Thursday, 14 June 2012

Under the Hood with the All Weather Birders!

I knew it was time to cast away the lethargy.  No better way to do this I thought than have a trip to Yorkshire with good mates.  Under the Hood Sam was mad enough to join me at 4:00am as we set off to Yorkshire to meet up with Flat Cap Birder Tom.  I left thinking that this might be an introduction for Sam to foul weather birding, but as it turned out our spirits (and our heads) were hardly dampened.

We met Tom at Doncaster and we were soon passing YWT Potteric Carr, the Humber Bridge and the delights of an early morning in Hull, on the way to Spurn.  A Merlin was briefly seen as we approached our destination and Tom picked out a Yellow Wagtail feeding on the road.  On our arrival at Spurn we were met by the calling of at least two Cuckoos (we had at least three or four of these birds during the day) and Gannets passing over the sea.  Song Thrush flew from the bushes.  Initially it was windy and cold, but at least it wasn’t raining now and we had brought plenty of clothing!  It seemed to me that we had Spurn to ourselves and this is something I like about birding in this area.  Lots of open space, with few people in the vicinity.  We did notice the usual police presence however.  I’m sure they have attached a tracking device to Tom’s car!

Sea watching at Spurn never seems to be very rewarding, although we did pick up a Sandwich TernMallard and Gadwall were also seen flying over the sea.  The wader watching was far better and at the lagoon we found at least forty Grey Plovers, some in summer plumage, along with Avocets and chicks, Ringed Plover, Knot (some in summer plumage), Turnstone, Dunlin, Sanderling and Bar-tailed Godwit.  I thought I had picked up a Little Stint, but as some of the birds disappeared behind the ridge it was never confirmed so not counted.  Other waders seen during the day were Oystercatcher and Curlew.  One of the unexpected highlights of the day was watching the Little Terns at the nesting site at the lagoon as they fed fish to one another.  Common Terns were also there in very small numbers as were two Little Egrets.

Whilst I was otherwise engaged, Tom and Sam found another Merlin and at some point Common Buzzard was seen, although I seem to remember that was during the return drive.  Roe Deer and a Grey Seal added some mammalian interest.  The recent rain had also brought out a variety of snails!  We also took notice of some of the World War Two historical interest.  Smaller birds seemed to be keeping well down, although there were numbers of Common Whitethroat seen in one of the stretches of hedge.  A favourite  hedge area of Tom’s.  Other smaller birds which were seen included tits, finches and Reed BuntingsGreat Spotted Woodpecker was seen in flight at some point in the day.

We had perhaps not seen Spurn at its best because of the weather conditions, but it was as always atmospheric and on the whole a dry visit.  It was Sam’s introduction to Spurn and I reckon we’ll all be back.  We left the area sooner than anticipated because we had an engagement at Albrough with a very attractive bird, or at least we hoped we had.  On the way we found Grey Partridges.  It didn’t take us too long to get to Aldbrough and there was our bird sitting on a post in the field as we passed (this birding lark can be so easy at times:-)).  It was of course the European Roller.  This was Tom’s third visit to see this Roller, but he didn’t seem to enjoy it any less.  We had great sightings of this bird as it showed off the wonderful plumage.  I did see the juvenile bird at Holy Island a few years ago, but the adult bird is stunning and this one showed far better.  Having seen a number of European Rollers and other species of Roller, I have to say than none have given me as much pleasure as this one did today.  I was especially pleased for Sam that he had got to see it.  It was interesting to watch how a Meadow Pipit rarely left the side of the Roller, obviously benefitting from any small insects thrown up.  The Roller immediately pipped the Little Tern as my bird of the day.  In fact it could well turn out to be my bird of the year!  There were a handful of birders about, but in no way was it a large twitch as I expect most who wanted to see the bird had already been along.  I don’t like the crowded twitch atmosphere so this pleased me.  I do enjoy showing people birds however, so it was my pleasure to show a couple of what I think were non serious birding ladies the bird through the telescope.  I think that they were impressed.  Not with me and my scope, but with the bird.  I do find it interesting how some folk approach bird watching and it is interesting to watch sometimes.  Today we had two guys who turned up and immediately asked to be put onto the Roller, a bird it was actually quite hard to miss even with the naked eye.  Now I’m the first to admit that I’ve benefitted from being put onto birds often enough myself, but not usually before I’ve bothered to at least take a look for myself!  I would have thought for those carrying expensive optics, that part and parcel of the pleasure is looking to find the bird yourself.  That’s   just an observation I make.  On the way back to the car we heard the unmistakable call of Corn Butting.  Next stop was to be RSPB Blacktoft.  Kestrel was seen on the journey.  We saw six plus today.

