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Wildlife Sightings - October 2016

  • Tue 8th Nov, 2016

Well, where do you start? Perhaps by apologising for the severely bird-heavy round-up this month …. but with October 2016 being one of the best ever months for rare and scarce birds on the East coast, and with Yorkshire at the forefront of the action, it would be foolish to do otherwise. Likewise, it's worth mentioning that, because of the sheer weight of extra-special occurrences, many otherwise notable sightings have been nudged out of the way this month due to lack of space. Ok, here goes....

Prevailing conditions were dominated by several extended periods of easterly winds, with an airflow stretching far enough east to put coastal birders on red alert for, well, most of the month. Thus, it was (almost) all about the landbirds, from far, far away – and then some. Not only were there remarkable influxes of what are usually very rare species, but there were several off-the-radar 'mega' rarities, any one of which would have made it a memorable year (let alone month)..... 

The month began quietly enough, with the lingering Taiga Bean Goose at Flamborough, the White-winged Black Tern at Sandsend and two Sabine's Gulls past Filey, while the 2nd saw a healthy passage of Sooty Shearwaters heading past our sea-watching hotspots, peaking at 238 past Flamborough and 130 past Filey. The following day saw the first period of easterlies setting in, which instantly produced Little Buntings at Flamborough and Spurn, but then all hell broke loose – not for the last time in the month – on 4th, with the fantastic finding of an Eastern Crowned Warbler at Bempton. Just the fourth for Britain (and the second for Yorkshire), this most sparkling of eastern gems stayed for several days, showing ridiculously well and delighting hundreds of pilgrims from across the UK. Somewhat unfairly relegated to back-up were a Rose-coloured Starling at Holmpton, a Siberian Stonechat and a Radde's Warbler at Flamborough and a Little Bunting at Scarborough - but a Desert Lesser Whitethroat at Spurn was almost as notable as Bempton's megastar on a national rarity level (albeit with barely any of the fanfare).

Eastern Crowned Warbler © Mark Pearson Eastern Crowned Warbler © Mark Pearson

Unusual moths were fairly thin on the ground during the cooler conditions but the Scarborough Butterfly Conservation crew caught a Red Sword Grass on the 3rd and a stunning Mervielle du Jour in West Ayton on the 14th. They rounded off the month with a Sprawler at Yedmandale West Ayton on the 27th. Down at Spurn a Delicate was a good catch on the 16th.

Mervielle du Jour © Allan Roddha Mervielle du Jour © Allan Roddha

The 5th saw another big-hitter appearing - this time over the sea - in the huge and elegant form of a Black-browed Albatross heading past Filey, Bempton and Flamborough, while a Red-flanked Bluetail and a Little Bunting at Spurn, a Greenish Warbler at Bempton and a Raddes's Warbler at Scarborough kept the passerine bar high. A Rustic Bunting at Spurn, a Little Bunting at Sammy's Point (with another at Saltwick Bab), a Dusky Warbler at Flamborough and – somewhat incredibly – an Arctic Warbler at Bempton (alongside Eastern Crowned and Greenish) on 6th were followed by another Bluetail and an Olive-backed Pipit at Spurn and a Little Bunting at Flamborough on 7th.

Red-flanked Bluetail © Dave Constantine Red-flanked Bluetail © Dave Constantine  

There was no pausing for breath as the 8th saw a Short-toed Lark, three Little Buntings and an Ortolan Bunting at Spurn, Olive-backed Pipits there and at Flamborough, and a further two Little Buntings at the latter site; the 9th, meanwhile, saw Red-flanked Bluetails at Grimston and Hartlepool, a Pallas's Warbler at Scarborough and yet more Little Buntings arriving at Spurn and Flamborough (with another new one there on the 10th). Spurn hosted the month's only Woodchat Shrike on 11th as well another Bluetail, before registering presumably the same Dotterel that had overflown Filey earlier in the day; Filey also logged a Dusky Warbler, while Flamborough weighed in with nothing less than a Paddyfield Warbler before dusk.

