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Site of the Month – Filey

February 1, 2015

This article was originally published as ‘Site of the Month’ in Birdwatch magazine (September 2014) and is reproduced here with permission. For locations of sites referred to in the text, see here.

There are few more exciting birding prospects than September on the east coast, and with a plethora of productive sites all within a stone’s throw, Mark James Pearson recommends his beloved backyard of Filey for a grand day out up north.

Barn Owls can be seen at several local reserves

Barn Owls can be seen at several local reserves

As any migration-loving birder knows, it’s all about the time, the place, and the forecast. September at a Yorkshire coast Bird Observatory takes care of the first two, and if the third is on your side, you can be sure of a memorable day. While there may be more justifiably hyped hotspots not far away, the beauty of birding in Filey during the autumn is the variety of habitats and birds you can enjoy in a relatively small area, and with migration in full swing, your chances of turning up something special is at its best.

The grassy slopes of Carr Naze provide ‘first contact’ for many weary migrants – like this cracking male Redstart – in September

If the wind is in the south or west, take a relaxed and holistic approach. If it’s in the north or north-west – the stronger, the better – then favour the sea: grab your ‘scope and hunker down either on Carr Naze or at the base of the Brigg. If there’s an element of east in it, then prioritise land migrants and the scrub they’re likely to gravitate towards. If it’s a north-easterly with showers, however, it’s def con one on land and sea – be sure to call a sicky and bird ’til you drop.

Black-tailed Godwits are a regular autumn visitor at the Dams

Black-tailed Godwits are a regular autumn visitor at the Dams

But regardless of conditions, there’ll be plenty to enjoy. Filey Dams, a small but perfectly-formed wetland tucked away behind a housing estate on the edge of town, pulls in wetland visitors at any time of day, and is thus always worth a visit. Managed by Filey Bird Observatory on behalf of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the Dams is in many ways our best-kept secret.

The well-stocked feeding stations here keep the local Tree Sparrows and Bullfinches happy, but it’s the waders that often take top billing. The mud-fringed pools routinely attract Greenshank, Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers, godwits, Ruff, Dunlin, Snipe and others, and more often than not a scarcity or two in autumn, with White-rumped and Pectoral Sandpipers both featuring in the last couple of Septembers. Many visitors only make it as far as the main hide by the car park, but to score your own freshy-arrived goodies, head through the small woodland to the east pool hide, where you’ll also often get the best view of resident Barn Owls.

A Little Stint on the Brigg in September

A Little Stint on the Brigg in September

Beyond the Dams, it’s the Country Park area that umbrellas the lion’s share of local migrant hotspots. At its entrance, the tree and scrub-lined avenue of Long Lane runs due north towards the clifftop. Long and Short Hedges run off it at right angles to the west, while the strip of thick scrub and secondary woodland running east from its top end (along the Country Park’s northern border) is known locally as Top Scrub. All are legendary migrant traps and, being interconnected, are best approached as one site.

Eider - often present off the Brigg and in the bay

Eider – often present off the Brigg and in the bay

All available cover here acts as a magnet for new arrivals, with fall conditions regularly grounding Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers, various warblers and plenty more. Classic east coast scarcities including Icterine Warbler, Wryneck, Yellow-browed Warbler and Red-breasted Flycatcher are all effectively annual in September here, and any sheltered corner harbours arguably your best chance of finding the big one.

Icterine Warblers are worth looking for in September, especially after easterly winds

Icterine Warblers are worth looking for in September, especially after easterly winds

Opposite the Country Park cafe, the wooded gulley known as Arndale is another well-known migrant trap (as well as being famous for hosting such mouth-watering rarities as Spectacled and Two-barred Greenish Warblers). Its path leads to the bay corner, where waders and gulls congregate and the natural shelter between here and the Brigg often attracts seaducks, grebes (Great Crested is common, Red-necked frequent and Slavonian occasional) and divers (including omnipresent Red-throated, fairly regular Great Northern and occasional Black-throated). Checking the bay from any given vantage point is recommended, high or low.

Woodcock on the Brigg - almost anything can appear on the rocks in fall conditions

Woodcock on the Brigg – almost anything can appear on the rocks in fall conditions

Follow the path out to the Brigg, and then choose either a sea-watch or a walk to the Brigg end. If conditions are promising, then set up by the hide and scan patiently. Skuas are a local speciality – on an average day expect two species, a good one three, and a very good one, all four are possible. Manx Shearwaters are a given, Sootys are likely, and the rarer species (especially Balearic) are well worth looking out for. Waders, wildfowl, terns and gulls will all be on the move to varying degrees, so leave plenty of spare room in the notebook….

Greenish Warbler - one of the highlights of a classic east coast fall in a recent September

Greenish Warbler – one of the highlights of a classic east coast fall in a recent September

The Brigg end provides often breath-taking opportunities to get wonderfully close to a variety of waders. Purple Sandpipers, Dunlin, Knot and other common species can approach to within metres of your feet, and check carefully for rarer congeners – I’ve had Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper down to almost touching distance here in the last couple of Septembers. It’s arguably the month for sea-watching and wader assemblages, so leaving time for both is recommended.

The playful yapping of skeins of Pink-footed Geese overhead as they orientate along the east coast is a quintessential joy of September birding in Filey, of which there are many – enjoy your visit and let us know what you find!

Curlew Sandpiper on the Brigg

Curlew Sandpiper on the Brigg

Words & pictures copyright Mark James Pearson

Contacts / Further information
Sites and access – All the above are open at all times. The main hide at the Dams has a viewing screen which is wheelchair accessible (only a few metres from the car-park). Due to the nature of the terrain, unfortunately the other sites are not wheelchair-friendly. For latest sightings updated daily and full site guides, see the Filey Bird Observatory website. Check your tide tables first, and allow at least two and a half hours before high tide to get off the Brigg and Bay corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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