Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Shore Larks

After missing a Shore Lark on the patch in 2015, I was delighted to hear news from Nick that he'd found a flock of seven initially at Crook Ness and that had then headed in the direction of Fields Farm. After a search of a couple of hours I eventually tracked them down and enjoyed good scope views. The flock increased to eight on the second day and whilst usually quite faithful to a particular field at Crook Ness, they did go AWOL for extended periods. Getting photos was somewhat less than straightforward, but eventually after a couple of mornings spent with them I manged to get some record shots. So, here are a few...

Tricky to see them here, but seven individuals visible in this photo

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Well the title of the last blog post was certainly not wrong. An incredible couple of weeks has provided some of the most amazing autumn birding in living memory and thoughts of updating this blog have kept being postponed. Although not quite hitting the heights of some other sites on the Yorkshire coast, my visits to Long Nab have been most enjoyable, although tinged with some early frustrations. 

The morning of 5th October began with a visit to the garage to fix the car. Mercifully the repair was fixed fairly speedily and I had a decision to make, An Eastern Crowned Warbler down the road at Bempton had almost tempted me into some twitching, but I opted for a visit to the Nab first. My arrival at the Nab coincided with news of a Black-browed Albatross past Filey and then Bempton. Oh dear! Still, I stuck to birding the nab and after a couple of  hours had little to show for my efforts. My mood wasn't good. Deciding that I should head off for the Eastern Crowned Warbler, and feeling that at least I had tried on the patch, I began walking back to the car. As I walked along a hedgerow a cold olive-brown toned, robin-sized bird with a dull blue tail flushed up in front of me and then darted into a nearby plantation. I was remarkably calm and having seen such a sight many times during trips overseas, I instantly thought, that'll be a Bluetail then. I waited on the edge of the plantation and nothing happened. Venturing in and another 90 minutes of searching gone and still no sign. I was on the verge of giving up and walked along the edge of the plantation again, and flushed it again getting much the same views as before. Oh bugger. I spent the better part of four hours trying to nail it, but just those two flight views and a brief perched view where the key features - head and flanks were obscured left me in a position of knowing what I'd seen, but not in a position to claim it. Nick arrived for the final couple of hours of light and had three further flight views but was unable to add anything more. I have rarely been more frustrated.

The next few days were spent guiding a couple who had been amazingly lucky in their timing of a birding break along the Yorkshire coast. Amongst the haul of fantastic birds were the Eastern Crowned Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Pallas's Warbler, Great Grey Shrike, Red-breasted Flycatcher and plenty of common migrants.

Eastern Crowned Warbler - Bempton
Whilst I was occupied with my tour group, other local birders were beginning to make some finds on in the Scarborough area. A Little Bunting at the Castle found by Steve Wignill didn't linger, A Radde's Warbler found by Micky on the castle was typically elusive and a Pallas's Warbler at the Nab found by Nick was in the same plantation as that which had hosted the Bluetail. So, with clients off home I was keen to get out and find something myself. 

The 10th October was quiet for me and nothing much to show for my efforts. A long slog around the patch of 11th October was also limited in its rewards. My belief that something would pop up was starting to wain a little and I was wondering whether to take a break and have the afternoon off.  It has always struck me that belief that you will find a rare bird is an important part of continuing to find goodies. So, although my mood was not great, in the back of my mind I was telling myself to keep going. I decided a change was in order and remembered a cover crop just north of the patch at Cloughton Wyke. Maybe that would have something? Half an hour there produced a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff. Not exactly what I had in mind, but a set-aside field had a few pipits and Linnets in it, so I began to set my scope up to have a look, with the hope of perhaps dropping on a Richard's Pipit. Well, the pipit was soon forgotten when a small compact bunting flew in and sat on a nearby wall. Recognition was instant and there in front of me was the Scarborough area's third Little Bunting! Wow! And a very welcome, if rather overdue, find tick to boot. And where was the camera - in the car. Bugger. Of course by the time I'd retrieved the camera the bird had dropped out of sight. I got the news onto the local grapevine and although views were subsequently rather distant (thus no pics) it was successfully twitched by four other observers - the first Scarborough bird to be twitchable. 

