Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Second Spurn Migration Festival 5-7 Sept 2014

....or perhaps, 'Introducing the Wryneck'

Spent 19 hours of the weekend on this beast, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Spurn Unimog.

Together with colleagues Andy Mason and Alex we did five three hour Spurn safaris, which gave us the privilege of showing people a lot of great birds and other wildlife, and the superb experience of some top quality visible migration.

Friday evening kicked off at Westmere Farm with Flamborough's very own Martin Garner (Birding Frontiers) welcoming everyone to Spurn and kicking off the second ever Spurn Mig Fest with a spectacular trademark BOOM!

Clive McKay, VisMig superstar and Trektellen co-ordinator gave an inspirational talk on his favourite subject and gave some great info about why Spurn is so fantastic for witnessing bird migration. It is all about the leading lines! Those of us stopping at Blue Bell then were treated to a delicious dinner courtesy of Andy G and Reenie - thanks guys - before hitting the hay, or rather the very hard Blue Bell floor for a few hours restless kip, full of broken dreams of streams of Mippits and balls of chippering Tree Sparrows.

Saturday 6th
Up and at 'em, with slightly blurred vision and wobbly legs, due to too little shut eye, and off I went on my birding way. Waking up at Spurn- what a treat! Surprisingly few birders about, so I wandered south of the Warren, where I enjoyed my first gang of Whinchats, Wheatears and Yellow Wagtails, playing tag on the saltmarsh. It was going to be a great day! Having picked up a radio I began broadcasting my (very average) finds. I think the Spurn locals were thinking 'this guy is getting far too excited with very common migrants! Try living in York!

Our first Unimog safari loaded up and headed south bang on time at 8am and Alex safely negotiated the washover whilst I held my breath! Migrants were scattered all along the peninsular - how I wish I was outside the vehicle! Down to the end, we piled out on to the Parade Ground and on to our first walk. Small numbers of migrants were evident in the bushes, but the most impressive thing was the large number of Mippits heading over and going straight off the end towards Lincolnshire. This was exactly what we had hoped would be happening and our guests were delighted.

Swallows too were pouring down, sweeping past and over. Some headed straight out like the Mippits, others thought better of it and fed around the end for a while. To our first viewpoint and a pale grey blob jumped out on an elder near the gun emplacement and sat in clear view. Two wingbars, pale tertial edges, and a smudgy pale eyebrow - a Barred Warbler! Only a handful of the group got on the bird before it lumbered back into the depths and vanished. Despite visiting this point another nine times over the weekend, I never saw it again. I later found out that there had been a Barred Warbler in this same spot a couple of days previously. The same bird perhaps, or maybe just what is a good Elderberry bush for one Barred Warbler probably looks good for another. Either way, off to a great start!

Other birds noted: Whitethroat, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart, Grey Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Linnet. 

Fab Wryneck Experience #1 - Roadrunner
Half an hour for lunch before the next tour, gave me a chance for a nice chat with old UEA mate and Yorkshire birder Alan Cawthorne and then a swift walk down to Canal Scrape to look for a Wryneck. I only had about a ten minute window and so didn't hold out much hope. I got to the car park entrance and out jumped a small bird on to the road. Bins up. Wryneck! Unbelievable. On the tarmac about ten metres away. What a stonker. Why did I not bring Vicky's camera *muppet*. A car soon came along and flushed the bird, which zipped away and was shortly seen jumping around with a Redstart on top of the tank blocks.

Fantastic Wryneck Experience #2 - The Find
After a quiet midday tour (vismig had dropped off and everything else seemed to be sleeping), we headed out with water lapping the beach on one side of the washover and the top of the saltmarsh on the Humber side- slightly unnerving! Taking advantage of the tide we decided to have an impromptu stop at Chalk Bank, one of my fave Spurn spots - not that I have ever found anything there, but I always feel I just might! Well today, you might guess what would happen! Andy M took most of the group down to the new north hide, and I took half a dozen to the smaller south hide. As we approached, a bird flicked left out of the bush next to the hide and disappeared into the buckthorn. The guy next to me said 'that was a Blackbird I think'. I disagreed and said I thought it looked too small and pale but to be honest I hadn't seen much.

As we waited for a movement, I jokingly said 'well it was probably just  a Wryneck', thinking to myself - Dunnock. As soon as I said these words, a bird flew out of the bush and landed on a fence post right in front of the group. A stonking Wryneck. You couldn't make it up. The guy turned to me and said 'you are a genius!'. Of course ;-)) Not sure that piece of luck will ever repeat itself!Unbelievable scenes and apparently a tick for some of my little group - brilliant!

We then went round to see the rest of the group and enjoyed belting close views of the full suite of Humber waders and imagining which far flung patch of tundra they had all spent their summer holidays.

Back to Westmere Farm just before 7pm, absolutely shattered. All the other volunteers looked how I felt; we had all had a long day, and following some truly cracking chicken curry (compliments to the chef and the friendly serving team!) Spurn Bird Obs' new patron Mike Dilger provided just the tonic for our weary bones with a lively talk about his life and career. Great stuff.

