East Coast Magic, Part 1: Warblers Galore

As I’m sure you’re all aware that earlier in the month something called an Eastern Crowned Warbler found its way over to the East Coast of Yorkshire at the magnificent RSPB Bempton Cliffs. It was a MEGA and a bird which I was extremely keen to have on my Life List, but money low and personally wanting to take a break from twitching to focus on College work amongst other things I decided that I’d give it this bird a pass, knowing that plenty of my other young birding friends had already arranged to get the following weekend. As the week slowly progressed everything seemed pretty normal, but then all of that changed on the Thursday when I received a message Yorkshire pal Darragh Hudson saying that due to a last minute cancellation a young birder who was meant to be going with him for the ECW “unfortunately” couldn’t make it. With now room for another YB he asked if I’d like to go with him and fellow young Yorkshire birder Ellis Lucas off to Bempton for the ECW. With nothing planned for this weekend and mum giving me the go ahead it was just a simple case of accepting his generous offer and after finishing College on the Friday getting the train up to his for the night ready to set off for tomorrow’s big twitch.


Harry Witt’s stunning shot of the Eastern Crowned Warbler before it left Bempton


 After what can only be described as an eye opening night out with Darragh (Involved a pub, man in drag and a run…)we went off to collect Mr Lucas, first time we’ve actually met, and set off on our way to Flamborough with Darragh’s legendry Auntie Ginette  being our shofar for the day. Unfortunately on the Friday there’d been no sign of the Warbler and for me & Ellis this a huge blow as it was our primary target lifer for the weekend as we were both aiming to hit our end of year targets for our UK Life Lists: Ellis with 300 and myself on 270. But there were still plenty of potential lifers along the Holderness Coastline (GCSE Geography coming in handy there), and besides we’d be birding with fellow young birders so all was good.

 After arriving at Flamborough head we first went off to get our first lifer for the trip, Dusky Warbler! To go in search of this eastern wonder we had to go off to a private site and thankfully Ellis had directions. When we eventually found the area in which the Dusky Warbler was it was pretty small (25mX10m) so we thought that grant there’s a fair bit of cover, but how hard can it be? Well we found out, the hard way! After bumping into several other folk who were about looking for it and made humours loops round the small pond were it was at their was no sign of the bird, but myself and Darragh did hear it briefly on a few occasions. After an hour of basically nothing apart from a brief views of 2 Yellow-browed Warbler which Me and Ellis picked up on, we were then joined by another young Yorkshire birder by the name of Harry Witt who’d be joining us for the day.


Yellow-browed Warbler by Ellis Lucas

 With now 4 of us all looking for the bird along with 2 other birders who’d joined in it wasn’t long till it was finally pinned down, yet by the time we’d arrived guess what…it’d flown, not something we were particular pleased about. But thankfully seconds afterwards it was quickly relocated and we all managed to get just a millisecond glance of it before it darted back into the undergrowth. For some this would be enough for them to tick it, it wasn’t for us; all 4 of us wanted much clearer views of the bird or at least a record shot, but after about another half hour of chasing it around no one managed to get a record shot but we all managed a few more slightly longer observations of the bird before we decided that it was time to head off and go in search of more lifers.


Yellowhammer showed very well on a pool with an assorted flock of Linnet & Goldfinch

 Next off it was a short trip over to Flamborough Lighthouse were we’d have stroll along the cliff tops over towards RSPB Bempton Cliffs where we were hoping to get Bluethroat, Red-breasted Flycatcher & a rather interesting “Arctic Warbler”. As we were on our little stroll along the top of the stunning Chalk cliff we made a quick little stop over to the North Marsh, where we were hoping to catch sight of the resident Taiga Bean Goose that had been lingering been in the area for the past couple of weeks. For both Ellis & Harry it was no big deal as they’d already seen Bean Geese before, yet for me and Darragh it was still a bird we still needed nailing; Darragh had already dipped this very bird twice already and he wasn’t going to let it slip through his figures a 3rd time! The Goose had been reported just 5 minutes before we reached the site and after seeing a showy male Yellowhammer & a smart little Wheatear we had our hopes pretty as we thought it was going to be one of those days that you just rock up and their it is, no effort what’s so ever…well all 4 of us can safely say that the day was anything like that, we had to work hard, very hard.

Just as we finally came to the North Marsh a huge assorted flock of Pink-footed, “Bean” and Greylag Geese shot off into the ait as they were somehow flushed by a Kestrel and split up in several flocks which then headed off in all different direction around the headland, as you can imagine our faces all had the same for god sake expression on. Thankfully a flock containing roughly half of the original flock had landed not so far away from us in a nearby field, so after consulting with our “Guide” i.e. Darragh we headed off to see if we could get a clear view in order to scan. We did eventually find an area to go and scan the flock from several vantage points yet after spending a good 20 minutes with 8 eyes looking at each and every individual goose in the field we had absolutely nothing apart from Pink-footed Geese, Greylag Geese and a Barnacle Goose…exciting 🙂


So that’s Pink-footed and Greylag Goose but no Bean Goose in sight

 With absolutely no sign of our Beany with 2 extra birders coming over to assist us and no luck, it was then time to move on and go in search of for yet another potential lifer further down the road at Thornwick, Great Grey Shrike. GGS is a bird I’ve been trying to nail down for the past 2 years along with that I’m a huge fan of Shrikes and for me the Great Grey is the daddy of all Shrikes, so when news broke out of not one but TWO birds in the Thornwick area on Friday, I was positive that I was finally going to nail the Great Grey Shrike once and for all. But much to my heart break there wasn’t a single Shrike in sight when we arrived, was rather sad to be honest; but Ellis quickly swooped all 3 of us up and alerted us to a Pallas’s Warbler which was literally just a hedgerow away. When we finally arrived at the site were the Pallas’s was supposed to be we were suddenly greeted with a few fleeting glances of the bird before it darted into the undergrowth and the wait for its reappearance began. With a 15 meter hedge row that was teeming with Goldcrest and Yellow-browed Warblers it was certainly going to be an interesting wait. Over 10 minutes had gone by when suddenly the word “Pallas’s” was mumbled by a small group of unwary birders, a few seconds passed when it was confirmed, the Pallas’s was back in action, all photographs were dashing over (whilst keeping a respectable distance), set themselves up and firing began.

