Champions of the Flyway!

Sunday, May 30, 2021

YCN guiding, end of May '21

Kingfishers shimmering in the East Yorkshire sun at Tophill Low 

It's a wrap on our last guiding days of the month, and what a fine few days it's been.... we've had a great spring across the board at Yorkshire Coast Nature, but (partly because of increased demand) Rich and I rarely have chance to co-lead groups of late, and so a three-dayer with a lovely team of eight clients was always going to be fun.
Kittiwakes gathering nesting material alongside us on the Flamborough clifftops 

The tour incorporated a wide range of habitats and specialities, all within 45 minutes of the accommodation (at Highfield Farm on the Wolds), and - after what seemed like an eternity of preceding cold and grim weather - the sun burst forth right on cue, and stayed out for the whole duration; sun block, hats and t-shirts replaced winter coats, and we couldn't have asked for better conditions.
Another good sign that we're doing things right is the high proportion of return clients, greatly adding to the craic on our tours, and we like to think it's about much more than just birds (although, to be fair, we'd do pretty well if it was...).
Goshawk speeding by in the forest 

Our first afternoon was spent at Tophill Low, where we have access to all the hides, which provided for us admirably - breeding birds up close included Marsh Harriers, Little Ringed Plovers, Oystercatchers, Gadwall, Common Terns and much more, with a great variety of butterflies, dragonflies and flowers to regularly distract us.
Wall on Sea-thrift at North Landing 

Day two was all about the coast, and specifically Flamborough. Glorious sunshine and a full day soaking up the sensory overload of the colony at its busiest - knee-deep in Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and more, with plenty of Shags, Gannets, and Peregrine activity, and land-based migrants and breeders (from Stonechats and Wheatears to numerous Sedge Warblers); the hours flew by and it was hard to tear ourselves away from the clifftops.
Guillemots - spot the egg 

Day three was all about the forests, and we were blessed with Mediterranean-type conditions from the start. Exploring our favourite corners of Wykeham in the morning was a joy; at one peaceful stop alone, we'd close-up Goshawk, Honey-buzzard and purring Turtle Dove all within a few minutes of each other.
Little Ringed Plover getting justifiably shirty with an Oystercatcher chick at Tophill 

A lazy lunch at the Raptor viewpoint provided lots more activity (including displaying Honey-buzzards) before we descended into Troutsdale for our final session. Another favourite spot of ours yielded pretty much all of target species - including Dipper, Kingfisher, Redstart, Marsh Tit, Grey Wagtail, lots of Spotted Flycatchers and many other breeders - and by the end of a hugely enjoyable third day, we'd exceeded a hundred species without even trying very hard.
Breeding Stonechat at Flamborough 

But it wasn't quite over yet, on account of a Nightjar safari I was leading that evening in Harwood Dale forest, with a different (but equally lovely) group of YCN clients. Long story short, the cold spring and subsequent lack of reliable Nightjar action did not bode well as we ambled into the forest; but it could hardly have been better scripted, with lots of memorable, close-up, in-your-face Nightjar activity - churring, quipping, wing-clapping, sparring and more.
One of three European Honey-buzzards we enjoyed in Wykeham forest 

Add to that the sea-fret that rolled in at dusk illuminated as a firey blanket of mist over the forest, the noisy, roding Woodcocks, foxes, Redpolls and more, and it was a perfect way to round off our guiding programme for the month.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Recent Random Regulars

Little Grebe 'periscoping' at the Dams
Male Pied Flycatcher at Old Fall - a brief evening session there one evening a couple of weeks back yielded this bird, plus Redstarts and warblers fresh-in after a shower
An accomodating Short-eared Owl hung around the Rocket Pole Field for a few days earlier in the month...
.... as did an unusually tame female Ring Ouzel
Some Mute swan romance from East Lea yesterday...
... and the results of Mallard romance, also at East Lea
Half of a flock of 16 Corn Buntings at Buckton this morning
Common Buzzard, also Buckton
Female Yellow Wagtail at the Dams
A few migrants on Carr Naze - Whinchat...
... and Dunlin
With a couple of breeders in the same location - Meadow Pipit (above) and Skylark (below).

