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Wildlife Sightings - September 2017

  • Thu 5th Oct, 2017

Apart from the odd period of onshore winds this autumn so far has all been about weather from the Atlantic. Temperatures were in the balmy high teens on the 1st September alongside winds mainly from a southerly direction during the first week. This south to westerly airstream then dominated matters into the middle of the month before winds shifted to a more northerly direction alongside slightly cooler temperatures for several days until the 19th. We were then back to a south-westerly direction and relatively warm temperatures until the 24th when the long anticipated switch to easterlies kicked in. This didn’t last long though as the month ended back on south-westerlies from the 28th.

The first few days of the month turned up some exciting wildlife from the second largest fish in the world to tiny warblers from the east. In a calm North Sea it’s easier to see the wonderful diversity of species under the waves and sure enough on the 2nd two Basking Sharks were seen off Scarborough both within 1 mile of Marine Drive. Despite winds from the wrong direction Birders were entertained by up to two Greenish Warblers at Bempton, and another was heard calling near Scarborough Castle on the 4th. There was also a Dotterel over Bempton on the 1st and a report of the Black-browed Albatross on the same day. Inland the Sabines Gull was still at Scorton. Pectoral Sandpiper, Leaches Petrel and Ortolan Bunting were seen in the Spurn area in the first two days. It doesn’t take much of a change in the weather to bring new scarce birds to the Spurn area. On the 3rd a touch of south-easterly and drizzle produced Citrine Wagtail, Red-necked Phalarope and two Barred Warblers, all new arrivals. In typical Spurn fashion lots of other great birds were seen on the same day; Great White Egret, Garganey, Curlew Sandpiper and Osprey to name but a few!

Red-necked Phalarope Kilnsea Wetlands © John HewittRed-necked Phalarope Kilnsea Wetlands © John Hewitt

Insects were still around in good numbers during the warm weather although strangely moth catches were reported to be down. A Butterbur moth was caught under Butterbur plants in Forge Valley on the 4th. The most noticeable butterfly during September was Red Admiral with big numbers reported by many observers during the month and one even flew past the Yorkshire Coast Nature Seabird and Whale cruise boat 6 miles out to sea from Staithes on the 22nd. Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were also reported in decent numbers. Painted Lady butterflies however were noticeable by their absence this month with only small numbers reported compared with recent years. Moth trapping on Glaisdale moor turned up two upland specialists in the form of Flounced Chestnut and a Neglected Rustic on the 7th. A Scarce Bordered Straw was caught at Hunmanby on the 8th and a rare Box Tree Moth (micro) which was found in Scarborough on the 12th may arrived in a garden centre delivery! A Narrow or Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth was reported in a Scarborough garden on the 13th.

Butterbur Forge Valley © Allan Rodda Butterbur Forge Valley © Allan Rodda

Early autumn and calm weather is perfect for Sandwich Terns feeding close inshore after finishing breeding further afield. They can often be seen and heard in small family groups. Two such birds were photographed with darvic rings at Cayton Bay on the 8th. One was traced to the Netherlands and one more predictably to a breeding colony in the north-east of England. A Great Shearwater flew north off Flamborough Headland on the 7th and with excellent communication systems these days birders further north were ready within minutes. It was duly seen off Filey by a grateful local birder at 1025. Spurn Migration Festival is an annual event full of great characters, fascinating talks and lectures, enthusiasm and birding fervour! Alongside this human element there are always great birds to see. The 2017 festival was no different with a Wryneck to open the party on the 8th followed by the big surprise a Long-billed Dowitcher found at Kilnsea Wetlands on the 9th (only the third record in the Spurn area). On the 10th the Dowitcher was joined very appropriately by a Pectoral Sandpiper. Alongside the rare birds were thousands of common migrants including a count of 4,800 Meadow Pipit on the 9th. Not all the birders in Yorkshire were at Spurn though and to prove the point a Black Guillemot was found at Filey, Greenish Warbler and Barred Warbler at Flamborough and up to five Dotterel at Bempton (one and four flying over) on the same date. On the 10th the first Lapland Buntings to arrive on our coast were found at Long Nab near Burniston. Terns were still on the move in big numbers. The 11th was a great Tern day at Spurn with 5172 Common Tern, 42 Arctic Tern, 16 Roseate Tern and 4 Black Tern logged. Two Glossy Ibis were seen flying over Hornsea towards the Mere on the same day.  The first sign of our annual Pink-footed Goose migration was recorded at Spurn with 185 passing on the 12th. Flamborough then recorded the first Grey Phalarope of the winter on the 13th.

