East Coast Magic, Part 2: Simply Spurn

So, after yesterday’s success at Flamborough and Bempton, it was time for day two of mine, Darragh’s and Ellis’s tour of the Holderness Coastline and today we’d round it all off with a visit to the BEST birding site on the UK mainland which has held host to an unprecedented amount of rarities over thee yeas: Masked Shrike, Asian Desert Warbler, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Great Snipe, Rock Thrush, Isabelline Wheatear & Sharp-tailed Sandpiper to name a few. With only 3 lifers gained from yesterday’s trip placing me on 265, I was hoping that a few f birds that were seen the day previous would stick around to get me to 270: Olive-backed Pipit, Rustic Bunting, Red-flanked Bluetail, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Little Bunting & yes you guessed it Great Grey Shrike were my target birds for my first ever trip to Spurn!

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The 2014 MASKED SHRIKE by Ellis Lucas

 On arrival just after the sun had lit up the autumn sky, we came to our first stop of the day to attempt to get our (my) first lifer of the day, Red-breasted Flycatcher. For this we went to Easington Cemetery were yesterday several RB Flys & Red-flanked Bluetail were found, yet as it was evident yesterday luck wasn’t on our side as both the Flycatchers & the Bluetail were nowhere to be found and despite there being a report of RB Fly that morning before we arrived there was no sign. It was a little let down but not all was lost when a member of the Obs came along and found the first Pallas’s Warbler of the day which was pretty nice to see, but it was nothing compared to yesterday’s monster at Flamborough.

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The best I could do with the poor lighting and distance

 Shortly afterwards it was then time to go attempt catching our second lifer of the day just down the road at Easington Gas Terminal, Olive-backed Pipit. If a three of us were to see this bird (praying on the way down that it would remain put), it would be a lifer for all 3 of us putting me on 266, Darragh on 294 and Ellis on 298. As luck would finally have it as we pulled up to the site their it was, Olive-backed Pipit just their 2 or 3 meters away from us strutting its stuff looking for a bite to eat without a care in the world about the 10 or so folk just on the other side of the fencing with cameras firing away. Ellis & I both thought that Pallas’s Warbler was going to be are little Siberian wonder of the trip, but the Olly was certainly doing its best to take first place as it gave the best views of any Pipit species I’d ever seen! We spent a good 5-10 minutes trying to out compete with one another for the best record shot before heading off to get the party started, Spurn.

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The first of over 100 images I took of the Olive-backed Pipit that day

 

Driving along Easington road past the Spurn Obs and past the renowned Crown & Anchor Pub, the car finally stopped, we stepped out and there we were Spurn, after 3 years of trying and trying to get up to this birding mecca I was finally at Spurn and finally lost my “Spurn Virginity”. For a newbie to the site such as I all I wanted to do was to head and see the sites which have given Spurn its reputation as the place to be during Migration: Sammy’s Point, The Warren, Canal Scrape, The Sea Watching Hide, Spurn Point & Kilnsea Wetlands, but this being my first ever visit to the site I had absolutely no idea were any of them where. So I had to wait for Darragh & Ellis, to get what they wanted before we headed off to explore Spurn to see what could be found; but for Ellis & Darragh there was only one bird on their mind, Rustic Bunting. For the past few days now there’d been a female roaming all over the place and since we’d missed the Eastern Crowned Warbler this would be their target bird for the trip, the one they wanted to nail, and for this it meant heading over to Church Field were it had been sighted earlier that day.

When we arrived as did 20 or so others who wanted to see the Rusty, we were hoping that it would be as simple as the Pipit or yesterday’s Arctic Warbler, yet as you can it wasn’t. It had been over an hour and there was no sign of the Rustic, but Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Redwings, Peregrine, Siskins, Lesser Redpolls, Pink-footed Geese, Song Thrush’s, Goldcrests, Robins, Blackbirds and Chiffchaffs coating all of the surrounding vegetation and filling the skies above. To be honest I’d rather spend the day watching all of the migrants flying in from Northern Europe and dropping like flies rather than go on the hunt for a rarity, but being at Spurn you could combine the both. Whilst I was rather happy watching Goldcrests, Robins and Chiffchaffs carpeting the ground Ellis and Darragh were still at work awaiting for the Rustic to appear; for those who twitch then you know what I mean when you can kinda tell whether or not your gonna see the bird before you arrive, you just get that sense of wheatear or not it’ll be there and I was getting the feeling of that the Rustic wasn’t going to show, and it wasn’t just me who was getting that feeling as well, Ellis was to.

