Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Newest Island in the UK

Went out fairly early this morning to see what damage the weekend high tides had done at Spurn. I arrived an hour after high tide, and although the wind had dropped, it was clear that the water had breached the road yet again! Between posts 20 & 28 the road is either completely covered by sand or has been entirely ripped out! The tides have actually been higher since Sunday when the original damage was done, but luckily the winds have dropped, so the damage hasn't been made much worse. There are some more high tides this week, so it just depends how strong the winds are, and whether they are from the East, as to how much more damage is done! From Sunday the tides are predicted to be a little lower, so repairs to the road will probably be postponed until then. The tip of the peninsula can still be reached on foot after a 3-mile walk, but bikes can be wheeled across the bad section & then utilised for the rest of the journey! Not sure how the Spurn kids will get to school next week! If it isn't repaired by Tuesday, then I suppose the local news stations will get hold of the story! Spurn isn't really an island in the accepted sense of the term, although it will become one briefly a few minutes either side of high tide for the next couple of days!

The road has become part of the beach here
The old road is now on the beach
Not much sign of the road at this point
This part of the road is still flooded & now has a covering of sand
Some things haven't changed, but are now out of reach
More dramatic pictures of the same scene can be seen here:

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Local Patch Protection?

Earlier this week I guided someone from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust round my local patch in the hope that its potential for being an educational natural history site will be recognised some time in the future. We started with the cemetery itself, and I tried to point out some of the 30+ species of tree found there. One unusual species locally is a single Walnut Tree, which used to bear indifferent fruit until the invasion of the Grey Squirrels in the 1990s. This tree is no longer alone, as recently the council have planted some more Walnut trees nearby. We have a single mature Wych Elm opposite some much younger saplings of English Elm - the latter seem to be thriving after its parent tree was a victim to Dutch Elm disease in the 1980s, as were more than 10 beautiful mature Elms. Another local rarity is the single specimen of Mistletoe growing on a Lime Tree. Mistletoe is much more common in the moist climate of the West Midlands & SW Britain. This was spotted in the 1980s & has continued to grow slowly each year, and even flowered last December. Unfortunately, one sprig appears to have succumbed to the dry summer, and has turned brown and seems to have died.

The cemetery is not negligible from an historic point of view. Just over 100 years ago the custom-built chapel was the UK's first local authority municipal crematorium, and is now a Grade II-listed building. The unique columbarium holds several historic plaques including one put up by her family to commemorate the flying pioneer and local success story, Amy Johnson.

During the walk I also tried to remember & relate the birds we have breeding here, plus the one-off appearances by birds such as the Ring Ouzel this April and the bizarre record of the scalped Hawfinch which hit our kitchen window on the morning of the 12th April 1998. Other single instances include the influx of Wheatears one migration time, and the single breeding attempt by Skylark in 1979. Unfortunately, we have lost Spotted Flycatchers as a breeding species since 1980, and Lesser Redpolls no longer fly over on a daily basis as they did in the 1970s & most of the 1980s, although they do sometimes still occur in the winter. Although many birds have declined since 1970, Great Spotted Woodpeckers are now permanent fixtures since the 1st instance on 18th September 1978, and Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrests, Goldfinches, Blackcaps and Chaffinches are more numerous than in the late 1960s. Woodcock are an annual visitor, and as long as the Lime suckers aren't cut back too severely may now stay several weeks, rather than days, as the fallen leaves are allowed to remain undisturbed much long today than they were a decade ago.

The abandoned maternity home grounds were also surveyed, and several species of mature tree were discovered, as well as a riot of uncontrolled wildflowers and bramble. This site was earmarked for a retail park, which has been put on hold since the recession, but it would be great if this could be added to the area to be conserved, as part of it has great potential as a wildflower meadow! Tarmac paths still exist, which could be utilised by any future visitors.