Long-billed Dowitcher Kilnsea © Rich SwalesLong-billed Dowitcher Kilnsea © Rich Swales

Meadow Pipit Flamborough © Jim MorganMeadow Pipit Flamborough © Jim Morgan

With winds switching to the north on the 14th birders headed for the outer limits of the coast to watch for passing seabirds. Rewards were won up and down the Yorkshire coast. 180 Skuas were seen from Spurn including 5 Long-tailed Skua and 2 Pomarine Skua. A Great Shearwater and three Long-tailed Skua passed Hornsea Seafront. 40 species of birds were seen from the flamborough seawatch including a single Storm Petrel, Great Shearwater and 54 Sooty Shearwater. Filey, Scarborough and Long Nab scored their best birds a day later with a Sabines Gull, three Balearic Shearwater and a juvenile Long-tailed Skua passing the Filey Observatory area. Red-necked Grebe and Long-tailed Skua were seen from Marine Drive Scarborough and nearby Storm Petrel and three Pomarine Skua passed Long Nab. Two more Storm Petrels were seen from Marine Drive on the 16th. Flamborough were still racking up good birds in the following few days (15th – 17th) with Sabines Gull, an early Little Auk (Bempton) and 100 Sooty Shearwater. On the 14th and 15th the first Yellow-browed Warblers of the autumn arrived with singles found at Spurn and Filey respectively. Mid-September is a classic time for migrating Corncrake and sure enough one was flushed at Sammy’s Point on the 15th. The first Red-breasted Flycatcher of the year at Spurn arrived on the 16th.  It has been a very poor year for Red-backed Shrikes in Yorkshire so the arrival of a young male for a long stay at Bempton on the 17th was very welcome. Little Stints were present in small numbers throughout September at Kilnsea Wetlands and showing very well at Thornwick Pools, Flamborough mid-month.

The 16th – 19th was a great time for scarce and rare warblers in the Spurn and Easington area. A Greenish Warbler calling in Easington cemetery on the 16th was followed by an Arctic Warbler in the same area a day later, a Marsh Warbler was new in at Kilnsea on the 18th alongside two Barred Warblers, and on the 19th the largest total so far this autumn of Yellow-browed Warblers in the Spurn Bird Observatory (SBOT) area with 16 birds logged. Also on the 19th a record Little Egret count for the SBOT area found an impressive 48 birds. Up at Flamborough on the 18th a Common Rosefinch joined four Yellow-browed Warblers and a Barred Warbler in the same area of bushes near the Lighthouse. Little Gulls were present in small numbers most of the month on Hornsea Mere but 370 off Swan Island on the 19th and 219 moving north on the 22nd off Flamborough indicated a distinct movement in the third week. A European Nightjar was a nice find at Ulrome on the 18th and a Hoopoe at Patrington was an even bigger surprise on the 20th. A Barred Warbler at Sunk Island on the 22nd was gone the day after but a Woodlark flew over on the 23rd. Ruff were recorded in good numbers this month at a number of sites often preferring to feed in flooded pasture. This was certainly the case at Filey where 25 were counted in a field by the side of East Lea FBOG reserve. From here they regularly flew in to roost by the side of other waders such as Dunlin happily feeding on the mud by the main pond.

