Champions of the Flyway!

Friday, October 13, 2023

The first big fall of autumn '23 (Filey)

A glittering little prize awaited at the finish line (see foot of post)

It's been a few days since those of us lucky enough to be here on the Yorkshire coast had the pleasure of a a cracking, classic October fall over 48 hours or so from the 7th (last Saturday). While it's been enjoyable in some respects - seawatching and vismig, for instance - this autumn has been notable for an almost complete absence of concentrated arrivals on dry land, thus far at least.
One of at least eight Short-eared Owls arriving in off the sea over the two days

Thankfully, all that changed in a flash, and it was (of course) all down to the suddenly favourable weather conditions. A build-up of birds in Scandinavia (we'd almost no Redwings prior to the 7th, for instance) were suddenly inspired to hit the pedal en masse, with a tail wind, clear skies and suddenly dropping temperatures all inspiring the North Sea crossing.
Freshly-arrived Goldcrest along the clifftop path

It wasn't all that simple, of course, and in fact the night of the 6th and into the morning of the 7th in particular must've been especially gruelling for many of them, hitting heavy storms and stronger winds well offshore. But, as always, a great many did make it, and what a thrill it is to welcome them...

Still blessed with covid (and therefore stuck in second gear at best), slow patrols of the coastal area - with diversions into nearby cover - were the order of the day(s); tearing around and covering a lot of ground were off the agenda, but as it happened, the gentler approach was ideal for the conditions.
Short-eared Owl (with Flamborough and Bempton as a background)

Come the morning of the 7th on Carr Naze, and it was actually pretty quiet - although my first Black-throated Diver of the autumn, three little Gulls offshore, and a few Pink-feet on the move were all welcome. Messages re: big numbers of Redwings and other Scandinavian migrants arriving from the south-east at Flamborough and elsewhere further down the coast weren't a huge surprise because of the way the weather system was tracking offshore, but patience was required.....
A tired Song Thrush on the clifftop

By afternoon, however, the fall began in earnest here at Filey, particularly re: Redwings: 1435 by the end of a very entertaining five hours or so up on the cliffs, as well as smaller numbers of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Fieldfares, the first significant wave of Robins and Goldcrests in the scrub, Stonechats seemingly everywhere, and the first Bramblings (as well as Redpolls, Chaffinches, Siskins, Skylarks, Rock Pipits, Reed Buntings and more) incoming.
Yellow-browed Warbler

Three each of Short-eared Owl and Jack Snipe also arrived in off over the waves, while wildfowl and wader movement began to pick up offshore; a good start, but, looking at the forecast, the following day (8th) looked like it might well be the real deal; easterlies, cloud, and even a few periods of drizzle? More than enough to get the blood pumping, and despite feeling physically crappy, it took zero effort to leap out of bed and get out before first light.
More Redwings.... 

Sticking my head out of the door at 0600hrs and listening to the repetitive shrips, ssslis and ticks of incoming thrushes, I knew that it wasn't only going to be a good day, but my overnight nocmig recording (via an mp3 player trapped in the crack of my study window) was going to take some serious effort to analyse. That turned out to be a huge understatement, which I'll address in the next post.... 

Back up on Carr Naze, more signs of activity - thrushes, Robins, another Shorty, Skylarks, Bramblings and more in off, Goldcrests starting to appear - in the first hour or two were just the precursor to a mid-late morning flood of arrivals, and suddenly it was back into that most perfect birding state - the one where there's so much going on all around you, you don't know where to look.
Snow Bunting (above and below)

