Spurn drift: Absolutely Arctic

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Whisked away from the Land of Nod into a fog-bound morning at Spurn by Er Neill, Tropical and Pete Allen at a godforsaken hour, but as ever, it was worth it.
Warm sun broke through to give us a hot day of excellent drift migrants – topped by a fine Arctic Warbler up at Driftwood Caravan Park at Kilnsea, but the supporting cast of self-found birdies was pretty good too:
6 Yellow Browed Warblers, 3 Red Breasted Flycatchers, 1 Barred Warbler, 4 Wheatear, 5 Yellow Wagtail, 1 Firecrest, 12 Redpoll, Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Grey Wagtail, Blackbirds, Redwing, Pink Feet, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Mipits, 2 Stonechat and about 25 Goldcrests.
It was ominously quiet when we stumbled through Easington Churchyard and Sammy’s Point at 08.35am, with just a steady Reed Bunting passage for company (22+), curious Roe Deers and horses on quad bikes (nope that last bit probably didn’t happen).
But as the sun broke through, the first Yellow Browed Warbler of the day popped out of the vegetation beside the Humber before hitting the hawthorns and calling like crazy….hard to digiscope though:

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A short distance away a typically lethargic Barred Warbler was bumbling about just beside the small car park.

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We moved up to Spurn proper to a mist-shrouded Beacon Lane, where squadrons of Blackbirds were fresh in and gorging on berries, Yellow Wags, Wheatears and Mipits were on the fields and a fine Firecrest was occasionally showing off that glorious plumage along the caravan site boundary.
Sexier than a Yellow Browed?
I think so, but all I could manage digiscoping was a come-hither flash of bronze shoulder.

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We managed to find two Red Breasted Flycatchers as we walked the lane, but neither came particularly close to us.
Great little hyperactive sprites these.

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Another was up at the Canal Zone, with Redstarts and more Yellow Broweds around the Warren and an astonishing bank of fog rolling down the North Sea, promising more drift action.
A Brimstone butterfly tottered by in the sun.

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It was an odd day – passage was hardly heavy, yet good birds kept turning up steadily throughout the session…classic drift, classic Spurn.
Wasn’t that surprised when we heard an Arctic Warbler was at the Driftwood Caravan Park in Kilnsea.
We walked past yet another calling Yellow Browed Warbler in the front garden to admire the stunning lightning strike supercilium of the giant Arctic Warbler (crappy pic at the top of the entry).
The bird performed very well in front of a sizeable Spurn twitch.

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A big bruiser of a phyllosc, it’s been years since I saw one, so all was peachy as we headed back up the road, and there was a spring in our step, however we were somehow diverted into the Crown and Anchor, where clouds of Migrant Hawkers cruised above our pints in the garden, and more Yellow Broweds called as my first Redwing of the autumn whizzed out of the elderberry.

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Another hugely enjoyable day at Spurn – best birding site on the mainland? I think so.
We gave it till 4pm, checking Beacon Lane one last time, where the Red Breasted Fly and Firecrest were still performing, then Neill got behind the wheel and we headed into the sinking sun and the westbound M62.
Thanks all, a thoroughly spiffing day out – again.

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Can’t ignore them anymore…

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I confess I’ve been turning something of a blind eye to the Pink Feet for the last week or so – small groups here and there on the mosses, the odd party overhead in the evening – but there was no ignoring them this afternoon as I worked in the garden at Dempsey Towers.
A steady stream of birds, at least a thousand or so, were moving low in the eastern sky over Plex, calling away as they drifted south, presumably towards the roost on the Alt estuary.
Undeniably evocative (the sound is in the blood of anyone from round here after all), but it’s what they’re evocative of that’s the problem this year – not sure I’m ready for another grey, cold winter just yet.
Clearly other birds apart from geeses on the move today – Goldcrests and Jays in the garden, with Mipits and Skylarks calling overhead.
Speckled Woods, Red Admiral, Large White and Common Darter out in the sun too.

Everything’s shearing.

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With a good fresh south westerly f4-6 this morning, a quick look off the dunes at Ainsdale was only sensible as the “low” high tide started falling back and before too much sun hit the waves.
Nothing startling, but there was a steady movement of Gannets (the distant youngsters were mainly shearing away impersonating large shearwaters) and quite a few Razorbills were tazzing past.