Red-breasted Flycatcher Kilnsea © Richard Willison Red-breasted Flycatcher Kilnsea © Richard Willison

The wind turned to the south-east on the 24th and eventually east on the 25th and sure enough the first birds in a new arrival of songbirds were found by birders on the coast. Spurn was again the big player as a Raddes Warbler arrived on the 24th. Six Yellow-browed Warblers and a Turtle Dove were joined by a sprinkling of Spotted Flycatchers and Redstarts at Flamborough on the 25th. A showy Common Rosefinch was also found at long Nab. On the same day at Spurn the first Richards Pipit of the autumn was joined by Cettis Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, 6 Ring Ouzel and 10 Yellow-browed Warblers, all new in.  The 26th proved to be the biggest day of the autumn so far for Yellow-browed warblers. 17 were logged at Spurn, 24 at Flamborough and Bempton and four at Filey. On the same day at Spurn a very smart male Red-breasted Flycatcher and a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling were new arrivals. It was the best day of the autumn at Filey as a Hoopoe, adult male Red-backed Shrike, Firecrest and a ‘Siberian’ Lesser Whitethroat (race not predicted until DNA results) were found. A bit further up the coast another Red-backed Shrike was found near Robin Hoods Bay. A day later an Arctic Warbler was seen in Kilnsea and two more of the rarer sub-species of Lesser Whitethroat were found nearby. Observers took some great photos which reveal features consistent with one Halimodendri Lesser Whitethroat and a Blythi Lesser Whitethroat. These few days also saw the first trickle of Redwings arriving and the odd Fieldfare on the coast.  

Red-backed Shrike Filey © Mark Pearson Red-backed Shrike Filey © Mark Pearson

The second and third week of the month saw the Minke Whale numbers between Staithes and Whitby increase to around 7-10 individuals between 6 and 8 miles offshore. This included at least one young whale regularly seen close to the whale watching boats. This September peak in numbers is now recorded annually at the same time as the Herring spawn is at its peak. Unusually though during this September Minke numbers then dropped off markedly in the last few days of the month presumably affected by the breakup of the Herring spawn.

Minke Whale Staithes © Richard Baines Minke Whale Staithes © Richard Baines

Goole Fields don’t often come up as a site in these summaries so it is with pleasure to report an impressive count of 27 Yellow-legged Gull and a Caspian Gull found here on the 27th. A Yellow-browed Warbler by York Train Station on the 25th, another at Top Hill Low on the 28th and one at High Hawsker on the 29th were a great illustration of how quickly these birds can move inland. On the same day they were still arriving at new sites on the coast with six at Grimston and five at Tunstall. Also in Holderness the on the 27th a Dusky Warbler was caught by bird ringers at a private site. On the 28th two Arctic Warblers were in the Spurn and Kilnsea area along with 23 Yellow-browed Warblers. The 29th then saw two Rose-coloured Starlings in the Spurn area and an impressive count of 1147 Goldfinch on the move.  This was just the tip of a visual migration iceberg however as a day later the migration flood gates opened at Spurn. A total of 14,638 birds were logged moving during the day! Highlights were 2 Shorelark, 518 Redpoll, 4728 Meadow Pipit and 5080 Goldfinch. This marvellous spectacle was also recorded at our other hot ‘vis-mig’ site Hunmanby Gap where 4139 birds were logged migrating in 5.15 hours with many of the same species topping the charts.

Convolvulous Hawkmoth © Richard Baines Convolvulous Hawkmoth © Richard Baines

Back on the insect front Hummingbird Hawkmoths were being reported but only in small numbers this month in contrast to earlier in the summer. However Convolvulous Hawkmoth were still being found from far and wide including one inland near North Ferriby on the night of the 22nd.  The rare micro moth Palpita vitrealis was caught at Spurn on the 25th and a Delicate on the 28th

Richard Baines YCN

This article covers North and East Yorkshire. For more wildlife sightings visit these great local, regional and national web sites

Spurn Bird ObservatoryFlamborough Bird ObservatoryFiley Bird Observatory and GroupNorthern Rustic blogspot Yorkshire Naturalists UnionYorkshire Wildlife TrustScarborough BirdersButterfly Conservation Yorkshire Branch  Yorkshire Nature Traingle  For National News: Birdguides