding - including our Humber wader surveys, my Yorkshire Coast Nature Migration Specials, or for pleasure (in truth, the latter applying to all). On the Humber, it was the season of swirling Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlins, Avocets and more (see, for example, here)...

... while the Migration Specials came thick and fast. We added as many as we could due to popular demand, and each was uniquely special (with the bonus of lovely teams of clients). Four in a week mid-month, for example, provided Dusky Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Barred Warbler, Siberian Chiffchaff, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warblers, Lapland Buntings, Ring Ouzels, Firecrest, big finch influxes including Crossbills, Redpolls, Siskins and Bramblings, thrushes and Goldcrests everywhere, and Short-eared Owls - including this one which we watched arriving in off the sea in a brutal rainstorm, before landing right beside us on the clifftop....  

Almost all the Migration Specials were spent on the greater Flamborough Headland, which could scarcely have been more accommodating; much of my downtime birding was also spent on the Great White Cape, where Rich and I even managing a few excellent days in the field

Yellow-browed Warbler (Flamborough) - the Sibe that never lets you down

Barred Warbler

On top of all the daytime stuff, it was a pleasure to co-ordinate our virtual Migweek, which went some way to filling the void left by what would've been the real thing (in 'normal' circumstances) with a range of free online talks. It would've been very easy not to bother, but I'm really glad we did, and for bringing the community together in a strangely disconnected time, it seemed to hit the spot for many. More here

You little beauty

The week was memorable for a variety of reasons, not least the wonderful incoming migration that blessed the coast, by both day and night. For example, I had a ridiculously entertaining and productive 24 hours here at Filey which began with finding Barred Warbler and Grey Phalarope among many fresh-in migrants on the afternoon of the 13th, continued with recording a record-breaking inundation of thrushes overnight on my nocmig, and ended with a bang - bumping into a dream-find Rustic Bunting in the morning sunshine of the 14th. (Maybe karma does exist after all...?)

Great Egret arriving in off the sea at the fog station, Flamborough

More tours, more surveys and then, for the last week of a wonderful month (summarising it isn't easy, but it sure helps with retrospective appreciation...), a YCN Adventure at Spurn. After a precious lull, the plague and its repercussions steadily began to encroach more profoundly again, and it was only with much careful planning that our week with a great team of clients was possible; indeed, the following week, also at Spurn, didn't make the cut. 

Brents at Spurn

Early to mid November is one of my absolute favourite windows for birding, and being confined to the local patch was no sacrifice; in fact, Filey often comes into its own as autumn reaches its twilight hour. 2020 was no different, except for the fact, I was here to enjoy it as much as, well, the days when I was effectively glued to the spot here a few years back. 

Jack Snipe, Black Redstart (above), Whooper Swan & Twite (below) - Filey, November

Big movements of Pink-feet and Whooper SwansRed-necked Grebe and Black-throated Diver alongside Great Northern Divers, Goldeneyes, Red-breasted Mergansers and more in the bay, thrush influxes, MerlinsSnow Buntings, Twite and Lapland Buntings on the clifftops, Black Redstarts and Woodcocks appearing here and there were all features of the period, and while things naturally quietened down towards the end of the month, there was still plenty to enjoy. 

Autumn proper ebbed away by late month, but the birding was still quality and productive as December began - locally there were plenty of seasonal specialities, ongoing Humber surveys were a (chilly) pleasure, and my YCN Winter Birding Days were pleasingly popular and successful; how fortunate to be able to work at what I love, in the outdoors, with good people and great birds - especially in these times. 

A big shout out to this legend for all the laughs, good times and support in this weirdest of years