With a nice find under the belt, the flood gates kind of opened a bit. A Pallas's Warbler in the ringing site the next day came and found me - arriving in the top of a sycamore and calling whilst I was setting a mist net. The day after that an enjoyable wander ended with a Great Grey Shrike whilst I just driving away from the site. 

In the absence of a photo of the Long Nab bird, her is a pic of the Pallas's Warbler at Thornwick

Friday 14th began with a ringing session and the first Woodcock to be ringed at Long Nab. News that the Siberian Accentor that had been found the previous day was just too good an opportunity to miss, so a trip with Nick to see that was highly successful.

Siberian Accentor - Easington

A huge arrival of thrushes took place along the Yorkshire coast on the morning of 15th October and for once those that arrived at Long Nab lingered along the hedgerows long enough to be watched and although I never found one, I at least felt in with a chance of a rare thrush. Good numbers of Bramblings were present and a thoroughly enjoyable day included many common migrants plus quality in the form of Firecrest, White-fronted and Tundra Bean Geese and a late surprise in the form of a Great White Egret which arrived from the NE, flew over the Nab and ended up spending a few hours on Johnson's Marsh. Wonderful!


Tundra Bean and White-fronted Geese

Great White Egret

 And finally, to finish this rather long-winded round up, a ringing session on the morning of 17th October yielded an impressive 40 odd Lesser Redpolls and a single Mealy Redpoll, a lovely way in which to round off an incredible spell. There would appear to be a short break in the fun, before we get a further spell of easterlies, so hopefully that brings more excitement!

Lesser Redpoll

Mealy Redpoll


Sunday, 2 October 2016

Here comes the business end of autumn

Well, so far its been a fairly underwhelming autumn here at the Nab. That is not to say it hasn't been without its interest, just that with a marked lack of easterly winds thus far, with the exception of an arrival of Yellow-browed Warblers, there have been no significant arrivals of passerines, and with a couple of notable exceptions, much of the seawatching has been hard work.

This morning was one of the exceptions to the seawatching rule, with a very pleasant few hours yielding a cracking juvenile Sabine's Gull feeding with Kittiwakes as it moved N, a juvenile Long-tailed Skua, close to 50 Sooty Shearwaters and a selection of more standard fare.

Sunrise at Long Nab on 2nd October

I was unavailable for the deluge of Sooty Shearwaters on 17th September but the day before a memorable wildlfowl movement included an excellent variety of dabbling ducks including excellent totals of Wigeon (578), Teal (630) and Pintail (30) all of which neared but did not quite break record-day totals for the site. 

We have managed a few ringing sessions and whilst we have not exactly been overwhelmed with birds we have added a few species to the site's ringing list. Stonechat, Skylark (somewhat strangely caught in a net ride through some trees and bushes) and rather less interestingly, Wood Pigeon have all been ringed in recent weeks. The number of Wrens has exceeded the previous best totals here suggesting a continued increase in the local population (not to mention increased swearing by ringers trying to extract them from the nets!). Dunnock and Chiffchaff have also been caught in good numbers which have been suggestive of a good breeding season. 





Significant numbers of Meadow Pipits have been logged moving south (a record autumn total for us) and we have caught a few of these, although ringing sessions have not coincided with the largest day totals. However, despite their abundance it is always a great pleasure to handle these attractive birds. Boring little brown jobs they certainly are not!

Meadow Pipit

We don't get too many Treecreepers at Long Nab, so it is always a pleasant surprise when one finds the nets in the ringing plantation. The individual pictured below was found on 1st October.

A Yellow-browed Warbler caught on 21st September was the 5th to be ringed here; a total that exceeds that of so-called commoner migrants such as Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and Lesser Whitethroat!

Yellow-browed Warbler
With the forecast suggesting a week of easterly winds ahead of us, no doubt there will be more of these delightful Asian sprites and hopefully there will be something even more exciting that will require me to return to this blog before too much longer!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Mid August update

Despite some good birds since I last updated this blog, most notably a Pallid Harrier flying north here in early May (!), I have found it difficult to find the time to keep this up to date. As we are now in August, autumn migration is well under way, and although there haven't been any rare or scarce migrants just yet, the recent weather has given cause for some optimism. 

