Champions of the Flyway!

Sunday, January 23, 2022

2021 - The Year In Nocmig: Filey (Part One)

Common Scoter - rarer species aside, the undisputed star of the spring nocmig season

Headphones essential for audio clips

2021 was my second, and first full, year of nocturnal migration recording (nocmig) here on my local stretch of the Yorkshire coast, and it's fair to say I plunged even further into its shadowy depths, with several recorders rolling and much time invested on analysis and researching - but it was more than worth it, of course....
Great Northern Diver - surely not a species for a nocmig post? Think again (and see below)... 

2020 was a fascinating inaugural first year (well, eight months) of nocmig, with an entertainingly steep learning curve and many memorable nights of migration picked up on my recorders. Summaries of last year's results can be found here and here, but suffice to say, it was addictive - with plenty of help from available resources and (especially) local and wider nocmig communities aiding the process, effort and patience were richly rewarded. 

So, would 2021 be equally productive? Would species diversity and abundance, and patterns of occurrence, be more or less the same? Or would there be plenty of differences to chew on and surprises to ponder? In this first part, I'll summarise nocmig from my two Filey recording stations, up on the North Cliff, and (at the foot of the post) from my study window in the middle of town, between January and May.

Filey North Cliff - January to May

For the first part of the year, I was still running a normal MP3 recorder up on the North Cliff (involving daily pick-ups and drop-offs); after just a couple of nights in January, I recorded seven nights in February, mostly towards the end of the month, which included several busy sessions....

... with wildfowl including Pink-footed Geese, Wigeon, Mallard, Teal and Gadwall, waders including Lapwing, Snipe, Oystercatchers, Curlews and Golden Plovers, rallids in the shape of Moorhens and Coots, and passerines such as Redwings, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Skylarks ....
An example of a late February night, as recorded onto Trektellen - all nights are accessible here   

 ....and, thankfully, the star bird of the early spring - a totally unexpected and very welcome Eurasian Stone-Curlew, over the recorder at 2150hrs on 25th Feb (and just the third ever for the Filey area).

Stone-curlew sonogram (above) and library pic (from Israel, 2019) below
March began in similarly surprising style with, of all things, the wonderfully evocative howl of a Great Northern Diver, picked up at 2225hrs, (presumably) from a bird on the sea; not something I'd ever expect on my recordings, and another great bonus for the efforts:


Species diversity and abundance steadily improved through the month - wildfowl (including Pintails), waders, gulls, and songbirds included - before the first much anticipated Common Scoters on 17th. A busy few days followed - Whoopers, Scoters, Pink-feet and Wigeon, plus more passerines and waders on 21st, a wonderfully evocative pre-dawn departure of 214 Blackbirds on 22nd, more scoter action among a wide range of species on 23rd, and a further ten flocks of scoters on 24th; allowing for duplication with the house recorder, a minimum of 13 flocks overflying Filey that night.

The pre-dawn exodus of many Blackbirds heading back over the North Sea - real nocmig gold 

An example of a night with decent species diversity towards the end of March

April was steady without ever hitting the heights, with the expected range of species (including the commoner wildfowl, rallids, gulls and waders) clocking in, but at least Common Scoter migration continued to live up to expectations: recorded on almost half the sessions covered (10 out of 22), there were some nights of impressively strong passage, with e.g. eleven flocks over on 12th, some clearly involving big numbers of birds. 

May was very much a month of two halves, beginning brightly with a strong cast on 1st and 2nd (including both Ring Ouzel and Little Egret, below), and continuing with a steadily more diverse range of longer distance migrants (including e.g Bar-tailed Godwits, sandpipers, plovers, Whimbrels and Spotted Flycatcher).... 

A Ring Ouzel migrating over North Cliff on 1st May against the backdrop of a mini-rave in the Country Park....


 .... and a Little Egret over the following night. 

....and then peaking exhiliratingly on the night of the 13th. It's not often a nocmig Bittern is relegated to an also-ran - especially when they're previously considered a less-than-annual species in the local area, day or night - but on this occasion, it was necessary....


Incredibly, a series of (thankfully repetitive, clear) calls in the wind above the recorder at 2317hrs came from nothing less than an American Golden Plover. The first for Filey, an absolute bolt from the blue (well, black) and a level of nocmig rarity gold unlikely to be repeated, it's fair to say it rocked me back on my heels when I'd fully confirmed it with various more learned friends around the world. Unforgettable! More here.  

The second half of the month was much quieter (although a small flock of Redwings on 23rd were quite late), but after the above, it was hard to be too disappointed..... 

(June to December summary from the North Cliff to follow shortly).

Filey Town - January to May

A flock of Barnacle Geese over the house on 12th Jan were an early nocmig highlight

Back at base, and the recorder-jammed-in-study-window technique, taking far less effort than the above, was utilised more often (fifteen nights in Jan and sixteen in Feb), with the first bird recorded in 2021 being a Redwing at 0206hrs on Jan 1st (even beating Herring Gulls - a good omen?!). Otherwise, January returns were fairy modest, with Mallards, Common Gulls, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Wigeon and Teal in small numbers, an early Moorhen (6th), the odd Golden Plover, a few skeins of Pink-footed Geese, and the highlight, a flock of Barnacle Geese on 12th.


February at the house saw a slowly increasing variety, with much the same species as January but with new additions including Grey Plover (15th), Fieldfare (24th), Lapwing, Coot and other expected early spring migrants, with a nice surprise first for the house on 21st, a Pintail:

March from the study window was consistently productive without being too dramatic, with a suite of early spring species registering regularly (examples being Wigeon, Moorhen, Curlew, Grey Heron, Common & Black-headed Gulls, Golden Plover, Coot, Teal, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird) and others less regularly (Whooper Swan, Gadwall, Grey Plover, Water Rail, Knot, Redshank etc.) - still pleasingly diverse for an urban back alley.

Bird of the month prize, however, definitely went to the plaintive double honks of the two or more Tundra Bean Geese that migrated over our sleeping heads at 0052hrs on the 14th. 

An example of a decent night, with good species diversity, from the study window in late March

April was again fairly consistent without being exceptional, with a similar suite of expected species to March - although Little Egret was a new bird for the house nocmig list on the 4th, and again, the real stars were Common Scoters: regularly picked up in the first part of the month, with a staggering 29 flocks over during the night of 13th/14th.

Unfortunately, the Herring Gull colony (which we live smack bang in the middle of) began ramping up the increasingly consistent banshee impressions from about the third week of the month, and analysing the recordings became more and more masochistic - but where there's life there's hope, and I continued to extract nocturnal flight calls from ever-decreasing gaps in the bar-code like sonograms. 

Siskins migrating in the darkness, an hour or so before dawn, on 20th April

Going forward, I doubt I'll have the time and patience to do the same, but remarkably there was plenty to unearth when the zen-like state required took me - Knot, Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers, Common Sandpipers, Whimbrels, Dunlins, and Water Rails joined the regular stalwart species on night migration during the month, and both Blackcap and Spotted Flycatcher on the night of the 9th were particularly gratifying (again) this spring. So, while there were relatively few nights of outstanding diversity and abundance during the spring, the two Filey recorders picked up a hugely satisfying range of species, many otheriwise unknown waves of migration, and some glittering surprises that are unlikely to be beaten anytime soon. 


A flock of Knot migrating over the house and back to the Arctic on 5th May

Check back here soon for the second and final part of last year's Filey nocmig round-up, and thanks for reading!