Thursday, 7 November 2019

An East coast safari

The Safari was joined by LCV at Base Camp because it's that time of year when we make our annual pilgrimage to the far side of the country. We set off in the wee small hours with the intention of arriving at Spurn at first light and meeting up with the gang from the South Side. Our drive across the Pennines was uneventful making good time in the light overnight traffic. But as we reached Hull there was already the beginnings of a glimmer of light in the eastern sky. Once past Hull and on the seemingly interminal bendy road a Woodcock flew over the car in the very last of the darkness. 
Arriving at the 'Bluebell' car park it was already light and had been for a good half an hour - does it really get light that much earlier on the east coast although we suppose the almost cloudless sky helped. We were soon set up for a bit of a seawatch while we waited for the others who we thought were just a little way behind us and would arrive shortly but we'd  misunderstood their last communication saying they were going to be at least an hour and a half late.
It was colder than we'd expected though not surprising with a north easterly wind whistling down uninterrupted from the high Arctic but that did bode well for bringing some good birds for us to gawp at. 
After about an hour of watching with not a great deal happening, a few Gannets and distant unidentifiable Auks with a smattering of Teal passing we realised the others weren't anywhere near so we bobbed down to the seawatching hide to wait for them. A good move as it happened as there was a bit of an increase in activity and it was much cosier sat in there than standing out in the wind.
We picked up an Arctic Skua in the middle distance and a little later a second came past on about the same track. Meanwhile SE in his usual corner seat had got on a distant flock of Teal and told us to get on the end bird which was paler and smaller. We didn't see it as the flock continued its way south, SE assumed it had dropped on to the water and sure enough half an hour later when the next flock of Teal came though it lifted and joined them, a male Smew but to be honest it was beyond the capabilities of both our scope and our eyes to really discern it so it's had to go down in our records as 'Untickable Views'.
The rest of the gang joined us as three Great Skuas passed northwards together and we watched a hapless migrating passerine being knocked into the sea by those most gentle of gulls a trio of Common Gulls. The small bird, possibly a Redwing managed to get airborne a couple of times but could not escape and was eventually devoured about half a mile short of landfall. Heartbreaking!
We made a big boo-boo with a drake Long Tailed Duck which everyone else in the hide watched pasing close in over the top of the surf but which yours truly missed cos we were looking about half a mile beyond  it - what a numbnut!
We also had a couple of Woodcocks come in-off the sea. They weren't seen coming across the waves but just appeared lifting over the low grassy cliff in front of us and were gone over our heads and inland in the blink of an eye.
Once we'd had our fill of seawatching we had a wander up to the Canal Scrape where a Little Grebe was making short work of catching Sticklebacks but refused to face the front when it caught one.
Only to turn into the light once it had swallowed its prey.
The water level was very high meaning there was no marginal cover for the often seen Jack Snipes to frequent. We did have a fly past of a small wisp of 'normal' Snipe and another Woodcock or maybe two whizzed by at the back along the old canal and embankment. The main excitement here wasn't a bird but a bat, probably a Pipistrelle, which we found on the the armrest when we opened one of the windows. We struggled to tell if it was dead or just torpid although JG reckons it did open an eye. If it was dead it was only recently deceased as it was still soft and we could gently open its wings, maybe we shouldn't have been handling it at all as none of our group holds a bat licence.
Doing the circuit of The Triangle took us to the pub car park and garden where we waited a good while for good views of a Yellow Browed Warbler but too brief for a pic. Wandering around to the other side of the car park we were put on to a small flock of Bramblings feeding on berries on the hedge across the field. A bit distant but hey-ho PYLC #181)
We've never known it so quite along the Canal, just a Wren and a Blue Tit recorded until a lone Redwing flew past and landed in one of the bankside Hawthorn bushes.
From the canal we decided to wander across the Breach to check out the Shore Larks that had been lingering at Chalk Bank for a few days. On the way we were out on  to a flighty and always distant Great Grey Shrike, which despite all the habitat of thorny bushes nearby chose to sit up on tangles of wire, old concrete blocks and bits of driftwood at the top of the beach right under the cliff making leaning over to get a good view a bit of a risky to-do.
Once at the hide there was no sign of the Shore Larks but we had a Merlin sitting on a lump of seaweed just about slap bang in the middle of one of the larks favoured areas.
Scanning about to see if we could see them we came across this confiding Reed Bunting perched in the bush closest to the hide window. 
We did get brief but good flight views of the Shore Larks as they flew round with a small flock of Twite and a few Linnets anxious about the Merlin still holding court on its seaweed throne.
The walk back gave us no further sign of the Great Grey Shrike but the thorny Sea Buckthorn bushes it should have been perched in gave us a couple of lively Stonechats. From there it was a race across the Breach to just about beat the tide. We won't mention I stripping off his socks n shoed
Back at the car at the end of the day a cracking Yellowhammer dropped on to the fence and then luckily for us hopped off the fence and on to the bank beyond given our 'No Hand of Man' Photo Challenge rule as it's a much better pic than we got earlier in the year.
And so ended the first day's birding, not a bad day at all no Lifers but a decent haul of Year Birds and that horrendously bad dip.

Our second morning started well with a couple of Brent Geese sat among the hundreds of Shelducks on the Humber, (PYLC #182). We're glad we had a scan (mainly for any Little Auks) because these were the only Brent Geese we saw all the time we were there. we usually go a couple of weeks earlier than this and have no problem coming across good numbers of Brent Geese.
The rest of most of the morning was taken up seawatching again and this time we were treated to a passage of Little Auks with several being seen but none close enough to photographs. Yesterday we'd seen a lot of Gannets mostly distant but today there were far fewer and again mostly distant s owe chanced our arm at a slightly closer juvenile. Not the worlds greatest shot and certainly won't be gracing the Countryfile Calendar next year but at least it counts as #183 for our challenge being just about identifiable as a Gannet.
Again a number of Woodcocks came in off the sea and once again they were far too quick for us when close to the hide so we have to make do ith this rubbish pic of one which didn't shoot over our heads and off inland but turned up the coast and gained height as it went for #184
Passerine passage was quieter than yesterday or at least so it seemed looking out to sea from the seawatching hide but you never know what's dropped in unseen at Spurn. So off we went for a circuit of the triangle again when a brief but fairly heavy shower began to fall and made a couple of Roe Deer in a roadside field sit down just as cows are alledged to do when it's about to rain.
Nothing much seemed to have been dropped by the rain and The Crown & Anchor car park was very quiet save for a Goldcrest and the Chiffchaffs  we'd seen yesterday teasing us while waiting for the Yellow Browed Warbler to pit in an appearance. But as we were waiting and hoping news of  a Long Eared Owl that had been caught and ringed was about to be released in the neighbouring field so off we went. What an awesome bird to see close up, unfortunately we weren't able to get a pic for our challenge through the crowd but we did get superb close up views through our bins, what fantastically detailed plumage they have - and those eyes - - like glowing embers - gorgeous! 
Along the canal a Wren very briefly lifted our hopes but there was no sight nor sound of the Bearded Tits that had been about for a few days, we did hear a Water Rail which may be the first we've heard there in our many visits over the years.
With the tide being later there was no need to rush across the Breach today so we stopped at the car and armed ourselves with a huge selection of pies and other munchies for a vigil at the Shore Lark hide.
Luckily we passed a very keen young birder leaving the site who gave great instructions of where to look including which species of grass they were favouring! Can't be many teenagers who know the Latin names of some grasses...we/re tempted to rummage out and dust off our ancient copy of Hubbard...hah it's a tricky book it can stay on the shelf.
Anyway arriving in the hide we were told were to look and it was nowhere near when the youngster had stated but rather where the Merlin had been yesterday. A bit distant for such a small bird but great scope views. At first we could only find two
but a few minutes later the third toddled out from among the pebbles where they are supremely camouflaged. (PYLC #185)
While we waited in hope that they would come closer a Wren hopped up out of the low vegetation and mooched around a dead bush for a few minutes.
Eventually the Shore Larks did have a little fly around and after a good while out of sight they came past anzd landed in the low vegetation not too far away and we were able to get some really good views as they fed on what looks like Salicornia seeds..
We dallied a fair while enjoying the larks and eating the multitude of pies we'd stuffed our pockets with. Not a bad place to eat lunch and a good bird to share it with. 
With no rush to geet back across the Breach today we dawdled back watching the Stonechats in the bushes and keeping a hopeful eye out for any sign of the previous day's Great Grey Shrike, or even a new one, there had been no reports today so it must have flown inland overnight. We got cracking views of a low flying Guillemot as it crossed the narrow strip of land from the river to the open sea - gone far too quick for us to lift the camera though. And a hundred yards or so further on a large pipit whizzed over, doubled back and looked like it landed some way away, we're fairly confident it was a Richard's Pipit but without it calling and disappearing so quickly it'll have to go down as an unclaimable might have been. 
It was then another birder  a bit in front of us beckoned us to join him, three Snow Buntings had just flown past him and landed on the upper standline on the beach not far ahead.
Once they'd been located it was just a matter of getting in to a good position and waiting for them to come to us. Lovely little things they are.
Carefully retreating out of their view so as not to disturb them we continued on our way and were about a quarter of the way across the breach when a young birder looking like he as on a mission coming the other way called out if we knew about the Pallas's Warbler at the Point. We didn't and by now even though it would have been a great bird to see we didn't fancy the long walk all the way to the end of the peninsular; now if he'd passed as we were leaving the Shore Larks' hide things might have panned out very different!
We finished the afternoon with another seawatch getting a small group of horrendously distant Manx Shearwaters, a very distant Sandwich Tern and another couple of distant Little Auks.

Our third day started as usual with the obligatory seawatch although today it was fairly quiet out over the cold grey waters of the North Sea. The breakfast alarm rang out and we packed up the scopes and headed back to HQ for another hearty helping of Full English. While polishing off the last dregs of tea and final pieces of toast the radio cackled that a presumed Isabelline Wheatear had been found in the field at the back of our digs. Not long after came the news that the ID had been confirmed so that decided our movements for the rest of the morning. Off we went through the back of the farm across the field spotting local Fylde birder AC as we went. We could see the crowd watching in the distance but on reaching them discovered that AC was probably in the best place as the bird was well away across the field. It's private land we were told but not to worry that's where we were staying so back down the track to join AC and a couple of others we went. Tricky light and long range don't make for the best pics of what turned out to be a Lifer for us. (PYLC #186). At long range we could only manage so rubbishy flight shots. and even then almost always 'headless'.
But eventually did come a bit closer and was a little less flighty.
A good bird to end our stay on but with a bit of time left we decided to have one last look in the pub car park as the Yellow Browed Warbler had been seen again and you never know yesterday's Pallas's Warbler down at the Point might just turn up there...
Once again the Chiffchaffs teased us zipping around the trees and bushes
One of them even managed to morph itself into a female Blackcap
A Woodcock walked out of the little island of bushes almost un-noticed until it was spotted by the group who turned towards it then it was off through the treetops in an instant, stonking views but again far to quick for our camera. Above where it had walked out from was a small flock of Siskins we'd not noticed earlier, had they bother dropped out of the sky together?
And then it was time to head back across country.
What a great few days, brilliant  company, great laughs, lovely accommodation, superb birds with just as many missed but hey-ho you can never see everything on offer here. Certainly can't grumble at 102 species of birds between us, 11 year birds and a Lifer in such a short space of  time.
Same time same place next year folks...See you there!

Where to next? Another motorway trip but not quite so far this time.

In the meantime let us know who's winging it across the waters in your outback

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