Wednesday 5 October 2022

Sojourn at Spurn

At the end of August, Birdguides was reporting some migrant birds in Spurn that I really wanted to see. David and I decided to go up for 3 days and stay at the Bird Observatory. The Observatory, the ‘Obs’ for short, is on the spot and is very reasonably priced. Spurn is a long, narrow peninsula at the mouth of the Humber river, East of Hull.  We booked for 3 nights from Tuesday 30 August 2022.

Showing Hull and the Humber. Inset area below

The Spurn Peninsula.

Before getting to Spurn, we decided to go for the Greater Sand Plover which had been at Redcar for several days. The plover was mobile, and could be anywhere at various points on a long stretch of beach. Luckily, it had been relocated recently, and the large group of birders on the beach left no doubt we had found the right place. This small wader originally hails from the Middle East. It was fairly distant but no problem with a good telescope. We watched it for 25-30 minutes before heading South again to Spurn.

Greater Sand Plover - here with a Black-headed Gull

On the way to Spurn, we passed over the North Yorkshire Moors. The high terrain looked good for Red Grouse, which I needed for my year list. We stopped and, within a few minutes, heard the call. Shortly afterwards, David spotted the grouse some distance away.

Back in the car, we continued South to Spurn.  A quick mini-supermarket shop was all that was needed before arriving at the obs. late afternoon.  We dropped everything off at the Obs., before heading down the road to where an Arctic Warbler had been seen.

Finding a small bird in the bushes is no easy task at the best of times, and we arrived in failing light. Birds are creatures of habit. We learned from those present that the Arctic Warbler came back to a particular tree, devoid of leaves inside. We sat down nearby to wait for it. About 20 minutes later we were rewarded with very close views of this small, unassuming passerine. Superficially, it looks like a Chiffchaff, but notice the large eye stripe.

Arctic Warbler

The following day, Wednesday 31st, with a strong Easterly wind blowing seabirds towards us, we did some sea watching. Now, I am not very experienced at sea watching, which involves looking out for distant seabirds and identifying them at long range. David is much more experienced at this. The best bird was a Pomarine Skua, but we saw several Arctic Skuas, a couple of Great Skuas, as well as more common birds such as Gannets, Kittiwakes and Gulls.

Photography of these birds is almost impossible. For that reason, there are no pictures of them.

You'll just have to take my word for it!  😏

Later, we went to the wetlands. We looked for two reported Red-necked Phalaropes, but didn’t see them. There was, however, a Citrine Wagtail which, amazingly, I managed to see, but David did not. He was looking the other way at the time!

After lunch I went looking for a Red-backed Shrike nearby, but David returned to look for the Citrine Wagtail.

On arrival at the Shrike, I caught the merest glimpse of it before it disappeared for the afternoon. Not very satisfying.

Returning to the wetlands, we caught up with the two Red-necked Phalaropes.

Red-necked Phalaropes

There was also an obligingly close Ruff in the water very near us.

Ruff. Ruffs vary in size quite a bit. This one is quite large.

Later on, we caught up with the Citrine Wagtail, and we also enjoyed reasonable views of a Wryneck. Wrynecks are, technically, a type of woodpecker, and they can usually be seen for only a few weeks in the autumn while on migration.


Wryneck. So called, as they can apparently turn their heads through quite an angle.

In the afternoon, we returned to the Discovery Centre, where we looked for the Red-backed Shrike for more than an hour, seeing it only briefly, just as we were leaving!

The only pub on the peninsula is less than 100 metres from the obs, and we enjoyed dinner there, me with a glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc!

On Thursday, 1 September, we decided to walk to the end of the long, narrow Spurn Peninsula. This is a round trip of over 8 miles, about a quarter of it on sand, which is quite hard going. The other 75% is on various bits of tarmac path. Here is a view of the start of the walk. You can just see the end of the spit above the red car beyond where the lighthouse is. You may just be able to see it in the photo. It's further than it looks!

The Spurn Peninsula

There is not one continuous path because the sea has eroded the spit in several places, causing the path to fall into the sea or onto the beach. Probably, in a few years, it will not be possible to walk to the end, as it will have been washed away.

While we were crossing the sandy section, we came across this young seal, which headed straight for the sea as we approached.


Young seal - a Grey Seal I think.

At the end of the peninsula there is a very small community. There is the RNLI lifeboat station, and also some communications buildings which appear to be staffed by those living there. Some of the houses are modern, and look very nice, but living there must be bleak indeed. It is just about possible to make the journey in a 4-wheel drive, but only 1 or 2 authorised vehicles are allowed.

At the very end, there is one of those mock signposts with the distances to various places, e.g. Sydney: 10,474 miles. Here I am, pointing aimlessly, and here is a selfie of David and me.