Dusky Warbler © Richard WillisonDusky Warbler © Richard Willison

It had to happen, and who would have bet against the greater Spurn area as the venue? With an unprecedented, extraordinary influx of Siberian Accentors into north-west Europe and the first for Britain having just made landfall on Shetland, it was a memorable day indeed that saw an otherwise unassuming patch of land backing onto Easington's Gas Terminal hosting the UK's second. Twitched by untold masses (marshalled admirably by the Spurn team), this coronary-inducing Sibe upped the ante even further on a day when also-rans included a Radde's Warbler at Spurn, a Red-flanked Bluetail and two Dusky Warblers at Flamborough, a Pallas's Warbler at Filey and a Siberian Stonechat at Saltburn. Yet more exotica from far-flung lands appeared on the 14th, with a Pied Wheatear at Flamborough, a Desert Wheatear and a Dusky Warbler at Hartlepool, a Pallas's Warbler at Scarborough, another Little Bunting at Flamborough and both Tawny Pipit and Olive-backed Pipits at Spurn; no fewer than five Dusky Warblers were at the latter site, which, incredibly, had swelled to ten by the 15th.

Siberian Accentor © Mark PearsonSiberian Accentor © Mark Pearson

That same day delivered further Dusky Warblers to Skinningrove (one) and Flamborough (four), Great White Egrets to Filey, Flamborough and Scarborough, Radde's Warblers to Saltburn, Spurn, Brotton and Flamborough (three) and 28 Bearded Tits to Spurn. But it was once again the turn of Yorkshire to get in on what will surely come to be seen as one of the rarity events of the decade, the Siberian Accentor European invasion, with Saltburn the chosen venue for our second (and last - so far...).

Rough-legged Buzzard © John Hewitt Rough-legged Buzzard © John Hewitt  

The 16th saw a Siberian Stonechat at Grimston, a Radde's Warbler at Boulby, a Rough-legged Buzzard at Flamborough and new Little Bunting and Olive-backed Pipit at Spurn – another quality day, upstaged by the 17th when a simultaneous arrival of Desert Lesser Whitethroat at Filey, Desert Wheatear at Bridlington and Isabelline Wheatear at Spurn gave a fascinatingly specific indication of how the weather charts were influencing proceedings. A minor breather ensued - pretty much the only one of the month – before rare Stonechats dropped in at Spurn, with a Siberian on 21st and a candidate stejnegeri on 22nd, the same day both Hume's Warbler and Dusky Warblers arrived at Flamborough; further Hume's Warblers arrived at Grimston, Bempton and another at Flamborough over the next week.

Desert Lesser Whitethroat © Mark Pearson Desert Lesser Whitethroat © Mark Pearson

Yet another Dusky Warbler at Flamborough on 24th preceded another ridiculously profitable day in the greater Spurn area on 25th, with two new Red-flanked Bluetails playing second fiddle to both a Pine Bunting and an Eastern Black Redstart (with two Pallas's Warblers arriving at Filey). Rough-legged Buzzards at Flamborough and Spurn were hopefully the harbingers of a good late autumn / early winter for these beautiful northern raptors on 27th and 28th, with the former date hosting an Eastern Black Redstart at Skinningrove – which, along with the Spurn bird - provided a remarkable double of a taxa which has only reached our shores on a handful of occasions previously.

Red-flanked Bluetail © Dave Constantine Red-flanked Bluetail © Dave Constantine

With the last days of the month seemingly due to finally die down if the weather charts were anything to go by, after such an absurdly productive few weeks it probably came as little surprise to most on the coast when October still had a sting in the tail. Most, however, would have assumed it was the Pied Wheatear on the beach at Redcar on 29th; but Spurn still had an ace to play, this time in the form of the Observatory's first (and Yorkshire's third) Brown Shrike on 31st. A typically stunning end to an almost unfathomably exciting month for birds on the Yorkshire coast.

Brown Shrike © Richard Willison Brown Shrike © Richard Willison

Mark James Pearson and Richard Baines YCN

For more wildlife sightings visit these great web sites!

Spurn Bird ObservatoryFlamborough Bird ObservatoryFiley Bird Observatory and GroupNorthern Rustic blogspot Scarborough BirdersButterfly Conservation Yorkshire Branch  Yorkshire Nature Traingle