Saturday 27 October 2018

Cape Yorkshire Tystie!

I have just about thawed out after enduring this morning's Arctic blast for four hours, complete with sleet, lashing rain and gale-force northerlies at Flamborough Head. Why would I do this? Well, fortune favours the brave and all that, and with the forecast looking terrifying, the prospect of some good birds in the North Sea was too good to miss. So, out east to Cape Yorkshire, meeting Dunc Poyser in a deserted lighthouse car park in pouring rain. Gear on, we headed down the track to the fog station. Remarkably, in the dawn light and dreadful conditions, Fieldfares and Blackbirds were arriving in off the sea. How do they survive this?

We hunkered in behind the fog station wall and began the scan. Ducks were coming north in good numbers, mostly Wigeon, Teal and Common Scoter, the former undoubtedly having been blown south of their intended destinations, and correcting themselves by heading back north into the teeth of the gale.

Common Scoters, battling into the fierce northerly.

Few seabirds seemed to be in evidence this early. A gang of Flamborough regulars arrived, settling in with us. While this was going on I picked up two small auks heading north. They were tiny; surely Little Auks. I found myself muttering, like the woman on the Jaws movie who sees the shark heading into the 'pond', but didn't quite get the words out; it was too late and they'd rounded the wall. Gone. Doh!  \Move on... A Short-eared Owl came in-off. More ducks. Among the commoner flocks, a dazzling drake Long-tailed Duck, a trio of athletic Pintail, a Tufted Duck, several Red-breasted Mergansers spearheading a Wigeon flock, three chubby Goldeneye and an aloof, solitary Velvet Scoter. It was very cool to see real wild Mallards migrating, looking superb in the morning light.

Flamborough Seawatchers. This may be the last time I seawatch out here - the new seawatching hide is underway!

We nipped off to put tickets on our cars, before returning to the fray. As luck would have it, Craig and Lee had just found a Black Guillemot, which fortunately for us had landed on the sea with a Razorbill. Surely it was still there somewhere! After a bit, I found the Razorbill and staying on it, up popped the Black Guillemot! Great - a new Yorkshire bird for me. After a minute or so, it took off and headed north and I managed a bit of sketchy phone-scoped video:

Tystie (Black Guillemot) heading north off the Fog Station, Flamborough

Seabirds were fewer in number; we had one Sooty and ten Manx Shearwaters, one Arctic, four Pomarine and ten Great Skuas, two Fulmars, and several Red-throated Divers. The group picked up two more north-bound Little Auks but sadly I didn't get on to them. Dunc had a date with a halloween party in Ely, so had to head off and the rest of the gang headed for shelter in South Landing, leaving Johnny Mac and myself to freeze to death on the clifftop. The wind had swung more northeasterly and was beating us up between heavy squalls that piled down the North Sea. By 11am, we'd both had enough so headed round to South Landing. Down at the beach, a smart first-winter Little Gull was feeding among the Black-heads and a couple of Mediterrean Gulls (first and second winter) were also blogging about. A Great Northern Diver was offshore, along with a good flock of Common Scoter. A couple of skuas went south far out, presumably Poms.

Little Gull, top (at the back of the flock), and second winter Med Gull (top left) South Landing

It was still raining and the wind was strengthening even more, so I decided to head for Castle Howard to see if anything had blown in. Duncan Bye beat me to it however, so I diverted to Hes East, which was bereft of birds, save two Snipe, two Pochard and several Tufties. Happy with my Tystie tick at Cape Yorkshire I headed home. I was still cold.

Post Script.
Then, to my simultaneous horror and delight, Dunc picked up two adult Pomarine Skuas heading over Wheldrake Ings just after 4pm. Boom! A first for York and much deserved. Well gripped, as I was in a shop in the Designer Outlet! Cutting short my shopping trip, I checked Hes East again, hoping desperately that the Poms might have dropped in for a drink, or to roost, but to no avail. Maybe tomorrow...

