Champions of the Flyway!

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Review of the Year, 2022 - part one

Curlews coming into roost on the Humber...

Welcome to a look back over my birding year, which, I'm happy to say, has been another great one. The latter half of the winter was dominated by work, with several ongoing projects running simultaneously - two on the North bank of the Humber, one on the South bank, and, by mid-March, a mammoth breeding bird survey across the North York Moors (which I'll focus on in the next post).
... and Lapwings leaving theirs

As always, the Humber surveys were never a chore and often a pleasure, with the spectacle of many thousands of waders always enough to make a day worthwhile; as always there were also plenty of bonuses, whether while working (see below) or on minor twitchy diversions (never more than 15 minutes off route, naturally)....
Screengrabs from digiscoped videos (hence crappy quality) of a couple of nearby (to work) wintering vagrants - White-tailed Lapwing near Winter's Pond, Lincs, and Baikal Teal at Tickton, East Yorks
Any job surveying birds is a privilege, and all the more so when you're lucky enough to monitor productive, bird-filled sites and locations over long periods; something I never take for granted. More here and here.
Golden Plovers (above) and Kestrel (below) sheltering on Humber surveys at Paull in February
As well as the surveying, other work-related activities included a series of talks (as is usual during the winter), and an ongoing series of YCN Winter Birding Discovery Days, the latter of which were again really productive and pleasure to lead.


As always they're small teams and we're flexible as to where to include on a given day, depending on conditions, tides and where the birds are (or may be), and included many highlights - from Snow and Lapland Buntings, Great Northern, Black-throated and Red-throated Divers up close, Bottlenose Dolphins, sparring Peregrines, point-blank Brent Goose, Merlin, Harbour Porpoise, Common and Velvet Scoters, Richard's Pipit and plenty more. 

Great Northern and Red-throated Divers - up close and side-by-side in Scarborough Harbour
As is also the usually the case these days, running was a regular feature (whatever the weather), and February saw the culmination of my efforts to raise funds and awareness for Champions of the Flyway's Year Of The Dove campaign, helping save Turtle Doves from illegal hunting on their Mediterranean flyways. I called it my #Couch2500K - 500km over the course of 12 months - and by the time I'm reached my running target in mid-Feb, I'd raised just over £4000 for the cause, thanks to many generous donations.
A December run towards my #Couch2500k target - between estuary counts, during a work day on the Humber at Killingholme
Overwintering Richard's Pipit at Filey....
... and one of many Lapland Buntings at Buckton 

Late winter / early spring nocmig (nocturnal migration recording) at Filey and Flamborough was productive, especially at the latter site, where late March saw unprecedented overnight migrations of Common Scoters and Redwings - absolute magic. See here for full details and audio clips.

Part two to follow soon! 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

2022 - the Year in Nocmig: Flamborough (part one)

Common Scoter - 84 flocks migrated under the cover of darkness on the night of 28th March, between the Irish and North Seas and low over the recorder in Flamborough village. Full story here


In tandem with my nocmig sites in the Filey area, I've been recording at Flamborough since 2020, with increasingly fascinating results (see, for example, here and here). A quiet garden in the village (thanks mom!) is a near ideal location, and I chop and change between an mp3 recorder and an Audiomoth, depending on circumstances; thankfully, almost complete coverage during migration seasons is possible, with plenty of recording outside of the main windows, too, depending on conditions.

Headphones recommended for listening to the clips below 


A 30-second clip of an incredible Common Scoter migration over Flamborough on 28th March. Listen for the high beeps of males, the lower beeps of females, and the whistling of wingbeats as they fly low over the village 

The first half of the year (as summarised here) included scarcities such as (yet) another Bittern, and better still, a Stone-curlew - only Flamborough's fourth ever, and first since 2014 - and also featured sixteen species of wader, Spotted Flycatchers, Ring Ouzel and many other migrants; but the huge, unprecedented Common Scoter movements, followed by a massive Redwing passage, at the end of March were arguably the most rewarding stories of the period. 

It was another good spring for Turnstone passage over the village

A windy and therefore quiet first half of March improved for much of the latter half of the month, with small numbers of Coots, Moorhens, Water Rails, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Black-headed and Common Gulls, Curlews, Oystercatchers, Teal, Wigeon and Little Grebes all clocking in on multiple nights, the first Snipe, Golden and Grey Plovers mid-month, and the odd Robin and Skylark providing additional passerine interest.


