Sunday 1 May 2016

The Singing Bus Stop: YWT Spurn Bird Walk

All Photos unless stated are from the archive library of Michael Flowers
Singing Swallow (c) 2016 Jane Robinson
Saturday was the second and final Spurn walk I led this spring on the behest of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.  Ben and I went to Sammy Point to see what conditions were like underfoot.  It was muddy, but less so than a fortnight earlier.    We could gauge from a swift glance that there were plenty of Whimbrel in the paddocks, so we would bear this in mind, if there were few birds in the Kilnsea area.  We arrived at the Warren at 9.20 to see that quite a few people had arrived already.  There were some familiar faces with John, Jane & Mike from Friday mornings, and Andy & Caroline formerly of Friday mornings, & the "Ring Ouzel lady" from last year.  There were also 13 other faces I'd never seen before.  My standard weekday classes have a maximum of 12, so feel a lot more intimate than this rather large group. 19 was a surprise and a challenge, but my eagle-eyed nephew was on hand to point out extra birds.
Whimbrel at Sammy's Point
We viewed the birds initially from the bank overlooking the riverbank near the warren area. The tide was coming in, but the birds were still distant. However, immediately we had some Whimbrel which seemed to fly up from Clubley's field and headed west, and made their distinctive rapid 7-note call as they made their way towards the estuary. We enjoyed quite good views of these as they landed on the green-coloured rocks nearer us than the extensive mudflats.
Whimbrel at Spurn
At the water's edge we were able to spot a great number of Grey Plover, but many of these were moulting, and some looked very smart with their black bellies, silvery-spangled backs and white flanks. They were so smart the name Grey Plover seemed particularly cruel, and Silver Plovers would have suited them far more. Also visible were some Redshank, Dunlin, Knot and Brent Geese. On the other side of the road several Linnets were flying back and fro, settling briefly on vegetation and the road.  
Flock of 'Silver' Plovers at Spurn
We headed back towards Kilnsea. Luckily, I looked behind me shortly after passing the old gate, and spotted a Short-eared Owl, flying over the road we had so recently crossed. I think everyone managed to catch a view of it as it flew towards Clubleys. Shortly afterwards we had a false alarm as several people wondered if they had seen a Ring Ouzel. However, on examination it transpired to be a smart "reverend" Reed Bunting. There were Meadow Pipits and Skylarks in the lush grasslands in this area. Ben checked on Canal Scrape,and decided it wasn't worth a visit on this occasion.
Silver Plover at Spurn
We continued along the Canal Zone where we were able to obtain better views of the gathered waders, and plenty of Brent Geese. We were greeted by the chattering, gossipy song of a Sedge Warbler a considerable way ahead of us. It was perched in a distant hawthorn bush, so was seen by many although it remained a long way ahead of us. Before we reached it there were more Reed Buntings and a Chiffchaff. It was around this time that the radio crackled into life to say there was a Raven flying high north in a group of corvids. Luckily, it U-turned over the narrows and headed north towards our position. Eventually, I think everyone was able to discern that one crow was larger than the others, but it wasn't possible to make out the identification points of the distinctive tail and larger bill from the view we had.
Yellow Wagtails at Canal Scrape
As we continued our walk someone spotted a stunningly-bright male Yellow Wagtail in the flooded meadow. Sure enough when we searched the area we could see 2 bright birds moving amongst the grass, almost like 2 dandelions but continually on the move. On the wooden fence one of the top spotters in the group saw a Skylark singing on a post long enough for everyone to enjoy a view of it. Meanwhile on the left there were more and more Brent Geese, and one of these was accompanied by a couple of Turnstones, at least one of which was moulting into its bright orange breeding plumage. On our right we heard the scratchy song of a Whitethroat, and a few fleeting views as it flitted among some tangled brambles. The walk was interspersed with a few song flights of Meadow Pipits.  
"Ruddy" Turnstone
The water levels were rather high around the Crown and Anchor, so there wasn't much new to see around there, and the walk in the sheltered hedgerow was particularly stifling in the heat of the sun, but a couple of Dunnocks punctuated the walk with their pleasant, if hurried warble. We had a comfort stop in the Blue Bell car park, before we headed south along the seashore. At first the borrow pits seemed devoid of birds but 2 Wheatears were having an altercation of the far side, and a Meadow Pipit was moving amongst the long grass and daisies nearer our position.  
Male Wheatear
As we approached Big Hedge (which is small - it's a long story) a Lesser Whitethroat's rattle of a song could be heard emanating from a roadside bush. In the field south of Big hedge, I spotted a movement and was delighted to alight on a male Wheatear. The grass concealed most of it, but it was possible to make out the blue-grey back the black area around the eye, and the apricot throat. Another Meadow Pipit was moving among the grass stalks beyond the Wheatear. We checked the flooded meadow, but there were no more Yellow Wagtails, and the Lesser Whitethroat had stopped singing. A bird moved to the left of the tank blocks, which was eventually revealed as a male Blackcap.  
Singing Swallow (c) 2016 Jane Robinson
 Leaving Swallow (c) 2016 Jane Robinson
Ben checked on Canal Scrape and again decided it wasn't worth a visit. However, a Common Whitethroat was singing near the other entrance to the car park, but with 21 faces staring at it, it just made its alarm call before flying away from us. Our disappointment was alleviated by a male Swallow singing gloriously from the Bus Stop sign. A short walk to the south produced the Lesser Whitethroat singing from the top of a leafless bush before it flew across the road and disappeared. In this area I glimpsed a Common Lizard basking on a new steep bank created when the ditches were cleaned out over the winter. We arrived back at our cars to have our lunch.
Once everyone had enjoyed their sandwiches we drove to Kilnsea Wetlands. This wasn't replete with bird species, but we did see some Mute Swans and a Little Egret. An occasionally muddy walk to the viewing screen resulted in several Avocets and one viewer spotted a camouflaged Whimbrel feeling on a sandy bank. Finally, we walked towards the acoustic sound mirror, where there was a lot of flood water in the usually grassy meadows. Here we had more Skylarks and on the lakes some Wigeon, Gadwall, Shelduck, and many more Avocets and Linnets flying over.
At this point our time ran out, although some participants asked the directions to Sammy's Point, so they may well have encountered more Whimbrel and possibly had good views of Yellow Wagtails, and maybe a Ring Ouzel. Let's hope they did.
Canal Scrape's Sedge Warbler - a few years ago
Was this the similar view near Beacon Ponds today?
PS. At least 2 participants walked the path round Beacon Ponds, and saw an excellent view of a Sedge Warbler, 2 Ringed Plovers, Spotted Redshanks moulting into breeding plumage, and their favourite: a Cuckoo showing well. Their only bird at Sammy's Point was a solitary Wheatear.
If any participants send any photos I'll add them to this post when they arrive

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