Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Magic of Migration

Felt under the weather today, but nevertheless was up at 6am and pulling into Old Fall layby at 7.15am. The wind had gone round to the east as predicted by the Met, but the cloud was a little sparse and a golden sun rose over the head.

Stacks of Blackbirds, Redwings and Song Thrushes were evident along the first stretch of hedge, chucking and seeeeping about, bounding out of the hedge on to the path and then back again. I paused for a moment, scope set, hoping for something rarer to hop out. Nothing did, but wonderful views of these fresh-in migrants, that probably arrived last night. I ambled down the path and bumped into Andy Hood. Shortly, we picked up the Red-breasted Flycatcher, rattling in a Sycamore on the leeward edge of the Old Fall plantation. It flicked in and out flycatching. A melodic whistle from behind us made us turn round and utter 'Shore Lark' in unison. I picked up the bird dropping on to a tilled stretch of field behind us. Yes! A cracking black and yellow faced Shore Lark. The bird's general cold grey upperparts stood out from the rather gingery earth it had chosen to sit on. After a few minutes it headed off again with the local Skylark gang.

Into the plantation and it really was excellent birding. Goldcrests were everywhere, as were Robins. Bramblings wheezed from the branches above, and Blackbirds flapped through in gangs. Every bird had to be checked; there had to be a rarity here somewhere. A pale warbler appeared - Siberian Chiffchaff! Sadly it didn't confirm itself with a call, but it looked convincing. It melted away, and shortly a rather late Garden Warbler appeared. Blackcaps fed unusually high in the Sycamores, seeking aphids. Scanning down Old Fall Hedge South, the grey sentinel form of a Great Grey Shrike made a fine morning sight (unlike my terrible phonescoped snap!).

Bumped into Lee, Martin and Mr Baines  and then the news broke of a Grey Phalarope on the sea near Bluethroat Gulley. We headed round there and had a scan. Plenty of Red-throated Divers on the sea and a few Common Scoters going past. Rich picked up a Little Auk but I couldn't get on it. The phal had drifted off, so we headed on round the head to the Bay Brambles, which were rather quiet. My usual plan is to go over to the north side after the Old Fall loop, but today, with more time to spare, I thought I would do the honorable thing and walk!

Along the clifftops I encountered a number of Goldcrests in the grass on the clifftop and along the fences. In fact, their trisyllabic little squeak was my constant soundtrack today. These little mites had just flown the North Sea. They seem tiny and fragile, but actually must be hard as nails! It never ceases to amaze me they survive this; how I underestimate them. It is a phenomenal feat and they probably welcomed the easterly wind to blow them in. It is 350 miles across open, inhospitable ocean to the west coast of Denmark, or even further if they came down from Norway. Amazing!

As I approached Holmes Gut, a text came through from Rich - Little Bunting just been found by Lee! Fantastic! I was literally by the gate, so hot footed it round to where Lee, Martin and Andy H had already gathered. To cut a long story short, I never did see it, despite a good search of the local area. Three Ring Ouzels were nice, the first I had seen today. Bit sad to dip this as I really wanted to see one of these this autumn.

How many Sibe Blue Robins lurk in Holmes Gut?

During our search, we bumped into Jon B and he kindly gave me a lift back to my car, which was a relief as I was starving and flagging a bit! After a bite to eat, I decided I would go on a Pallas's Warbler quest and South Landing seemed like a good option. Here I bumped into Craig who was fresh from Rubythroat action on Shetland. Hopefully, he would have his eye in, and sure enough, after a brief foray up to Booted Gulley (Shore Lark again, plus Blackcap, Brambling and a flyover Lap Bunt), he picked up a Yellow-browed Warbled by the South Landing steps. Great! Craig headed off to bed, and I wandered back down the gulley.

Two Yellow-brows were together in the sycamores at the top of the gulley and I decided these were different from Craig's first- but of course, I couldn't be sure! 3pm arrived and I decided I would have one last look at Holmes Gut before home. Still no ticking buntings, but a Fieldfare, my first of the autumn, came in off the sea, straight up the valley and dropped on to a hawthorn bush. Well done buddy! After five minutes looking shattered, it ate two berries and then headed off west. The magic of migration!

 Fieldfare taking a well-earned rest.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Great North Eastern Migration Way

The wind went northeast and rain arrived. On the coast, a deluge of birds has been dropping in - exciting times. Tomorrow the wind is swinging more round to the east and clear skies over Scandinavia should mean lots of birds heading our way. Hopefully the slightly more friendly conditions tomorrow should mean the birding is awesome! Here's hoping!