It was the last week of the month, however, which really made the effort worthwhile. 'New' species in those final days of the month included Little Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwits, Gadwall, Dunlin and Redshank, and the commoner migrants all became more numerous - but it was two species in particular that stole the show...
An unprecedented night of Common Scoter migration on 28th March.... 

Late March is the (hotly anticipated) peak time for overland Common Scoter migration, as those wintering in the Irish Sea respond to the collective urge to return to Scandinavia and beyond for the breeding season. The numbers we pick up on nocmig vary according to conditions, timing, and the exact route the birds take - all of which conspired perfectly to produce an unprecedented, almost constant stream of Scoters over the village recorder through the night of 28th-29th.
84 flocks, producing a total of 4839 visible calls, poured over between 2330 and 0320 that night; amazing. I could wax lyrically about this beautiful phenomenon endlessly here, but to save you the repetition, for a full summary of that night - and to listen and enjoy the spectacle - head here instead: Mass Common Scoter exodus over Flamborough, 28th March '22
   .... followed by a record spring passage of Redwings the following night

Redwings were not to be outdone, however, and were consistently numerous in the latter half of the month. Many (most) nights saw registrations into double figures, and plenty of nights saw triple figures - including 411 on 23rd, 399 on 24th, 131 on 25th, 212 on 26th, 347 on 27th, and 485 on 28th; exceptional numbers for spring and again unprecedented on my nocmig studies so far here.


 A fourth (!) Flamborough nocmig Bittern (after three last year) - this one on 10th April

But it was the night of the 29th that really blew the doors off (see above), with what was effectively a constant, hypnotic cycle of tssips from dusk til dawn - a total of 2256 registrations. Again I could drone on further here, but if you'd like to hear / read more about it, head over here instead: Huge Redwing migration over Flamborough, 29th March '22 


A flock of Whimbrels heading over on 1st May 

After the record-breaking counts of Common Scoters and Redwings in March, both species continued to register regularly well into April. Scoters featured on a total of seven nights (28 flocks overall), peaking with nine flocks on 5th, six on 3rd and five on 13th - a total of 141 flocks in just three weeks (between 23rd March and 13th April)! Redwings were also on the move regularly and often in good numbers, with plenty of double-figure and several triple-figure counts, peaking with 352 on 4th. In total, no fewer than 5451 Redwing registrations were recorded over the garden in spring '22 - a fraction of the number actually migrating, but an impressive fraction nonetheless!
Black-tailed Godwit - a reliable feature of Flamborough spring nocmig 

After no fewer than three last spring, I was secretly hoping for another Bittern in the darkness over the village this year, and happily, I got one (at 0035hrs on the morning of 11th). Many nights featured a handful of 'regulation' spring species on the move - Golden Plovers, Oystercatchers, Teal, Snipe, Moorhens, Black-headed Gulls - as well as multiple showings of e.g. Coots, Curlews, Lapwings, Common Gulls, Wigeon, Grey Herons, Ringed Plovers and Water Rails

Passerines were dominated by thrushes - the pick of which was a Ring Ouzel on 13th - while shorebirds included Turnstones, both godwits and (fantastically) a flock of Common Sandpipers - 91 calls from at least four, maybe (many) more, birds - picked up by the recorder on 26th (listen below).


Not to be outdone, May also provided both quality and quantity, the former most notably in the shape of a Stone-curlew migrating low over the recorder on the night of the 17th - the first observatory record since 2014 and only the fourth ever (and amazingly not my first nocmig record, after picking one up over Filey early last spring - see here). 

Other waders including plenty of Whimbrels, Knot, Turnstone and Dunlins, there were plenty more rallid registrations (including Water Rails), another flock of Common Scoters (on 5th) and a good cast of passerines which included Spotted Flycatcher and a late-ish Redwing on 3rd.


By contrast, June was especially (and predictably) quiet, with another Spotted Flycatcher and just a handful of other common registrations before I took a break mid-month.


Redwings, followed by Common Scoters and the village church bells - listen out for the loud, lower honks of the females 

 Quite a spring!


Snowballs on the beach

It was a beautiful Christmas Eve morning here in Filey and I made it down to the Bay Corner and Brigg for dawn - perfect timing to enjoy these (always irrestible) Sanderlings in the early golden light.


Thursday, December 22, 2022

2022 - The Year in Nocmig: Filey (part one)

One of the spring's highlights was a very vocal Quail, over North Cliff on the night of 9th May 

Please use headphones for sound clips!

