Spurn – a long way to go


By NASA/Chris Hadfield [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By NASA/Chris Hadfield [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I visited Spurn Point on Monday.  The wind was from the south-east, it was the end of October and I was on the east coast.  It could only mean one thing – it was a bit nippy!

No, no, the only thing it could mean was that there was a chance of rare birds, and the most perfect of late October rare birds is the Pallas’s Warbler.

But the Heligoland trap had some Tree Sparrows hopping around in it, and the sea buckthorn was covered with hungry Starlings.  The closest to a Pallas’s was a Yellow-browed Warbler down the road in the car park of the Crown.  Except I couldn’t find it. There was a Chiffchaff and a few Goldcrests – but no Yellow-browed. A Yellow-browed Warbler is a bit like a hybrid between a Chiffchaff (dull greenish grey warbler) and a Goldcrest (tiny crested wing-barred non-warbler) but since I didn’t see one I can’t say much more about it.  This bird, was found by a more skilled birder across the road and down a bit, a little later in the day.

The tide was out and there were a few Knot, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew footling about in the mud, and a larger roosting flock of Golden Plover a long way away.

There were now more Redwings and Fieldfares with the Starlings.

I had a look in the Canal Scrape hide and there was what a birdwatcher on the east coast would say was ‘nothing’ there, which of course wasn’t strictly true, as there were Dabchicks, Mallards, a Little Egret, Moorhens, a Sparrowhawk and other birds to be seen. But nothing ‘special’.

As I left the hide a warbler flew across the path between thick bushes and then up the path past me. Both times it offered the briefest of views but it looked like a small warblerish thing – probably a Goldcrest. Then, probably the same bird, hovered briefly against the sky. Could well be a Goldcrest but was that a yellow rump? Not sure, probably not – because Goldcrests don’t have yellow rumps but Pallas’s Warblers do. Most probably a Goldcrest. but then something called, out of sight, but from where the bird might be – and it wasn’t a Goldcrest’s call, and it wasn’t familiar to me either. Hmm. I waited a few more minutes and nothing was seen and nothing called. Probably a Goldcrest.

Walking back to the car a few moments later I met a man who asked whether there was any sign of the Pallas’s that had been reported here. Ah! I said I’d seen something that had made me wonder, but not well enough, and it might well have been a Goldcrest. We went back a few paces to where I’d seen it and then the man, a nice man, said ‘it’ had been seen in the Dell.

At the Dell there were several people looking at where the Pallas’s had been and then we found it again and got brief views as it flitted and flew. Sometimes one could see its wingbar, sometimes one could see the stripes on its head and rarely one could see the yellow rump. Never could one see all three together, and precious rarely two of them. But we did see it. And then it flew off back in the direction it had come.

The small group of us waited for it to come back – as they often do on a circuit. And had the usual conversation about how ‘smart’ they are, and how you can’t see all the fieldmarks at once and, as usual, the phrase ‘better than sex’ was used.

And then we heard ‘it’ had been seen back in the car park so off we went. I always think it is the depth of uncoolness to run after a tiny bird – sauntering is cool. So I sauntered, and luckily it was still there and ‘showing well’.

For the next 20 minutes or so we had ‘it’ in view in fits and starts in the sunshine on the edges of hawthorns, sycamores, willows and other bushes and trees. We saw ‘it’ hover and point its square yellow rump in our direction.  We saw it from just about every angle and out in the open. We had ‘crippling’ views (as we say).

Every time ‘it’ was in the open then it was applauded by a chorus of motor-driven camera shutters.

The thing that people always say about Spurn is that ‘it takes longer to get there than you think – even when you are nearly there’ and that’s true. But on Monday it was well worth it.image




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6 Replies to “Spurn – a long way to go”

  1. "Sad" or should it be macabre. Lusting (we are talking "better than sex" here) after a sight of a doomed bird, because that is what they are.
    Sorry someone had to say it.
    Following up your tweets. Snipe are doing better in the dry East than the wet West, now there is a puzzle.
    (not being a true birder I cannot tweet)

  2. Yes a great place, one of those out on a limb spots much enjoyed during my student years with my first sightings of Pallas's and Yellow browed Warblers. My last visit, ashamed to say, was thirty years ago last week when we poor students kipped in my old ford van and were out at first light to watch redwings and short eared owls make landfall. The day went quiet, we resorted to the pub to warm and dry out and heading back to the van chanced upon a strange Sylvia warbler that, unlike your skulking birds, enjoyed being on the ground out in the open. It turned out to be a Desert Warbler but at the time we didn't even have a bird book with one in!
    Special place , special times.

  3. My parents live to the west of Hull, and it despite many trips, it still surprises me how long it takes to get to Spurn. Always worth it though. As a teenager it was usually the New Year's Day destination, a great way to blow the hangover cobwebs away.

  4. We don't know for sure that the annual regular vagrant warblers that make it to the uk all perish here, the recent discovery of Yellow-browed Warblers wintering in conifer woodland northern Spain, it's not proven but is a possibility that they can find their way back in the spring.

  5. To call all of these birds "doomed" is to prejudge the situation. Nobody knows what their fate is. It is only a few tens of miles from migrating down the west coast of the European mainland.

    A central European population of Blackcaps has changed its migration strategy in the last thirty years from heading south west to southern Spain / north Africa to heading due west to overwinter in the UK. Perhaps this large influx of Yellow-browed Warblers is a first indication of a change in migration strategy. If next Spring or Autumn a few birds ringed this Autumn are retrapped it could well indicate such a change. If it becomes a regular event so much the better.


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