Monday, 20 October 2014

Moody sunrise

I only had limited time on Friday, so I was at Crook Ness before dawn and was able to enjoy a wonderfully atmospheric and rather moody sunrise. 

Redwings were on the move with several unseen flocks uttering their wheezing calls as they moved overhead and my watch yielding 87 heading SW. A trickle of finches was unremarkable both in terms of species composition and numbers. Offshore was also quiet, although two Eider were the first I have seen here for a while. A Lesser Whitethroat looked 'interesting' and potentially a blythi. Doubtless the same bird from earlier in the week it again eluded clinching views or confirming calls. 

At 0820 hrs I picked up a ringtail Hen Harrier heading south. It was given a great deal of grief by the local crows that harassed it constantly as it slowly headed south along the ridge. With rather orange toned underparts this was clearly a juvenile and a very welcome patchwork challenge year tick. A quick check of the ringing site was fairly quiet, but a Yellow-browed Warbler was still present along with a few Goldcrests and a few Redwings.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Great Grey Shrike

A spell working away on surveys in Scotland and then a weekend leading a tour group at other locations on the Yorkshire coast has resulted in my visits to The Nab being quite limited recently. However, with some highly promising weather conditions I've been able to enjoy four consecutive days on the patch this week. 

Sunday morning was the final day with my tour group and a Jack Snipe plus 396 Pink-footed Geese heading south were the principle species of interest. However clear sunny skies and light SW winds made for a fairly quiet morning.

Mist rolling off the Vale of Pickering across the coast bewteen Scarborough and Filey.

Pink-footed Geese heading south
By Monday the winds had switched and productive seawatching yielded Balearic Shearwater, several Sooty Shearwaters, a few Pomarine Skuas, Great Northern Diver and a couple of Little Auks the highlights among a typical mid October spread of commoner species. Tuesday morning produced more of the same with a good October count of 69 Manx Shearwaters and 15 Sooty Shearwaters, plus in excess of 100 Little Gulls. On the land things began to hot up with Goldcrests arriving along with a few Redwinsgs, Brambling, Wheatear, a few Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. A nice find by Dave Bowes was a Long-eared Owl; the first I have seen here and thus very welcome.

Long-eared Owl in Crook Ness
This morning I had a wander around the patch in the company of Frank Moffatt. At Crook Ness a Lesser Whitethroat was the first bird of interest. It looked 'interesting', perhaps a blythi type but it disappeared from view fairly rapidly and I couldn't relocate it. Goldcrest numbers were probably slightly down on the previous day and generally speaking there seemed to be a little less going on. However the ringing site yielded a Yellow-browed Warbler, whilst close to the cover crop  we found a superb Great Grey Shrike feeding on what appeared to be a Chaffinch before showing very nicely along the hedges. Another first for me here of a bird which has traditionally been surprisingly rare at Long Nab. A second Yellow-browed Warbler at Cliff Top House rounded off a very pleasant morning birding, but as usual there was that nagging feeling of 'What did we miss?'!.

A cracking Great Grey Shrike

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Quality birds continue to arrive

The generally easterly airflow continues, with low cloud, mist and drizzle persisting along the coast around Scarborough. As a result the daily arrivals of new and interesting birds continue. Up at the Nab there have been two Red-breasted Flycatchers present for the past two days. The bird in the ringing site continues its stay, but it is elusive and very difficult to see. The bird at Crook Ness has been somewhat easier to get to grips with, although the gloomy light conditions made it tricky to get decent photos of this afternoon.

Red-breasted Flycatcher at Crook Ness

Micky and I have attempted ringing sessions on the past two days, but without a great deal of joy. This Siskin being the best of the few birds caught and the first of this species to be seen here since March.

Siskin - one of several seen at the ringing site 
After a number of fruitless net-rounds and motivated by news of a Rustic Bunting seen at Filey, we decided that ringing was not likely to be the most productive activity today. So we packed up the nets and worked the fields and bushes. An hour or so later and we had little to show for our efforts, with a few Song Thrushes and a flyover Snipe the best I could muster, and Micky's walk yielding little more than a couple of Wheatears. After views of the Crook Ness Red-breasted Flycatcher (alongside a Spotted Flycatcher) we were heading back to the car, when an unfamiliar call attracted my attention. Two more calls from the mystery bird and I picked up a wader flying across the field at Crook Ness. Yelling to Micky to get onto it (predictably he was already on the case) we had a poor view as it landed. Wondering if it was a Buff-breasted Sand, we grabbed the scope from the car went in search of it. Suspicious that the call was not right for Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and that it could be a Dotterel it was great that after a little while Micky announced he'd got it and that it was indeed a Dotterel. Fantastic!  I've not heard the calls of migrant Dotterel (or for that matter Buff-breasted Sand) before so this was a most educational; always the most rewarding of bird finding experiences.