There were no especially rare bird sightings on this walk which was just a pleasant stroll lasting all morning.

On our return, we returned to the Wryneck for better views. We also heard of a very showy Wood Warbler nearby. I wasn't prepared for quite how obliging this bird was. It flitted around the tree, feeding, while 10 or 12 people stood very close nearby taking photos. Lovely!


Wood Warbler

Also nearby were several Whinchats. Here is one perched on a teasel.

Whinchat on a teasel

The next day we headed home. All in all, a very enjoyable trip.

Friday 26 August 2022

A Surfeit of Spotted Flycatchers

While out with David Campbell today looking for raptors (birds of prey), we came across at least a dozen Spotted Flycatchers. I saw four close together on the same fence. Good to see evidence of successful breeding this year.

Also today, I saw a Small Copper butterfly. 

Small Copper Butterfly

Spotted Flycatcher

Sunday 6 February 2022

Two days in the West

How better to deal with winter blues than to spend a couple of days away in the Westcountry watching birds? I went with Magnus Andersson, @Magnusphotog. 

Our main target was the very rare Baikal Teal, a vagrant from East Asia which was at Greylake RSPB, in Somerset. Arriving at lunchtime, we met several people who had been there since 9.30 and not seen it. We searched for 90 minutes without locating it. As we were leaving, we passed a gate and Magnus suggested one more scan. He found the teal sitting under a bush. Fantastic! It was misty and the light was awful, so forgive the poor photo.

Baikal Teal - a rare vagrant duck from East Asia. Perhaps from Lake Baikal!

According to (my) tradition, seeing a lifer (a bird you have never seen before) warrants a celebratory Tunnock's caramel wafer! Said reward was duly consumed.

Next up were all three types of egret - Great White Egret, Little Egret and Cattle Egret. 

Cattle Egret, left and Little Egret, right. Note, the Little has a thin black bill, whereas the Cattle Egret has a fatter, yellow bill.

Great White Egret. Much larger than the other two, with a longer neck, longer legs and a huge dagger-like bill. It was too close to get all of him in!

We then looked for a Tundra Bean Goose. We eventually found it with a flock of Canada Geese. 

Our last target of the day was the long-staying Penduline Tit at Weston-Super-Mare. We arrived 10 minutes too late and they had gone to roost. However we did see a wonderful starling murmuration at dusk, at which point it was getting dark so we headed for the Travelodge.

We had planned to go to WWT Slimbridge early the next morning but the frost and mist was persistent. We did find some Russian White-fronted Geese outside, before deciding to go first to a reservoir near Port Talbot to see the long-staying Pacific Diver!

(Russian) White-fronted Goose. Looks something like a Greylag, but note the white rim surrounding the bill and the dark stripes on the Belly.

At the Eglwys Nunydd Reservoir (don't ask me how to say that!) near Port Talbot, we managed to get onto the Pacific Diver. It looks a bit plain because it's not in breeding plumage, but it still looked majestic with its large bill and easy way of diving. 

Pacific Diver

We also saw a Slavonian Grebe, which was too distant to photograph, and some lovely Goldeneye in flight and displaying. I hadn't realised that the females had an orange tip to the bill until I started doing the photos.

Male Goldeneye. 

The male Goldeneye displays by throwing its head back over it's body. This male is displaying next to two Tufted Ducks!

A 'fly by' of two female Goldeneye. A beautiful sight.

After walking round the reservoir and meeting on the way Rob Jones, @GlamBirder, the original finder of the diver, we headed back to Slimbridge. We arrived late, leaving us little time to go round. However, we did manage to see the Bewick's Swans. The locally reared Cranes, the Snow Geese and the Ross's Goose we saw were all of questionable provenance. I put them on my list but some purists might not!

We decided to stay another night and set off towards the Travelodge.

The final day was very windy and cold. We didn't bother with the Penduline Tits, as we didn't think they would come out in such weather. We dipped (birdwatcher-speak meaning 'missed') the Kentish Plover at Burham-on-sea and the long-staying Ring Ouzel, but we did catch up with the Glossy Ibis at Catcott Lows Nature Reserve and then the Whooper Swans at Curry Moor. The photos are not good enough to show here (I have my standards!).

To end, here are some distant shots of the Common Cranes at Slimbridge WWT.

Common Cranes. These are very tall birds, much bigger than a Grey Heron!

In the main, we had a very enjoyable break.

Wednesday 26 January 2022

Glossy Ibis at Arundel WWT

 This Glossy Ibis was elusive at Arundel Wildlife and Wetlands Trust reserve on 24 January.

It was nowhere to be seen on my arrival, so I took some photos of a showy Water Rail.