And this is what I am hoping is flicking around in Old Fall Plantation...Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (photo by Robin Newlin).

Sunday, 12 October 2014


The good birding weather (northeasterlies and rain) arrives tomorrow, so ascending out of the fog-bound Vale of York in to glorious sunshine on the Yorkshire Wolds this morning reduced my optimism of seeing anything good at Flamborough.

Nevertheless, you just never know on the east coast at this time of year, so I headed over to Old Fall. Lots of Tree Sparrows around, with several parties in the hedge and heading off south. Lots of Skylarks too, plus a few Meadow Pipits. Not a lot in the hedge on the walk down towards Old Fall plantation, but my new radio suddenly crackled in to life with Lee Johnson stating there was a Radde's Warbler in the Gorse Field! Yikes! Nice for this to be the first message on my radio. So walked swiftly down Old Fall, round the sheep and on to the permissive path where I bumped into Lee and a few others. The bird had been showing in the hedge but had flicked across into the gorse. No worries, the conditions were idyllic, so surely it would be actively feeding. Whilst I waited, a fine Stonechat, a couple of overflying Brambling and a pair of regal Roe Deer provided a distraction, but after an hour and a half I began to wonder if the little Sibe would ever show again in this massive patch of cover.

John B and Martin G took the initiative and decided to give the field a walk and although the Radde's remained frustratingly hidden from all bar MG at first, it eventually gave itself up and showed gloriously in the rough grass and brambles at the edge of the gorse patch. What a stonker! Looked very yellow and olive at a distance, with salmon pink legs and a whacking great supercilium that blurred over it's forehead. What a beauty! It showed so well that I managed a bit of phonescoping! I am sure some of the big lens folk will have got some cracking shots.

After a bit, I decided the Sibe Thrush wouldn't find itself, so I headed back round Old Fall where a Yellow-browed Warbler was calling from the depths and five Bramblings wheezed overhead. Still lots of dapper Tree Sparrows around but more unexpected was a Barn Owl that flew across and into the plantation, much to the consternation of the local Wrens, followed by a lovely Weasel on the path next to the hedge that approached quite close. Headed to the north side, which revealed a few more migrants including two Chiffchaffs and six Blackcaps, plus a rather fine Redwing.

Tree Spug, Weasel and fem Blackcap.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

All quiet

Did Hes East first thing. Not many birds about, with three Teal, two Snipe and a drake Pochard all I noted. On to Wheldrake Ings where things were not much better, with the resident Greenshank on Swantail, with two or three Chiffchaffs in the willows, c100 Teal, four Wigeon, c30 Shoveler and a light passage of Skylarks, Mippits and a few finches overhead.

40 Not Out

So, the big four o arrived on 3rd October. After a night in the pub in Ellerby, headed for Flamborough. What a treat to have the day off and spend the day birding the Great White Cape! Good company in the form of Tony and Dob, but sadly, not many birds to be seen due to southerly winds and clear skies. We hunted high and low around Old Fall but only found a Chiffchaff. Following a birthday bacon buttie, took a trip to the northside where we worked hard for birds. Gone eleven and a few Song Thrushes and a Shoveler (!) came in off. A distant bird called - Yellow-browed Warbler! It sounded like it was near the sewage plant, but we couldn't find it. Did a loop round the tracks and as we arrived at the North Landing CP, a tiny green and white warbler flew up off the cliff top and across the car park, buffeted by the strong wind. It disappeared into Holmes Gut. A good search failed to find it, then on the way back to the car a Siskin flew over, followed by the characteristic call of a Yellow-brow at close quarters. We soon got on the little sprite as it worked through the elders. High fives all round! Not a big bird, but boy we had put in the effort and it felt like a great reward.

