Thursday, 9 October 2014

Spurned by the birds?

The Safari had a call form our best boy LCV a few months ago "Do you fancy a few days at Spurn in the autumn?" Our reply involved something about bears and woods!
The days kept changing with his work commitments but were finally settled and two night accommodation booked, Monday to Wednesday. As the trip drew closer we kept an eye on the sightings from there - only Britain's third Masked Shrike tuned up and showed well. It stuck around for days, then a week as our departure date grew closer until three days before pointing the car east it went just before the weather changed - bummer!!!
Not to worry there would be other good birds to find, maybe not quite in that league but we were confident of adding six or seven new year birds in our Year list Challenge with Monika.
We set off at stupid o'clock aiming to get there for first light, excitement grew as the first fire of the new day was breaking the eastern sky and we were only half an hour from putting our boots on and getting stuck in to some serious birding. (LCV does read our blog very often - says we woffle on too much - - after reading that back he might have a point!)
Arriving at out destination we got out of the car and my oh my was it cold and very windy. Suitably togged up against the elements we had a look round the car park treees and tiny churcchyard - those trees were shaking like a 50's teenager listening to Chuck Berry, if there were any dicky birds in there we weren't going to see them! And we didn't, A Woodpigeon and a Blackcap were all that could be mustered.
Rain threatened and we decided that on the strong southerly wind something might drop when it started so we worked our way along the hedgerows hoping not to be too far from the car when the rain came. A Blue Tit and Robin, a Blackbird, a Song Thrush and a Great Tit were found and a Goldcrest was heard - not earth shattering yet!
We had to have a look across the field to the hedgerow where the Masked Shrike had been for 12 whole English days, well there was a one in a million chance it might have come back but instead there was a nice Roebuck grazing in the paddock.
It was nonplussed at our presence no doubt being totally used to blokes wearing green - Robin Hood might have given him a bit of a shock!
It wasn't until we'd got back to Base Camp and downloaded the pics on to the big screen we realised we've never seen a Roe Deer havng a pee before.
A wander up the track to the pond took us past the the caravan site that is rapidly being eroded into the sea and the World War 1 anti-aircraft listening dish...a horrendously simple version of radar in which a bloke would sit at the epicenter and wait for the amplified sound of approaching aircraft which he would hear a few miles further out than anyone else.
Taking of planes three F-15s were doing a training exercise during breakfast on our final morning and later in the day we heard one had crashed, maybe one of the same? LCV got some pics of them over the river to show his young lad so we might be able to cadge on  off him. Noisy blighters they are but they did give us a trip-bird when they flushed a Black Tailed Godwit from the mudflats - along with everything else!
Anyway back to Day 1 - said caravan site held a Wheatear but the hedgerows and fields were very quiet, Tree and House Sparrows, Green, Gold and Chaffinches, another Goldcrest four more Roe Deer but it was far from exciting and getting windier.
A look overf the sea saw us add passing Dunlin, Teal, Common Scoter, Wigeon, Shelduck,  three Brent Geese and two plus two Pintails to the notebook. Then LCV got on a chunky skua away in the gloom towering and swooping along, it looked very much like a Pomarine Skua (168), amazingly confirmed by a post on Twitter from @Spurnbirdobs - we say amazing as mobile reception was patchy at best - only a few minutes later.
Our next sighting was more bizarre, we reached the end of the track and turned round to see a middle aged woman dragging a suitcase along the beach - there's nothing there it's miles to civilisation that way - where on earth could she have been going?
In the distance you can just make out the turbines and chimneys of the huge gas complex - that's the nearest thing there is - bonkers these Yorkshire folk!
Apparently there is method in her madness - it's quicker to walk down the beach than the lanes to the nearest bus stop - but it's still a helluva walk!
The rain started and a couple of Song Thrushes, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits came out of the cloud but it wasn't a mass fall and we thought it would be wisde to high-tail it to the best shelter, the sea-watching hide, so drivng down to the Observatory we paid our car park and had a chat to the lad in the visitor centre who showed us some finds from the beach - part of a Mammoth tusk, Wooly Rhinoceros vertebrae, the horns from a Wild Ox aka Auroch, the sea in the pics was a huge swampy river delta at the end of the last Ice Age before sea-levels rose. We found our own fossil in the form of a Cockle emebedded in a lump of sandstone on the beach
