Sunday 20 September 2020


A dawn start at Flamborough Head led to disappointment in the drizzle. Conditions for migrant birds looked great - I must have got something wrong! - as the Old Fall Circuit yielded virtually nothing. One Wheatear, a couple of Lesser Redpolls and several Goldcrests was all I could find. Not quite the epic fall that had inspired me to spring out of bed earlier on. There was a surprise in store, however. I decided the fresh northeasterly may offer more value over the sea and news of a White-chinned Petrel off Norfolk confirmed my decision - I grabbed my scope and headed down to the fog station.

Arriving at the seawatching hide, news was surprisingly mediocre, with only a handful of skuas and Sooty Shearwaters moving. 1000 Kittiwakes was impressive though, so I decided to stay a while. A little later, a guy walked up and said he had seen a whale breach - twice! This was interesting; I had never seen a Minke Whale breach although I was aware they did it, but only rarely. This would be cool to see, but as I scanned I feared I had missed my chance. A few tense moments later and the yell of 'Humpback!' came from Andy Malley in the hide - panic! 

Scanning the sea, a large dark shape appeared, like a rocket emerging from the sea, it span round, two immense wing-like white pectoral fins flung wide and the whale launched backwards causing an immense splash. A Humpback Whale! A massive Humpback Whale - ABSOLUTELY MEGA! 

The whale breached a couple more times, then lay on the surface, smashing one of it's pectoral fins on the surface. It then fluked, dived under before starting a long series of cataclysmic breaches. At one point, it became clear there was a second individual as I saw another whale breach further out very shortly after the first whale had landed. Two Humpbacks! I had always dreamed of seeing this leviathan off the Yorkshire coast, but never expected to see a prolonged display like this. The whale/whales carried on cavorting for the best part of an hour, gradually heading north and further out and as news spread, quite a crowd gathered along the clifftop. Even at a great distance, the immense splash caused by the breaching could be seen easily through bins. The blow was seen frequently, large and bushy, hanging for a few seconds. Absolute scenes! One of the greatest things I have ever seen.

Upper two pics you can see the white pectoral flippers contrasting with the black body as the whale twists over on it's back for maximum splash. The bottom pic shows the whale fluking, whacking it's massive tail on the water.

Off-piste to Spurn

I don't go to Spurn much these days, but I should, it's a great place! Spent a great, though exhausting day with Philip, walking the Point, then Sammy's Point and Kilnsea Wetlands. A keen easterly was still blowing in from the North Sea, but crystal clear azure skies were not conducive to a fall of migrants. Nevertheless, my first Yellow-browed Warbler, a real gem, showed briefly at Sammy's and a Jack Snipe bounced stealthily with a Common cousin in the cut reeds at Canal Scrape. Our long walk revealed small numbers of migrants, including Whinchat, Wheatear, Tree Pipit, two Redstarts, Spotted Flycatcher, Siskins and Brambling, whilst Kilnsea Wetlands held two Little Stints, assorted Mediterranean Gulls and a gang of Black-tailed Godwits. A dashing Wood Sandpiper finished the day off nicely, though the show had been stolen by a few smart Sea Aster Bees, a species I have looked for elsewhere and failed to see. 

Spotted Flycatcher, just after eating a Large White butterfly, at the Wire Dump

Wheatear at the Point; Sea Aster Bee not on a Sea Aster.

Jack Snipe bouncing around furtively, to the left of the larger Common Snipe.

Classic Drift

The wind turned to the east mid-week and a flurry of drift migrants appeared on the Yorkshire coast. Rich Baines found this juvenile Red-backed Shrike in the Bay Brambles at Flamborough on Friday, and it was still showing well in the late afternoon sunshine. 

Quick dash for a Little Stint

After working at Ripon City Wetlands in the morning (50+ Pink-footed Geese west, 5 Black-tailed Godwits, Greenshank, 5 Crossbills etc) made a quick dash back there after tea to see a cute juvenile Little Stint. My first at the site and always a great bird to see. 

Wednesday 9 September 2020

York Cattle Egret and Whales off Staithes!

10-11th September: Led two back-to-back pelagics off Staithes for Yorkshire Coast Nature. The first was great with many sightings of at least seven Minke Whales, whereas the following day, rougher seas meant it was a struggle and I only saw one Minke. There were some great feeding frenzies of at least 50 Grey Seals, hundreds of Gannets etc, but no whales. Also saw a handful of Manx and Sooty Shearwaters and a couple of Great Skuas. Great fun!

Sadly my poor photography skills don't do these superb beasts justice. 



9th September: Put the cricket bat down for a quick twitch to Wheldrake Ings to see my first York-area Cattle Egret that had been found by Craig and Duncan on the Low Grounds early evening. Sol came with me and was chuffed to get a ride in Craig's truck! After watching the bird, seemingly a juvenile, for a bit, something flushed the bird and the accompanying Greylags and it flew out of sight. It was last seen heading towards Bank Island and was not seen again by dusk, though I was home playing cricket in the street by then.