Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Before Lockdown: Great Reed Warbler, Sammy's Point, 5th May 1990

Great Reed Warbler, Wintersett, June 2019

Thirty years ago today, I headed out to Spurn on the York Ornithological Club's May field trip. Leaving York Piccadilly at 6am, we headed east, buzzing with anticipation as to what the day may bring. With favourable weather conditions in the preceding days, we were hopeful for a few migrants and we weren't to be disappointed.

Starting at the Warren, we were soon enjoying a selection of common warblers, including Lesser Whitethroats and a Garden Warbler. Nearby, both Sedge and Reed Warblers sang from the canal. In the Triangle, male and female Redstarts hunted from the barbed wire fences; dropping into the grass after an insect with a flash of their fiery tails, before zipping back up, tails a-quiver. This was spring birding at its best!

Male Redstart, Spurn, May 2012
A little further on, a female Ring Ouzel was seen briefly - nice - before we turned our attention to the mudflats of the Humber. The tide was on the way in, pushing Brent Geese and flocks of waders close to the edge of the saltmarsh, allowing good views through the scope.  Resplendent rust-red Bar-tailed Godwits looked stunning as they strolled through the wet mud. Small flocks of Whimbrel rested on the saltmarsh, with others flying past. I counted about 50. Large numbers of Dunlin and Golden Plover were still present pausing for a feed before their long journey north to breed. After a while, we decided to head down to the point to look for more migrants. In the middle of the day this was a bit lack lustre, though a reasonably early Spotted Flycatcher was nice, plus Cuckoo, Wheatears and a late Fieldfare. A female Whinchat was at Chalk Bank on the way back.

Whimbrel at Sammy's Point, May 2012

We were told that Beacon Ponds would be worth a look now the tide was in, so we headed there next while some of the group headed to Sammy's Point. A Little Stint was pick of the bunch. I hadn't seen many spring Little Stints by then, so this was an interesting and educational bird. A raucous gang of Sandwich Terns rested on a shingle island and six Little Terns zipped about. My first Swifts of the year cruised low over the Long Bank, snatching St Mark's Flies.

Shortly, news came through that Andy Booth and Nigel Stewart had found a Great Reed Warbler at Sammy's!!! Panic! We tumbled back into the car and shot straight there. We arrived on site and I dived out of the car. With youth on my side (I was only 15 at the time), I ran down the track as fast I could to the small huddle of birders in the distance. The bird had been heard singing from the dyke near the paddocks and Andy and Nigel had had brief but good views. I set my scope up just in time as the large brown warbler suddenly hopped up into some dead Hogweed and posed beautifully. Excited gasps and 'oohs' and 'aahs' came from the assembled group of birders and as our friends arrived, we got them straight on the chunky Acro through our scopes. Smiles all round and many pats on the back for Andy and Nigel! A fantastic end to a super day at Spurn and one that always stands out in my mind as a classic spring birding day.

Cuckoo, Sammy's Point, May 2012

It turns out that this was only the third record of Great Reed Warbler in the Spurn area, following birds in 1977 and the year before, 1989. According to Andy Roadhouse's 'The Birds of Spurn' there has been only one subsequent record, at the point in May 2006, so it still remains a genuinely rare bird there. Interestingly, the entry in this book for the 1990 bird has the incorrect discovery date as the 6th May. The Wintersett bird I saw last year is the first GRW I have seen in Yorkshire since the Sammy's bird. I have seen several in the UK in between, but the 1990 bird is the most clearly etched in my memory.

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