We got to the sea-watching hidse as the heavens opened to find it full to busting and several folks sitting out shelter! After a wet half hour people left the hide and two seats were very gladly taken up by a pair of wet nellies. Visibility wasn't great, a wind farm is being constructed on the horizon but for much of the time the ship, turbines and huge riig were obscured by the murk.
Settling in to the searching, counting, recording routine we joined the banter in the hide, such a friendly place. We got a Snipe mixed in with a small flock of Dunlin, it looked weird out of context flying down the beach! We dipped the Purple Sandpiper but LCV found another distant skua, this time an Arctic Skua.
All the while flocks of Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal came in off the sea and headed south along the coast past us, eventually a hoped for bird did the same, a pair of Velvet Scoters (169) nice and close in over the surf.
It was good to feel accepted into the fold when main Obs seabird recorder SE allowed LCV to be in charge of the Wigeon and Teal clicker counters when he left for an hour or so on an errand, a very responsible job!
Nine and a half hours we were in that hide listening to the rain rattle off the roof!
Here's what was seen (copied from their website)  With SSE winds from the Continent, we were expecting a good ‘wildfowl day’ and we were not disappointed as nearly all attention was spent watching the sea and it’s passers by! Although the highlight for many was the first Leach’s Petrel of the year as it spent about 15 minutes offshore mid-distance, slowly moving north.
Moving offshore were 213 Brent Geese (5th highest passage count), 1 Shelduck, 1898 Wigeon (2nd highest Spurn count), 2 Gadwall, 831 Teal, 34 Pintail, 1 Shoveler, 3 Tufted Duck, 145 Common Scoter, 4 Velvet Scoter, 1 Red-breasted Merganser, 6 Red-throated Diver, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 1 ‘brown’ Fulmar, 87 Gannet, 2 Ringed Plover, 5 Grey Plover, 4 Lapwing, 38 Knot, 8 Sanderling, 93 Dunlin, 14 Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 Pomarine Skua, 10 Arctic Skua, 1 Bonxie, 20 Little Gull, 40 Kittiwake, 17 Sandwich Tern, 109 Common Tern, 10 Arctic Tern, 6 Guillemot, 1 asio owl sp in off the sea and 32 Starling in off the sea.
We missed three year birds by faffing around up the track instead of going directly to the hide forst thing in the morning, namely the Leach's Petrel, the Bonxies, and the owl had it been a Short Eared Owl which it was at first but then 'downgraded' to Asio sp so we wouldn't have been able to count it anyway.
Of most interest was the 'brown' Fulmar. The call went up Balearic Shearwater coming north - we were on it straight away, a Lifer! It was horribly distant in the murk but sure enough was brown and not black and white so deffo not a Manx Shearwater, another very experienced seawatcher said it's not flying like a shearwater, an intense discussion followed until he said "I can see white wing flashes - it's a Fulmar!?!" Not a 'blue phase' but a brown one. He'd seen similar birds in the North Pacific but between the few highly experienced seawatchers there there was still no consensus to what it actually was and we were denied a Lifer. It wasn't until the website was published (above) that it's true identity was revealed - they still weren't quite sure!
with the rain still set in it was now time to go to our digs and get some scram. We stopped at the Canal Scrape on the way adding a bathing Rock Pipit to our day's sightings but not the hoped for Jack Snipe.
Tuesday dawned brighter and calmer but we overslept and only got out for a short walk before breakfast - doh. The feature of that walk was a notable number of Song Thrushes - never seen so many in one place! Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were also in much higher numbers than yesterday. Walking down the bank we had a few birds in the hedge, a Wren, a Robin, a Great Tit, a Reed Bunting, then a 'What's that???' Turned out after a few palpitations to be 'just' a leucistic Reed Bunting - certainly got the juices lowing for a moment when we saw it dart from bush to bush.
Some Skylarks and Meadow Pipits got up out of the paddock to join an overflying flock when we heard an unfamiliar call, 'shreeee.' we got on the bird a large long tailed Skylark sized pipity thing but was it 'the' Richard's Pipit that was in fields half a mile to the north yesterday, a different one or something else, we're just not experienced enough with this species to claim it but we'll have nagging doubts it was one for ages.
Out on the river stuck in the World War II tank traps was a young still with it's white fur, probably a Grey Seal, washed off from the colony across the estuary in last night's storm, sadly unless it's already weaned it's chances aren't good.
Time for a full English! And what a breakfast, eaten looking out over the mudflats at the morning sun glinting off the backs of hundreds of Golden Plovers - beautiful.
After breakfast we went back to the Canal scrape where there was a Redshank with only one and a half legs, seemed to be doing alright though but still no Jack Snipe.
Off to the sea-watching hide we went to the banter of where have you been? Was expecting you hours ago, you've missed it all etc etc.  We had missed it, the three species of skuas including the now all important Bonxie and half a dozen Woodcocks  coming in-off the sea! It was soon obvious that there was some serious wildfowl passage going on as wave after wave of Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal came by in the far more clement conditions than yesterday.