No surprise why Dotterel can be so hard to locate on the ground

Gorgeous juvenile Dotterel

Monday, 15 September 2014

New bird for the ringing list

A gloomy day with fog and a little drizzle and a few migrants about. My morning and early afternoon wanderings yielded two Pied Flycatchers, Garden Warbler, Blackcap and Whitethroat. A few Teal and Wigeon were noted moving offshore along with a couple of Bonxies. At the ringing site I set a net and it was not long before the Red-breasted Flycatcher that arrived yesterday was safely in the net. Always a joy and a welcome addition to the Long Nab ringing list. 

Early afternoon saw the arrival of a Redstart and then a short break before returning to the ringing site where apart from a couple of newly arrived Wheatears and a Grey Plover clearly lost in the fog, it seemed fairly quiet. However as we left four Song Thrushes were indicative of continuing arrivals and Nick's evening wanderings added Tree Pipit, Firecrest another Redstart and a couple of Spotted Flycatchers. Great stuff!

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Continuing quiet

With the fine and sunny weather associated with this persistent high pressure that has been prevailing over the past few days it has been predictably slow.

Meadow Pipit passage is a feature of this period of September and is reaching its peak around now. With SW winds we might expect 4 figure counts of birds flying overhead. However, in this less than ideal weather only small numbers have continued to trickle through with over 200 moving through yesterday and just a few today. There are sizeable flocks now feeding in many of the fields and although there has been nothing of particular note amongst them, it has been great to spend time watching these cracking birds.

Meadow Pipit

A short ringing session this morning resulted in a reasonable catch of Goldcrests, with 9 caught during the morning. A high proportion of juveniles would suggest a good breeding season for this species.

At least six Whitethroats were also in the ringing site, although they managed to avoid the nets, whilst a Willow Warbler and four Wheatears were also noted. Overhead four Ringed Plovers flew south and three Golden Plover headed north. However the undoubted highlight of the morning was a nice female Merlin perched on the fence posts near the ringing site when I arrived.Unfortunately it had done a bunk before I managed to get the camera onto it.


Friday, 5 September 2014

Hard work...

A five and a half hour exploration of the plantations, fields, hedgerows and clifftop gullies was hard work this morning. Generally it was quiet, although there was a bit of interest with some drift migrants about. However, the scarce or rare migrant that I am convinced must be lurking somewhere remains elusive!

There seemed to be a few more phylloscs about with 6 Willow Warblers and 11 Chiffchaffs logged. 

Willow Warbler

Six Goldcrests included two unringed birds at the ringing site, so perhaps they have started to move now. Just three Whitethroats and a couple of Blackcaps were unearthed. Of more interest were three Whinchats in the vicinity of the cover crop and two Pied Flycatchers (one at the ringing site and one at Cliff Top House).

Pied Flycatcher at Cliff Top House

My hopes of finding something interesting on my walk down to Cromer Point were dashed with the best I could come up with there being a flock of seven Reed Buntings and three Sand Martins.

Reed Bunting

Offshore a few flocks of ducks were on the move with my occasional scans offshore yielding Common Scoter, Wigeon and Teal. Great Crested Grebe is surprisingly infrequent at Long Nab, so one flying north was a welcome year tick for the Patchwork Challenge. A surprise was a nice Arctic Skua over the fields at Crook Ness. It didn't linger long but was great to see this species over the land rather than a mile or so offshore.

Teal flock

Arctic Skua

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Another Willow Tit

Despite there being a scattering of drift migrants along the coast it has been fairly quiet at Long Nab, although Micky recorded an impressive early movement of Meadow Pipits on Wednesday that exceeded 1500. A couple of ringing sessions this week have yielded surprisingly few migrants, with a couple of Blackcaps and a Willow Warbler being the only warblers to be caught. Resident species seem to have done well and it is clear that the local Dunnocks and Chaffinches have had a decent breeding season, with good numbers of juveniles ringed. The biggest surprise has been the appearance of Long Nab's second Willow Tit, hot on the heels of the first. Another juvenile, hopefully this is indicative of a good breeding season for this species locally.