A showy Water Rail at Arundel WWT

I had a sandwich and was about to leave. I decided to go back, and I'm glad I did. The Ibis flew in to the wader scrape as the light was fading.

Glossy Ibis. Arundel WWT

Monday 1 November 2021

Scilly Isles - October 2021

It's always a pleasure to go to the Scilly Isles and this year was no exception. As an oasis of peace and tranquillity from the bustle of the Southeast, the Isles of Scilly are ideal. The islands are quiet with very little traffic. (you are not allowed to take your own car). Whilst it is true that small aircraft come and go now and again, the general feel of the place is of peace and relaxation. 

There is also very little light pollution so after dark it is easy to see many more stars in the sky than in the South East of England. 

2021 is the 4th consecutive year that four of us have travelled for the autumn migration. We go there because birds from other parts of the northern hemisphere sometimes appear. There can be several reasons for this but generally it works like this: 

1   In the autumn many birds migrate, generally from the North to the South. They are on the move. 

2   Now if there happens to be a major storm, they may get blown off course.

3   They may be blown over the Atlantic. That's quite a long way, they will probably be exhausted and they take every possible opportunity to land. The Isles of Scilly are about 50 km West of Land's End. Just the sort of land that some exhausted birds will be looking for. 

Now, it follows that you really need a big storm to blow all the birds around in order to find some interesting vagrants. Unfortunately, there was no big storm prior to our visit this year so the number of unusual birds was definitely down. Sigh! You can't have everything. On the other hand, the weather was fabulous with sunshine every day for the whole week. Anyway, here are some of the birds that we saw, including some that are quite common and which most people will have seen or heard of. 

These are some of the waders we saw:
Curlew - the wader with probably the longest bill of all. 

Bar-tailed Godwit - another wader with along bill.

Black-tailed Godwit - similar to the Bar-tailed but the tail is black instead of barred. This is seen best when it is in flight and the tail is exposed.

Water Rail - a very shy bird. It spends most of the time in the reeds out of sight.

Sanderling - a small wader that races along in the tideline probing the sand and mud for small creatures.

Common Snipe - not as shy as the Water Rail, but so well camouflaged that it can easily be missed.

Jack Snipe - smaller than the common Snipe and rarer. While feeding, it bobs up and down all the time.

These are birds which migrate in Autumn, generally to Africa:

Snow Bunting - actually a winter visitor here from Scandinavia. so not going to Africa.

Pied Flycatcher - rather uncommon. Likes large dense forests to Breed.

Black Redstart - a lovely redstart which flicks its tail often while perched or on the ground.

Willow Warbler - a summer visitor with a lovely descending song.

Northern Wheatear - another summer visitor which breeds in high places in the North.


Some common and generally resident birds:

Blackbird - a nice male on some Hawthorn berries

Lesser Black-backed Gull - the bright yellow legs and mid-grey back are the features to watch for. The head is pure white in summer.

Moorhen - a common bird almost everywhere there is water. This is a juvenile. Adults have a lovely red and yellow bill.

Red-legged Partridge - an imported game bird but I like them.

Meadow Pipit - a common bird of meadows and here on the coast.

Robin - needs no introduction. 

Siskin - an attractive finch with much lemon.

Stonechat - a resident bird in most of the country. Likes to perch on the top of bushes and tall grasses.


One or two raptors which I managed to photograph:

Sparrowhawk- likes to dive into gardens while smaller birds are on the feeders.

Merlin - our smallest raptor, Not often seen. Very fast and manoeuvrable. Often chases swallows and other birds in flight.

We did see some rare vagrants as well. Here are the ones I photographed:

Serin - a small yellow finch. It really stood out from all the other small birds.

Red-backed Shrike - Extinct as a breeding bird in the UK, but is often seen on migration. Catches insects and small mammals and stores them impaled on barbed wires.

Red-rumped Swallow - Generally found in Southern Europe but resident in tropical Africa and Asia. Doesn't have much of a red rump in this photo.

Now, the up side of the dearth of rare birds was the glorious weather. Here is a typical scene of a palm tree and blue sea!

St Mary's in October looks like the Caribbean!

One day, we hired a four-seater electric golf buggy to get around St Mary's. With a top speed of 15mph, it was great fun. We were able to move around sites quickly and looking very superior as we passed other birdwatchers! this is what we had:

Now, I wouldn't want you to think we did nothing but look for birds! No, we had coffee at the Star Castle Hotel, had meals out some evenings and indulged in three cream teas! Sometimes we played on a swing. The others said I just never grew up, I don't know why. 
Warning! This video (by Magnus Andersson) contains scenes of unbridled fun!

As the weather was so good, the ferry crossings on the Scillonian III were very calm too.

My total bird count was about 99 for the week.