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Goldcrest being ringed & released (Darragh Hudson)

It was then that news came through of a Yellow-browed Warbler showing particularly well in the Car Park of the Crown & Anchor, with not a single YBW in sight at Church Field and yet still no sign of the Rustic Ellis and I headed off for a stroll down to the Pub. On arrival we quickly picked up not 1 but 2 Yellow-browed Warblers as well as several Robins (Part of a 700+ fall!) and on the side of the paths down Goldcrests everywhere, literally everywhere as the bushes, trees and even the grass were alive with these 5g migrants. The arrival of autumn at Spurn must surely be on every birders bucket list.

Afterwards we headed back over to Darragh were there was still no sign of the Rustic 2-3hrs later, so me and Ellis then went off on another walk round the area and decided to head over to the Canal Scrape to see if any of the obliging Jack Snipe from yesterday had stayed put overnight. As on route we came across many more migrant birds: Redwing, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Redpoll sp, Chiffchaff and a single Goldcrest which didn’t appeared intimidated at all by the ever growing party of photographs all lined up along the hedgerow in which it was feeding in. For photographers such as Ellis’s & myself it was an opportunity not to be missed as it wasn’t very often that came across photogenic subjects in ideal lighting.

When we finally arrived at the Canal Hide as you could imagine that yes, there wasn’t a single Jacky in sight although pretty good views of Wigeon & Teal did make up for that in my view. After another disappointing turn out we then moved on to see what else was about, considering that this was Spurn there wasn’t much actually happening until we crossed paths with Spurns resident NGB Tim Jones who informed us that in the field to the left of where we were talking away, that he’d just found an Olive-backed Pipit and was off with a couple of polls to see if he could attempt to ring it, with the chance of seeing Olive-backed Pipit in the hand, we weren’t going to miss this opportunity for the world and the pair of us were off. But, whist we were in hot pursuit of Tim Ellis bumped into one of his birding mates who alerted us to the fact that over on the Spit a potential Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler had just been discovered and a ringing were off to catch it, now came the “difficult” decision: A. Do we head straight over to the point to see if we can see the bird and if we’re lucky the ringing group will catch it, meaning that we leave Darragh behind at Church’s Field, or B. Do we race back to where Church’s Field were Darragh might or might not be still waiting for the Rustic Bunting and waste valuable time that could be used in searching for the “PG Tips”. If you don’t know what “PG Tips” mean in birding terms, don’t worry I’ve only just found out recently, it stands for Pallas’s Gropper (PG) with the “Tips” referring to the white tips on the undertail coverts. In such times like this when we were aiming to get Ellis his 300th lifer we had to choose Option A, but we didn’t give him a bell to let him no but unfortunately there was no signal. So the race was on, Pallas’s Gropper here we come!

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Teal & Moorhen

After an adrenalin filled half an hour trek along the soft sand of the spit we’d finally arrived at the site were the “possible” PG Tips had been seen, the ringing crew already had a good 30mins on us and there were plenty of people surrounding the site but absolutely naff all about, but what was lacking in quality Spurn was making up with quantity as everywhere you looked there were Robins and Redwings. Mine and Elis’s estimates were that there were at least 200c Robin and 400c Redwing all along the entire 3 mile stretch of spit and well it defiantly was spectacle all in its self, yet Ellis & I found a problem…there was just Robins everywhere and unlike the Redwings they weren’t in flocks, “Oh what’s that on the path…a Robin”, “What’s that going along the shore line…a Robin”, “What’s just flown over…a Robin”, “Is that a Robin, yes”, as much as a sight it was there was literally nothing else around. Personally it reminded me of that scene from the Matrix when Smith turns everyone into copies of himself. Anyway we were walking down the Spit when as I laugh I said to Ellis, “Ooooo I wonder what that is”, as a bird just landed in a bush to the right of us thinking it was a Robin (Only had a glance of a small silhouette), but when I raised my camera and had a peep through the lens I couldn’t believe it…it wasn’t a Robin I was looking at, but infact am extremely beautiful male Common Redstart just four meters away from us sat right in the open. It was one of those “Oh ****” moments when you go into a mad  panic trying to get your camera setting right before firing away hoping to get the shot you want before the bird would depart. Much our delight the bird didn’t shoot off for a good five minutes until one of the Obs Land Rovers drove past and we lost track of the bird as it shot off over the Sand Dunes.