Ainsdale 0830-0900:

Razorbill 17
Guillemot 2
Gannet 59
Red Throated Diver 2
Great Crested Grebe 1
Sandwich Tern 8
Common Scoter 400+

Arctic Skua 1 dark phase (later on)

The Arctic Skua was nice – a fine dark phase bird that swept in over the sands at Ainsdale later in the morning heading north (about 11am).
Having scared the pants off me at first by shearing along much further out, it was a relief to see those primary flashes.
The cold autumn sun was catching the underside of the wings of the Common Scoters as they whizzed by too, giving all the males a silvery underwing.
Our Irish seawatching friends call out Common Scoters as “Black Puddings” (male) and “White Puddings” (female) respectively as they pass County Clare’s wild Atlantic coast, which is a great name for ’em – I think we may get too much of a “pudding avalanche” for it to catch on here though.
Meanwhile the WWT were tweeting away earlier about large departures of Pink Feet from Iceland this morning, so I guess it’s gonna feel a whole lot more wintry soon (and Dick Van Dyke the chimney sweep was at Dempsey Towers today, which is as sure a sign as any that the smart money should be heading south, Pechoras or Acadians regardless).

Another rummage at Ravenmeols

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Once the Southport Airshow Chinook had “wompa-wompa-wompa-ed” the fillings out of the back teeth of the Migrant Hawkers at Dempsey Towers and the sun started to break through, I headed down to Range Lane for a rummage in the bushes and away from the aviation, to see if there was much passage early this afternoon.
Clearly Goldcrests were on the move, with at least 11 in the bushes around the old Operation Starfish building (did anyone else see one – a Goldcrest, not a Starfish – today? there’s no charge for using the comments box y’know), and single Redpoll and Yellow Wagtail went south overhead.
Single Whinchat, with just one Stonechat in the fields at the end of Range Lane, 6-7 Chiffchaffs (2 in full song), 1 Blackcap, 8 Robins, titmice and Chaffinches.
Got back to Ainsdale at about 4pm as the big noisy metal things were still tearing holes in the blue sky, and there were Goldcrest calling away in our garden too.
Top marks to one of the Common Buzzards perched up on the poles leading down to Marsh Farm today.
The raptor was quickly surrounded by a gang of about 12 squawking and chattering Magpies, Jackdaws and Carrion Crows.
The buzzard didn’t budge, it merely lifted its tail and fired a foul jet of poop – scoring a direct hit on a Magpie that got too close…superb.

Seawatch interruptus

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The freshening westerly saw me giving an Ainsdale seawatch a punt at lunchtime today (1240-1330), but it was mighty sunny which always makes things harder here.
It was predictably quiet in terms of passage, with 70-100 Sandwich Terns almost certainly local traffic, just a handful of Gannets, two auk sp and a Great Crested Grebe north.
Hard to say how many Common Scoter were offshore in the swell, but I’d guess at least 1,000 birds already, stretching down towards Freshfield and bobbing about as they slept.
I was joined by Pete Kinsella, and as we chatted a fine young Peregrine came cruising over the frontal dune ridge, only seeing us at the last second and shearing off.
Good close views – I even managed these two dodgy point and press shots with me box brownie.

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Blurry, but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp (-ened) stick based on my usual standard.
Krusty the Caspian Gull still about and still hobbled, but far fewer hirundines on the move today.

Spurn: Altogether a horse of a different colour.

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Er Neill picked me up at stupid o’clock this morning and with Mike Stocker and Trops we whizzed cross-country to spend the day at Spurn, enjoying warm, sunny conditions and a balmy south easterly – no mega rares, but a good procession of common migrants.
Before we got there though we called in at Sunk Island to dip the long staying Black Stork, and with commendable consistency we managed the same trick on the way out in the late afternoon (none of us needed it, so it wasn’t a big problem, more a minor irritation).
First stop in the a.m. was Sammy’s Point, where squadrons of hirundines and Mipits were moving through, with alba, Grey and Yellow Wagtails, Siskin, Redpoll, and a single calling Lapland Bunting.
As Whimbrel and Greenshank called away on the Humber mud, we watched Redstarts, Pied Flys, Willow Warblers and Whinchats zipping about the scrub feeding away, while a Short Eared Owl patrolled after a spot of brekkie.

