Saturday 22 October 2022

21 Sprite Salute

Dreams full of stripy Siberian sprites this week! Following a fab September on the East Yorkshire coast, October has been dismal, with continual westerly winds closing the door firmly on any arrival from way out east.  

When the winds went easterly on Wednesday, it was no surprise, then, that a huge arrival of migrants was recorded on the Yorkshire coast. Over 33,000 Redwings poured in off the North Sea over birders at Flamborough, with good numbers of Fieldfares, Blackbirds and other migrants. The day after, I was still at work over at Ingleborough and news of a generous sprinkle of Siberian waifs whetted my appetite for the following day, along with the berry-hungry Fieldfares that were chacking along the slopes of the mountain. The wind would be swinging southeast, but hopefully we would still be in for a treat.

First-up, South Landing, where a Dusky Warbler had been found as we arrived. We soon located the finder - Simon Gillings- and his 'tucking' sombre warbler just a few steps up from the bottom of the ravine. It intrigued in the shadows, but helped us keep track with its frequent calls. Shortly, a pale bird appeared in the bush in front of us and to our delight it was the stripiest of Siberian sprites, a Pallas's Warbler! The Dusky Warbler then emerged from the same bush, flicking its wings and tucking away. Two Sibes in one bush within 15 minutes of arrival was incredible; then a Yellow-browed Warbler called behind us - nuts! 

 Pallas's Warbler: the iconic Seven-striped Sprite, fresh-in from Siberia

Skylarks and Redwings called overhead- there were clearly lots of birds around. Having filled our boots, we clambered up the steps and started the search for our own rares. Within half an hour, we fulfilled this as a small group of Skylarks were followed by a 'shreeping' Richard's Pipit, heading east. I recalled one had been seen here earlier in the week, but it was an unexpected bonus. Goldcrests lined the hedgerows, with occasional skulking Chiffchaffs. Robins, many greyish and flightly, hopped out of the bushes, before darting back in. We flushed loads as we walked along. This was east coast birding at its best. We made our way along the clifftop, scouring every patch of habitat. An Arctic Tern came across the fields pursued by crows - a bit of a surprise.


Old Fall plantation loomed into view, edificial in the murky conditions. Goldcrests flitted through the bushes. More rare-looking Robins dashed after flies in the tops of the Sycamores, looking rare; we checked each one carefully, making sure it didn't have a blue tail.

On the sheltered north side of the plantation, Phil suddenly picked up first one then two Pallas's Warblers, one of which hopped closer and closer, feeding about six feet away at eye level. What a gorgeous bird!

Whilst I was busy watching stripes 8 to 21, Phil was maintaining vigilance, and to my surprise, suddenly announced 'Osprey'! I span round and managed to grab a couple of photos as the Osprey circled low over the Old Fall hedge, before dropping out of sight. A big bank of seafret was rolling in and I suspect this Osprey, having made landfall here, realised it could not progress today at least, so was looking for somewhere to rest.

It had been a pretty good morning, but as the fog was now obscuring the view, we headed for the cafe for a break and some fuel. We couldn't rest for long as there were still birds to be found. Next up, the lighthouse, where three smoky Black Redstarts bounced around on the grass inside the wall, showing really closely at times. Nice.

I mentioned to Phil that there had been a Merlin hanging out on the outer head and within minutes, he picked it up zipping in across the Bay Brambles. It attempted to land on the fence in front of the lighthouse wall, having not noticed the birder standing there. The falcon landed within a metre of the birder momentarily, before realising its mistake and shooting off towards the Gorse Field. To my delight, it perched up on a post and I walked over. Moments later, she towered up into the sky in pursuit of something. A small wader had come in off the sea and was flying fast inland. The Merlin was on its tail, but gave up after half a minute. It could have been a Jack Snipe, but whatever it was, it avoided becoming lunch for the falcon. We headed west along the clifftop where to our delight, a big pod of c20 Bottlenose Dolphins were slowly moving out of Bridlington Bay towards the tip of the headland. There was quite a bit of breaching and cavorting, which was fabulous to watch as ever. A little while later, another pod of five acrobatic dolphins passed by too. After trudging back to South Landing, we moved our search round to Holmes Gut and the Thornwick area. It had quietened down somewhat, although the occasional pulse of thrushes and Blackbirds came in off the sea, along with flocks of Starlings. Round the back of the camp, we found a small area of Sycamores alive with birds, including a confiding male Brambling, gleaning aphids from the underside of the leaves. Lots more Robins and Goldcrests, but sadly nothing rare. We were flagging, so when we got back to the car at Holmes Gut, we decided to quit while we were ahead and head back while it was still light. 21 stripes seen, a Dusky Warbler, self-found Osprey and Richard's Pipit and lots more besides: another fantastic day on the Great White Cape!

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