Here's what the Obs wrote up about the session. With the wind lighter and from the western quarter, we wasn’t quite expecting the wildfowl passage that occurred, the Brent Goose day passage record was smashed when 1114 flew south, (previously set at 824 in 1982), also Wigeon totaled 2487, just short of the record of 2540 set in 2009. Other wildfowl, seabird and wader totals included 3 Greylag Geese, 90 Pink-footed Geese, an adult White-fronted Goose, 1726 Teal (3rd highest passage count), 4 Mallard, 16 Pintail, 23 Shoveler, 6 Tufted Duck, 2 Eider, 265 Common Scoter, 2 Velvet Scoter, 1 Red-breasted Merganser, 50 Red-throated Diver, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 166 Gannet, 1 Kestrel, 3 Grey Plover, 52 Dunlin, 5 Curlew, 1 Pomarine Skua, 2 Arctic Skua, 2 Bonxie, 3 Little Gull,, 371 Black-headed Gull, 550 Herring Gull, 11 Sandwich Tern, 46 Common Tern, 81 auk sp, 31 Guillemot, 4 Razorbill.
So our trip might not have coincided with all the scarce and rarer birds we'd have liked to have seen but we did hit on and were part of the recording of an historic wildfowl day, so we're well chuffed - look at that Brent Goose record, almost 50% up on the previous record and that from when LCV was just a toddler! Here's four of the 1114 coming past the hide.
Our claim to fame was being the one who picked out the White Fronted Goose (170) from the flock of Pink Footed Geese it was in with, their first of the season.
More and more Song Thrushes were being recorded coming in off but one ditched in to sea a couple of hundred yards short of the beach, it got out but went in twice more, the final dunking proving fatal, really sad to witness such a heartrending scene, so close yet too far.
A shout of "Jays" went up and there was a mass exodus from the hide to see six come towards us down the peninsular then turn back, so this must have been a 'good's sighting. They are part of this years mass arrival but will they bring a Nutcracker - that was the question on everyone's lips.
The wind was picking up and before the weather turned we took a walk down across the Breech, where the sea had cut the peninsular in half last winter, to the Narrows to see if we could find anything else. As soon as we set off LCV found a Weasel hunting through a pile of rubble next to a parked up Land Rover, no prizes for guessing what we were looking at when he called it! Not a lot of birds were seen on our walk, a few more Song Thrushes and Meadow Pipits and a Rock Pipit on the shingle was about the lot. A flock of Ringed Plovers and Redshanks huddled out of the increasing wind and we saw a large flock of feeding Brent Geese so decided to get a look at those before turning back so as not to get cut off by the tide.
Plenty of youngsters this year was good to see - the ones with the wing bars.
We had to hide in the dunes to avoid flushing them hence the out of focus grass blowing in the wind
On the way back we searched for fossils in the rocks and pebbles but were unsuccessful although we did find a nice patch of Sea Rocket still in flower
The westerly wind was picking up and the sky started looking ever more threatening we hastened back to the hide
LCV copped a few glimpses of a Harbour Porpoise which continued rto show quite well on and off. 
A Heron was spotted way out at sea well to the north of us battling into the wind, they aren't made for windy sea crossings like the Teal and Wigeon. It struggled to keep a straight line coming ever closer and eventually past us, must have flown a few miles more than it had to - it's tough this migration thing! The absolute shortest crossing from the continent here is just short of 200 miles, from the southern tip of Norway or the Danish coast it's more like 375 miles!
Apologies for the poor quality it was a still a good way offshore and the weather pretty gloomy by now.
In the pub in the evening we were 'entertained' by a lovely barmaid, a bit scatty but she loves Giraffes so can't be all bad!  We were chatting for ages but she didn't seem to have a good word for birders thinking we were workers at the nearby gas plant or some such. She considered birders to be either a bit weird at best or personna non-grata at worst...then we let her in on our 'secret' to hoots of laughter and "you two aren't like those other birders!" Not sure if that's a good thing or not!
Off to bed to see this through the window
A couple of minutes later
We almost overslept again but got out quickly but still missed a Bonxie! It just wasn't going to be for that species. With the light being better and the wind lighter there was a bit of passerine passage so we stood at 'Numpties Corner' and watched the vis mig unfurl in front of us. Nothing over-exciting but reasonable numbers of Tree Sparrows, Greenfinches, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were passing by. A male Stonechat popped up briefly along the fence-line but soon popped down again, while a Stock Dove flew past - ohh that it had been a Turtle Dove.
The arrow thing is a microphone with a digi-recorder to catch any calls the spotters might have missed being too high or whatever - and LCV is stood next to a rather large dollop of Fox do-do.