Saturday 20 October 2018

Birding dawn 'til dusk

A long, enjoyable day at Flamborough, partly spent with fellow Bishopthorpian, Paul Brook. Good numbers of Blackbirds were the most noticeable feature, plus three Yellow-browed Warblers, a flyover Lapland Bunting, two Ring Ouzels and c20 Bramblings. Sadly, clear skies last night had enticed the Olive-backed Pipit to head south and the Barred Warbler failed to perform again, despite showing well first thing. The undoubted highlight of the day was meeting up with friends and listening to Captain Terrier Mark Pearson's excellent talk about the Champions of the Flyway, as part of the MigWeek 2018 and our winning of the Guardians award. Great stuff.

 Common Kestrel, New Fall

 Yellow-browed Warbler, Holmes Gut YWT

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Ninja Sandpiper!

Check out the Marske Spotted Sandpiper catching sandhoppers with lightning fast reactions like a shorebird ninja!

Birdo Weekender: Flamborough 11-14th October

To be honest, the forecast didn't look great. Very strong southerlies on Saturday and rain and north-westerlies on Sunday. Nevertheless, after a relatively quiet Friday birding the headland (fewer birds than yesterday, though a handful of lingering Yellow-browed Warblers still), Team Birdo (Ben Green, Simon Patient, Mark Hawkes, Duncan Poyser and myself) convened in the 'ultimate luxury' at 3 Firecrest Cove, Thornwick, full of enthusiasm for a weekend birding the Great White Cape, at the start of the Filey and Flamborough Bird Observatories' Migration Week. Surely, these crazy winds would drop something from the south in?

Team Birdo, Thornwick

A caravan at Thornwick. Ultimate luxury...


There was a bit of passage during the morning, with small numbers of Song Thrushes and Redwings 'in off', seven Yellow-browed Warblers in our circuit of Thornwick, plus a Brambling or two and three Ring Ouzels showing well in Holmes Gut.


Birding was difficult in the strong winds, and we decided to head north to twitch the Spotted Sandpiper at Marske, just south of Redcar. After a rather arduous drive - thanks Mark - we were soon watching this confiding Yank wader on the beach just north of the village. It showed very well after a while, coming too close to focus my scope on! The bird was happily catching flies and sandhoppers among the detritus on the strandline. It had a curious habit of stalking a particular critter in slow-mo before shooting it's beak out and grabbing the morsel, ninja style. A very distinctive, short-winged, compact bird, with neat white eye-ring, strong supercilium, dark cap and bright yellow legs. Nice to see Mike Pratt at the twitch, Northumberland Wildlife Trust CEO - top bloke.

Juvenile Spotted Sandpiper. Without spots.

Heading back south, we stopped at Holbeck, Scarbados, to mop up an early returning Mediterranean Gull, a smart second winter bird, before returning to Thornwick. We did the northside again, with little new to be found, save a Whinchat and a Redstart. Headed to the site restaurant for beers and snacks. A top night, if not the most bird-filled of days, but great to bird with old mates.

Med Gull, and the lads at Marske.


...dawned golden and magical.

This didn't last long and shortly, the temperature dropped and rain arrived. We toughed out a walk round the north side and saw very little, save a single Yellow-brow in Holmes Gut. The highlight was Jim Morgan and Ana showing us some of the birds they had mist-netted, including Lesser Redpoll, Yellowhammer and a Redstart. A real treat and informative too, as Jim explained how he aged the birds. The birds' weights were all good, so Jim assumed they had been present a while and had had chance to feed and replenish their fat stores for their onward journeys.


With the wind getting up and the rain getting heavier, we decided South Landing might be a good option. Wrong, it was equally wet and windy. Back to the caravan for much-needed bacon butties and tea, both providing welcome relief. Nothing was being found elsewhere to give us much optimism to brave out the wet for a few more hours, so we decided to cut our losses and head home, earning a few brownie points from our families.