A couple of ringing sessions this week have yielded a reasonable catch of Willow Warblers, plus a few Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and a good number of juvenile Wrens which have clearly had a good breeding season.

Willow Warbler

Another welcome catch was a smart juvenile male Sparrowhawk, only the second of this species to be netted here.


Despite the odd report of typical August scarce and rare species such as Icterine Warbler, Greenish Warbler and Barred Warbler from other sites along the Yorkshire coast, it has been fairly slow going when exploring the hedgerows, scrub and fields here. Good numbers of Whitethroats are still about, but otherwise its been just the odd Wheatear, Lesser Whitethroat and a sprinkling of Willow Warblers

Willow Warbler

Sedge Warblers are scarce here, so this one was a welcome find this morning.

Sedge Warbler

Thursday, 21 April 2016

April ringing

Over the past couple of mornings, Micky and I have got the 2016 Long Nab ringing campaign underway. With sunny conditions and clear skies it has been predictably slow going, with a marked lack of quantity. However, we have enjoyed some quality birds for Long Nab.

This morning began with a singing Willow Tit that quickly found the nets and was processed before 0730hrs. Only the third record for Long Nab after two autumn birds in 2014, this was an excellent find and rarer here than Barred Warbler or Yellow-browed Warbler.

Willow Tit

The next net round yielded a Lesser Whitethroat which was bearing a ring. Predictably it was one of 'ours', having been ringed here in July 2013. It was caught again in August 2014 but not caught in 2015. It is therefore very pleasing to record its presence again this year. When first ringed it was a 1st summer, so it must be almost four years old now. It has some way to go in order to break any longevity records, but the average life expectancy from ringing is around two years (BTO website).

Lesser Whitethroat
By the next net round things were slowing up (they hadn't really ever got particularly busy!) and so we were delighted to find a smart male Redstart in the pines net. Only the fourth Redstart caught and ringed here, it is somewhat predictably the first spring catch.

Male Redstart
More run of the mill species included Chiffchaffs, Goldfinches, a couple of Chaffinches, a smart male Linnet and a Willow Warbler.

Male Linnet
Female Goldfinch
Male Goldfinch - note minor differences in shape of red face patch when compared with female above

Willow Warbler

Monday, 18 April 2016

Another early Short-toed Lark

As is usually the case I set out for the Nab with fairly modest expectations this morning. A forecast of westerly winds freshening through the day meant that my most optimistic hopes were for perhaps a raptor on the move, a few more vis migging finches and pipits, plus a chat and a cup of coffee in the Obs with Nick!

Despite a fairly tardy arrival time of just before 0730hrs, no-one else was around (admittedly not at all unusual) so I ambled slowly along Crook Ness and decided there was a notable absence of anything interesting in the bushes and despite a light SSW wind, overhead there seemed a distinct lack of activity. Hmmmm... 

A Swallow and a House Martin moving along the cliff top was some very minor encouragement and as I was about to log them in the notebook I noticed a small, pale, sandy-looking passerine flying over the adjacent arable field. I watched it do a circuit of the field, being chased by a Sky Lark at one point, noting the smaller size and pale sandy colouration with a darker looking tail. My pulse quickened as I began to suspect it was a Short-toed Lark. Fortunately it pitched into the field about 100 metres away and I eased up to the tractor tracks and saw it crouched on the edge of the crop. I usually opt to take in some bins views and enjoy the bird, but on this occasion, fearing it would do a disappearing act, I fired off a few photos and then watched it through my bins for a few more seconds, and confirming my initial identification, before it flew a hundred metres or so towards the Obs. Wow! I'd only been in the field 15 minutes and I had a find tick under my belt.

I phoned Nick and got texts out to a few other locals before trying to re-locate it. This I quickly did, but it flushed and returned to the original spot. I waited for others to arrive and with Nick and Tony Ford now present we tried to find it, but no sign. A wider search to the field north of the Obs (host to the last Short-toed Lark here in 2014) revealed nothing other than a newly arrived Whimbrel. Nick returned south to the spot where I had found it, whilst Tony and I continued searching the cover crop side of the field. A call from Nick to say  it had returned to the original location had us hurrying back, but it had crept into the crop by the time we got there (and maybe it had been there all along?). However, despite waiting with a few other hopeful visitors a further hour or so it didn't reappear. Nick and I decided it was time to have a coffee in the hut and left the others to it. A call from Wig to say they had seen it again in flight and heading towards the field on the south side of the car park proved to be the final sighting of the day. 