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Birding Discovery Days, May '21

An accommodating Hoopoe 

So that's all of my Yorkshire Coast Nature Birding Discovery Days wrapped up for this spring, and what a blast they were. Lots of lovely clients, all in teams of a maximum of four per tour (we like to keep it personal), and lots of great birding, despite the generally poor spring and the full spectrum of conditions...
Day-flying Barn Owls are always a hit, especially when they come this close.... 

 ...we've had warm sunshine, snow, perfectly stillness, bone-shaking northerlies, fog, and pretty much every other variable of the Yorkshire spring, and we've enjoyed unique birding experiences whatever the weather.
A pair of Dotterels were a rare treat last week 

As with all my coastal days we've the option of moving around according to where the action is on the day, but as is so often the case, the Great Flamborough Head ably provided for all our needs - the Outer Head, North and South Landings, Thornwick, Bempton and Buckton all featured on our May tours, providing a broad spectrum of habitats and species.
Sedge Warblers (and many other warblers) were still arriving / passing through mid-month 

A three day group tour at the end of the month and a Nightjar safari are still to come before May slips into June, but then we're into the Seabird and Whale season in July (see here), and then the Autumn Migration Specials (see here) - plenty going on!
Kestrel and Peregrine were both regulars on the tours

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Surveying, May '21

A rare opportunity to look back over recent weeks activities... first up, our various surveying projects, of which we have several on the go.
Lapwing chicks in the nest
We've just completed the second of three visits to our various plots on our lowland wader surveys for the North York Moors National Park, and the birding pleasures are numerous. Whether that's Swallows (above) in farmyards, Tree Pipits, Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers (below) on territory, Dippers and Grey Wagtails along the rivers, or the study species themselves (with breeding Snipe, Curlew, Lapwings, Woodcock and Oystercatcher all in the mix), there's always plenty to enjoy, in often idyllic surroundings.
These three Spotted Flycatchers are all on neighbouring territories along one stretch of particularly productive river valley
Down on the Humber, meanwhile, and it's fair to say there's a little less action; but all data is good data of course, and even with pretty much all the waders having cleared out, there are still little surprises, whether that's Shelduck feeding in middle of a cement factory (above)....
... or a second-year Little Gull (above, yesterday) feeding with a handful of Common and Black-headed Gulls at the outflow pipe at King George Dock. There's always something....
Do have a cowman

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Nocmig Update, April '21 - Flamborough

"Graow!" (again) - the first of not one but two Bitterns this month (on 23rd & 29th) - that's three in six weeks! (sound recording at the foot of the post)

As mentioned in the previous post, in contrast to the same period last year, conditions were pretty much as crappy as they could be from a nocmig perspective - bitter, northerly winds, high pressure and plunging temperatures all conspiring to put the brakes on nocturnal migration (or at least, the recording thereof). In contrast to the last post, however, that conspiracy was less nocuous at Flamborough, with plenty more going on over the Great White Cape than over the bay to the north.
The month began well with a push of waterbirds on 3rd included Pintails, Wigeon, all three rallids and plenty of Scoters (see above):


And while it wasn't the migfest it could've been with better conditions, notable species kept cropping up and checking in, making for a much more diverse and entertaining month than Scoter-centric and otherwise scant returns closer to home. These included an early Green Sandpiper on 14th...


..... a Mute Swan (a scarce Flamborough bird and nocmig first) and an excitable flock of Black-tailed Godwits on 18th...... 


... the first Common Sandpiper and flock of Turnstones on 20th (with further flocks of the latter towards the month's end).....


