Sunday, 16 October 2016

East Coast Pics

A few more pics taken on the last few East Coast trips.

First up, the Bempton Bluethroat. Autumn Bluethroats are great. They are pretty scarce and just look rare! This one had taken up temporary residence on a sheltered clifftop path and was happily hopping up and down, seeking insects. It would approach within about three metres, before turning round and hopping back again. I have seen more spring Bluethroats than autumn ones, so it was great to be able to study this bird at close range.

 The bird is just visible towards the end of the path.

Nearby, two Red-breasted Flycatchers were showing beautifully in the Goat Willows by the overflow car park. I watched one bird which approached really close. Often stationary, it would call each time it took flight, or landed, a dry 'trk'. This was different to the bird from last week at Flamborough which did the typical short dry rattle. The flycatcher worked all levels of the tree, sometimes being in the umbellifers at ground level, before heading up into the tree tops moments later. A really endearing little bird.

While watching the RB Fly, a couple of Chiffchaffs showed really close too. Since the dispersal of all the Yellow-browed Warblers, Chiffs have returned to their position as the commonest Phyllosc around at the moment.

There has been an influx on Robins too during October. These continental birds behave in a much more skulking manner than the locals, flicking out on to paths, or along hedges. They have less intense, more orangey breasts and grey-olive upperparts. Everyone is checked carefully for that hoped-for Bluetail, but it looks like I have failed to find one this autumn. Nevertheless, seeing stacks of their commoner cousin thronging the Flamborough hedgerows has been a treat.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Trans Siberian Avian Express

The easterly wind has continued blowing and things have gotten a little bonkers on the East Coast! Following my message last Sunday about Britain's first Siberian Accentor on Shetland, all hell broke loose in Yorkshire, when Britain's second SibAcc was discovered quietly poking about in Easington, East Yorkshire! Friends and colleagues nearby were soon ringing to tell me what a cracking little bird it was that they were watching and that I should go...if only! Sadly, I was at work and also was due in the pub for welcome drinks with a new colleague.

At 01.45 the following morning, I woke up and a mixture of slight hangover and excitement for the day ahead prevented any further sleep. I got up at 5.15 and got my gear together before heading into York to pick up Chris Gomersal. Sadly for Chris, he had had an even worse night, having dipped the SibAcc by thirty seconds the previous day! Well, we headed east, both incredibly anxious about whether the little Siberian waif would still be there when dawn broke, but also excited about the possibility of seeing this cosmic bird.

Just over an hour later and massive mutual relief as news came through that the bird was still present. We turned up having been assisted by volunteers from the Spurn Bird Obs, and following a walk and a queue were soon watching the Siberian Accentor feeding unconcerned on an area of mossy gravel, right out in the open, oblivious to the 500 birders all frantically trying to see it. A combo of shaking hands (big adrenaline rush seeing this bird) and the twilight of the early morning meant my photo attempts were hopeless, but you can just about make out what a stunning little bird it was.

The SibAcc queue. Probably about 200 birders at this point c8am.
Surprisingly quite a bit smaller and noticeably paler than the nearby Dunnock, with a striking dark head set off with a grey stripe and two startlingly creamy yellow supercilia. A very handsome bird. We quickly moved on to let others in for a peek.

I suspect nobody has got a worse photo than this of the Easington SibAcc!

The day felt rare. I guess it helps to have seen a second for Britain - a near mythical Sibe - before 8am to make you feel that, but the strong easterly wind, spots of rain in the air and the large numbers of thrushes etc around added to the anticipation.

We headed north to the Great White Cape, partly to escape the hoards of twitchers that would be descending on Spurn and partly to have a look for the Paddyfield Warbler on the Outer Head, which would be a Yorkshire tick for me.

A frustrating hour later, we arrived at the lighthouse. Remarkably, nobody was down the motorway hedge looking for the Paddyfield, but we soon realised why, when scanning the big field to the south of the Gorse Field (which is south of the lighthouse) revealed it to be heaving with birds.There had been three Shore Larks here yesterday. Shortly, Chris picked up five Shore Larks feeding among the remnants of the set-aside that had been recently sprayed off by the farmer. Smart, greyish larks with lemon faces and neat black bandit masks. We got some other birders on to them who seemed to be struggling to find them. Flocks of Linnets, Skylarks and Mippits swirled about. A Richard's Pipit got up out of the stubble higher up the slope, 'Chreeped' several times then dropped in and vanished. Cool! A little later a very well-marked pipit, with a buff breast and finely-streaked white belly had us worried briefly, until it turned, showing a streaked back and not a particularly striking face pattern - a Tree Pipit! Nice, but not the hoped-for OBP.