Further observations of note included a couple of Whimbrel flocks on the move, Yellow Wagtail, and for Nick in the afternoon a female Hen Harrier. Almost as rare at the Nab as the lark, was a sighting for Nick of Red-legged Partridge! Might have to search for that in the morning...

Short-toed Lark
Although clearly a regular but rare visitor to the UK in spring, April records are less frequent than May arrivals and most that do arrive in April tend to arrive in the final week of the month. Even then the south-west dominates occurrences. It is therefore quite remarkable that both records from Long Nab have occurred in mid-April with arrival dates just two days apart. The first being on 20th April 2014 and this one appearing on 18th. These also appear to be the earliest spring arrivals in Yorkshire, with the previous earliest record that I can find being at Spurn on 22nd April 1996. There is a most unusual January record from Cowbar on 4th-12th January 2003. Another interesting anomaly is that despite the two Short-toed Lark records, we have yet to record Wood Lark at Long Nab - a long overdue gap on the Long Nab bird list!

Although clearly becoming more prominent in birding circles, with an increasing number of casual visitors, Long Nab (and much of the Scarborough area generally) remains pretty poorly covered. A dedicated handful observers are responsible for the vast majority of coverage, with a 'bird news footprint' disproportionately large when compared with the number of keen birders regularly active in the area. It really is not as well birded as some people might have you believe! At Long Nab most good birds continue to be unearthed by just two or three locals and it is certainly most unusual for more than two or three observers to cover the area on any one day. This is most enjoyable, but does lead to the inevitable question of what are we missing? 

As with many finds this was a bit flukey. Had I been walking along a bit earlier or later, the behaviour of this bird suggests it would have been missed. Although I do subscribe to the view that the more hours you put in the luckier you get, I'm certain that we are still only finding a relatively small proportion of the good birds that actually pass through here. Whilst we do enjoy having the area to ourselves, we would be pleased to see other birders visiting the area. I am sure it won't be too long before something else of quality pops up, and who knows maybe it could be you that finds it! If you do find a rarity though, please do make sure the news gets out in a timely fashion!

Part of a flock of five Whimbrel that came over the cliffs and headed south.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Classic mid April...

In most recent years, I have been away working in other parts of the country during April, often undertaking raptor and other breeding bird surveys in various parts of Scotland. So whilst the current low workload may not be especially healthy for the bank balance, it does provide the opportunity for some local birding. 

After a couple of days of easterly winds, with heavy rain and fog yesterday, it was to be expected that there would be some arrivals at The Nab in light WSW winds and showers this morning. I had a fairly leisurely start, not arriving at Crook Ness until 0720hrs. A wander along the south side of Crook Ness yielded a couple of Goldcrests in the bushes, plus two flocks of Curlew and a trickle of Linnets heading N. Signs that birds were indeed on the move. A bit further south and my attention was grabbed by the chuckling of a female Ring Ouzel which perched on the top of a hedgerow before heading high and away to the north-west. Clearly in a hurry then! A few paces on and a second Ring Ouzel flushed from a gully and perched on the same hedgerow, before it too rose up and headed off NW. Excellent, a very nice start indeed!

Male Ring Ouzel

I spent a while watching for visible migrants and among the continuing flow of Linnets heading N were smaller numbers of Meadow Pipits, a handful of Swallows and a House Martin. Sand Martins were busy around the colony at Cromer Point, making interpretation of whether any were actually on the move tricky. A bird dropping in from great height proved to be the first Northern Wheatear of the day, always a welcome sight,

Newly arrived Northern Wheatear

With dark clouds gathering to the north, I slowly headed along the cliffs towards the Obs. Just south of the Obs, a Short-eared Owl appeared and slowly headed west inland. Whether it was a newly arrived migrant or the bird from a few days ago remains in doubt. A bit further along and the distintive wheezing call of a Twite drew my attention to the individual concerned arriving from the north and then pitching into the arable field behind the Obs. I received news from Micky on the castle, that he'd got a tristis Chiffchaff; a very nice find. I meandered my way up to the ringing site full of hope, as always, that it would deliver something of note. It was mildly disappointing on this occasion, with just half a dozen Goldcrests, a Willow Warbler and a female Blackcap to be found along with the local Chiffchaffs and the seemingly resident Treecreeper still present. 