Roller.  All photos courtesy of Samuel Hood.  
But Sam has asked me to point out distance 
and lighting effected quality.

Once at the reserve we were soon adding the likes of Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Tree Sparrow to our day list.  There were many more Avocets of course, but few other waders.  Perhaps the water was just too high.  We did have some very good sightings of Marsh Harrier right in front of the hides.  I reckon we saw at least five separate birds.  Male, female and juvenile were all seen very well and Sam has now added another favourite bird to his growing list.  I have to say that the harriers are certainly my favourite species of raptor.  A long distance sighting of Sparrowhawk was made.  Both Little and Great Crested Grebe were seen.

Marsh Harrier

We’d kept an eye open for the Marsh Warbler with no luck and then the heavy rains came so we had dived into the hides.  We managed to avoid any soaking today.  Later on I initially put down a snatch of song to a Sedge Warbler.  Tom’s ear was better trained on this one and he’d already been down to see it.  We stopped and listened and it certainly was what we were after.  A strange song indeed with what I described as ‘squeaky toy’ sounds in the middle.  We were listening to the Marsh Warbler.  No doubt about that.  There was a lot of bird movement at this time, but I caught sight of the bird.  I’ll be honest and say not well enough to confirm what I had seen.  Never the less as far as I’m concerned I had enough evidence to add this Marsh Warbler to my life list.  The song being perhaps more important than a clear sighting in this case.  Would I have picked this bird up if I had not known it was there?  Well maybe not, but I know I’m not alone with that!  On several occasions I’ve seen birders leave sites delighted that they have seen a species when quite clearly they have not.  At least I had evidence to back me up.  Another of the day’s highlights, but somewhat behind the European Roller.  Thankfully we almost had the reserve to ourselves.  One of my favourite reserves and I can never understand why it is always so quiet.  I guess not having a café helps.:-)  Be a great shame if they ever add one!  There’s always a wonderful atmosphere about the place and the surrounding area reminds me of the North Norfolk coast.

We did a bird count as Tom drove Sam and I back to Doncaster Railway Station.  It came to seventy-nine.  We must have missed one somewhere along the line as I’ve written my list and it actually comes to eighty species.  I’ve not slipped one in to round up……..honest!  Incidentally Sam won the contest at estimating number of birds seen.  I’m surprised Sam and I stayed awake until we arrived back in Newcastle just before 10:00pm.  I fell asleep as soon as my head touched my pillow later though and bet I wasn’t the only one.:-)  It had been a long day, but an excellent one with two great guys.  Well, three if you count me!  Hopefully it will be repeated in the not too distant future.  Thanks guys and thanks especially to Tom for the driving.  Cheers.

Addendum.  I thought it odd that we had never heard Chiffchaff at all.  Sam seems sure he did briefly at Blacktoft and I’m thinking we saw Great Black-backed Gull.  This would bring the list to eighty-two.  I’m quite content with the round eighty though.


  1. It's good that the reserve always seems to be quiet. It will have been fab seeing the Roller and Marsh Warbler!

  2. It was sort of 'see one hear one' Mark! :-) The E Roller was a stunning bird indeed on what was generally a great days birding. Cheers.

  3. I see. Yeah the European Roller will have been great, especially as you actually had decent views of it.

    It looked like a very good day yes, I reckon the (mainly) good weather will have helped quite a bit. I'm not surprised you slept well that night, lol.