We couldn't pull out anything better, though a single Northern Wheatear was nice. The field felt like it had more to give, but we decided we really should be looking for the Paddyfield, so we switched out attention to the Motorway Hedge.... 

Northern Wheatear.

After 20 minutes or so, we felt we were wasting our time and so decided to head round to Old Fall. Just then, my phone rang. Rich Baines. Rich asked if I was at Castlemere. I said no, but at that point I did not know that the big stubble field was called that. Rich explained that that was where we were and why it said on the Whatsapp group 'Richards Pipit, Cattlemere, Jono Leadley'! Rich then hurriedly told me that a chap called Dave Pearce had seen a wheatear in the stubble field with dark on the throat and that was possibly a Black-eared or Pied Wheatear. Yikes! Rich instructed me to go and find it. We turned back and hurried back to Cattlemere. A group of birders were standing at the bottom of Motorway where it dog-legs. They all seemed to be scoping the field - they must be watching the bird- fantastic!

We hurried over and I asked the first of the guys if they had the wheatear. To my surprise, one replied that no, they were looking for Shore Larks. I moved on to the rest of the gang and they concurred with the first. Doh! I explained there was an interesting Wheatear around. They said they had seen a Northern. So had we!

We started to scan frantically and within a few seconds, Chris said "Jono, there's a Wheatear on the clifftop". I scanned across to where he was looking with my scope just in time to see a small Wheatear with jet black underwing coverts, a pale belly and a big white tail zip off across the grass. I shouted that we had got the bird and it landed after a few metres on the top of a weed. I could see pale edges to the mantle feathers, a mottled dark throat and a big white tail with a narrow black tip - a first-winter male Pied Wheatear!!! BOOM! Chris and myself got everybody on to the active little bird, which seemed to be moving across the field towards us. I got on the phone to Rich to let him know and then Craig Thomas.

For the second time today, the combination of shaking hands and poor light meant my photos were lousy! Chris managed better:

Craig arrived at a gallop. The bird was feeding frantically and moving east across the field all the time. It hopped over the fence at the bottom of the Motorway and on to the grasslands. It started moving down the path through the middle of the field and gave great views. Chris got another photo:

Tony Dixon got some amazing photos as the bird hopped along the path towards him - see here.

Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the bird flew, briefly landed on a bramble, which would have made a brilliant photo as it had the North Sea in the background, then headed off west behind the lighthouse and away. I rang Rich to let him know - sadly, they hadn't quite made it over from Old Fall. The bird showed for c20 minutes and was then gone, leaving us all exhilarated if not a little bewildered.This bird must have just come in and had now vanished as quickly as it had appeared. A magical moment.

After a brief detour to South Dykes where I realised the message about the Red-flanked Bluetail being present was an old message from yesterday - doh! We returned and Craig dropped us a the Old Fall steps and we walked the plantation. It felt like new birds were coming in. There was a steady passage of Goldcrests coming north up the hedge and small gangs of Redwings and Song Thrushes were moving inland all the time. Sadly, we didn't manage to maintain the calibre, although a Firecrest was lovely as always in Old Fall Plantation, plus a Woodcock, Blackcap and several Chiffs. Goldcrests were everywhere and some were even in the winter wheat!

We were running out of time as being Birding Dad, I had to be back in Bish to pick Sol up from school. We had a quick walk of Welkie Wynds, adding a smart Redstart, another Woodcock and a grumpy Ring Ouzel to the day list. The day still felt like it had more to offer, but sadly not to us, though the combo of a second for Britain, our involvement in confirming the Flamborough's first Pied Wheatear since 1988, and the sheer spectacle of east coast birding at its best will live long in the memory.


The easterly winds have created a Trans Siberian Avian Express and Europe has recorded an incredible 36+ Siberian Accentors within the last fortnight. Today, as I write, a third SibAcc has been discovered, this time in Cleveland. Unbelievable scenes! Old Fall has two Radde's Warblers and nearby a Dusky Warbler - all fresh in birds carried over from Asia. Best autumn on the east coast ever? Quite possibly!!