A little after getting home, news broke of a Pacific Swift at Hornsea. Dammit! I didn't really have time to get there before the light went, although looking back I might have done it - just. Worse still, a little later, the news came that photos had shown the bird was actually the UK's first White-rumped Swift. What a gripper and a frustrating end to a rather damp day. Birding is just like that sometimes. So, a lesson learned the hard way. If you've got your passport stamped and it's October, stay out until dark- just in case!

Thursday 11 October 2018

The Fall

Golf Course Willows, Flamborough

I can't believe that this is only my second trip of the autumn to Flamborough. This year has run a similar course to last, dominated by westerlies and apart from the occasional bit of excitement has been lacking in birds. This feeling of gloom is perhaps exacerbated by the epic autumn of 2016 and its strong easterly flow and torrent of rarities. Last week's trip to Flamborough with Philip was fun, with Short-eared Owl in-off by the lighthouse, a smart summer plumaged Great Northern Diver along with about 50 Red-throated Divers heading south. But as for the land, it was incredibly, exasperatingly quiet.

Today, with southeasterlies and early rain, things looked more promising. I was at Wheldrake Ings for dawn but failed to see yesterday's Bearded Tits, or indeed anything else, save 49 Wigeon, two Tawny Owls and c20 Redwings. Craig showed me a Merveille Du Jour moth he'd trapped - belting!

I failed to find any Golden Plover flocks nearby to grill, so off east I went, via a bacon butty at Fridaythorpe, which showed well briefly (until I ate it).

One of six Yellow-browed Warblers.

At Flamborough, I headed first for the Golf Course willows, where almost immediately, a Yellow-browed Warbler greeted me. My first of the autumn - blimey, it's almost mid-October! The little guy zipped around in blowy willows with a couple of Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. To my delight, flocks of Redwings, Song Thrushes and Skylarks were coming in-off, along with some small gangs of Bramblings. A Rock Pipit was hanging out with a squad of Meadow Pipits on the fairway. The Fall was happening. The skies cleared and the birds kept coming, along with Terrier captain Mark Pearson who appeared along the clifftop path. Great to see something Bearded at last!!

Rock Pipit, with Meadow Pipit on the golf course.

I headed round to Holmes Gut via the Flamborough chippy, which was even more disappointing than dipping the Bearded Tits. A measly portion of soggy, tepid chips. Poor form.

Ring Ouzel. Always a delight to see these hardy thrushes.

Nice to see some familiar faces at Holmes, and great to meet Tony Dixon, and the birds were piling in here, too. Great birding! Between 1pm and 2.30pm, I/we had four Yellow-browed Warblers, Hawfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, three Blackcaps, two Chiffchaffs, c70 Bramblings, three Ring Ouzels, Corn Bunting, c100 Redwings, 10 Fieldfares and 150 Redwings.

A report of a Harrier sp near Old Fall reinforced my plan to visit the plantation before heading home, so I went back round to the south side. I failed to see the harrier, which had made it's way over North Marsh and then over Andy Hood's head who was still in Holmes Gut. In the stretch of hedge between the Old Fall steps and the first perpendicular hedge was another Yellow-brow, Whinchat, Wheatear, Redstart, a Ring Ouzel and a couple of Bramblings. Fantastic Flamborough! Old Fall was surprisingly quiet, with a Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests all it was willing to give up.

Redstart, Brambling.

But today really belonged to the thrushes. It was just incredible seeing so many Song Thrushes coming in off the sea, a passage that continued throughout my time on the Head. It was nice to see a first-winter in the hand at Holmes, courtesy of Jim who was busy ringing. They are just so beautiful. At the end of the day, across the road from Old Fall Steps, 53 Song Thrushes, c30 Redwings, two Wheatears and a Fieldfare fed together with some rather bemused Pheasants, in a tilled field, providing a really remarkable sight. Marvellous. I can't wait to return tomorrow!

Simply stunning Song Thrushes