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.