Sunday, 9 October 2016

East Coast Mayhem!

Following a rather quiet birthday at Flamborough, things panned out massively on the east coast from Shetland down to Yorkshire as a result of an easterly conveyor belt which brought stacks of rares, culminating in an epic finale of Britain's first Siberian Accentor on Shetland yesterday afternoon. As for me, I dipped an Albatross, saw my second Yorkshire Eastern Crowned Warbler, which was only the fourth for Britain and enjoyed a supporting cast of Arctic Warbler, Pallas's Warbler, Bluethroat, two more Red-breasted Flycatchers etc. An awesome week!

Here is a taster:

Eastern Crowned Warbler, Wednesday at Bempton (thanks to Mark Pearson for photo)

Pallas's Warbler, Saturday at Thornwick (thanks to Chris Gomersal for Photo)

Red-breasted Flycatcher, Sunday at Bempton

Bluethroat, Sunday at Bempton

Monday, 3 October 2016

Birthday at the Cape

Dropped the kids then on to Flamborough for my birthday birding sesh. Holmes Gut first up where I bumped into Jim Morgan ringing. He had trapped three Yellow-browed Warblers already and almost to prove a point, one called loudly from the willows nearby!

I headed into the Gut but apart from the noisy little sprites, a Lesser Whitethroat, three Blackcaps and a Redwing, all was quiet. A little later Tony rang, so after a quick walk round North Landing - nada - I drove over to the lighthouse to hook up with him. From here we did the Old Fall loop. Yellow-brow in the sycamore by the car park, Whinchat in the Gorse Field with a mystery bunting which flew before we could scope it (but probably just a Reed), several Yellow-brows in Old Fall Plantation, and after a few minutes the Red-breasted Flycatcher showed well on the south side. Some birders had been looking for it for an hour or so, so were quite pleased when I pointed it out to them. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs here that were calling oddly and were very pale with lime green wing edgings and tail, possibly Abietinus. Their underparts were silky white, and in some respects looked Bonelli-esque, save for the strong face pattern and black legs. A Spotted Flycatcher sallied from the tops of the sycamores. Nice. We celebrated with a cold can of beer. Well, it is my birthday!

 This is what Old Fall birding is like! Spotting tiny, leaf-coloured leaf warblers, among the leaves.

Presumed Abietinus Chiffchaff.

We walked back the way we had come, failing to see much else. We checked the bay brambles area to no avail so opted for South Landing, via Milennium Wood, where we dipped a Little Bunting that had been showing just before we arrived. Not very fair on my birthday! We did however see a Peregrine cavorting with a rather bored looking Buzzard and more excitingly, we flushed a Tree Pipit which called in disgust as it flew away into the distance. We pondered whether it could have been an OBP, as the call didn't seem quite right for Tree, but we were probably just wishful thinking. This isn't the first time I had had a Tree Pipit/OBP scare on my birthday - see here.

It is also not the first Little Bunting I have dipped recently at Flamborough!

We checked out South Landing for half an hour which revealed a couple of noisy Yellow-brows and a solitary wheezing Brambling, but nothing else. I said goodbye to Tony, and went home. Top day.


Yesterday the wind swung round to the northeast as forecast so I was up early and soon found myself scampering down to the fog station at Flamborough Head. The wind seemed too, well, windy for finding stuff in the bushes, so a seawatch was in order. And what a cracking seawatch! Apart from a brief pause to do a Radio Leeds interview, I had c130 Sooty Shearwaters powering north into the teeth of the wind, plus c20 Manx Shearwaters, looking decidedly frail compared with their Southern Hemisphere cousins. Several Bonxies chugged south, plus a similar number of Arctic Skuas. A continual line of Kittiwakes and auks headed north. I got on a close in gull that looked like a juvenile Sabine's Gull, but it went round the corner of the fog station wall before I had nailed it. Doh! One Sandwich Tern, c40 Common Scoters, c30 Red-throated Divers and a Mippit 'in off' were added to the list before I decided to head for the bushes at 10am.

