Champions of the Flyway!

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Return of Rossi

Yep, as those of you with latest bird news subscriptions and social media feeds will be more than aware, she/he's back. After news broke well after dark, yesterday morning (after a bit of early work to take care of) I headed across the bay to Bempton, where (presumably) the same Black-browed Albatross - the one I saw in the same spot exactly four years ago, and then again, almost exactly a year ago, off Filey Brigg - had magically reappeared.
There are, understandably, a million photos out there of this very wonderful bird (many much better than mine), but save to say the views, and experience, were very special. If she/he sticks around, I may be tempted back for more later in the week; if not, well thanks the memories, big bird.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Nocturnal Sounds of Filey Dams, Spring '21 (part one)

As of this spring, I've started running a sound recorder overnight at the Filey Dams YWT reserve (thanks Kate and team!), just to see what sounds and vocalisations I can pick up after the sun has set and calmness descends over this wonderful wetland on the edge of Filey town. I've set the recorder on just a handful of nights - in May and June - so far, but I'm planning on stepping up my efforts from July onwards.


The excited 'swee-wee-wee' flight calls of three Common Sandpipers (with Gadwall and Herring Gulls in the background) - a regular long-distance migrant in spring and autumn  

It's already been fascinating, in various ways. For example, after the dusk chorus dies down, it's surpisingly tranquil - there's much less 'chit-chat' than I expected from the louder avian residents, and much less sound pollution from human-made sources, which makes picking out interesting calls a lot easier. It's also been encouraging from a migration perspective - while water levels and conditions were far from productive for migratory waders, they're still dropped in overnight in small numbers, and better still, have announced their presence with calls in the darkness. All of which bodes well for the 'autumn', which - from a wader perspective - starts soon....


 The eery screech of a local Barn Owl on a hunting circuit


 The excited bark of a Grey Heron, a non-breeding regular at the Dams


The subtle utterings of a Wood Sandpiper - a scarce migrant wader locally, and good to pick up on the recorder at night!


The pinging of sleepless Jackdaws roosting in the woodland, with the high-pitched squeak of a freshly-emerged Tawny Owl chick nearby


The distinctive peu of a Little Ringed Plover. These long-distance migrants stop off at the Dams on their way back from Africa every spring


One of the more vocal species at night at the Dams, two pairs of Oystercatchers have attempted to breed in the area this spring.

(Part Two to follow soon) 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Black-crowned Night-heron, Filey - 23rd June '21

Oh where are you now, my red-eyed son...               (Library pic from Chicago a decade ago)

Snakes and ladders, swings and roundabouts.... at the back-end of what's best described as a uniquely weird spring comes another sting in the tail, this one with an altogether sweeter flavour. As many of you will know I've been banging on about / extolling the joys of nocturnal migration recording (nocmig) for over a year now, and while still very much a beginner, progress has been swift and many lessons learned (see, well, plenty of entries over the last 15 months). But as detailed recently, but for a few choice highlights and a handful of decent nights it's been a consistently poor spring for nocmig, and as of a couple of weeks ago it was time to review the effort/reward ratio as the season slowed to a crawl.
This basically entailed mothballing the house recorder until autumn (because of the Herring Gull colony) and deploying a recently-purchased Audiomoth device (in place of a regular sound recorder) up on the North Cliff here in Filey. The latter decision is a pay-off of sorts, sacrificing some recording/audio quality and reach for the luxury of being able to preprogramme the audiomoth to record automatically at times of your choice, and the option of leaving it in situ for many days, even weeks, at a time. It's a good time of year to experiment, with very little happening in the night skies, but the chance of a random overshoot or curveball for those who persist; with this in mind, I retrieved the North Cliff audiomoth this afternoon and reviewed the last few nights. Not much, except for the odd Oystercatcher, Coot and Moorhen, a late arrival insomniac Sedge Warbler, a few returning Curlews, and this....


 (And an example to compare:) 


 ... at 0141hrs yesterday morning (23rd). Caution is naturally the default response to any potentially scarce nocmig records, but even on first listen, it sounded uncannily perfect for a Black-crowned Night-heron, with a second, much fainter call shortly after - at which point, you take a step back, go into research mode (thank you, Sound Approach and Xeno-Canto, we love you both very much), discuss it with the local nocmig team on Whatsapp, and if it's still worth pursuing, consult a range of expert sound-recordists and nocmiggers who are kind enough to advise.
The carrot and stick approach

In the case of the latter, we're fortunate to have the ear of some very generous and learned folk, and in situations like this I'm more than happy to bow to their greater knowledge (in fact, it's an essential prerequisite) - and so when Magnus, Stanislas, James, Yoav et al give it the rubber-stamp with bells and whistles (thanks all), the degree of confidence required is exceeded, and it's time to celebrate. 