After the recent productive spell it is perhaps good to be able to pause and reflect before hopefully the next good s commences.

Willow Warbler

Willow Tit

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Nice hirundine movement

Yesterday's trickle of Swallows turned into something of a deluge this morning. A most enjoyable vis mig watch from the hut ended up yielding 1189 Swallows and 705 House Martins moving south, often in pretty large flocks. The Swallow total is close to our record autumn movement of 1372 south on 28th August 2002. A total of 21 Swifts is quite respectable this late in August, whilst the first convincing movements of Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Tree Sparrows were also recorded. Other highlights included a couple of Buzzards and three Kestrels moving south. Crook Ness harboured a Spotted Flycatcher and four Wheatears were feeding behind the hut.

Wheatears in the field behind the hut

The Linnet flock building up behind the seawatch hut - at least 250 today, but up to 300 this week.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Few common migrants but bring on the scarce!

Well, the excellent spell continues along the coast here!

Thursday began with Micky and I working the Long Nab area. The sea was lousy, with very little to look at apart from Gannets and was an incredible contrast to recent days. With a moderate south-east wind blowing accompanied by rain, cloud and steady drizzle plus reports of good numbers of drift migrants to the south it seemed that the prize must lay in the bushes or fields. The best part of three hours later and we were reconsidering that idea! Just a Wheatear, a handful of Willow Warblers, an increase in Whitethroats plus the Spotted Flycatcher still in residence all suggested that there was very little if anything new in at all. A trickle of waders hinted at the possibility of some interest there, but Johnson's Marsh hosted the usual Green Sandpiper and Snipe. Scalby Lodge Pond was devoid of waders, although 8 Teal were new in. By lunchtime we went our separate ways and I headed for Wykeham South Lake hoping I might find a Black Tern. However, a few minutes after my arrival a text arrived informing me of a Greenish Warbler on the castle, so it wasn't long before I was hurriedly heading back into town and cursing the tractor driving farmers as I went! Fortunately the bird was showing almost immediately on arrival and it performed nicely over the next hour or so. As is fairly usual on this blog, these aren't especially brilliant images, but you get the idea!

Greenish Warbler 

With very little evidence of many common migrants on the castle either, it just goes to show that even if there appears to be little about, if the wind is in the right direction then you just gotta keep plugging away.

Evening news from Nick, that a Pied Flycatcher had at last been found at Long Nab inspired me to head to the ringing site this morning. A switch to moderate SW winds meant I was also hoping for a little bit of vis mig. Sure enough a trickle of Swallows were moving south, whilst Yellow Wagtails and a few Meadow Pipits were also on the move. However, just 15 minutes after my arrival I was amazed to see an Ortolan Bunting arrive from the north, calling repeatedly whilst circling the ringing site and dropping into the bushes for a minute or so before flying off to the south and calling several more times as it did so. This is the first Ortolan I have found in the UK since three in the space of a couple of weeks in 1996 (one in Kent, two on Scilly), so very welcome indeed. However, of greater significance is that this species remains amazingly rare in the Scarborough area and this bird constitutes just the third record for the area and the first since 1977! The two previous records were as follows.

A male at Scalby Beck on 5th-6th May 1973 (R H Appleby, B Cockerill)
A male at Cloughton on 10th October 1977 (J Webb).

With less encouraging winds forecast in the next few days I imagine things will quieten down, but I sure can't help feeling what next?!?

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

More quality seawatching but little on the land

The past couple of days promised much with brisk winds from an easterly quarter blowing. It certainly produced a decent seawatch that yielded three Long-tailed Skuas for me and an additional bird after I left. These comprised a couple of juveniles at 0739 and 0800 and then a splendid adult at 1120. Always a great joy. Arctic Skuas were on the move, but as usual the numbers were much lower here than those recorded further south in the North Sea. Fewer Manx Shearwaters and Fulmars were moving, but a Sooty Shearwater was an early highlight. Despite grilling the large numbers of Kittiwakes streaming north, eventually totalling over 4000 for the day, I couldn't detect the hoped for Sabine's Gull amongst them.

