Champions of the Flyway!

Friday, April 29, 2022

Ring Ouzel, Filey, 29th April '22

I know, they seem to be everywhere lately, but this male here at Filey this evening was especially accommodating.....

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Nocmig Update, March '22 - Flamborough & Buckton

(Please use headphones for audio and video clips)
Common Scoters over Buckton cliffs - many more took the same route under the cover of darkness towards the end of the month 

I ran nocturnal migration (nocmig) recorders at both locations throughout March, as I hope to throughout both extended migration periods again this year: an mp3 recorder in a garden in Flamborough village and an Audiomoth at Buckton. Conditions were far from condusive overall (and were only suboptimal beyond that), with persistently strong, unfavourable winds for the first half of the month. Still, it was more than worth it, if only for a certain two species making their way back to more northerly climes...


As mentioned above, pretty much all of the first fortnight was a write-off due to the strong winds (and unreadable sonograms), but when conditions improved mid-month - however temporarily - then so did nocmig results.

The cast was relatively consistent for much of the latter half of the month, with small numbers of Little Grebes, Coots, Moorhens, Water Rails, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Black-headed and Common Gulls, Curlews, Oystercatchers, Teal and Wigeon 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, with several nights in particular overshadowing an otherwise pretty muted nocmig month overall. '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.
The 24th - one of a handful of productive nights towards the end of the month 

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.


An amazing 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

An unprecedented night of Common Scoter migration on 28th..... 

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.
.... followed by a record spring passage of Redwings the following night 

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. 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 

By the end of March, my Flamborough recorder had logged totals of 4622 Redwing registrations and 123 flocks of Common Scoters, mostly within the last week or so of the month. Not bad...
Little Ringed Plover - the first of the year flew over calling on the night of 24th  

Three long, dense skeins of Pink-footed Geese yapped over the recorder on 5th, which - apart from small numbers of a few expected species - were pretty much as good as it got during the first half of the month, with the strong winds effectively blocking out the sonograms (and presumably much actual movement) until a change in conditions on 13th brought a sharp and very welcome increase in variety and abundance (see below).

For the following fortnight or so it was steady as she goes, with a similar cast of species - Blackbirds, Moorhens, Curlews, Teal, Wigeon, Song Thrushes, Water Rails, Common and Black-headed Gulls, odd Golden and Grey Plovers, good numbers of Redwings, and several nights of Common Scoter movement - dominating the counts, with Redwings being especially consistent and numerous; many nights included double-figure registrations of these exiting Scandinavians, with several well into three figures; a total of 2062 for the month, with a peak of 519 on 29th, must've been just a fraction of the actual number going over, but it's wonderful to record them nonetheless.


But, as at Flamborough (although not to quite the same degree), that big Redwing night was preceded the night before by a huge Common Scoter migration: the Buckton recorder picked up 22 discrete flocks and 643 calls that night, a fitting conclusion to a great month for this species overall, with a total of 49 flocks through the month there; interestingly, these flocks were more evenly spread than at Flamborough - over a total of eight nights, from 13th to 28th.


Saturday, April 23, 2022

Gooseberry Gulls

A selection of gulls - mainly for reference, but also because they're beautiful - from Gooseberry Island a couple of weeks ago. American Herring, Ring-billed, and Lesser Black-backed all feature.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Huge Redwing migration over Flamborough, 29th March '22

After the scoter barrage the night before, my clicker finger and notebook scribbling could've used a rest - but no such luck, with an epic night of Redwing migration over the village on the 29th.
That memorable previous Night of the Scoters included a very notable 485 Redwing registrations, with the two species often recorded simultaneously, as evidenced by the video-audio clips in the last post - including some lovely, evocative soundscapes augmented by the village church bells. The 29th, however, was all about the Redwings, with precisely zero scoters picked up by the recorder.

It was an almost constant deluge, from dusk to dawn, with particularly busy periods either side of midnight - but you could pick any 30-second frame of the spectrogram and they they are, tssup-ing over in their teaming masses, often really low. How many birds were involved, we'll never know, but a minimum of 2,256 registrations gives an idea of the numbers streaming over.....
My recorder is an old, non-directional hand-held MP3 recorder, in a clingfilm-covered plantpot in the garden - imagine how many would've been picked up by a fancier set-up (directional mic, parabola etc.)? No matter - my cheapo DIY set-up is serving me well.


It's been a particularly productive spring for nocmig Redwing registrations, with each night's counts (up to the end of March) now uploaded onto Trektellen here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Industrial Light & Magic

