Champions of the Flyway!

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Scotland, November '22 (part two)

A second and final quick post from our recent Highland adventure - including the 435+ strong flock of Greater Scaup at Gemimaville (some of which came fantastically close - check out the video), tame Eiders from Burghead, a wonderful Black Grouse lek (including, amazingly, a female - see video), Crested Tits from behind the hotel in Anagach Woods, and a wing-tagged Red Kite from the Black Isle. Here's to next year!

Friday, November 25, 2022

Scotland, November '22 (part one)

The Findhorn Valley - always so good to be back... 

It seems like much longer (partly because of the quality local birding since), but it's only been a little over a week since we arrived home from another great annual late autumn adventure in the Highlands, and as usual, it was an absolute joy.
Golden Eagles were exceptionally accommodating - five on our first visit (including four together!)
I've been fortunate to be asked to do a guiding / speaking week at the very wonderful Grant Arms Hotel each November for several years now, over the now happily traditional Seaduck Week (same again in '23 if you want to join us...), and it's always just a huge pleasure to be part of the Grant Arms/BWWC community, with ever-more familar faces and ever-growing friendships blossoming along the way.
.... and White-tailed Eagles were equally showy, often at close quarters
It was a pretty manic preceding few weeks and I'd only back from guiding at Spurn the night before, and so as usual, we broke up the journey just the other side of the border at Eyemouth, a Borders seaside town that we've a long-standing affection for; then, seven days in the heart of the Highlands with Grantown-on-Spey as our familiar base.
We enjoyed many of the places and birding experiences we've come to love over recent years, including Crested Tits and Red Squirrels, seaducks, diver, grebes and more up on the coast and our favourite nearby Black Grouse lek (see following post), and of course, the mighty Strathdearn / Findhorn Valley - where we were truly spoiled for eagles.
Part of a huge southwest-bound migration of Fieldfares (2650+!) and Redwings down the Findhorn Valley on day one 

On our first trip down there, we walked all the way to the house (for the first time) and were treated with wonderful views of at least five Golden Eagles (including four together!) as well as three White-tailed Eagles, all in complete solitude. It's a magical place that spoils us every time.
Red Squirrel, Dipper, and a pair of happy campers
(Part two to follow shortly)

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Filey seabirds, 17th November '22


It was a beautiful day, despite being wild, wet, dark and windy here at Filey. Fortunately, the rain at least stuttered for a while this morning and then again late this afternoon, and either side of fullfilling a commitment to taking the mom and the Mrs for a long lunch (I know, it's all about karma), I was lapping it up on Carr Naze, with a constant flow of storm-driven wonders to savour.
Little Gulls 

Back to this morning: as it turned out, it wasn't even a 'proper' seawatch (i.e. a sit down with a 'scope), but more a repetitive patrol of the clifftop, praying (successfully) for the heavy rain to hold off - which it did, for pretty much the whole two hours I was there - so it was just the head-on north-easterly gale to contend with.
Little Auks 
Clearly this part-timer style of seawatching (which I'd otherwise have looked squarely down my nose at) is the way forward, as various quality and quantity paraded past me against the raging waves. Highlights of the session included 26 Little Auks, a juvenile Sabine's Gull, 108 Little Gulls, a Velvet Scoter, a Pomarine Skua, plenty of wildfowl (including plenty of Brents and Goldeneyes), two Great Northern Divers and plenty more....
Dark-bellied Brent Goose 

... while a quick, hopeful roll-of-the-die late on for an hour produced a European Storm-petrel, four more Little Auks, 74 more Little Gulls and lots of waders on the move before the rain became a deluge. Did I metion how much i love this time of year on the east coast? I thought so.
Snow Bunting - welcome back! Noticing this bird is ringed, I photograpghed it from enough angles to get the full sequence, and it turns out it was ringed a year and five days ago in the same place (by my good friend Ana) - an amazing site fidelity record!
Common and Velvet Scoters
Kittiwake and, look closely, European Storm-petrel (honest)
Golden Plovers

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Isabelline Wheatear, Filey - 15th November '22

Well, that was quite the welcome home.... we returned from our latest Scottish trip (more on that to follow) late yesterday evening, and with the calls of incoming Blackbirds in the misty night sky as we unlocked the door, I resolved to get up and out first thing here in Filey this morning.
With hours of heavy rain due to arrive perhaps an hour or so after dawn, I knew the window of opportunity would be brief, and it was already gloomy and very windy when I reached Carr Naze; but with thrushes grounded on the clifftop and arriving overhead, I set the camera ISO to maximum (just, you know, on the off-chance...) and wandered out to the end.
Where, incredibly, a pale sandy wheatear came into view, ran and fluttered a little, and then stopped, looking me straight in the eye... after a few more seconds of observations (and the sound of a loud penny having dropped), thankfully my reactions were then swift enough to swing the camera round and fire off a series of hopeful shots.
Knowing that the chances of the bird disappearing over the edge and without trace within seconds was high - you don't want to know how many ones-that-got-away got away that way - remarkably (given the lack of any light, strong winds and steadily increasing precipitation), the auto-focus locked on, the bird thankfully paused at various angles, and, against all odds, the ending was very happy indeed.
Shortly afterwards, it did indeed disappear without trace, the wind strengthened, the rain became ever more intense, and the search was fruitless - although I was still treated to plenty of incoming migration, with thrushes (especially Blackbirds), Woodcocks, Snow Bunting and more adding to the experience.
Given my lack of game time locally in recent months I was kind of resigned to missing out on a BBRC self-find this year - but, oh boy, what a dream of a curtain closer to reward me this autumn....