Birthday selfie, and Old Fall from the south

We headed to The Mighty Hornsea Mere, via the chippy. Not a lot from the new Wassand Hide, though Tony jammed a first year Med Gull cruising past. Later, we did the south side, adding female Scaup and a fine first year Caspian Gull, complete with red darvic. Whilst savouring this bird, Tony picked up one of Dob's Slavonian Grebes, a juv, from yesterday which finished the day off nicely, before heading back to meet the family, for birthday fun.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

A Garrulous Chap

Picked up a 'dead' Jay off Bishy Road this morning by the Palace Grounds. What a beautiful bird, complete with acorn in beak. To my surprise, as soon as I picked it up it twitched a  leg, then a wing and within a few minutes it had come round albeit somewhat dazed. I took a couple of photos of this absolutely stonking bird and then decided to sit it on a branch. After falling off like a drunken village idiot into a hedge, I held it for a little while more during which it decided to do a bit of characteristic squawking, which from close range was ear-splitting. Other commuters gave me some very funny looks. I placed it back on the branch and this time it held it together and managed to remain perched. Work beckoned so I left this bird like a slightly-camp and forlorn sentinel perched in the tree. I hope it survived the ordeal.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Check your stubble

Checked out the big Golden Plover flock in the fields south of Bishopthorpe. Not easy viewing due to the stubble, but c500 birds present. Got a bit excited over a large pale grey bird that looked like a Grey Plover, until it stood up and flapped revealing itself to be some freak Goldie.

Check the bird sleeping right in the middle. The most Grey Golden Plover I have seen.

A Chiffchaff worked the rather scant hedge behind me and a chipping gang of Tree Spugs was a glorious site at the back of Brunswick. I will be keeping an eye on this flock, especially if we start getting some westerlies, as this is the very spot where my old mate Dunc Poyser found the first acceptable American Goldie for the York area back in late September 2003.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Spurn Unmasked

Plans went wonky when the Spurn Woodchat Shrike was reidentified as Britain's third Masked Shrike! Left in a bit of a panic at 10am and had a shocker of a journey across from York, due to heavy Saturday morning traffic. Nevertheless, arrived at Well Field, parked up and was shortly getting my first distant glimpse of this first for Yorkshire perched on a barbed wire fence at the back of Rose Cottage.

Very pleased to see this bird having never made it north to Scotland for the first. Great to bump into lots of friends and colleagues all with big grins on their faces! Thanks to Paz and Mark from York, jammed  a collosal Convolvulous Hawkmoth courtesy of Father Stoyle and my first Small Mottled Willow moth, both at the Warren. There seemed to be plenty of birds about, so I spent an enjoyable few hours wandering around. Failed to refind an Olive-backed Pipit, though thought I had when I flushed a pipit out of the salt marsh near the Warren. It flew up into a bush and revealed itself as a very smart Tree Pipit. Oh well, nearly.

Bumped into Chris Gomersall from York and enjoyed watching Pied and Red-breasted Flycatchers near the pub with him. Mid-afternoon the shrike had moved a little closer and gave us a better opportunity to check it out. The long black and white tail was really striking and together with large white primary flashes, made the bird really stunning in flight. The bird showed a distinct apricot wash on the flanks which I suppose is a bit of adult colouration coming through. No white rump, and big white scaps were noted. A fine and interesting bird seemingly quite at home pouncing on insects in the grass. A Great Grey Shrike showed quite well on the other side of the road, hunting from the telegraph wires most of the day, and an adult Med Gull flew over. Other migrants about included Spotted Flycatcher (4), Redstart (3), Whinchat (6), Wheatear (8+), Lesser Whitethroat (1), Garden Warbler (2), Siskin (c15), and a few Goldcrests and phylloscs.

Masked Shrike, plus ConvHawk and GGS at the bottom.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Old Fall Drift

Up early after late night in Sheffield watching Lee Mack. Couldn't get parked in my usual spot at the top end of Old Fall and shortly bumped into Martin Garner who kindly invited me to park on his drive - thanks Martin!

Headed off down Old Fall. It really is an exciting place to bird in autumn with an easterly blowing and despite the lack of birds (one Redstart, one Wheatear and a Whitethroat) the site always 'feels rare' and you never quite know what might be just around the corner. Today, it was a small, dark short-tailed Locustella which zipped off the clifftop path at the south end of the Old Fall hedge and shot into the long grass on the cliffs. Eek! My mind screamed 'Lancey' and I fixed my eyes on the exact clump of grass where it dived in. I hadn't seen much, but I was sure this was smaller than a Grasshopper Warbler. This could be my big bird.

