As the cloudbase darkened and started to look angry they began to appear – black specks way out on the horizon, but hurtling towards us at astonishing speed, then screaming over our heads and gone gone gone.
Sometimes the best summer days have cloud and rain, or they do at Spurn, where Neill Hunt and I enjoyed a textbook movement of non-breeding Common Swifts on Thursday.
The devil birds scorched down the east coast ahead of heavy showers, before looping back over the North Sea.
Between 4 and 5,000 of them passed counters at “Numpties” during the course of the day, and we were lucky to witness a good proportion of the spectacle.
Neill drove us over on Wednesday evening and based at the Hunt Hacienda at Sandy Beaches caravan park, we birded the place until late on Friday afternoon.
The Swift passage was a high point, but even at this time of year the place has plenty of other marvellous stuff…
There were large numbers of Painted Ladies about, most very worn, with Red Admiral, Small Heath and Common Blues, and plenty of fledging Whitethroats, singing Skylarks, Marsh Harriers, and on Thursday up at Kilnsea Wetlands a Little Gull amongst the roosting BHGs, LBBs and Herring Gulls.
I was sure I had a female Garganey out on the water there but all the ducks scattered before I could get others on it.
We picked up Hobby twice as they danced over the peninsula before settling down for afternoon with the hard core at Numpties on Thursday, where clickers were overheating as pulses of Swifts rocketed through.
The radio crackled in the summer drowse….”1,500 Swifts over Beacon Ponds”…
We may have missed the morning’s Pallid Swift, but it was still exciting, and as we scanned to the north west I ‘scoped a rakish harrier flapping down the Humber in the wibbly wobbly afternoon haze.
It never came that close, but the ringtail seemed to be a Montagu’s – Spurn was delivering the goods again.
Surprisingly after a de rigueur lunchtime snifter at the Crown and Anchor five Whimbrel, Barwits, Knot and Grey Plover were back on the Humber mud already – non-breeders like the dashing Swifts presumably.
Roe Deer were everywhere.
We’d just about earned our Swift badges (I lost mine again by nodding off at my post and snoring fit to register on the Richter scale the next day – damn you Timothy Taylor!) and were stumbling back to the car on Thursday evening when I heard a dry rattling call.
Seconds after a tiny female Serin, very pale in the hard sun, but still with a bright yellow rump, launched itself off a hawthorn by Pallas’s Pond, and bounded past us, calling several times before it disappeared over the Warren at 6.25pm.
Back at the caravan the radio crackled into life again… “Six Spoonbill over Beacon Ponds”… and shortly afterwards we were treated to a fly-by by the big galoots as they went south first, then came back north, then went south again as they tried to figure out where exactly to go…
Just the thing to go with an evening constitutional before, er, a night in the Crown and Anchor.
The sun was cracking the flags next morning, so Friday was a quieter day birdwise – a few hundred Swifts went through, but nothing like the previous day’s movement.
The brighter weather meant that we got great views of at least two Vagrant Emperor dragonflies around the Warren and Numpties – these blue saddled beauties have been present for a few days and are part of a wider influx.
They often flew close by but never settled long enough for me to get a picture, but any dragonfly tick is cause for celebration…
Common Blue Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly, Four Spot Chaser and Emperor were also on the wing.
A Grey Wagtail went south, but not much else was on the move, so we pulled out at 5pm yesterday and headed back west.
A brief detour took us to Pugneys Country Park by Wakefield, where a Great Reed Warbler has been on territory in a reedbed in the north east corner of the site by a sluice for the last week or two.
Unco-operative at first, after 20 minutes or so it clambered to the top of the reed-stems to serenade the clouds of midges gathering at the waterside with its demented football rattle song.
Big, noisy and bonkers, just as they always are.
Another fine visit to the east coast – as ever thanks to Neill for his hospitality, and thanks too to all the Spurn regulars for the friendship and freely offered info over two superb days in the field (and in the Crown and Anchor….).