A little later, scanning the Gorse Field and a large pale grey and white warbler just inside the edge of a large hawthorn screamed Barred Warbler. I got my scope on it but could only ever see about half the bird. This looked convincing but I needed a better view to be sure. Sadly, it melted away into the hedge and after 30 minutes I gave up. It would have to go down as a probable, at least for now... A few Bramblings came in off and by the pool in the sheep field I flushed a Snow Bunting. Things were looking up!

On to Old Fall where I bumped into Tony Martin who had been grilling the trees on the south side, revealing nice views of a Hawfinch, but not a lot else. I gave it half an hour but York called, so I wandered back west.

A little later, I got an email to say Jane and Rob Chapman had relocated the Barred Warbler in the bushes near the lighthouse and a few others had seen it. Fab! So maybe not just a 'probable' after all!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Back to the Head

As I reached the outskirts of Fridaythorpe, I realised I had left my binoculars in York! Now, this is not good when one is heading out birding, but this was doubly bad as I was due to lead a Yorkshire Coast Nature/East Riding of Yorkshire Council Migration Walk at 10am, and the public would be expecting me to show them birds! I rang everybody I could think of who would understand me calling them at 8am on a Sunday morning ie my birder mates! Sadly no joy directly, but the possibility of borrowing some from the YWT Living Seas Centre at South Landing, saved my bacon, meaning I didn't have to drive all the way back to York.

I picked up the bins from bemused Anna and Georgia, the two trainees who were just opening up the LSC and headed east to meet the group. With half an hour to spare, I was able to pop down the Bay Brambles, where a very vocal Yellow-browed Warbler was calling from the bushes, with two more in the Golf Course willows. Down the steps a pair of Blackcaps 'tacked' and a few Goldfinch, Linnet and Skylark flocks passed overhead. Therefore, despite the strong southwesterly wind, there would be a few migrants to show the clients!

We headed off just after ten, and with a bit of patience most of the group managed a glimpse of one of the Yellow-brows. Fortunately, they called frequently and everybody managed to tune their ears in to the distinctive call. Down the steps, one of the Blackcaps was still calling, but a male Redstart perched on a briar was a nice surprise and a new bird for several. A Garden Warbler skulking in the brambles got my heart racing until it finally showed properly, elimating a range of much rarer possibilities from my mind!

We headed round to the fog station and then did a loop of the outer Outer Head and back up the motorway, adding little else apart from a showy trio of Stonechats which delighted the clients. Back on the dot of twelve and the happy gang went their separate ways. I shot back to York for a friend's birthday lunch. Half way back, I happened to notice my daughter's Opticron bins sitting in the footwell of the car. If only I had noticed those earlier!!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Yellow-browed Invasion

Mid-week, a small stretch of Yorkshire coast witnessed one of the biggest falls of that charismatic stripy Sibe, the Yellow-browed Warbler. Flamborough recorded well into treble figures on Wednesday and Filey had over 30 the same day! Incredible stuff and it is hard to guess the real numbers involved along that stretch of coast. I was stuck in work so a bit late to get in on the action, but to be surrounded by the strident call of these tiny little phylloscs calling unseen in the Old Fall canopy was a real treat and worth waiting for. I heard at least six or sevenat Flamborough with a couple seen well. Not a lot else present apart from a Hobby that shot past. Over at Filey I 'found' a YBW at the Tip along with a female-type Redstart. In the big trees bordering Long Lane, four or five YBWs could still be heard calling and a couple showed well but briefly, moving about in the foliage. I don't get tired of these hyperactive sprites despite their increasing numbers.

YBW, Old Fall Hedge.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Yorkshire Yank Double

Packards South, Hatfield Moors

Although I had been planning to go to Spurn Mig Fest for the day, the quietness of the coast and absence of much in the way of migrants meant the prospect of a Yorkshire tick in the shape of a Baird's Sandpiper down at Hatfield Moors was too good to resist. I also fancied a trip to the area as it is somewhere I have never birded, so it would be good to check it out. It is a massive area and following some directions from a local's blog, I finally reached the New Moor cells, which were disappointingly bereft of birds. This was presumably due to a stonking juvenile Peregrine, happily bathing in a cell just south of the tramway! A lovely bird, but I scowled at it through my scope, as it presumably had flushed all the waders earlier.

Having finished his bath, the young Peg soaked up the early morning sun.

