Even the cattle carry binoculars!

The Safari is having a go at putting pen to keyboard for the first time in six months - where does time go??? It's not as if we haven't been out enjoying our fantastic wildlife either, we've been here there and everywhere armed with binoculars, cameras and even the telescope sometimes.

This latest missive is a brief account of our annual safari to Spurn on the Yorkshire coast - the 'other' coast - with me old mucker IH and then joined by LCV. However for the first couple of days we were on our own and under instruction to find something good and nail it down...Did we succeed?

Spurn has a well deserved reputation for being one of the best birding sites in the country, anything can (and often does) turn up at any time and could be just around the corner or in the bush you're approaching and it's not only rare birds, common birds can pass through in unfathomable numbers compered to what we are used to on the west coast. So  many birds that we noticed even the two Highland Cows in one of the fields looked like they had binocular cases round their necks.


First up on arrival early in the morning is to head to the Seawatching Hide. Somehow we were first up the lane and at first thought we had the place to ourselves - a case of 'Oh that doesn't happen often' and 'oooh errr are there no birds here?' Which was a possibility due to the long run of westerly winds...in autumn this place needs some easterlies.

Then we saw permanent incumbent SE's little red car parked up by the gate, at last a bit of normality restored. Joining him in the hide we learned we'd missed a Sooty Shearwater a few minutes earlier - darn that petrol chaos forcing us to stop in Hull to refill half a tank 'just in case'. We watched the sea for a good couple of hours seeing not a lot out of the ordinary, a steady passage of Red Throated Divers being the highlight, the one pictured below (don't laugh) easily being the nearest but still nowhere near 'near', while Gannets of all ages and unidentified auks passed mostly distant in both directions.


SE was hoping for, or even expecting, a bit of duck passage but it never really materialised with only dribs and drabs of Teal, Wigeon and Common Scoters moving through. The best birds were a lone Puffin that we picked up in the middle distance a couple of distant Arctic Skuas and a very close Manx Shearwater.

Having a look around the Warren it was evident very little was on the move apart from maybe a few Linnets, and Reed Buntings, the scrub was almost devoid of birds and apart from a few 'trilleping' small flocks of Skylarks passing overhead nothing much was in the air either. 

Time to hit the wetlands up the road. With the tide being out most of the waders had left for the adjacent mudflats but there was enough to keep us interested, a small flock of Black Tailed Godwits held a couple of Bar Tailed Godwits revealed by closer inspection through the 'scope. Particularly impressive were the numbers of Mediterranan Gulls of all plumages. There had been reports of a Caspian Gull in recent days and we eventually found it when a small number of Herring Gulls appeared. although it wasn't IT it was a different one, but one that had been at the site previously,  bearing a bright yellow Darvik ring XPEU.


Caspian Gull with four other gull species

We also saw the unringed, fully winged Chiloe Wigeon that's definitely come straight from the Caribean on the strong westerly winds of lat...NOT.

A walk up to Beacon Pond gave us a Whinchat foraging with three Wheatears in the field by the Listening Dish while the 'pond' itself had little of note other than a decent number of Little Grebes, we sort of lazily counted about 10 - don't think we've ever seen that many together before!

Another look from the hide at the wetlands gave us a Kestrel taking a Short Tailed Vole away for an afternoon snack and a brief view of a Short Eared Owl.




With not a lot else happening we headed back to the Seawatching Hide for an hour or so before calling it a day. 

There were loads (about 200 was the final count) of Little Gulls out by the wind turbines, twinkling like white confetti in the afternoon light - a long way off but still a beautiful sight. Much closer in not far offshore a mother Harbour Porpoise and her calf passed by.


All in all not a bad day, despite it being quite quiet for Spurn we tallied up 52 species of birds and four mammals

Our second day dawned and we were out early but this time there were other cars parked on the lane by the time we arrived. Straight to the Seawatching Hide again but before we got there at the cottage we learned we'd just missed stonking views of a Little Bunting...by no more than 30 seconds...dohhh if only we hadn't faffed around putting our waterproofs on!!! Others had seen it fly over ridge towards the sea, now the twitch was on - could it be relocated? Yes it could in the sheepless sheep field but again it flew before the small crowd could get anywhere near it. It landed on the cliff edge where we ever so cautiously stalked it to where we all thought it was, in a gully on the cliff face but peering over the edge ever so cautiously it wasn't to be found. It had landed on the cliff top on the far side of the gully and flew off with a sharp 'zik' so untickable views but at least we 'got it on call'. While up on the cliff top one of the other birders called out 'Hawfinch' looking round we had superb views of the big beaked brute and heard its distinctive almost metallic call as it circled the nearby bushes (the same ones the bunting had been in earlier) but it refused to land and headed off northwards.With small flocks of Redwings and Bramblings about the day was already a bit livelier than yesterday. What else was about?????

We opted to do what we had intended to do from the off, seawatch and it wasn't a bad session with the usual Gannets and auks supplemented by several each of Great and Arctic Skuas followed by a very close Pomarine Skua which although we tried to get a photo all we managed was empty sky...dohhh!!!

Then news broke of a Red Breasted Flycatcher just up the lane...well it would be rude not too! We stood with a small crowd getting the briefest views of flits deep in the shrubbery but nothing conclusive at all. After a while a Chiffchaff showed up just to confuse the matters - which flit was which? At least the Chiffchaff did the decent thing and sat out in the open occasionally, even posing on an exposed and isolated Hogweed stem occasionally the assembled photographers were praying the flycatcher would land. Eventually it did show fairly well through a 'hole' in the bush, unfortunately we were looking at the wrong hole in the right bush and consequently missed it. After another half an hour of seeing nothing but flits deep in the vegetation we gave up and went to the wetlands which were quiet. A Kestrel making short work of another hapless Short Tailed Vole was the highlight. A Little Owl in the messy farm yard across the field was pointed out to us, we'd have missed it without local knowledge but although it showed really well it was too far for a pic...reminder to self - - do more digiscoping!!!

A mooch up to the Listening Dish gave us no Whinchats today but a couple of Stonechats buzzed the fenceline of the sheep field. Beacon Pond gave us almost the same as yesterday with nothing new of note. Then the grapevine told us the flycatcher had been a little more showy so back we went and as luck would have it almost as soon as we arrived there it was - for just a microsecond longer than the camera needed to focus on it.

We hung around a good while longer but saw nothing other than the brief flits we'd seen on our first visit.

A visit to Sammy's Point was in order so we jumped in the car and had a drive round. Not much doing round the bushes just a few Redwings on the move but not stopping and a couple of Reed Buntings along the ditch side. A little disappointed we made our way back to the car park bumping into this very confiding Whinchat on the way. Stunning little birds aren't they.



Despite the rumours of double figure Short Eared Owls in the rough field we didn't see any probably a little too early in the day.
Driving back we saw a reasonable crowd stood along the lane where the flycatcher had been, so still there we reckoned. Going back along the 'inside path' we were beckoned forward by a couple sat ont he ground under a small Willow bush...'it's here but low down and there's a Redstart with it' they hushed. Like a Leopard stalking an antelope we got in to position and got some great views through the bins, the light was a bit iffy for the camera but we pointed it that way anyway.

In interactions it had with the Redstart the bigger Redstart always won chasing the flycatcher away from its favourite perches.
Again going for a quick seawatch a Spotted Flycatcher and Pied Flycatcher were pointed out to us in those bushes by the cottage. Sea watching gave us more views of the  distant flickering Little Gulls, a nice little half an hour before dinner time. During dinner heard news of an Olive Backed Pipit in a neighbouring garden so of fwe went full of hope as we'd missed one in the Observatory garden with LCV last year. But again it wasanother dip, we did see the bird but just a quick dart across the front of the hedge and back in to deep cover to roost - untickable views and no call this time. Things were looking up for the arrival of good friend IH. We drove to our digs where he would join us later that evening stopping for what turned out to be the only Brown Hare of the trip. Almost dark so not the best pic and it did bolt half way across the field when we lifted to boot of the car to get the camera out, not that it was that close to the road anyway...dohhh!!!

And so ended our second day.

Where to next? We'll tell you about our digs.

In the meantime let us know what's lurking in the shrubbery in your outback.