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From there we headed down to the Crown and Anchor to walk the area around Beacon Lane, the Church Field (we’re all “Friends of Spurn” now baby), the Triangle and Canal Zone.
More Whinchats, Redstarts and Spot Flys, with Kingfisher, Brent Geese, Redpoll, Siskin, Goldcrest, sherbet dip young Willow Warblers and Lesser Whitethroat.

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Red Admirals, Speckled Woods and Migrant Hawkers galore, and just as thoughts were veering towards that dangerous “a quick beer wouldn’t hurt would it?” territory, Alan Wright and David Nickeas (two more west coast commuters on the migration express today) kindly called us to let us know about a fine young male Red Backed Shrike down at Kilnsea.
Shrike beats pints, and we had good views of the critter as it hunted one of the gardens before slipping out of sight.

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Better views than my crappy “into the light” digiscoping, that’s for sure.
Willow Warblers, Pied and Spotted Flys in the garden too, before it was time to dip the Black Stork again and then head for home.
Always a pleasure to bird Spurn – especially when things are moving.
Thanks to Neill for the drive and everyone else for the laughs and company.
Autumnal…

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Knapweed a go go

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The good ship Haskayne Cutting was still stuffed to the gunnels with Knapweed this afternoon, much to the delight of the bee and hoverfly nation, Red Admiral and Holly Blue, and given the tasty mix of fruiting bushes and scrub it very much looks “the place most likely to”, but then most places do at this time of year.
Quiet today though, with just two or three Chiffchaffs amongst the usual Yellowhammers, Blackbirds and finches.

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Plex was pretty slow too, just one Wheatear, although large numbers of hirundines were hawking high over the stubble at a few points.
A quiet afternoon was redeemed by a superb adult male Marsh Harrier which cut through with attendant Carrion Crows – I lost it to view after a bit of dodgy didgy-silhouette-scoping, as it moved out over Downholland Moss.
Quiet during the week on the coast too, which was disappointing after the mega mini-fall up at Lytham, although two Greater ‘Peckers passed down the frontal dunes at Ainsdale yesterday morning, and Curlew numbers are on the up.
Plenty of Common Darter and Migrant Hawkers.
Stonechats here and there and alba wags going through, while for the botanically-fixated, Field Gentians are putting on a good display in the Ainsdale frontal dunes, and Autumn Gentian is present in smaller numbers up at Birkdale.

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Hmm, too many petals and not enough feathers for September – time for a change of tactics…

Rummagin’ troosers on.

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Can’t beat a hot September afternoon seeing what’s moving through the coastal scrub.
We all have our favourite spots – mine is a sheltered area of Black Poplar, Hawthorn and Elderberry near the end of Range Lane, Formby.
With Cabin Hill to your back and Migrant Hawkers exuding effortless cool overhead, it’s a great place to spend an autumn hour or two watching what comes out of the foliage.
Nothing startling today, but 8-10 Chiffchaff, 1 male Blackcap, 3 Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Treecreeper and an assortment of Long Tailed, Great and Blue Tits, with Chaffinches rattling through the drying leaves, kept me looking, until a male Sprawk tazzed through and put an end to the afternoon’s entertainment.

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On the way down, the gorse and ragworty field at the end of Range Lane held the hyperactive and fully-fledged Stonechat family (4-5 birds), 3 Whitethroat and a nice, albeit distant Whinchat (squint hard at the pic above and you may be able to see it).
4 Common Buzzard mewling and thermalling over Cabin Hill.
Butterflies in the hot sun included Peacock, Red Admiral, Large White, Common Blue and Speckled Wood.

A hobbled gull and wooden waders

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Poor old Krusty the Caspian Gull was still looking in a bit of a state today, with his long legs all tangled up, but at least he came over to have a look at our event featuring “The Flock”.
600+ carved and individually painted waders – you can see a gallery from the event at facebook.com/seftoncoast
Managed to attract a few hundred people too, which was good on World Shorebird Day

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Must see if something can be done to help poor Krusty…
After work I nipped up to Marshside but the wind was blowing cold and the site was quiet, despite growing numbers of Wigeon, Teal, Snipe and Blackwits.
Hirundines never looked so miserable.

