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....?