With ultra focus I crept forward though to be honest, I had little hope of seeing the bird as the grass was very thick and long. A Lancey would just vanish in habitat like this. I got within a metre or so and I was just thinking that the bird must have scurried away, when it shot out again, down a sleep slope to my right and then up into the grass on the cliff side. Bugger! This wasn't going to be very safe or easy to get near to! I hadn't seen much more on the second view other than that the upperparts were the same colour throughout; brown with dark streaks, thus excluding Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler. Therefore, my choices were limited to Gropper or Lancey. I dumped my scope in the grass and gingerly descended the steep grassy cliff into the thick vegetation at the bottom. Nothing moved. I started to ascend the other side, which was really difficult due to the gradient. Using dead grass and brambles as hand holds wasn't really pleasant, or successful and I twice nearly fell. Reaching the top, I was gutted I hadn't seen the bird again. It must have flown further than I had thought or perhaps scurried away through the grass and out of my line of attack. What to do! Just to my side was the vertical cliffs - I couldn't really go any further that way. So, I opted to search the rough grassland on either side of the depression and the set aside crop. Half an hour later and still no sighting, so I decided this would have to be the one that got away.

A little later, I bumped into Craig and Lee and they were heading that way, so I suggested they have a look for the bird - just in case....

My little streaky distraction left me with not a lot of time. I had a quick check around Bay Brambles, finding a confiding Pied Flycatcher, but no sign of the reported Red-breasted Fly. I then spent a bit of time doing the gardens along the road, which revealed a Garden Warbler and little else. I decided to call it a day and head back - Dad duties beckoned back in York. I had a quick look at Old Fall steps where Phil's Barred Warbler had been seen again. Today, three Barred Warblers and a brief Lesser Whitethroat fed on the elderberries. Clearly a fall of Sylvia borin....Whilst watching these grey dudes, Craig and Lee rocked up. They had in fact seen my Locustella, albeit briefly in flight, and Craig had decided it was a Gropper. Darn it! Oh well, at least that saved a potentially life-threatening twitch on the edge of a very steep cliff, and meant I could leave without the spector of that little streaky dude hanging over me. Though I still wonder...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Bongo Birding!

Spent the night at the north end of Old Fall hedge, Flamborough, in the Bongo, with the beam of the lighthouse eerily sweeping across the fields and lighting up the trees next to the window. Woke to the haunting hoot of the fog horn, cooked up a bacon butty and downed a cuppa then got my gear on and dropped down the Old Fall steps and into birding heaven.

Bumped into Craig Thomas and wandered down the hedge with him. Very little about this early, but Craig regaled with me tales of stumbling upon my dream bird, White's Thrush, last autumn on Fair Isle. Having seen little more than a trio of splendid Roe Deer, a Lesser Whitethroat and a handful of Song Thrushes, we went our separate ways, me to Booted Gulley and Craig to work.

Whitethroat. One of the commonest migrant warblers seen.

The sun came out as my fruitless quest continued, though birding in this stunning place always lifts the heart, even when birdless. Four Golden Plovers blogged about and a few Swallows passed by. As I approached the back of the Gorse Field, a skua appeared heading north over the headland. A smart dark juvenile Arctic. Straight over the Coastguard Cottages and away. Nice. Further along, I scanned the gorse which revealed a veritable feast of Whinchats. At least eight of these dapper buff, white and peach chaps were scouting for insects atop the dark green spikes. As I watched them, a large pale grey warbler hulked across on to the brambles. Surely a Barred Warbler! Yes, there it was lumbering about scoffing blackberries. It seemed to enjoy the sunshine and sat for a while in full view on the edge of a bush. Drat the battery in the radio was flat, so I rang Rich Baines to put the news out. As I watched the bird, another bird hopped up chasing the Barred from its chosen patch of bramble. Another Barred Warbler! Unbelievable scenes in the Gorse Field! I managed a rather unspectacular phonescoped shot of one below - which could arguably be a Desert Warbler or a Wryneck!

Could be anything, but this is the first of the Barred Wobblers.

I didn't see much else for a little while apart from a couple of Whitethroats and a Willow Warbler. I dropped the radio back into Rich's house - thanks mate - and then headed to the northside. No sign of Rich's Wryneck, but a smart Spotted Flycatcher, several Whitethroats, a Bullfinch, Chiffchaff and a few more migrant Song Thrushes. I decided to have one more walk around Old Fall before heading west. Phil Cunningham had just found another Barred Warbler in Chalet Hedge. I stopped to look and it was showing straight away and got a smart look through Phil's scope. Hat-trick! A few more birds in Old Fall, including a showy Spot Fly, several Willow Warblers and a Whinchat. Things had certainly picked up. Sad to leave as always, away I went in the Bongo.

Spotted Flycatcher and Whinchat. Always great to see!