Next, Spurn's birding legend, and Mig Fest founder Andy Roadhouse did the day's birding highlights and then it was down to the Crown and Anchor for beer and social. I was incredibly delighted how welcome all the Spurn folk made us YWT types feel. Lovely to catch up with some old and new friends too and listen to some very entertaining stories from Yorkshire Coast Nature's Rich Baines (hope you now carry a fire extinguisher in your motor Rich!). A great end to a really special day.

Sunday 7th

Up at 6.15am and my now regular 'walk to work' revealed far more migrants than yesterday in the Blue Bell to Warren stretch, with a Merlin, several Whitethroats, four Willow Warblers and a couple of Whinchats. A Lesser Whitethroat showed very briefly. As I approached the Warren, I could see some birders up on Numpties watch point and a line of birders scoping the Humber. Suddenly a strident and ringing "Tsuu-eee" was heard. What the hell was that? I looked up and over the Warren came a wader. Through the bins, I was surprised to be looking at a plover with black from the throat right down on to the belly, and dark underwings - Yikes! The bird called again - I looked over at Numpties - they were being true to their name as it appeared nobody had noticed :-). I looked over at the Humber guys - same story. Oh no! I ran down the road and saw Adam Hutt appearing from the ringing hut - I shouted to see if he had seen the bird and he replied with clearly the same thoughts as me in mind. Martin Stoyle then appeared off the Humber bank - he had seen and heard the bird too.

In the panic, I had taken my eye off the bird as it dropped over on to the mud. Martin too had turned away and we then panicked to refind the bird. Adam approached and picked up two plovers flying in over the mudflats. I strained to see whichever looked blackest! This bird pitched down on to the edge of the saltmarsh at a reasonable distance. I had no scope but soon Martin got us on the bird, but no, this didn't look right, Though partially obscured, this was no American Golden Plover. If anything it could be a Pacific. But surely the small patch of black on the belly of this bird was not what we saw on the flyover job. After a little while of puzzling and with no clear view of the bird's wings or legs, Martin G ( I think) looked from a new angle and put this bird to bed as nothing more than a Goldie. I was convinced we were looking at the wrong bird so walked back up the road to check other Goldie flocks, sadly to no avail. So, possibly the one that got away. Bugger!

We needed to get the Unimog up and running, so I soon departed, hoping that somebody else would sort this out.

I spent most of the rest of the day leading walks on the end of Spurn. There were stacks of birds about, mostly of similar species to yesterday but in much higher numbers. Tree Sparrows had replaced yesterday's Mippit exodus. Chippering balls of spuggies rolled south along the peninsula heading south. Guests were surprised how many of this delightful but declining species were on the move, in fact, most people barely new they dispersed like this. Also noticeable were the larger numbers of Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Yellow Wagtails. A Common Buzzard provided a fine spectacle, walloping through much to the annoyance of the local Herring Gulls. A Grasshopper Warbler jinked across the path and a very pale Lesser Whitethroat was seen several times very briefly and failed to give itself up. The bird was seen by Nathan Pickering later who concurred it looked interesting though he too had only got a quick look. As frustrating, I heard a bird calling in the same place on two separate walks which I did not recognise which left me a bit tantalised....I will report back on that as Andy Roadhouse has made a suggestion as to its identity....

Fantastic Wryneck Experience #3 -Wryneck stops the Traffic!
Our final Unimog trip was a success returning 20 happy clients safely back to base, including the delightful Gyllian, another Spurn legend, who sat up front with us and imparted her botanical wisdom and exceptional wit, which really kept us going on the slog back along the peninsular. I got a lift back to the Blue Bell to collect my gear, by which time my chauffeur (only joking Kev) was keen to head off as he had to get back to York and then catch a train to Newcastle. As I walked round the corner, a birder was videoing something almost at his feet on the drive next to the Blue Bell. Huh?  I slid over as carefully as possible to see if he was filming a Red Admiral or something and was amazed to see the reptilean form of a Wryneck at the base of the house wall literally six feet away! You little belter. I knew there was a load of birders just round the corner, so I snook back round to alert them. Soon we were all having phenomenal views as the bird hopped about searching for ants on the driveway. A number of vehicles pulled up including Adam Stoyle in the YWT landy. This bird had stopped the traffic. A fitting end to the Spurn Wryneck Festival and third of my fantastic and lucky Wryneck experiences this weekend. I arrived back in York a few hours later, feeling dazed and confused, but elated!

Everyone involved in Spurn Migration Festival 2 had done a brilliant job, but special congratulations and thanks to Andy Roadhouse, Rob Adams and the team of brilliant volunteers at Spurn Bird Obs, Sue and Andrew our wonderful hosts at Westmere Farm, Martin Garner, Mike Dilger and Clive McKay, Adam Stoyle and the hard-working YWT crew, Andy and Reenie for putting me up at Blue Bell and of course, those fantastic Wrynecks!! Thanks too to the guests who bought the tickets and shared our enthusiasm and all the sponsors who helped cover our combined costs.
Roll on September 2015.

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