Following a conflab with a few other birders, we decided to try and find Packards South where the Baird's Sandpiper had been seen earlier in its stay. We walked a long way! Stacks of Black Darters and a few Common Darters kept the interest, but very few birds on the wet, peaty cells. Eventually, I found some waders. Only one guy had made it this far with me, and I whistled him over. Among the mix of Dunlins and Ringed Plovers was one juvenile Little Stint, but we couldn't see anything rarer. We could see another birder further along, so we carried on. On the next cell, there was a pale blob on the nearest corner, so I set my scope up and oof!, there was the dapper juvenile Baird's Sandpiper!

My first Yorkshire Baird's.

The bird was sharing the cell with about ten Ringed Plovers, and wait, a Pectoral Sandpiper! I knew there had been one around but certainly didn't expect the two birds to be together. I watched the birds, which were quite confiding for an hour and a half, well, I had walked about four miles to get here, so I may as well put some time in. The last Baird's I saw was at Paxton Pits, Cambs, incredibly about eight years ago, so it was nice to soak up this pot-bellied, long-winged scalloped little chap. The Pec Sand was being gawky as usual, wandering about along the edge of the grass, peering around with a stretched up neck. It was quite tiny, though it's long-necked, long-winged structure made it look bigger than it was. A fine, well-marked juv.

The Pec.

I strolled back, failing to photograph Black Darters with my phone. This is am amazing and big area. I am glad it was rescued from the devastation of peat cutting. Well done Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England and the local conservation group for pursuing it and getting the EU to enforce the protection of the site. Shame we won't be able to use that avenue in a post Brexit Britain.

Monster Purple Swamp Beast

Inevitably, I had to twitch the Western Swamphen at Alkborough Flats as it is only a stone's throw away. A great spot and only an hour from York, Alkborough is a major Humber realignment scheme that has matured nicely into a cracking birding place. Headed down to the hide which was full, with a gang of other birders outside. Sadly, there had been no sign, though as the bird had disappeared for a day and then re-appeared, I was hopeful it would still be around. The lagoon in front of the hide was packed with birds: eight Spoonbills, two Spotted Redshanks, c100 Avocets, c50 Blackwits, c30 Ruff etc - cracking stuff. On a couple of dead trees poking out of the reedbed, were both Peregrine and a juvenile Merlin. Nice.


After an hour or so, somebody got a pager message saying the Swamp Donkey was showing from the hillside above the sewage works on a different lagoon! Nobody in the hide moved, so I left, informed the birders gathered outside and we all headed off to climb the hill. Up where we thought the message meant certainly gave a good vista, but no purple chicken was on view. I headed further along the path and came across a guy who said he was watching it, distantly, from the entrance to a livery stables. We got scopes up and sure enough, there was the red-beaked purple monster, standing on the edge of the reeds. It was on the other side of the reed bed at the back of the lagoon viewable from the hide, so close, but invisible. As birders arrived we got them on the bird but after a few minutes it melted back into the reeds.Awesome!

45 minutes passed and more birders arrived, but the bird failed to show again. I thought it might be worth heading back to the hide as it might be working through the reeds back to the main lagoon. Sadly, it did not. I decided to head home. On the climb back up to the car park, I thought I'd put the scope on the pool just to check, and incredibly, the Swamphen was sitting back on the edge of the reeds! Simultaneously I got a message from James Robson saying the bird was showing from the livery, so thankfully those patient enough to wait had been rewarded.

Now we just need to see if this is accepted as the first record for Britain...

On the way back, c1,500 Avocets on the mud near Read's Island was cosmic. The last time I was here was watching a White-rumped Sandpiper back in 1995 and I could never have imagined this number of Avocets in Yorkshire back then. Staggering!

North Cave Crake

It's been a little while since I have seen a Spotted Crake, despite hearing a few, so the prospect of a showy bird at YWT North Cave Wetlands was too good to miss. NCW was full of birds and a really enjoyable evening was had looking for the crake, which eventually showed feeding along the reedbed at the northern end of Reedbed Lagoon. Also seen, two Water Rails and two Greenshanks.

Spotted Crake: not quite in the same league as some of the stonking photos I have seen!

An interesting bit of behaviour involved the crake swimming, with Moorhen-esque head nodding across a patch of water. The crake seemed quite confident in front of the local Water Rails, which were much more skittish and didn't approach too closely.