So this is the third year, and second full year, of my nocmig (nocturnal migration sound recording) studies here on the Yorkshire coast - time sure flies, eh? - and once again, I ran several recorders, two of which were here in Filey. Results were again surprising and fascinating, and the learning curve continues its upward trajectory.... highlights of the period January to June inclusive ranged from scarcities such as Quail, Snow Buntings, Tundra Bean Goose, Ring Ouzels and Jack Snipe to impressive movements of winter thrushes and Common Scoters - and even a surprise nocmig-gold Chiffchaff!
Chiffchaff - one of the nocmig stars of the show, over North Cliff in the early hours of 15th March


Once again I deployed an Audiomoth at my North Cliff study site, and - because of the convenience of being able to pre-program recording times and let it do its thing for extended periods - I was able to maintain almost constant coverage there, especially during migration seasons.


A total of 18 nights were covered in January (almost all in the latter half of the month), and while it was predictably quiet, species picked up included Pink-footed Geese, Wigeon, Mallard and Teal, several Golden and a Grey Plover, a few Blackbirds and Common Snipe, and two unexpected bonus scarcities - a Jack Snipe on 19th and a Tundra Bean Goose on 15th.
The distinctive pee-yoo-wee of Grey Plovers were recorded during several spring months 

Much of February (19 nights recorded) was quiet, although the year's first flock of Whooper Swans passed over on the night of 13th, and a flock of Snow Buntings (my first nocmig record) overflew the recorder on the night of the 6th; otherwise a smattering of Moorhens, Coot, Snipe, Pink-feet, Mallard and Teal and Common and Black-headed Gulls were the fairly expected back-up.


As anticipated, March saw a far better diversity and abundance, with at least thirty species recorded in active migration through the month - this despite losing the first twelve nights to technical issues. Of wildfowl, small numbers of Pink-feet, Teal, Gadwall and Mallard were recorded, with good Wigeon passage later in the month, and - as hoped - impressive Common Scoter movements, beginning on the 23rd with six flocks; a further two flocks on 24th, six more on 26th, one on 27th and no fewer than 14 flocks on 28th further enhanced the much-anticipated annual 'Scoter window' around this time.
Wigeon - good numbers moved through during nights towards the end of March


Rallids featured in the form of plenty of Moorhens, several Water Rails and Coot, while ten wader species included Knot, Grey Plover, Lapwing and plenty of Curlews. Passerines featured relatively well, with Fieldfare, Skylarks and Song Thrushes, Blackbird numbers into double figures on several nights (with a peak of 69 on 24th) and decent tallies of Redwing doubtless heading back to Scandinavia - several nights ran into the hundreds, with a peak of 302 on 23rd. Pick of the bunch, however, was a Chiffchaff, clearly flying over the recorder and calling multiple times at 0042hrs on - proper nocmig gold on a windswept clifftop! 


Redwings continued to feature regularly throughout April, with a peak of 239 on 4th; much of the month, however, was unfortunately plagued by strong winds and near-unanalysable spectrograms, although plenty of species made it into the notebook, albeit in generally small numbers. Highlights over 21 nights recordings included a Ring Ouzel on 16th, the first Whimbrel and Common Sandpipers, and another eleven flocks of Common Scoters (up to 18th).

Redwings were on the move in good numbers in the early spring 

Almost total coverage in May (28 nights) paid off with a Quail calling frantically as it passed over the recorder at 0047hrs on the early morning of 9th, the same night an Arctic Tern, a late Redwing and a Bar-tailed Godwit did likewise; other shorebirds included Little Ringed Plover, a scattering of Common Sandpipers, Whimbrels, Ringed Plover and Lapwings, and late Common Scoter flocks beeped over on 5th and 19th. Eight nights recordings in June were very quiet - thank the gods for Curlews, which prevented blank slates on most of them....



As usual I ran the house recorder, trapped in a gap in the study window and pointed out into the back alley, as and when - and before the Herring Gull colony we live within renders it pointless - which is arguably by mid-April (but masochism dictated I persisted well into May before admitting defeat).
An example of a productive night in late March over the town

Being often the best nocmig month of the year, a total of 15 nights in March were recorded from the study, which were happily often productive. Wildfowl included plenty of Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall and Pink-footed Geese, as well as Common Scoters: the first two flocks registered over the chimney pots on 14th, with a further four on 23rd and two on 25th. Waders included small numbers of Knot, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Curlew, Grey and Golden Plovers and Lapwing, with good numbers of northbound Oystercatchers; lots of Moorhens, and a smattering of Water Rails, Coot and Grey Herons also figured.