So, all very good but the reports of Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts and a scattering of scarce migrants elsewhere inspired me to check the bushes. A couple of hours later I had located a Whinchat, a Willow Warbler and well, not a lot else! 

Returning to the hut for some more seawatching I had a text from Micky informing he that he had found a 1w Caspian Gull just south of Crook Ness. So a yomp along the cliffs was in order to see that, but somehow gulling just seemed plain WRONG on a day with such a brisk easterly blowing! It was a fair way off, but scope views were pretty decent and it looked the real deal.

This morning Micky and I undertook the first proper ringing session for a while but it was to prove a little disappointing with the catch consisting primarily of Chaffinches, Robins and tits, all of whom clearly hadn't come far. Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler were the only 'proper' migrants we caught although a Pied Wagtail was new for the ringing list and a Spotted Flycatcher feeding along the fence line was a pleasant diversion between net rounds. The sea yielded another juvenile Long-tailed Skua, a stream of Kittiwakes and Common Terns were moving north along with a reasonable movement of Teal and Common Scoter. A few waders were also trickling through with Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Curlew, Knot all noted heading south.

Lesser Whitethroat - a retrap from July last year and presumably a local breeder

Willow Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher

Sunday, 24 August 2014

It's quiet but anticipation is increasing

With easterly winds forecast for the coming week there is a sense of anticipation of what might be ahead, but for now it remains fairly quiet. It was rather chilly this morning, 4 Celsius when I left home and 6 C when I arrived on site; there will be mornings in December when it won't be as cool as that! 

My morning walk around the plantations and fields was predictably quiet although there was a clear increase in Willow Warblers (seven in total) and a scattering of doubtless mostly local Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats and Blackcaps. Nick found a Stonechat near the seawatch hut early on and it had relocated to the cover crop by the time I saw it. A juvenile, it probably hadn't come very far, but nevertheless it was another welcome PWC year tick for me. A Whinchat in the hut field eluded me, but I imagine there will be a few more once the easterlies forecast for the coming week kick in. There has been precious little visible migration of passerines recently, but today a flurry of House Martins totalled 56, whilst smaller numbers of Swallows and Sand Martins were also apparent. A couple of Meadow Pipits moved south and it will not be long before they are moving in earnest. One suspects the next SW wind will stimulate a significant movement of hirundines, pipits and wagtails. The sea was quiet, just a few Manx Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua, but a trickle of waders included Whimbrel, Sanderling, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover and Oystercatcher, whilst small numbers of Teal and Common Scoter were also moving and the first Shelduck since June cruised north. 

All in all a quiet, although very pleasant morning and now hoping the the forecast easterlies materialise and that they deliver a few more moments of excitement!  


Willow Warbler

Juvenile Stonechat

Early morning view from Long Nab on Saturday

Friday, 22 August 2014

The PWC year ticks continue...

After the exciting seawatching earlier in the week, things have quietened down over the past few days, but there has still been plenty of interest. Wanting a change to staring at the sea, I opted to cover the fields and scrub on Wednesday. Migrants were predictably in short supply as Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats and Blackcaps were all I could find, most of whom will have been local breeders.This return was a bit disappointing in view of a Ruff seen in the hut field which had gone by the time I got there and news of two Redstart sightings in Scarborough town. 

Yes, I can see you! A Whitethroat at the ringing site.

I returned to seawatching on Thursday and although it was very quiet, a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull was new for my Patchwork Challenge yearlist. Nick recorded two additional individuals later in the day, so clearly a little influx taking place, and probably the highest ever day total for this species at Long Nab. A Mediterranean Gull was feeding in the hut field, whilst a juvenile Common Buzzard heading south was another, somewhat overdue year tick for me. 

Friday rounded off the week nicely, although it was frustrating to get the news from Nick of an early morning Hobby before my arrival. Nevertheless Ospreys always make a day worthwhile and one that cruised south along the cliffs at 0738hrs was most welcome and a new bird for my Long Nab list no less. Two Gadwall were rather less memorable but also new for the PWC yearlist and pushed me through the 200 points mark for the competition. A wander around the bushes yielded a couple of Willow Warblers and a Tree Pipit, the latter scarce at The Nab (despite being common in the nearby forests) and only my second of the year here.

Willow Warbler at the ringing site.
The occasional wader continues to drop into Johnson's Marsh with this Green Sandpiper present there for the past few days.