We walked along part of the Holderness Drain, which provides a haven for Goosanders in winter when the nearby East Park freezes over. Kingfishers have been recorded here, as have Moorhen, and in summer its scrubby banks provide the perfect habitat for both Common & Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, and Sedge Warblers, but also several resident species. A little further along the drain intersects with the old Hull-to-Withernsea railway line, and in a fringe of reeds near here a few Reed Warblers were singing when I participated in the BTO's atlas scheme a couple of years ago.

We explored the very overgrown old railway line area, where several fruit trees were laden with apples or pears. The old birch scrub has gone to be replaced with a few mature trees, but plenty of tangled bramble. This is where the Lesser Redpoll used to breed, but is now home to decreasing numbers of Willow Warbler, but Whitethroat, Blackcap and Chiffchaff and Bullfinches continue to thrive.

In all the tour lasted nearly 2 hours, and now the YWT representative has to work on her application for a lottery bid, while I keep my fingers-crossed!

April's Ring Ouzel - stayed for nearly a week
Goldfinch - latest window fatality
Beech Leaves & Beechmast
Black Nightshade
Black Nightshade
Wych Elm
English Elm
Walnut bark
False Acacia Leaves
False Acacia bark
Main Rosebed with Trees beyond
Thick scrubland with HMP extension on right
Memorial to the Cemetery's History

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

One of our Wrynecks is Missing

The weather looked quite promising for migrants today, so after waking at the incredibly early time of 4.10, I arrived at Spurn at just before 7am. Unfortunately, it was almost immediately apparent that there was to be no large influx of migrants. I met a birdforum-er in the Crown & Anchor car park and together we set off down the Canal Zone - the area where yesterday's Wryneck was sighted briefly. We had no such luck today, but 3 Grasshopper Warbler fledglings in the same bush was a nice bonus. An immature Whitethroat was another sighting in the same area, but there wasn't a lot of other birds to see. The Canal Scrape only added Swallows and a distant Wheatear on the hedge we had just walked past. Then we walked towards the Blue bell where a lone Swift was seen catching insects above the hirundines.
From the Blue bell we travelled along Beacon Lane where we saw several butterfly species and a baby Lizard. Parties of Terns were passing overhead - mainly Sandwich, but there were also some Commic terns passing over. A male Sparrowhawk flew towards us along the hedge, but flicked away out of sight. There were at least 4 Little Egrets on Beacon Ponds, and what appeared to be a Black-necked Grebe. Unfortunately, as both of us were carrying long lenses we didn't have scopes with us, so this bird wasn't definitively identified. A female Sparrowhawk flew the opposite bank before disappearing over the flood barrier.
From the Crown & Anchor we drove to Sammy's Point where again there seemed to be very few birds about, but we did see a Wheatear. On the estuary mud, a large group of Shelduck seemed to have returned after their summer moult in Holland, whilst there were also a few Whimbrel, Curlew, Dunlin; and Jim spotted a Curlew Sandpiper. There was also a sizeable flock of Golden Plovers, which punctuated the rest of the visit with their mournful cries. On the return journey through the bushes there were dozens of Common Blues, several Small Tortoiseshells & a Peacock. However, there seemed to be a family party of at least 5 Yellow Wagtails, and Jim stayed behind to attempt to photograph them. In the bushes next to the car park a Pied Flycatcher indulged in its acrobatic displays as it went after its prey. Although we had quite a decent haul of species, it was disappointing considering yesterday's easterly wind, and the murky conditions overnight. Hopefully future visits will result in some more interesting migrants.
Grasshopper Warbler fledgling
Pied Flycatcher
Wall (Brown) [female]
Common Blue
Young Lizard
Autumnal web
Roe Deer (female & young)
Roe Deer (Buck)

Monday, 22 August 2011

Not too Late to Book

The classes resume in a couple of weeks, and the wonderful spectacle of Autumn migration should be one of the highlights of the forthcoming term.
Some of the best days of the course have taken place at Spurn just after a so-called 'fall' of migrants. On one particular day we only had to walk a few yards because we saw Great Grey Shrike, Red-Backed Shrikes, and the more common migrants of virtually every member of the Flycatcher family, and most members of the Chat tribe. There is also always the chance of something special like a Short-eared Owl coming in off the sea, plus we can also have a look at some of the waders such as Whimbrel & Turnstones.
If you are interested in wildlife, and wish to learn more then there are still a few vacancies on the Friday afternoon session and one or two on some of the others, so please enquire for more details. Please note the Wednesday morning session is already over-subscribed.
Below are some of the bird species we have seen at Spurn in previous September visits.