The nocturnal quacks and beeps of migrating female and male Eurasian Teal 

Thrushes - so often the stars of the town recorder - didnt disappoint in March, with Redwings stealing the show: their evocative tsieps featured on many nights, often in double and sometimes into triple figures, with peaks of 375 on 23rd and 483 on 24th, with Blackbirds peaking at 181 on the latter date (and small numbers of Song Thrushes and Fieldfares also figuring). Common and Black-headed Gulls were also regular night migrants, with two Robins also calling as they skirted the darkened rooftops.


By April, most nightly spectrograms were down to less than 50% fit for analysis due to the gull colony (and were exacerbated by the strong winds), but ten recorded nights yielded Little Ringed Plover, lots of Moorhens, small numbers of Water Rails, Grey Herons, Song Thrushes, Ringed Plovers and Blackbirds, a small flock of Common Scoters on 13th, and regular Redwings (peaking at 25 on 13th).


By May, 70% or more of each night's recording was unreadable, frustratingly coiciding with improved nocturnal migration, which - despite most of the registrations doubtless hidden - still revealed Ring Ouzel (1st, the same night as three late Redwings), six Common Sandpipers, and other waders including Green Sandpiper, Knot, Dunlin, Whimbrels and two Little Ringed Plovers. C'est la vie! 

Part Two (July-December) to follow shortly.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Spurn, late autumn '22

Pallas's Warbler on the beach!

Another quick dive into this autumn's memory cards, this time to pull out a few shots from Spurn in late October and early November.
Male Bearded Tit at the Warren

We were there guiding for the third autumn running, and happy to say that once again our tours were a great success, with lots of lovely clients and amazing experiences. As is now our pattern, we're there for two five-day weeks - roughly speaking the third week of October and the first week of November - and I guide a small team of different guests every day, while Rich leads the residential group.
Male Black Redstart
Barn Owl in the late afternoon sun at Kilnsea Wetlands

The scheduling of the tours is of course intended to coincide with the best of late autumn migration - personally my favourite time of the year for birding on the coast - and while it's impossible to predict the extent to which migration (visibly) prevails, it always does, without fail; and this time round, we hit it bang on the nail, just as famine turned to feast.
Sparrowhawk (above) and Common Buzzard (below)
Weeks of painfully stifling south-westerlies became bird-filled, fall-inducing easterlies (with rain!) as our first week hit its stride, and then another wave arrived just as week two commenced - we couldn't have planned it any better....
Redwing (above) and Goldcrest (below) - both stars of the show, both in their multitudes
Highlights included such treats as Pallas's Warbler, Scaup, Long-eared and Short-eared Owls, Hawfinches, masses of Redwings and Blackbirds, Ring Ouzels, hundreds of Bramblings, Goldcrests and Robins, Jack Snipe, Little Gulls, Great Egrets, Siberian Lesser Whitethroats, Yellow-browed Warblers....
Black Redstart outside my bedroom window at the Obs

... Siberian Chiffchaffs, Firecrests, hundreds of Siskins and Twite, Snow Buntings, Tundra Bean Geese, Red-rumped Swallows (including our group found adult on 3rd Nov, below), Woodcocks, double figures of Black Redstarts, Black Brant, Bearded Tits, Merlins...
Snow Bunting at the breach

... and that's before you mention the vast array of expected commoner species in their multitudes across the wetlands, mudflats, estuary and farmland. We're already excited about next year, and the places are now available on the website - why not join us in autumn '23? CLICK HERE for details!
Spot the Hen Harrier over Sandy Beaches
Whoopers - resting on the Humber (above).....

Thanks to the lovely locals, particularly the obs team, including Rob, Paul, Kate, Matt, Duerden, and the resident birders for making as feel more welcome than ever - see you on the other side!
... and incoming over the North Sea
Grey Plover in almost full breeding garb
because you can never have enough Barn Owls

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Shetland, August '22 - the locals

Bonxies against blooming heather at Wester Quarff
Arctic Skua at the end of our road in Lerwick
Shetland Wren
Breeding Fulmars
Breeding Red-throated Divers
Twite - common and approachable

The only white-winger of the trip - a leucistic Starling at Wester Quarff