Tuesday 16 October 2018

Birdo Weekender: Flamborough 11-14th October

To be honest, the forecast didn't look great. Very strong southerlies on Saturday and rain and north-westerlies on Sunday. Nevertheless, after a relatively quiet Friday birding the headland (fewer birds than yesterday, though a handful of lingering Yellow-browed Warblers still), Team Birdo (Ben Green, Simon Patient, Mark Hawkes, Duncan Poyser and myself) convened in the 'ultimate luxury' at 3 Firecrest Cove, Thornwick, full of enthusiasm for a weekend birding the Great White Cape, at the start of the Filey and Flamborough Bird Observatories' Migration Week. Surely, these crazy winds would drop something from the south in?

Team Birdo, Thornwick

A caravan at Thornwick. Ultimate luxury...


There was a bit of passage during the morning, with small numbers of Song Thrushes and Redwings 'in off', seven Yellow-browed Warblers in our circuit of Thornwick, plus a Brambling or two and three Ring Ouzels showing well in Holmes Gut.


Birding was difficult in the strong winds, and we decided to head north to twitch the Spotted Sandpiper at Marske, just south of Redcar. After a rather arduous drive - thanks Mark - we were soon watching this confiding Yank wader on the beach just north of the village. It showed very well after a while, coming too close to focus my scope on! The bird was happily catching flies and sandhoppers among the detritus on the strandline. It had a curious habit of stalking a particular critter in slow-mo before shooting it's beak out and grabbing the morsel, ninja style. A very distinctive, short-winged, compact bird, with neat white eye-ring, strong supercilium, dark cap and bright yellow legs. Nice to see Mike Pratt at the twitch, Northumberland Wildlife Trust CEO - top bloke.

Juvenile Spotted Sandpiper. Without spots.

Heading back south, we stopped at Holbeck, Scarbados, to mop up an early returning Mediterranean Gull, a smart second winter bird, before returning to Thornwick. We did the northside again, with little new to be found, save a Whinchat and a Redstart. Headed to the site restaurant for beers and snacks. A top night, if not the most bird-filled of days, but great to bird with old mates.

Med Gull, and the lads at Marske.


...dawned golden and magical.

This didn't last long and shortly, the temperature dropped and rain arrived. We toughed out a walk round the north side and saw very little, save a single Yellow-brow in Holmes Gut. The highlight was Jim Morgan and Ana showing us some of the birds they had mist-netted, including Lesser Redpoll, Yellowhammer and a Redstart. A real treat and informative too, as Jim explained how he aged the birds. The birds' weights were all good, so Jim assumed they had been present a while and had had chance to feed and replenish their fat stores for their onward journeys.


With the wind getting up and the rain getting heavier, we decided South Landing might be a good option. Wrong, it was equally wet and windy. Back to the caravan for much-needed bacon butties and tea, both providing welcome relief. Nothing was being found elsewhere to give us much optimism to brave out the wet for a few more hours, so we decided to cut our losses and head home, earning a few brownie points from our families.


A little after getting home, news broke of a Pacific Swift at Hornsea. Dammit! I didn't really have time to get there before the light went, although looking back I might have done it - just. Worse still, a little later, the news came that photos had shown the bird was actually the UK's first White-rumped Swift. What a gripper and a frustrating end to a rather damp day. Birding is just like that sometimes. So, a lesson learned the hard way. If you've got your passport stamped and it's October, stay out until dark- just in case!

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