Back from the edge of the world

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With the last of the salt finally washed off my optics, and detox beginning to kick in, it’s time to reflect on another superb visit to the Bridges of Ross in County Clare, my fourth autumn pilgrimage to the seawatching hotspot in the west of Ireland in five years.
Joining me to face the Guinnessunami this time round were Trops, Bazzo and Er Neill, and of course all our brilliant Irish friends – Niall, Des, Rachel, Vic, Neil, Brian, Maureen et al – who made even the slowest seawatching day a pleasure.
As usual we stayed at the Lighthouse Inn at Kilbaha, where this year Maureen had laid on a Great Northern Diver in the bay across the road just for us.

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I picked the lads up on Thursday last week then drove down to Anglesey for the 0230 boat to Dublin, before ragging cross country to County Clare on Friday morning.
While it wasn’t our most successful stay at the Bridges seawatching-wise (thanks to the glaring lack of raging hooleys), our tallies would still make for red letter days this side of the water, AND we were treated to Bottle Nosed and Common Dolphins, Minke Whale and Ocean Sunfish during four days of staring at the waves.
So, here’s what I saw during marvellous day long sessions perched above the Atlantic…

28.8.15, Bridges of Ross, 1030-1815;
Heavy rain, SWly-Wly f3-4, sun later:

Manx Shearwater 3,500+
Gannet loads
Fulmar loads (inc 1 blue phase bird)
Arctic Skua 10
Arctic Tern 17
Storm Petrel 1
Razorbill loads
Kittiwake 28
Bonxie 5
Black Tern 1
Grey Phalarope 1
Balearic Shearwater 1
Sooty Shearwater 3
Pomarine Skua 2
Sandwich Tern 13
Red Throated Diver 1
plus Wheatear, Whimbrel, Raven, Chough, Rock Pipit, Hooded Crow etc

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29.8.15, Bridges of Ross, 0710-1000, 1134-1900;
SWly 3-4, sunny spells, showers:

Arctic Skua 23
Whimbrel 49
Gannet bazillions
Fulmar loads
Manx Shearwater 350+
Sooty Shearwater 2
Razorbill loads
Bonxie 10
Common Scoter 9
Pomarine Skua 1
Kittiwake 52
Sandwich Tern 14
Black Tern 5
Leach’s Petrel 2
Storm Petrel 1
plus Great Northern Diver in the bay at Kilbaha, Mipits, Chough and Wheatear etc

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30.8.15, Bridges of Ross, 0710-1000, 1114-1900;
Very light SWly, high cloud, calm:

BHG 2
Bonxie 3
Gannet loads
Fulmar loads
Manx Shearwater 1,650+
LBB 2
Sooty Shearwater 6
Kittiwake 10
Razorbill loads
Sandwich Tern 39
Arctic Skua 22
Common Scoter 13
Storm Petrel 1
Red Throated Diver 1
Black Tern 3
Balearic Shearwater 1
Common Gull 1
Pomarine Skua 1
plus Chough, Merlin, Green Sandpiper, Swallow, Rock Pipit, Raven, Wheatear, Rock Dove-ish etc

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On Monday (31.8.15) conditions were way too benign for a seawatch early doors, so we checked around the gardens in Kilbaha, heading out to Loop Head and the Fodry, where the remnants of Irish Marsh Orchid, bizarrely late flowering Bog Pimpernel and confusing damselflies were the order of the day.
Chiffchaff, Grey Wags and a Spotted Fly hinted at migration, but this amazing place (Canada Warbler, Red Eyed Vireo, Yellowthroat and Yellow Rumped Warbler have all rocked up here over the years) was quiet today.
With the wind freshening we tried a late afternoon seawatch, more in hope than expectation.

31.8.15, Bridges of Ross, 1500-1800;
N, NWly f3-4, bright:

Common Scoter 6
Gannet loads
Fulmar loads
Razorbill loads
LBB 3
Manx Shearwater 60+
Arctic Skua 8
Kittiwake 14
Sandwich Tern 2
Bonxie 1

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With “restraint” our keyword these days, we were all tucked up in bed by 8.30pm that night, fresh, ready and bright-eyed for the journey home on Tuesday, 1.9.15.
Well, sort of.
Actually not really, but what goes on tour, stays on tour.
Thanks again to Niall, Des and everyone else for another memorable trip…see you all again next year.

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