I'd noted a handful of Yellow Wagtails heading south during the morning, so it was not a huge surprise to find a fairly approachable smart male on the fence line near Fields Farm. However, with their vivid burst of bright yellow, they are always a joy to see.

Male Yellow Wagtail

By now it was late morning and the showers were becoming a bit more persistent. A surprise Green Sandpiper was on a small pond, whilst another Wheatear was presumably recently arrived. Heading back in the direction of the car park, a further group of Wheatears were along a stone wall and nearby a bird flitted behind a hedgerow before soon reappearing and revealing itself to be a smart male Redstart. Wonderful. A rain-soaked walk back to the car yielded Snipe and a further male Redstart and a couple more Willow Warblers, all concluding one of the more enjoyable spring mornings I've been fortunate enough to experience on the patch.

Ok, so its an awful photo, but you get the idea! Common Redstart.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Spring migration gathering pace

With a reduction in my usual very busy spring workload it has been an unexpected pleasure to spend time in the Scarborough area so far this spring (although anyone reading this in need of some surveys doing - please do get in touch!). 

The birding has been typically hard work, but the past week or so has seen an increase in the numbers of birds on the move. Typical early migrants have been the main items of interest with Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and Wheatears all in evidence.


The first Swallow flew S on 1st April. The same day a Short-eared Owl was at Cromer Point. It was on the cliffs before flying out to sea harried by gulls. It returned to the land and appeared to pitch back in around Jacksons Bay. Presumably the same bird was at Long Nab on 3rd. 

A call from Wig on 4th April had me heading down to Marine Drive in search of a Black Redstart, which eventually gave itself up with nice views in the rain. A Willow Warbler flycatching from the Marine Drive wall was seemingly new in and it moved on quickly.

The 5th was a pretty busy morning with a steady vis mig of Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Goldfinches. Numbers were not as impressive as further north at Cowbar, where in excess of 2500 Meadow Pipits were recorded. However steady arrivals on a broad front from the sea most resulted in a decent if less impressive total of 142 Meadow Pipits logged heading north. Sand Martins are beginning to increase with a few hanging around near Cromer Point, where they breed and small numbers trickled South. 

A pair of Shelduck have been hanging around the cliffs and look likely to make a breeding attempt. 


Surprises came in the form of a cream-crown Marsh Harrier moving north about a mile inland from the coast, with a Buzzard also seen flying north there. A nice arrival of White Wagtails involved a concentration of six together in the field beyond the Obs, with a few Pied Wagtails also around and vis migging. Even more surprising, given the date, was a swift which moved slowly south as the rain arrived. Hoping that such an early date might mean it was something of greater interest, I checked it as best I could in the gloomy conditions, but nothing suggested it was anything other than a Common Swift. A pleasing record nonetheless, although there is a March record from the Scarborough area. News from Wig of a Grasshopper Warbler further up the coast at Ravenscar is however the earliest area record, beating the previous earliest record of 16th April 1996. All in all a surprisingly productive few days for the Yorkshire coast in the first week of April! Lets hope the fun continues.

Monday, 1 February 2016

American Wigeon at Scalby Mills

A nice find for Nick at the Mills on Saturday. As is often the case, these finds seem to coincide with me being away, but fortunately it did the decent thing and stuck around for me to get to see it (other rare and scarce birds appearing in Scarborough could do me a favour and take note!). So I enjoyed some nice views on Sunday afternoon in overcast conditions. Better views in the sunshine today, but always a bit too distant for good photography when I was there. There have only been two previous records from the Scarborough area (a drake in October 2002 and a female in January 2003), so a reappearance for this species was perhaps overdue. Anyway, a couple of record shots.

Drake American Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon