Wednesday 3 November 2021

An impromptu safari up north

The Safari was supposed to have a reunion with a couple of very good old friends we've not seen for well over 20 years. A 'booze cruise' round the bars and pubs of Scouseland was planned and train tickets bought...just going on a train would be an adventure in itself, it's a few years since we've done that. But one of the crew members came down positive for the dreaded Covid at the last minute so an emergency Plan B had to be hastily devised.

We shot down the motorway to pick up AH who we'd fortuitously bumped into after all those years going for a bag of chips in a chippy we didn't know existed until we were about to set foot through the door when he came out. While waiting for him outside his home watched a large party of Long Tailed Tits work their way through the front garden bushes and heard Whooper Swans passing over. Once in the car AH told us there were two of them heading northwards. And so off we drove aiming for an old favourite AH hadn't been to for maybe at least 25 years, Leighton Moss RSPB reserve.

Half way up the motorway an absolute deluge struck, well that wasn't in the forecast which had suggested a decent day...and neither of us had full waterproofs. But the weather gods were on our side and the squall was long gone by the time we got to the car park. 

Having not been to the reserve for so long we took AH up the 'fairly' new Sky-tower for a panoramic view of the wetlands and reedbeds in the hope that now the weather had bucked up a Marsh Harrier or two might be on the wing. 

Lillian's Hide was quiet  the usual waterfowl being present, mostly Shoveler, Teal, Mallard and Coot with a smaller number of Tufted Ducks and Gadwall. Compared to our previous visit a couple of weeks earlier the recent rains had filled the pool and there was now very little mud showing. Consequently numbers of wading birds was well down. A trio of small islands held a handful of Snipe and a few Black tailed Godwits, some of the latter still looking resplendent in their brick coloured summer finery.

On the path to the other hides we saw a small tree very close to the path that had been absolutely shredded by a Roe buck's antlers, a species we've always assumed was here or very close by but never seen on the reserve. No Bearded Tits were at the 'new' grit trays - apparently we'd just missed them by five minutes or so.

At the hide it was good to chat with SB again and we learned he'd been at the Long Toed Stint at the same time we had. But what about the birds? Nothing much to talk about really all was pretty quiet out there. A Great White Egret stalked about in the distance beneath the new Osprey nesting tower and a Little Egret was a little closer...more like the Carmargue or the Danube delta than NW Lancashire, just needed some Dalmatian Pelicans and/or Greater Flamingoes to complete the scene.

After a while a small party of Bearded Tits came to the edge of the reeds and began to work their way to our left giving distant but good views as they flew across a little bay in the reeds rather than taking the long way round. As they moved on we could still hear them calling and had an inkling they might well arrive at the grit trays. Off we went hoping to beat them there. We did but didn't have long to wait before their characteristic pinging was heard coming through the reedbed. And bingo our hunch was right there they were. Fantastic close range views of a gorgeous little bird. Like the other camera-laden folk there we filled our boots.

But have a good look at them. Don't you think their name is a terrible misnomer? Look again not a beard in sight! Surely Moustachioed Tit would be a better name. Donde esta mi sombrero, hombre?

We were entertained for a good ten minutes but wit the birds still there and more birders arriving for a look we moved on to make some space for them...actually if truth be know it was getting close to lunch time our tummy's were rumbling and the car boot held a couple of super tasty homemade pasties just waiting to be dipped into a dollop of brown sauce.

The pasties were as good as anticipated, even though a couple of days later we realised we'd forgotten to put in a top secret mystery ingredient - no worries they'll be even better next time!

After lunch we hit the trails again showing AH the 'new' (haha) boardwalk - well if you've not been for 25 years it'll be pretty new. On the way we stopped to inspect the by patches of Ivy growing along the roadside. Lots of insect activity, mostly Common Wasps and Drone Flies but no Ivy Bees, we've yet to catch up with one of those anywhere. A couple of Red Admirals were still on the wing taking advantage of the now warm sunshine...a very welcome change from the deluge we'd driven through to get here.

There wasn't much happening at the Causeway Hide apart from a few dragonflies buzzing around the small patch of cut reeds below the windows. Unfortunately they were very active and kept disturbing one another so getting a pic of them was impossible. Then a Marsh Harrier came in to view in the distance and kept us amused for a while and a Buzzard soared over the hillside further back.

Time to move on again and venture down the track to Lower Hide where SB had told us Otters had been seen in the last few days. Through the gate the regular Robin was by the bench ready to mug passing birders for any seed they may have secreted about their person. Other than him though the woodland was deadly quiet, not a peep from nothing. From the hide only a few Mallards were particularly close, the rest of the 'usual' ducks sitting much further out, Shoveler, Teal, Gadwall, a couple of Pintail snoozing on a mound of cut reeds, with plenty of Coots and a few Tufted Ducks diving in the deeper parts of the pool. Pick of the bunch were a handful of Pochards. So sad that these beautiful and intricately marked ducks are now becoming increasing rare.

With not a lot happening and certainly no Otters our eye started to wander all over the place finally resting on a lone cow in the field opposite. Odd we thought; you don't normally see a solitary cow in a field, bulls yes but cows no. We hadn't twigged there were probably more hidden behind the trees lining the road but for some reason this cow kept standing on its own with no friends. Our eye kept going back to it and then all of a sudden we saw it leap into action charging down the hill after a smaller animal, pale brown in colour that we assumed to be a Fox when it disappeared behind the thick hedge. Well you don't see that every day! But it wasn't a Fox, a few minutes later a Fallow Deer palmate antlers and all appeared on this side of the hedge. Wow! We've not seen one of those here for at least 20 years and bizarrely in the same field as we last saw and in our chat to SB earlier we'd actually mentioned we'd not seen Fallow Deer here for many years - spooky or what? Bit far for pics but you get the gist.

After all that excitement time was just about up and we had to take the leisurely stroll back to the car park stopping at a gap in the reeds to have a bit of a reminisce and a giggle where we both had watched a Bittern in full view for ages at practically point blank range years and years ago when a photographer came along asked what we were looking out and started to get his kit out of his silver peli-case. Yes you've guessed it as soon as he got his camera onto the trip the Bittern took one look at him and walked casually into the reeds never to be seen again. Apparently he'd only just put his camera away at the hide 100 yards away and was going back to his car to go home. Moral of the story - don't put your camera way until you get to where your going! Although these days with much more weather resistant kit you rarely see a camera case now.

Happy days, some great memories and new ones made all made possible by some fantastic wildlife.

Where to next? We've got a couple of short safaris to tell you about and of course we're still doing our Photo Year List Challenge - how are we getting on?

In the meantime let us know who's sneaking into the vegetation at the critical moment in your outback.

Sunday 24 October 2021

Last days at Spurn - and a runner!

The Safari and LCV left our salubrious accommodation hopeful that today would be a better day than yesterday. No fog, light winds but a clear sky meant conditions were good but not brilliant for watching migration in action. 

With the tide in we decided to spurn early morning seawatching and hit the wetlands first. It didn't take LCV long to pick out a Spotted Redshank among the waders roosting waiting for the tide to drop and feeding to resume. It was right at the back of the pool so pointless trying to get anything submitted to the SD card. Three Greenshanks were there too among a nice mix of waders including Bar and Black Tailed Godwits, half a dozen or so Ruff, and a few Knot and Dunlin - couldn't see any Little Stints though despite them being seen recently. Try as we might we couldn't pick out any Garganeys among the 250 odd Teal. Still couldn't find LCV a Caspian Gull for his trip list either. We did spend a good while pointing out the intricacies of the ID features of the various ages of Mediterranean Gulls to a some newby birders while we waited for something more out of the ordinary to turn up. We also showed them the Little Owl. In the end the only 'out of the ordinary' was a lone Siskin heading south. Back up to the village a small crowd caught our attention at the church where a Yellow Browed Warbler had been showing. It took a while before both of us had got anything like decent views as it flitted about high in the dense canopy of a still more or less fully leaved Sycamore tree. We heard a single Brambling fly over too. 

News then broke of a Purple Sandpiper on the river along the canal so off we went for a shuffy at that. Another couple were looking for it on the pebbly beach but we couldn't see it there either so scanned around the nearby mud to find it tucked upon a small island of saltmarsh grasses with a few Turnstones. It wasn't there long as another birder walked past with his tripod with legs fully extended over his shoulder and flushed everything in the immediate vicinity. 

Next we had a drive down the lane to see if anything was happening at the Warren or on the sea. Walking beyond the gate we had a Redwing go over and some Meadow Pipits. With the pipits going over we asked LCV would he would know the call of an Olive Backed Pipit if one flew over us. He replied that like us it's not a species he's familiar with so got his phone app going and played the call for us to listen to. By now we were reaching the ringing area today manned by the young ringing crew, despite being at least 30 yards away and possibly even 50 and the phone not that loud one of whom, JS, called out to us OBP? No no we shouted back - just playing it on the phone. But what fantastic knowledge and finely honed ears - very impressive!

With nothing much happening down there we made our way back to the Canal Scrape Hide, where nothing much was happening either. A Little Grebe climbing out onto a clump of vegetation kept the camera occupied - what is it with Little Grebes at Spurn in the autumn? Can't recall seeing this behaviour anywhere else.

We had no sight nor sound the the small flock of Bearded Tits that had been in the area a couple of hours earlier that we had hoped to see but a couple of bickering Water Rails kept us occupied for a while. Getting a decent shot of them was another matter though. Best we could manage was this effort in the shaded part of the gap in the reeds, when they had been on the other sunny side they'd been obscured by fallen vegetation.

After a bite to eat it was off to enjoy the Short Eared Owls again - and why wouldn't you! As you can see we filled our boots - and why wouldn't you! Thankfully this time they are flying of their own accord and hadn't been disturbed by anyone entering their field.

Owl and tractor in the same shot - heaven!!! If only we'd focused on the tractor - there might have been a Mediterranean Gull in the following flock - even better!

While watching the owls we were told of a Yellow Browed Warbler further along in the bushes that had been seen about an hour earlier. LCV took the high road and we took the low paths. Not much about at all. A couple of Blackbirds, a Chiffchaff and a Chaffinch were all we could muster. A couple of minutes later a small movement caught our eye in a Hawthorn bush alongside the big ditch. Seconds later a stonking Yellow Browed Warbler came to the outside of the bush and sat up in the uppermost twigs, an absolutely splendiferous view. We shouted out to LCV and whoever else was stood up on the bank - 'in the bush with lots of berries by the ditch'. That info must covered about a dozen bushes but we thought folk would home in on where the shout had come from. No-one came which is probably just as well as a Short Eared Owl flew right over the top of the bush just as we were lifting the camera and flushed it. Despite several minutes hard searching we never saw it again. So back to the owl field we went for yet another look at the beauties doing their thing.

It was beginning to get late into the afternoon but another call about the Yellow Browed Warbler came up so we went back to the bushes for another look. This time it was in bushes at the top of the bank close to the track where, apparently, it had first been seen that afternoon. Nothing but a couple of flits back and forth low down that we couldn't get on. A little disappointing we couldn't get a pic would have been nice to get one in natural habitat to compliment the in-the-hand shot we'd got earlier in the trip. There was very little about and when this Sparrowhawk turned up the very little become nothing!

By now the light was fading fast - time to head back to the Crown for some grub. We stopped on Peter Lane to have a look at the owl box and in the dim light could just about make out the white disc of a Barn Owl's face, that made it a 'three owl day' - can't be bad!

That evening we ummed and ahhhed about the relative merits of continuing to stalk Spurn in the morning or up sticks for the day and head half way home to twitch the recently discovered and finally re-identified Long Toed Stint near Leeds. If we did that we could then do a detour on Monday for the long staying White Tailed Lapwing across the river on the way home. The stint won!!! Butties were made in the evening for a quick getaway in the morning.

What a morning it was too, bright and sunny and as warm as summer. An hour and a half later were amongst an eager throng of birders all jostling for position to try to get a good view on a tiny bird on a little island of mud over 100 yards away. With a bit of patience, good manners and bit of luck on the part of the bird deciding to show itself everyone got a good view. At that range even in the excellent light getting a good pic no matter how well it was showing was another matter...but you've gotta try haven't you.

With all that sunshine we now wish we'd taken the teleconverter - hindsight is such a wonderful thing...NOT

A Cetti's Warbler scolded the crowd from the bushes behind us and a couple of Jays flew over the pool, their crops bulging with acorns. We misinterpreted the directions LCV had got from one of the locals and somehow missed the pool with the Spoonbills. As we were leaving we met old friend MJ coming along the path. He told us a couple of other friends were already in the crowd, we'd missed them, and he was bring up the rear. Yesterday we found out another friend, SB, was also there at that time - would have been like a Fylde birders reunion down there! And a Red Kite was soaring over the hillside as we got closer to the bursting-at-the-seams car park. A cracking morning in glorious sunshine.

Butties and pies were eaten back at the car when LCV says 'we'll do the lapwing on the way back - saves going on the way home tomorrow'. Good man...

Easy to find, it was the nearest bird to the hide when we arrived. No messing about - we like em like that. Mind you it was asleep. But good thinks come to those that wait and it woke up and had a mooch about and started feeding...nice one. Two Lifers in one day - it's a long long time since that's happened!

A Curlew Sandpiper had been seen from the hide nearer the car park...well we were going that way anyway...

Then LCV went one better and found a second one. We had both feeding together with a couple of Ruffs but sadly a little too far away for any decent pics. With time now pushing on and no Bearded Tits showing we high-tailed it back to Spurn and the Crown just in time for tea.

Our final new bird for the trip was heard late that night, a Tawny Owl hooting from the small wood behind our digs.

For our final morning we had a quick seawatch and a mooch round the hot spots but only submitting a Pale Bellied Brent Goose, one of three at the bottom end of the canal, to the SD card. They'd been in that area most mornings so we thought we'd best point the camera at them.

At Cliff Farm we heard a shrill call, Chiffchaff like-ish but then also a bit like a very loud Yellow Browed Warbler too. Unsure as to what it was we stopped to see if we could get on but only saw a few low flits. Somehow it evaded us and ended up calling from the pub car park...we chased after it, again without any success getting on it. Eventually we gave up and it was time to say goodbye and hit the road back to the west coast. Back at Base Camp the following morning we had a look on Spurn's Twitter feed to see a recording of a Western Bonelli's Warbler (can you see a sound???) taken at the very same place - cor blimey it didn't half sound like what we'd heard the day before...Had we missed the best bird of the trip by far (at Spurn) or was what we heard 'just' a Chiffchaff - sadly we'll never know but that nagging doubt still lingers.

A great time was had by all even if the birding was hard work at times. A massive thanks to LCV for organising the trip, even if the accommodation was dodgy at first, and doing the driving marathon and thanks to to IH for joining us - great to have most of the old bird race team back together.

Thanks to all the other birders, especially SE in the sseawatching hide, for all the info, directions, laughs and general birdy banter. And to the lad from St Helen's who let us look through his new Swazza NL Pure's - WOW We want them!!!!!!  Need to save a lorra lorra lorra lorra lorra pennies though.

In the end the Tawny Owl was our 97th bird of the trip, just couldn't quite nail that ton - maybe next time!

Where to next? An impromptu dart up north.

In the meantime let us know who's giving you the runaround in your outback.

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Spurn -Days 3 n 4

The Safari had the most awful b & b digs we've ever had at which we had to meet IH later that evening. How bad were they? We managed to stay three nights, the other guests didn't, one couple didn't return after going out for their evening meal and on the third night the second guest did a runner at 04.00 hours! Thankfully we were due to move to a self catering cottage for the rest of the week. Why was it so bad? Well no cooked breakfast for a start...well ok we can cope with that, plenty of cereals, toast n stuff on offer and we're up early for quick start anyway but some of the cereal packs had 'life' crawling around in them and the milk was 'only' 10 days out of date. Put-you-up beds from the 1950s had the potential to destroy  an iffy back but thankfully didn't. Add to that carpets that were stickier than a 1980s nightclub, very dubious washing arrangements, the creakiest stairs in the world that played a chord on the guitars on the little landing half way up as you passed. A plethora of cats and bowls of half eaten cat food scattered around added to the ambience. Beer in the local pub 100 yards down the street was very good though. The only slight silver lining is that it'll give us a talking point for years to come.

Anyway whinge over back to the birding. No IH has a bit of a reputation for weather at the moment, when he's been out with us on recent safaris the weather has invariably taken a turn for the worse and interrupted the wildlifing. Today was no exception although the 'worse' weather turned out to be 'too good' weather. Light winds, from the wrong direction, and clear skies meant all the decent birds from yesterday had cleared out over night. There was a bit of passage ging on but it seemed more likely to be British birds on the move rather than the hoped for incomers crossing the sea from Scandinavia. A few Redwings and Bramblings  were about but mostly it was Linnets, Reed Buntings and Skylarks on the move with smaller numbers of Meadow Pipits and Chaffinches. The highlight of the day came early with a Yellow Browed Warbler being caught, ringed then shown in the Church Field.

Always nice to see these little sprites. But would we see one in a more natural setting, they'd been noticeable by their absence so far this season. 

A trio of Pale Bellied Brent Geese were on the river at high tide but seawatching didn't trouble the notebook too much with just a couple of Arctic Skuas to add to the usual Red Throated Divers, Gannets and auks.

A walk up the canal gave nothing but a smattering of Reed Buntings, the usual Spurn cry of 'Wawazzat?' was invariably answered with 'just' another Reed Bunting...another birder did say you should never say 'just a', all birds are equal but some are more familiar than others. We did get a large raptor coming down river which turned out to be a Marsh Harrier rather than a Buzzard when it came close enough to get an ID on.

Nothing of note at the wetlands save for over 50 Mediterranean Gulls, great to see so many together. There were some big skeins of Pink Footed Geese moving overhead too and a second We had a second Marsh Harrier. But with little to keep our attention we moved up to Beacon Pond having another look at the farm yard Little Owl on the way. The hedge gave us our first Goldcrest of the trip, well in to the third day - shows how little was on the move normally at this time of year the place is hooching with them. Also in the hedge was this big spider's web. One for all things spider, AB, we thought so fired off a few pics to send to him for perusal later.

But on closer inspection you can easily see it's caterpillars inside, note the frass on the bottom right-hand corner too, so nothing to do with spiders at all. Beacon Pond was quiet again but that gave us the incentive to properly count the Little Grebes which after several attempts to come up with a consistent figure 12 was the final result including two that were sat out of the water on a clump of bankside vegetation, not something we see very often outside nesting season. They're easier and quicker to count if they didn't dive so much too. Some were catching fairly large fish, quite a bit bigger than the usual 3-Spined Stcklebacks we often see them bring to the surface.

A late afternoon seawatch gave us a Fulmar and a couple of Arctic Skuas but we missed all the action IH was describing as a Peregrine mounted a prolonged attack on a flock of waders coming in over the turbines. After nail-biting stoops, chases and last minute manouevering eventually all waders came in safe and sound and the Peregrine went hungry.  

After dinner we went for a look at the Short Eared Owls up at Sammy's Point. At the car park a Kingfisher darted past us probably coming off the river before flying over the fields then along the laneside dyke. It was almost dark before we got the briefest of views of just one of the Short Eared Owls

On the way back to the digs from hell a Short Tailed Vole scurried as fast as maybe across the road in front of us.

Friday dawned very foggy - we told you IH was a jinx with the weather. Seawatching was going to be a non-starter - we couldn't see the sea! So we had a look around the church yard and pub car park for any sign of overnight grounded migrants. The trees bushes and hedgerows were just about devoid of life but on the river from the pub there was a close in Razorbill just about visible about 30 yards out. Best 'bird' was a Grey Squirrel sat atop one of the roadside telegraph poles

LCV joined us as the fog began to lift and hopefully three pairs of eyes would find more birds than two. They didn't. The rest of the morning was pretty much birdless although a disappearing Merlin was a nice addition to the trip list as was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, as was a Cetti's Warbler at the pond by the gate. Quite a lot of more northern folk still didn't see these too often so it's still a bit of a star bird but not for us - won't say we're sick of the sight of them cos we don't see them that often but we do hear them all over the place now. We totally missed the Bearded Tits in the same area though. A lucky shot of the Merlin just about caught it in focus as it disappeared in to the wild grey yonder over the river. Unfortunately and unbeknown to us it came back a little later and ended up in the ringers' nets and was then shown to a small no doubt appreciative crowd.

 A big breakfast/brunch at the visitor centre had us watching the feeders, mostly Tree Sparrows this morning and a terrestrial visitor too if you watched closely - it didn't like to show itself out in the open.

After scoffing our meal it was back to the wetlands for more Mediterranean Gull action but still no return of the Caspian Gull. At least the Little Owl was still showing in its usual spot and we were able to put a family of newly arrived birders on to it. Up at Beacon Pond LCV's extra pair of eyes helped increase the Little Grebe count to 15. Had we missed three yesterday or were they new arrivals? A pair of Kestrels sat on the wires by the car park gave exceptional views through the bins.
Sadly IH was time limited and had to leave us shortly after lunch. After saying our goodbyes we wandered about the bushes not seeing much before heading out to Sammy's Point again. 

This time there were owls to be seen - probably because a bloke with a dog was walking very close to their roosting area. We had at least five out together, four of which were sat in the crop field away from the man and dog. Fortunately the owls made the most of the calm weather after he'd gone and started to hunt the rough fields. Like most of the assembled crowd we filled our boots, or at least our SD card.

We can report that on this occasion everyone was well behaved and stayed on the track overlooking the fields - there had been some numpties taking their cameras into the field and disturbing the owls - - absolutely no need they come close enough if you stand still and wait up by the fence.

And so ended another grand day out exploring what Spurn had to offer. Off to much more salubrious digs. Our species list for the trip is now up to 82 birds and 8 mammals.

Where to next? We'll finish our report shortly with perhaps some surprising (or possibly not) news.

In the meantime let us know who's quartering the fields in your outback

Tuesday 19 October 2021

Even the cattle carry binoculars!

The Safari is having a go at putting pen to keyboard for the first time in six months - where does time go??? It's not as if we haven't been out enjoying our fantastic wildlife either, we've been here there and everywhere armed with binoculars, cameras and even the telescope sometimes.

This latest missive is a brief account of our annual safari to Spurn on the Yorkshire coast - the 'other' coast - with me old mucker IH and then joined by LCV. However for the first couple of days we were on our own and under instruction to find something good and nail it down...Did we succeed?

Spurn has a well deserved reputation for being one of the best birding sites in the country, anything can (and often does) turn up at any time and could be just around the corner or in the bush you're approaching and it's not only rare birds, common birds can pass through in unfathomable numbers compered to what we are used to on the west coast. So  many birds that we noticed even the two Highland Cows in one of the fields looked like they had binocular cases round their necks.

First up on arrival early in the morning is to head to the Seawatching Hide. Somehow we were first up the lane and at first thought we had the place to ourselves - a case of 'Oh that doesn't happen often' and 'oooh errr are there no birds here?' Which was a possibility due to the long run of westerly autumn this place needs some easterlies.

Then we saw permanent incumbent SE's little red car parked up by the gate, at last a bit of normality restored. Joining him in the hide we learned we'd missed a Sooty Shearwater a few minutes earlier - darn that petrol chaos forcing us to stop in Hull to refill half a tank 'just in case'. We watched the sea for a good couple of hours seeing not a lot out of the ordinary, a steady passage of Red Throated Divers being the highlight, the one pictured below (don't laugh) easily being the nearest but still nowhere near 'near', while Gannets of all ages and unidentified auks passed mostly distant in both directions.

SE was hoping for, or even expecting, a bit of duck passage but it never really materialised with only dribs and drabs of Teal, Wigeon and Common Scoters moving through. The best birds were a lone Puffin that we picked up in the middle distance a couple of distant Arctic Skuas and a very close Manx Shearwater.

Having a look around the Warren it was evident very little was on the move apart from maybe a few Linnets, and Reed Buntings, the scrub was almost devoid of birds and apart from a few 'trilleping' small flocks of Skylarks passing overhead nothing much was in the air either. 

Time to hit the wetlands up the road. With the tide being out most of the waders had left for the adjacent mudflats but there was enough to keep us interested, a small flock of Black Tailed Godwits held a couple of Bar Tailed Godwits revealed by closer inspection through the 'scope. Particularly impressive were the numbers of Mediterranan Gulls of all plumages. There had been reports of a Caspian Gull in recent days and we eventually found it when a small number of Herring Gulls appeared. although it wasn't IT it was a different one, but one that had been at the site previously,  bearing a bright yellow Darvik ring XPEU.

Caspian Gull with four other gull species

We also saw the unringed, fully winged Chiloe Wigeon that's definitely come straight from the Caribean on the strong westerly winds of lat...NOT.

A walk up to Beacon Pond gave us a Whinchat foraging with three Wheatears in the field by the Listening Dish while the 'pond' itself had little of note other than a decent number of Little Grebes, we sort of lazily counted about 10 - don't think we've ever seen that many together before!

Another look from the hide at the wetlands gave us a Kestrel taking a Short Tailed Vole away for an afternoon snack and a brief view of a Short Eared Owl.

With not a lot else happening we headed back to the Seawatching Hide for an hour or so before calling it a day. 

There were loads (about 200 was the final count) of Little Gulls out by the wind turbines, twinkling like white confetti in the afternoon light - a long way off but still a beautiful sight. Much closer in not far offshore a mother Harbour Porpoise and her calf passed by.

All in all not a bad day, despite it being quite quiet for Spurn we tallied up 52 species of birds and four mammals

Our second day dawned and we were out early but this time there were other cars parked on the lane by the time we arrived. Straight to the Seawatching Hide again but before we got there at the cottage we learned we'd just missed stonking views of a Little no more than 30 seconds...dohhh if only we hadn't faffed around putting our waterproofs on!!! Others had seen it fly over ridge towards the sea, now the twitch was on - could it be relocated? Yes it could in the sheepless sheep field but again it flew before the small crowd could get anywhere near it. It landed on the cliff edge where we ever so cautiously stalked it to where we all thought it was, in a gully on the cliff face but peering over the edge ever so cautiously it wasn't to be found. It had landed on the cliff top on the far side of the gully and flew off with a sharp 'zik' so untickable views but at least we 'got it on call'. While up on the cliff top one of the other birders called out 'Hawfinch' looking round we had superb views of the big beaked brute and heard its distinctive almost metallic call as it circled the nearby bushes (the same ones the bunting had been in earlier) but it refused to land and headed off northwards.With small flocks of Redwings and Bramblings about the day was already a bit livelier than yesterday. What else was about?????

We opted to do what we had intended to do from the off, seawatch and it wasn't a bad session with the usual Gannets and auks supplemented by several each of Great and Arctic Skuas followed by a very close Pomarine Skua which although we tried to get a photo all we managed was empty sky...dohhh!!!

Then news broke of a Red Breasted Flycatcher just up the lane...well it would be rude not too! We stood with a small crowd getting the briefest views of flits deep in the shrubbery but nothing conclusive at all. After a while a Chiffchaff showed up just to confuse the matters - which flit was which? At least the Chiffchaff did the decent thing and sat out in the open occasionally, even posing on an exposed and isolated Hogweed stem occasionally the assembled photographers were praying the flycatcher would land. Eventually it did show fairly well through a 'hole' in the bush, unfortunately we were looking at the wrong hole in the right bush and consequently missed it. After another half an hour of seeing nothing but flits deep in the vegetation we gave up and went to the wetlands which were quiet. A Kestrel making short work of another hapless Short Tailed Vole was the highlight. A Little Owl in the messy farm yard across the field was pointed out to us, we'd have missed it without local knowledge but although it showed really well it was too far for a pic...reminder to self - - do more digiscoping!!!

A mooch up to the Listening Dish gave us no Whinchats today but a couple of Stonechats buzzed the fenceline of the sheep field. Beacon Pond gave us almost the same as yesterday with nothing new of note. Then the grapevine told us the flycatcher had been a little more showy so back we went and as luck would have it almost as soon as we arrived there it was - for just a microsecond longer than the camera needed to focus on it.

We hung around a good while longer but saw nothing other than the brief flits we'd seen on our first visit.

A visit to Sammy's Point was in order so we jumped in the car and had a drive round. Not much doing round the bushes just a few Redwings on the move but not stopping and a couple of Reed Buntings along the ditch side. A little disappointed we made our way back to the car park bumping into this very confiding Whinchat on the way. Stunning little birds aren't they.

Despite the rumours of double figure Short Eared Owls in the rough field we didn't see any probably a little too early in the day.
Driving back we saw a reasonable crowd stood along the lane where the flycatcher had been, so still there we reckoned. Going back along the 'inside path' we were beckoned forward by a couple sat ont he ground under a small Willow bush...'it's here but low down and there's a Redstart with it' they hushed. Like a Leopard stalking an antelope we got in to position and got some great views through the bins, the light was a bit iffy for the camera but we pointed it that way anyway.

In interactions it had with the Redstart the bigger Redstart always won chasing the flycatcher away from its favourite perches.
Again going for a quick seawatch a Spotted Flycatcher and Pied Flycatcher were pointed out to us in those bushes by the cottage. Sea watching gave us more views of the  distant flickering Little Gulls, a nice little half an hour before dinner time. During dinner heard news of an Olive Backed Pipit in a neighbouring garden so of fwe went full of hope as we'd missed one in the Observatory garden with LCV last year. But again it wasanother dip, we did see the bird but just a quick dart across the front of the hedge and back in to deep cover to roost - untickable views and no call this time. Things were looking up for the arrival of good friend IH. We drove to our digs where he would join us later that evening stopping for what turned out to be the only Brown Hare of the trip. Almost dark so not the best pic and it did bolt half way across the field when we lifted to boot of the car to get the camera out, not that it was that close to the road anyway...dohhh!!!

And so ended our second day.

Where to next? We'll tell you about our digs.

In the meantime let us know what's lurking in the shrubbery in your outback.