Great Grey Shrike - in the hand
Bird on a Wire
Red-Backed Shrike
Woodchat Shrike - probably rather a long shot for this September!
Short-eared Owl - in off the Sea
Redstart - moulting male on migration
Whinchat on migration
'Spotted' Flycatcher
'Pied' Flycatcher
Red-breasted Flycatcher (c) 2008 Tony Robinson

Thursday, 18 August 2011

3-D Retrospective

No, the following images aren't in 3-D, this is just an account of the last 3 days! Very early this morning I set off with a rendezvous with the Spurn High Tide and a West Yorkshire birdforum-er. The gorgeous fresh Roe Deer buck cut down on the Hedon bypass was the most gory spectacle on the journey. I got to Easington when a text came through that he was having to bail out after a bad night's sleep! The previous night's forecast had made things look promising with an easterly wind predicted and a possible shower which may have forced migrants down. In the event none of these eventualities had taken place. 7 o'clock at Spurn and the place was almost deserted. A female Sparrowhawk flew low along the road just south of the Warren. However, there was very little of interest before arriving at Chalk Bank. The only exceptions were a few Whimbrel only a few yards from the road. I don't remember seeing a hare at Chalk Bank before, but there was one this morning.

There was still over an hour before high tide, but there were some stonking "Silver Plovers" already in position with some Bar-tailed Godwits, and a Dunlin. There were plenty of Oystercatchers, Cormorants, Great Black Backed Backed Gulls & Turnstones on a further sand bank, but not the vast amount of Knot I was expecting. It seems as though the sand banks have shifted somewhat and hundreds of knots seemed to be landing along the sea beach instead of on the river side. A 90 minute wait didn't result in any new birds apart from a couple of Little Terns flying north.

Yesterday I introduced an inhabitant of York to the 'delights' of Skipwith Common. I expected plenty of butterflies and dragonflies if not many birds, but there wasn't a great deal of anything! However, there were some very noisy Green Woodpeckers, and some quieter Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Other birds seen included: 2 families of Spotted Flycatchers, Kestrel, Willow Warbler, Long-tailed, Blue & Great Tits. There were some Speckled Woods and a Green Veined White, but the dragonflies wouldn't co-operate. I had to fill in with some of the history of the site & meterology, only to find the old adage about Mares' Tails didn't work this time - grrr!

On Wednesday I accompanied a previous inhabitant of Driffield around Tophill Low. We waited for a considerable time for the Kingfisher, and escaped a few heavy showers there, but the only bird of interest was a young Little Grebe successfully catching a number of fish. My companion politely extolled the virtues of the reflections & the raindrops, and photographing them seemed to keep her happy. On the return journey we heard screaming young Sparrowhawks & a very loud Treecreeper, but the birds actually making these sounds remained concealed. We went looking for Water Voles without success, and walked part of the way round South Marsh East - the best birds there were a pair of Common Terns. At least they weren't in eclipse unlike all the wildlfowl present! We had to cut our visit short when the time for Ms Westwood's lift back to Driffield arrived. Not a bad afternoon, but not really the very exciting time at Spurn which was originally planned.

Finally, we've had a male Blackcap, a juvenile Willow Warbler and an immature Whitethroat in the garden again, but only the latter remained long enough for its picture to be taken.
"Silver" Plovers
Little Egret
Bar-tailed Godwit
ditto with one Grey Plover
Juvenile Whitethroat in the garden
Juvenile Spotted Flycatcher
Green-veined White
Puffball sp
Pirri-pirri Burr
Himalyam Balsam
Speckled Wood
Southern? Hawker
Red Admiral
Record shot of Black-necked Grebe
Little Grebe
Grasshopper sp