Saying our good-byes and thank yous to everyone around our time at Spurn had come to an end - We had a great time made all the better by the camaraderie and banter of the regulars.
Almost home back in Lancashire we needed a comfort spot where we picked up Bird Guides on the phone and learned that there was a Night Heron (171) only a short detour away...had to be done didn't it! A sign at the exit of the service area at a cordened off area said INVASIVE WEED KEEP OUT it was Himalayan Balsam, never seen that before - the sign not the plant, have you?

Being a Night Heron it spent most of its time asleep!
Occasionally it would wake up and have a quick look around before nodding back off

The return journey in daylight gave us only one Buzzard compared to four Kestrels but these were beaten by six Jays.
Of course we would have liked to have seen some or all of these, they were all seen in the few days before we got there:-
Barred Warbler, Black Redstart, Bonxie, Firecrest, Jack Snipe, Lapland Bunting, Long Tailed Skua, Red Breasted Flycatcher, Redstart, Richard's Pipit (did we?), Ring Ouzel, Sooty Shearwater,  Common  Rosefinch, Yellow Browed Warbler, oh and the Masked Shrike. But you can't have everything and we were involved in some seriously significanty counts at this iconic birdiong site so all's well that ends well.
Have to say a mssive thank you to LCV for organising our trip and doing all the driving, the lad's a star!
We're already making plans for the same time next year.
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 tomorrow - how will it feel after the 'other' side?
In the meantime let us know hat was a couple of days the wrong side of you in your outback.

1 comment:

cliff said...

Glad the bad weather didn't put too much of a dampener on your trip. You still seemed to cram plenty in. Not sure I could sit in a hide for over 9 hours though, looks a bit on the bleak side.

Shame the Song thrush didn't make it the last few hundred yards. I've never thought of Grey Herons migrating, I know we get Bitterns from mainland europe, but it had never crossed my mind that Grey Herons do likewise.

'woffle on too much' - you, surely not!