Flamborough Bird Observatory Annual Report 2016


It’s been a busy year for the Flamborough Bird Observatory (FBO) team; the 2014/15 report was published in early 2017 and with the latest report they are now firmly back on track. First impressions are good and a stunning cover photograph of two Northern Gannets tussling over a mackerel immediately puts you on the North Sea coast. A quick flick through and it’s clear that a lot of expertise has gone into the design, layout and production, with photographs of local scenery on the rear and inside covers adding to the feel. But what of the content in this A5-sized, 155-page report?

An excellent two-page map shows the formal observatory boundary, the western edge being the ancient Dykes running north to south, thus ‘cutting off’ the FBO headland, approximately 5 miles west of the lighthouse. The recording boundary of the report however, runs to the eastern side of Bridlington in the south and to Speeton village in the north (adjoining the Filey Bird Observatory recording area), which therefore brings the hot-spots of Bempton RSPB and Buckton into the wider FBO recording area.

The report commences with a very readable Chairman’s Review, followed by an equally readable Monthly Highlights section. Daily seabird reports are entered onto Trektellen and land-based sightings input to BirdTrack, demonstrating a strong recording regime in place, all on a volunteer basis. A total of 241 species was reported during the year and this included three new birds, namely Pallid Harrier, Eastern Crowned Warbler and Isabelline Wheatear; the latter species however was recently found ‘not proven’ by the British Birds Rarities Committee, thus demonstrating the difficulty editors suffer in terms of timing in these matters.

Autumn 2016 at Flamborough reflected the success of other east coast migration sites and the area enjoyed its second records of Paddyfield Warbler and Pied Wheatear, its third Black-browed Albatross, plus Arctic, 12 Pallas’s, three Hume’s Leaf, six Dusky and three Radde’s Warblers, along with 10 Little Buntings, while a day count of 1,003 Sooty Shearwaters and a record 139 Yellow-browed Warblers on the 21 September will be stand-out memories for many birders.

The 70-page Systematic List forms the bulk of the report and follows the sequence and nomenclature of BOU’s British list (eighth edition, 2013); while revisions have since been made to the BOU list and other options are available, a Species Index at the rear would have been helpful. That point aside, the species accounts are a smooth read with nicely laid out tables showing details such as bird/days and day maxima for each month for many species. Each account also carries a simple status code for each season (for example ‘Sp6’ meaning rare in spring, ‘RB’ rare breeder and so on). Illustrations from three excellent artists are nicely spread throughout the section, while each species account also separates FBO reports from those ‘west of the Dykes’.

A 20-page gallery of top-class bird photographs follows the main species list, although I do think it is important to include dates and locations where possible. With multiple records of the likes of Bluethroat, Pallas’s and Hume’s Leaf Warblers, it would be nice to know which particular birds are being depicted. Admittedly, no such confusion exists over the three super photographs of the single Eastern Crowned Warbler.

An excellent summary of the Yellow-browed Warbler invasion follows and accurately captures the excitement of the day, to which I can testify from my own rare visit to the headland. However, I would also have liked to have read about the first records of species new to the area and where possible seen photographs; the Pallid Harrier was clinched by the resulting images.

An annual and very valuable land-bird breeding survey is also reported upon and another important report covers the Flamborough and Filey Coast pSPA Seabird Monitoring Programme. The latter summary includes excellent data and graphs on seabird productivity for six species over the past eight years, plus a brief report on the whole colony count of Kittiwakes which totalled an impressive 51,001 occupied nests.

Separate ringing reports for both the FBO and area ‘west of the Dykes’ follows. Again, both reports are very nicely laid out and enhanced by a selection of in-hand bird photos, albeit not carrying any dates nor locations. Among the highlights, the recovery of a Lesser Whitethroat from Flamborough to Cape Clear a few days later in the autumn and a DNA-verified abietinus Common Chiffchaff both stand out. However, I did find the use of American dates (month/day/year) in the Recoveries and Controls section, contra to FBO usage, a little confusing.

Additional content includes first and last dates for summer migrants, description requirements and excellent reports on insects (the expected sections on butterflies, moths and dragonflies and damselflies) and some early work on fungi (104 different fungi found and 55 identified to species level), each enhanced by some wonderful photography.

Overall, this is a high-quality bird report and one which many would find a pleasure to read.

Copies of the report cost £10 plus £2 p&p and can be obtained from Tony Hood, 9 Hartendale Close, Flamborough, East Yorkshire, YO15 1PL or via email.

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Written by: Steve Holliday