Another day, another survey plot, this one a regular spot in deepest, darkest dockside - a place where I spend an inordinate amount of time conducting vantage point surveys, plotting avian flightpaths against a backdrop of constant juggernaut traffic, forklifts, heavy industry, factories and their emissions. Sounds pretty birdless, right?
Well, it can be - but against all odds, a couple of weeks ago I found a pair of Little Ringed Plovers on territory on what can only be described as a puddle, within a very small brownfield area (barely larger than a football penalty area) sandwiched between constantly thunderous factories and their vehicles. The relevant authority were commendable in their quick response - straight out with the bollards, tape and temporary signs - but to be honest, I expected the LRPs to move on soon after.
Returning for my VPs today and expecting them to be long gone, amazingly, their they were; not only that, but a beast of a Greenland Wheatear was there with them, dodging vehicles and clouds of coal dust.... and not only that, but a pristine male Black Redstart then appeared....
After spending a little extra time observing their behaviour, it seems the LRPs are indeed engaged in a nesting attempt, and the Black Redstart appeared to be doing likewise, returning to a potential nesting area out of bounds (so far) on regular occasions.
After hearing a Black Red singing nearby back in March, this would be a doubly satisfying result, with not one but two Schedule One species breeding here, in the most unaccommodating, noisy and disturbed spot you could imagine.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Mass Common Scoter exodus over Flamborough, 28th March '22

(Headphones recommended for video clips)

A constant flow of Common Scoter contact calls (between 1 and 2khz), with the sound of their wingbeats at a higher frequency as the flock passes over the recorder (positioned in a plantpot in a village garden)

As I've written about extensively here, I've been running nocturnal migration (nocmig) recorders at several local sites for a couple of years now, and I'm just in the process of analysing nightly recordings from the latter end of March (when we were away in the States). I was going through a few Flamborough files last night, and all was relatively predictable, until I got to about 2334hrs on the 28th March....

... when the barrage began. The first, small flock of Common Scoters at that time was about on cue; what wasn't at all expected, however, was the almost constant stream of birds over the next few hours.
Redwings, church bells striking midnight, and Common Scoters (complete with close-up 'honks')

As I clicked each 30-second frame, the flocks became clearer, longer, and more intense, with many involving (lower) female calls, strange, frequency-spanning honks (which I've only heard occasionally before, from very close recordings), and loud wingbeats (involving birds low over the recorder); throw in lots of background Redwings and a few for-context church bells, and there are some lovely, evocative sound clips.


So how many were involved? Who the hell knows, but I can say that, conservatively, there were 84 discrete flocks (more if applying a looser definition), and a minimum of 4,839 individual calls.... absolute scoter bedlam, lasting on and off - mostly on - for hours, and unusually until very late: the flow was at its strongest between midnight and 0200hrs, and continued until 0320hrs.
Scoters and their low, rapid wingbeats - see video clips for full effect 

I've had 'good' nights for scoters before, when flock counts are into double figures and call counts into the hundreds, but this was outrageous, and unprecedented. Influencing factors include the time of year (peak scoter migration time), low cloud, favourable winds, and a weak weather front (including a light shower, when scoters on the spectrogram briefly dry up) that perhaps served to channel them perfectly over Flamborough village and out over the sea.


Judging flock size is a crapshoot of course (I tokenistically note down the minimum number of birds in a flock, but appreciate the inaccuracy of this approach), but there were many particularly large groups during this huge movement - some, for example, lasting for several minutes and containing many hundreds of calls. It's fair to assume then, there were, well, a lot of scoters bombing over the village rooftops that night.  
Low-flying Redwing with Scoter friends

Was their any duplication involved, i.e. birds making repeated flights over the recorder? Possibly, but very unlikely; of all species, scoters are notably committed to gunning directly across the English landmass and straight out over the North Sea, and they'd have no good reason to not do so on the night involved. 

Given the time, I could very likely increase the count by analysing the main periods via an extended listening session - on the occasions I've done so before, there are always registrations that can be heard, but not seen - but don't hold your breath; it's a ridiculously busy time and I've a huge virtual in-tray of nocmig to sift through.... 
Otherwise, it was a good (but not outstanding) night - a very healthy 485 Redwing registrations, Snipe, Teal, Wigeon, Curlew, Dunlin, Common and Black-headed Gulls - but it was all about one species. 

Full counts from this and other recent nights on Trektellen soon, and a full March summary to follow shortly.

Comparisons with other nearby sites
Two of my other nocmig sites are situated nearby - Buckton (just 5km NW), and Filey North Cliff (15km NW, over Filey Bay). Having just analysed their spectrograms from the same night, it seems something special did indeed transpire at Flamborough,with Buckton logging 22 flocks and 643 calls (roughly a quarter and a sixth of Flamborough's results respectively), and Filey logging 14 flocks and 389 calls (a seventh and a tenth respectively). Clearly several factors conspired to deliver far more over Flamborough village, with weather conditions very likely playing a significant part.  

Stop press.... I've just noticed the following tweet from Tom Lowe, posted on the night in question. Kind of says it all.....

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Kumlien's Gull, Horseneck Beach - 7th April '22

Back to last week, and back to a quality session in the Gooseberry Neck / Horseneck Beach area of the southern coast of Massachusetts. American gulls are always an education, and with an apparent lack of white-wingers in the area all winter, I was more than happy enjoying the commoner species (see next post). Until we drove away, past a final small group, right by the car....
Initially mostly obscured behind an AHG, I caught a glimpse of a paler mantle as we sped on, hence a screeching halt - and what turned out to be ridiculous views of, and a great few minutes with, a pristine adult Kumlien's Gull.
Even if gulls are not your thing, you just have to swoon at this high arctic subspecies of Iceland Gull... white-wingers are always exhilarating, and this one was especially gorgeous.
What a beauty, eh?