 .... and then a Wood Sandpiper on 26th - another locally scarce species, the first of the year, and my second Flamborough nocmig record (after the first last autumn): 


Regarding the 'standard' species, dynamic and abundance were broadly similar to Filey, with Teal, Redwing, Coot, Moorhen, Curlew, Song Thrush, Gadwall and Common Gull all regular in small numbers, with odd Snipe and Lapwing, and ever-reliable Oystercatchers breaking the silence; and, as hoped, there were plenty of Common Scoters morse-coding across the sonos throughout the month, with a fantastic total of 37 flocks.

Common Gulls were a regular nocturnal migrant over the village in April

Interestingly there were several flocks that mostly consisted of a much lesser-known, trisyllabic, 'm'-shaped call type (below), which also had many females, large/long flock size, and traditional higher single notes at the beginning, in common:


All the above would've been quite enough to justify pretty much nightly efforts in the village, but a further two Bitterns - on 23rd and 29th - were the kind of unexpected joys that not only redefine the status of the such species in local terms, but also give nocmig analysis that 'finder's buzz' that is at least as exciting as uncovering a scarcity in the field. 

Here's to May.... 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Nocmig Update, April '21 - Filey

A month dominated (and somewhat saved) by these beauties 

After a memorable early spring (see here and here), it wasn't a classic month's nocturnal migration recording here at Filey; compared with the much more benevolent conditions and corresponding results of April 2020 (the month it all began), conditions were just about as anti-nocmig as they could've been, with a seemingly endless northerly/easterly airflow, often clear skies and record-breaking frosts all combining to suppress movements and provide generally modest returns.

(Please use headphones for the audio clips)


There were, however, diamonds in the mine - most notably in the unstoppable form of Common Scoters, those rotund, weatherproof denizens of spring nocmig, which were thankfully an almost constant blessing - and a few other highlights sprinkled throughout the month. Read on (it won't take long this time)....


Filey Town 
The house recorder, and its location smack bang in the middle of the noisiest Herring Gull colony on the planet, suffered more than last April, and by the end of the month, if there was 20% of sonogram worth analysing, then it was a good night - far from ideal, but a combination of track record and stubbornness dictated persistence, which paid off to some degree.


Species which put in multiple appearances during the month included Teal, Curlews, Redshanks, Black-headed and Common Gulls, Grey Herons, Redwings, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Golden Plovers, although only in small numbers; Oystercatchers were reliably regular, and a Little Egret (pre-sleet and bone-chilling northerly gale) on the 4th was a new species for the house. An odd post-civil dusk pulse of passerines past the window on 20th included several Siskins and a Meadow Pipit, while Common Sandpipers eventually clocked in with singles on 19th and 23rd.


Otherwise, it was all about the Scoters. An impressive total of 49 flocks were logged throughout the month, often sizeable and vociferous, and often including calling females as well as males; there were several good nights with multiple flocks, but by far the pick was the night of the 12th, when 29 flocks registered between 2330 and 0210hrs. A joy.


Filey North Cliff 
Regular appearances from Teal, Oystercatchers, Redwings, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, plus a smattering of Golden Plovers, Gadwall, Common Gulls, Skylarks, a couple of Water Rails and Little Grebes, Grey Herons, and the odd Wigeon were the story of much of the month, with a distinct lack of waders and passerines and low numbers of the more regular species.



Two variations on the many nocturnal flight calls of Water Rails

However, both Little Ringed Plover and Green Sandpiper were welcome registrations on the night of the 26th, and a drumming Snipe was a real surprise on the 19th - thought to be an exclusively breeding-related behaviour in the standard literature, but clearly not the case...

And then, thank the gods, there were the Scoters. Flocks were recorded on a total of eleven nights, again often substantial and often involving female calls, with a maximum of eleven flocks on the big night of the 12th. By the end of the month, a total of at least 35 flocks had graced the North Cliff recorder - with a minimum (allowing for duplication) of 72 flocks recorded over Filey combined in April alone.


(Happily, my Flamborough recorder had a much better month - summary to follow soon....)