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What an absolute beauty

After a nice little surprise which boosted our mood after the down period which followed from the disappointment of the PG Tips we then came across yet another rather pleasant surprise, a female Roe Deer. It was Ellis who made the find and well it was an “erm ok” moment as its nothing which I think either of us expected to see today, especially on the Spit of all places! We spent about two minutes firing away with our cameras until this magnificent beast (Mammal Lifer!), decided to make its move and ran off into the vegetation leaving us both a look of confusion and pleasure. It was shortly afterwards when we were now on our way to Spurn Point after being informed of 2 Little Bunting which were showing rather well, lifer for both us (Ellis’s 299th!), that we can across our second Redstart of the day, but unlike the Common which we’d before this a lovely little dusky coloured Black Redstart which on a magnificent performance as it fed in a compound with both Wheatear & Robin. Thinking about it, it’s been a while since I last saw a Black Redstart in the UK as I’m just used to seeing loose flocks when I’m on trips to mainland Europe. All of these mini rounds of excitement was just what the Doctor ordered and hopefully the Little Bunts would be the way to round the day off.

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I’d have to say the most unexpected visitor of the trip

 

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No matter how many you see, you can never get bored when it comes to setting your eye upon a Black Redstart

Our long and now tiring walk was still going on until we finally (after many hours) reached Spurn Point, the edge of this icon spit, it was here we were informed that if we were go through the sand dunes between the “Green Beacon & the rusty wheel barrow” that we’d find the two bunting which would quite happily sit right out in the open without a care in world, seemed rather too good to be true considering what happened with every other we’d gone to see that day, but if you’re not in it you can’t win it. When arrived at the area of dune were these Buntings were meant to be and well at first there was nothing, but on closer inspection Redwings and Song Thrush’s were moving in the undergrowth, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrest were darting from perch to perch and most irritatingly there were also a few Reed Buntings knocking about and yes at one moment I was tricked by a female Reed Bunting. Yet after a solid half hour patrolling the stretch of beach Ellis & I were just about to call it a day when at last we flushed one of the Little Bunting from behind some shrub & Ellis had claimed his 299th UK lifer. We wanted to spend some more time going round the area hoping to get a photograph of one of the birds, but when we checked the time it was sadly time to make our move and return to mainland. As Ellis told me “in birding you have to take risks, sometimes these risk pay off and other occasions like today they don’t”.

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Despite a lack of cracking birds there however wasn’t a lack in cracking views such as this

 After another 3 mile trek we arrived at the mainland and regrouped with Darragh before heading to the Crown & Anchor Pub were a quick refreshment before it was time to say our goodies to Spurn and return to base after what has to be one of the best weekends birding I’ve ever had! But we still had 10mins spare so on our way back we paid a second visit to the Easington Olive-backed Pipit which showed as beautifully as it did first time round and then it was a final farewell.

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The flock of twitchers lining up for the OBP

 

Thank you so much both Darragh and his epic for such a brilliant weekend and for making me feel like one of their own, it was brilliant to meet up with so many other young birders:

Ellis Lucas: @EllistheFox –  Ellis’s Wildlife Walks

Harry Witt: @Polychloros  – Harry’s Wildlife

William Scott: @WillboneScott  – Will’s Bird Blog

And of course Darragh Hudson (@DarraghHudson) who I have to thank for asking me to spend the weekend with him.

Thanks for reading folk,

Elliot

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