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.

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