Wednesday, June 23, 2021

North York Moors surveying - June '21

So that's the last round of our Wold Ecology wader surveys for the North York Moors National Park done and dusted for the season, and it was a period blessed with lovely weather and lots of fantastic wildlife. Waders again included Lapwings, Snipe, Curlews and Oystercatchers, singing Redstarts were particularly well represented, Hares were everywhere, Spotted Flycatchers seem to be having a good season, and there was plenty more to enjoy.

How not to find a rarity

Nothing to see here 

It's been a long time since I've had the chance to go through and delete the countless, overwhelmingly mostly crappy images that have filled up my memory cards over the last 18 months, but having run out of space, last night I reluctantly took the plunge. Deleting blocks of hundreds (sometimes thousands) at a time, it occurred to me double-check a series from Hartendale, Flamborough almost three weeks ago, just to make sure my suspicions at the time remained unconfirmable. You can probably see where this is going.....
Oh, f.....

Back on the morning of 2nd June, I had an hour or so to kill before family duties in Flamborough and then work back in Filey, and with plenty of late spring overshooting rarity action happening (but the usual local spots somewhat swamped with tourists in warm sunshine), I decided on a walk along Hartendale, a thickly vegetated gully that runs south from the village to the south cliff, just east of Danes Dyke. It's an underwatched spot I always intend to do more often - maybe I'll finally take heed this time....
Long story short, I caught several glimpses of what I thought could be a Subalpine Warbler sp, pursued by territorial Lesser Whitethroats through the thick scrub. With the inevitable dog walkers soon approaching a few metres in front of me, more in vain hope than expectation I fired off a series of rapid shots in the general direction of the bird(s) as the dogwalkers passed, greeting them through gritted teeth as they disturbed the area, stepping off the narrow path into the crop to let them by. 

After a good while of seeing nothing but Lesser (and Common) Whitethroats in the same area and having checked the images on the back of my camera (in strong light, and in retrospect somewhat, er, unthoroughly) that showed endless, various angles of Lesser 'throats, I admitted defeat, and talked myself out of it; maybe it was just a combination of tricks of the light, projecting a search image onto a commoner species, and wishful thinking in the context of similar rarities arriving elsewhere.
Just a Lesser Whitethroat, surely....
... until you look a little harder at the left of the photo
Fast forward to yesterday, and the reality is somewhat different (insert facepalm memes and emojis, and expletives, here). As illustrated by the accompanying photos, the camera did in fact capture a smart male Subalpine Warbler species after all; somehow I must've scrolled past them at the time, inducing a nightmare in the process. Of what species, well, the jury is out, and enquiries are ongoing (more hopefully to follow). 

Excuses? Well, plenty (even if none of them really cut it): I had to be somewhere else sharpish (family issues), after which my mind went into work mode; I crashed out soon after, got up to go birding the following day and was fortunate to find both Rosy Starling and Bee-eater, which served to further bury the memory of the subalp-that-most-likely-wasn't; then days go by without re-checking the card, and it gets lost in the mix along the way.... 
Lessons learned? Well I'd like to think trusting my own initial instincts, checking all the images more thoroughly at the time, and checking/editing the contents of my memory card much sooner when back home would be among them. In reality? We can but hope.... 

In the meantime, if you need me I'll be under the stairs wearing a conical hat with a big D on it. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Filey Peregrines, June '21

Another bonus of seabird monitoring is bumping into the local Peregrines...

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Bottlenose Dolphins, Filey, 8th June '21

Hardly unusual these days, but always a huge pleasure to see nonetheless - and a nice bonus to doing my first Kittiwake productivity surveys of the year for the RSPB (my tenth year monitoring the Filey colony, which this year includes checking the productivity of the small Cormorant colony, too).
A minimum of 17 dolphins came past (unfortunately hassled by a too-fast fishing boat, cropped out of the photos, naturally), revealing a few familiar faces - well, fins - including Runny Paint and acouple of others. Details to follow - I'll update this post with specific IDs when I've more info back.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Filey Stonechats, 8th June '21

It's all about the surveys this week, both professionally and voluntarily, and between early and late sessions on the North York Moors yesterday, I came back to the coast to do my Kittiwakes (and Cormorants) here on the Filey cliffs. Happily, I bumped into this extremely handsome lad along the coastal path; happier still, he was with his Mrs and two kids (see below).
Stonechats are a traditionally rare breeder here in the Filey are in recent years, with pairs often present in early spring almost always disappearing soon after, but this year, a small area of scrub beneath the cliff path was clearly enough to the job.
By coincidence, here's another freshly-fledged juvenile from Bay Ness, the day before: