Monthly Archives: September 2011

View from the Top

of the Old Spurn Lighthouse

Thanks to Andy Gibson and the YWT we went up to the top of the Old Lighthouse, near the end of the Spurn Peninsula last weekend. Check out the view. It’s really a very different perspective having a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the place. What struck me was just how thin it looked and how little habitat (shelter and food) there seemed to be from ‘up there’. Daughter Abigail and  Mrs G also feature.

We could also see the corpse of the young female Fin Whale on the beach.Photos here

Looking North

Looking South

Barra Boys Celebrate

10 years on

Got this from Calum Scott yesterday. 10 years ago (really?) a bunch of guys thought they would do a bit of exploring. Musing about where remained unexplored for autumn migration and vagrants around Britain, they decided to try the southern end of the Outer Hebrides (Scotland’s west coast), to an island called Barra. What they found went well beyond even their optimistic expectations. They kindly  invited me  to join them a few years back but I (gutted!) couldn’t make it. I admire them. They are returning this weekend for the 10th year. Congratulations guys for all you have achieved. I love the Trumpton-esq cake! (So which of the Barra boys is Captain Flack then?)

Wildlife Spectacle on Discovery Day

Visible Migration Extravaganza

When I plan for dates for guiding events, of course I never really know what might actually happen on the day. Only vague predictions based on time of year, weather patterns etc. Had a great time over the weekend of 10th/11th September on 4 hour ‘tasters’, and was expecting similar stuff for a‘Discovery Day’ on 14th. It turned out to be a visible migration extravaganza. From first light, birds began streaming down the peninsula. The first couple of hours was like watching a mega exodus. It was almost impossible to use binoculars, the sheer volume of bird and variety of species was staggering. Some  5,000 Meadow Pipits in the first 1.5 hours, together with hoards of Swallows and Martins, finches galore, Siskins, Redpolls, Linnets, plenty of flava (‘Yellow’) Wagtails, and Tree Sparrows. Then into the mix  (and it was often really ‘mixed’) the odd Tree Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Corn Bunting, Reed Bunting, Chaffinch and Goldfinch. You hardly knew which way to look!

Pink-feet Geese appeared in flocks at close range, gulls included several Mediterranean, as well as continuous passage of large gulls that barely got looked at. Waders , duck and seabirds put in an excellent south, and birds of prey are always a highlight with close Marsh Harrier, Merlin and 2 Osprey being the cream.

Meadow Pipit. The star bird. The British day record was broken the previous day at Spurn with 20,200 Meadow Pipits but the ‘Discovery Day’ did not disappoint with staggering total of some  15,750. Here’s just one of them flying past the Warren:

We got our first views of Pink-feet Geese of the autumn- always a great sight:

Besides the sheer mass of pipits, swallows, martins and finches, birds of prey put on a good show with the likes of this male Marsh Harrier (2nd summer/ 3rd cal yr?):

If you had chance to look, the stream of passing gulls held several Mediterranean Gulls, like this 2nd winter bird:

Osprey was my best find of the day. A juvenile bird which was flying over the caravan park as I went to lunch. Thankfully the radios are back up and running and most of our clients got views as the news quickly spread. I just didn’t have my camera with me- shame is it flew lovely and close right overhead. Here’s a Merlin past the Warren:

A calling Spotted Redshank (below) flew over head , and in a brief break we saw wonderful variety of waders species on the ebbing tide just south of the Warren.

Watching a wildlife spectacle rush by at the Warren, Spurn.

The nearby bushes and canal scrape didn’t  fail either, with migrant Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Whinchat, Redstart, and Wheatears. Close views of a couple of drake Pintail and a ‘drop-in’ Snipe were very nice:

Returning to the Warren late afternoon brought a fresh wave of 100’s of Swallows. Here’s a short (poor quality) video clip in my effort to give a vivid flavour of passing migration. You can just about see some of the birds passing near the camera. The clip ends with my friendly (honest!) banter with Adam Hutt.

The day ended for our group with some seawatching (and still visible migration) which brought e.g. Great Skua, Manx Shearwater, Shag, many Common Terns, and  both Arctic and Black Terns before we all had to (reluctantly) leave.

Here’s the full log from the Spurn Website of  a remarkable day.

Spurn Observatory Log: Wednesday 14th September 2011

Wednesday 14th
Migration/sea-watches 06.10-19.15. Same weather as yesterday with still a strong wind blowing and from the WSW, that eased a little in the afternoon, blue skies and clouds throughout the day, with just the odd very light shower.
Another superb day for passage and another excellent Meadow Pipit tally – 15,750, more hirundines and geese were moving today and similar numbers of finches. The totals for the day were 222 Pink-footed Geese, 1 Shelduck, 4 Wigeon, 10 Teal, 9 Pintail, 27 Common Scoter, 1 Goosander, 6 Marsh Harrier, 1 ringtail Hen Harrier, 2 Osprey (12.18, 16.10), 3 Sparrowhawk, 15 Kestrel, 42 Oystercatcher, 12 Knot, 18 Dunlin, 1 Ruff, 3 Whimbrel, 3 Curlew, 3 Redshank, 15+ Mediterranean Gull, 21 Lesser B.B.Gull, 5 Stock Dove, 8 Swift, 220 Sand Martin, 9530Swallow, 2480 House Martin, 12 Tree Pipit, 118 flava Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail, 14 alba Wagtail, 540 Tree Sparrow, 2 Chaffinch, 6 Goldfinch, 143 Siskin, 560 Linnet, 149 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Lapland Bunting, 11 Reed Bunting, 1 Corn Bunting.
There was a significant increase in grounded birds seen: 6 Yellow Wagtail, 1 Redstart, 10 Whinchat, 4 Wheatear, 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 11 Blackcap, 3 Lesser Whitethroat, 15 Whitethroat, 20 Chiffchaff, 14 Willow Warbler, 8 Goldcrest, 7 Spotted Flycatcher.
Seabirds seen included 79 Red-throated Diver, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 12 Manx Shearwater, 380 Gannet, 1 Cormorant, 4 Shag, 7 Arctic Skua, 9 Bonxie, 4 Little Gull, 4 Black Tern, 35 Sandwich, 2720 Common, 2 Roseate Tern, and 6 Arctic Terns.
Other birds seen included 2 Pintail, 1 Merlin, 1 Peregrine, 1 Spotted Redshank, 4 Greenshank.

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Beacon Ponds (near my caravan!)

Full day last Saturday, guiding both morning and afternoon. Observers from afar might have thought the strong  (mainly)  west + southwesterly winds on Britain’s east coast not especially conducive to memorable birding. We had a great day! plenty of visible migration action involving  plenty of Swallows, Martins and Meadow Pipits (1 Tree Pipit), Redpoll, Linnets, Siskins, sparrows etc. Lovely close views of excellent variety of juvenile waders and grounded migrants like Chiffchaff and Wheatear. Odd bits and pieces like Little Gull, Manx Shearwater and excellent views of several Arctic Skua. Who would have thought though? The day’s end brought a juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipier. What a cool bird!

Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper, 10 September 2011, Beacon Ponds. © Ian Smith. With juvenile Dunlin. The ID process was still in flux when we arrived, somewhat exacerbated by the distant viewing condition. It was an interesting ‘test case’ viz juvenile Red-necked Stint and greyer juvenile Little Stints.

Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper, 10 September 2011, Beacon Ponds. © Ian Smith. with Dunlin. At one stage a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper also kept it close company.

Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper, 10 September 2011, Beacon Ponds. © Ian Smith. For me there were some key features at long-range that helped secure the ID. The bird was dumpy, often almost ball-shaped, not especially long looking at the back-end. It was clearly something ‘good’ due to the very cold black/ grey upperparts and mostly gleaming white underparts (bit of breast side streaking and lovely warm fudge coloured wash). There were no warm tones above, in fact all the scapulars and coverts often looked of the same type of pattern, no obvious contrast between darker scapulars and paler coverts. So the upperparts pattern, body shape and primary projection all seemed to most favour Semipalmated. Then at one point I just managed to detect partial webbing (palmations) between the toes as it fed on sandy ground. Great learning, great bird! For me the distance that the bird was photographed at make it look a little more washed-out than in life (though photographers did amazingly well).

Photos showing more typically dump posture are here 

By way of  comparison a rather greyish juvenile Little Stint taken the same day, nearby at Patrington Haven  © Martin Standley

For fuller list of birds seen over the weekend see here. A few pics of the other stuff. And it was a Little Gull. One of 2 first winters detected way out over the Humber that kindly came and flew straight over our heads.

first winter Little Gull. One of two which flew together over our heads at the ‘Narrows’

Spurns regulars wrestling with and eventually delighted by the juvenile Semipalmted Sandpiper, at Beacon Ponds with grateful thanks to finder, Mick Turton.

Juvenile Sabine’s Gull


Dermot Breen emailed these photos of a Sabine’s Gull, which was found on Ireland’s west coast (Mannin Bay, Galway) yesterday, with broken wing by a local (celebrity!) fisherman. Sadly the bird died shortly after. Interestingly it gives an unusual opportunity to see moult beginning in the scapulars and wing coverts.

“Got a call today from a local boatman Martin O’Malley (made famous on BBC2:  ‘Monty Halls’ Great Irish Escape’  about a strange seabird he picked up near Ballyconneely. 
Unfortunately it was dead by the time I arrived. It had a badly broken left wing which it wouldn’t have survived. I had one passing Rinvyle Point earlier today also.
Interestingly it has moulted one of the greater coverts and one of the top scapulars both on the left hand side.