Ellis and I were shoulder to shoulder trying our best to track the bird as it jolted about in the Sycamore Tree, we were struggling to keep track of the bird through our lens as in a split second it shoot from the open sycamore down into the dense undergrowth, were our only way of tracking was by looking for its snow white underparts which was key for not confusing it with the Goldcrest also knocking about in the undergrowth. But then the moment which we’d be waiting for happened, just for a couple of priceless seconds the Pallas’s Warbler came out onto one the outer branches of the Sycamore and showed beautifully, it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen, you could hear the gasps coming from the surrounding folk and evening looking at Ellis you could see that he was transfixed by the moment. But as I say the moment was short lived and the bird disappeared back into the vegetation leaving many folk a big grin on their faces knowing that they’d just captures one of Mother Nature’s finest moments.


The shot that we were all hoping for…and I got!

It was then that we headed back over to the coastal path to continue our trek over towards Bempton Cliffs. The walk was quiet and rather dull to be honest, but then the rather quark silence was finally broke when a disruptive roar came from Mr Hudson as news had just come through on Bird Guides of an immature BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS making its way north from Scolt Head Island in Norfolk; when Darragh alerted us to why he’d made the tremendous roar of sheer joy, he then mentioned to us that the bird was heading north (TOWARDS US!) and then we were all over the moon as we worked out that it should take 2-3 hours for it to reach Bempton. This new boost of adrenalin was what we needed to keep the groups moral high as for the past half hour Darragh, Ellis, Harry & I were probably the dullest people on the planet right now. Although saying that I was rather happy to see my Gannet’s again, as for those who read my post on my last trip to Flamborough “A MEGA Weekend & MEGA Birds”, then you would have remembered that whilst on the trip I was captivated by everything and anything Gannet.


Gannet’s making a flyby, but sadly no Albatross!

 After another good half hour of walking along the coastal path with the smell of Seabirds in the air, Gannet’s soaring over at head height and keeping a constant eye on the sea in case the Albatross made its way past, we finally reached our destination RSPB Bempton Cliffs. In my view it’s one of the RSPB’s top reserves which is up there with Minsmere, Arne, Titchwell and of course Burton Mere Wetlands. Arriving on site we were greeted by Reserve Volunteer, fellow young Yorkshire birder and good friend William Scott who’d been working on the reserve all day so gave us a full briefing of what had been seen on the reserve earlier that day; Red-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler, Ring Ouzel, Bluethroat and the bird which we came here to witness, “Arctic” Warbler. The reason why I’ve been going on about this rather peculiar warbler isn’t because it was a lifer, but because after spending almost a week on the reserve it still didn’t have a 100% positive ID; at first glance it was assumed to be a typical bog standard Arctic Warbler, yet on closer inspection its call sounded to be a marginally Greenish (A close relative of Arctic), and it showed some features of Greenish Warbler. It stumped a fair few people with all sorts of birds being thrown into the equation including hybrid, Green Warbler and most excitingly the possibility of it being the extreme eastern race of Arctic Warbler making it a UK first!


Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) passing underneath the viewing point were the Bluethroat showed.

 All of this was extremely exciting to all of us, but yet when we arrived at Bempton it was fair to say there was little to light left at all to photograph bird on arrival; needless to say that Ellis and I did attempt to get few record shots with only myself being marginally successful at the seemingly impossible task. Below is my shot of the bird as it was sulking in the undergrowth and well here’s the setting which I had to put my camera to get this literally “record shot” of the bird before we lost it for the night.


The Arctic Warbler by William Scott which showed extremely well in the morning

 So that was now 2 lifers today: Dusky & Arctic Warbler (Whilst writing this post ID has been confirmed by East Yorkshire County recorder as Arctic), but could I get a third with just an hour of day light left? Well as you may recall when we arrived at the reserve Will had given us a full run through of birds seen at the reserve that day and out of that list there were 2 more lifers for me out there: Red-breasted Flycatcher & Bluethroat. After nailing the Arctic Warbler Will took me down to one of the platforms were the Bluethroat had been seen throughout the day and as luck would have it when we came to spot there it, my first ever Bluethroat, couldn’t help but smile. Even better and much to my delight I managed a pretty decent shot of the bird before it headed back into the vegetation, was made up to say the least. But then the rain cloud which we’d been watching come ever so closer rolling in had finally caught up with us and it was soon time to say our farewells to William Scott and Harry Witt before we went our separate ways.

So that’s part one done and dust guys, thanks for reading and Part 2 “Simply Spurn”, will be on its way shortly.


Thanks to the following for a brilliant day out for allowing me to use their in this post:

Darragh Hudson: @DarraghHudson

Ellis Lucas: @ellisthanfox Ellis’s Wildlife Walks

Harry Witt: @polychloros Harry’s Wildlife

William Scott: @WillboneScott Will’s Bird Blog


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