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.