Cue over 2,400 Redwings, another four Short-eared Owls, Jack Snipe, lots of Bramblings, many more Goldcrests and Robins, many Skylarks, Meadow and Rock Pipits, three Ring Ouzels, plenty of Fieldfares, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, more Stonechats, lots of wildfowl movement (including dark-bellied Brents and Pintails), waders incoming and/or southbound, Snow Bunting, an arrival of Chiffchaffs, six Arctic Skuas north.... pure enterntainment.
A quick lunch break and then back out, this time to Gristhorpe Bay - a relatively undisturbed area of isolated coastal scrub and hedgerow a little further north-west along the clifftop - where, despite (and indeed because of) the very limited amount of cover, there were many new arrivals. By now the wind was fixed in the east and light drizzle was coming and going - perfect - and as if by magic, one, two, and finally three Yellow-browed Warblers flitted around in close proximity in the company of Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps.
Jack Snipe in off (above and below)

Another round of the northern coastal area was again productive and full of birds, but the light was seriously starting to fade (and my energy levels with it), and realistically it was a last roll of the die; and so to Arndale, the wooded ravine leading down to the beach, where i've had plenty of luck finding quality birds over the last decade or so.
Lot of disturbance made me reconsider (think noisy kids, dogs etc coming back off the beach, on the only narrow track from which to bird - anathema to a tiring, ill, grumpy birder with minutes left on the clock), but there was enough activity up in the canopy to make me stay; although the light was indeed shocking, with everything effectively silhouetted high up in the black and grey, Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs were clearly fresh in and worthy of the last dregs of my attention span.
At which point, something more interesting appeared - high up and always at least partially obscured, but enough to sound the alarm. Craning and straining to piece it together and with the ISO on full to get any kind of plumage features (and trying to block out the screams and barks beside me), the elusive little sprite eventually revealed itself as a Red-flanked Bluetail.
It's not often you get the happy ending to what was already a wonderful time in the field, but sometimes, it all comes together just perfectly...
Did somebody mention easterlies this week....? 

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Tarifa, August '23 - more whales and dolphins

Sperm Whales (above and below)

It wasn't all frolicking Long-finned Pilot Whales (here) and Orcas (here).... we also had great, close encounters with three species of dolphin - Striped (pictured), Common and Bottlenose - and both of the big whale target species: Sperm (several), and from dry land on our final afternoon, a group of four Fin Whales, together, just offshore.
To say it was a successful trip for cetaceans would be an understatement, and I can't wait to get back out there next August.....
Striped Dolphins
A party of four Fin Whales just offshore

Friday, October 6, 2023

Long-finned Pilot Whales, Tarifa - August '23


One of - arguably the - stand-out highlight of the trip were these frankly bewitching Long-finned Pilot Whales. They were the undisputed stars of two pelagic trips (one with our YCN group, and one pre-group recon) we took out into the Straits of Gibraltar, being endlessly playful and inquisitive on both, as you can see from the videos; well worth watching if you want to need reminding just how joy-giving watching wildlife can be....


Various pods are resident in the area, and are sometimes curious enough to hang out with boats (fortunately for us, on both our excursions); as if the evidence of how wonderful they are isn't obvious enough in these videos, they're also closely-knit, co-operative, matriachal societies that come together to defend each other against threats (Orcas, for example), re-acquainting themeselves with each other by touch. New favourite animal? 100%.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Tarifa, August '23 - Griffon Vultures

Happily, they were ubiquitous, whether we visited them (at large traditional / post-breeding roosts), whether we bumped into each other (pretty much everywhere), or whether they visited us (two extremely up-close encounters at our accommodation); along with Black Kite, they were leading candidates for the default bird-in-the-sky throughout the trip, and if you like Griffons, well, you'll love Tarifa....

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Tarifa, August '23 - Lanner & Lesser Kestrel

It wasn't all big, broad-winged birds of prey, of course, and this ghostly bullet of a Lanner was one of the birds of the trip for me - not only on account of its scarcity (a rare passage migrant there) but because of its perfectly choreographed, close-up fly-by. As we watched clouds of Black Kites lifting up and collectively considering making a crossing attempt, this beauty whipped along the hillside below us, approached, and then hung in the air for a few seconds as we all gasped appreciatively before it sped up and away.
And not forgetting Lesser Kestrels, one of my favourite falcons which we had a good number of - mostly on migration, but this one on the church in Tarifa was a little more photogenic.