Trip reports

An East Coast Adventure

An East Coast Adventure
Red breasted flycatcher - L bimson

Friday, 15 September 2017

We're off, a 7am start, a mini bus and two cars speeding along the M62 east. RSPB Liverpool's East Coast weekend had finally arrived.

Our intention was to go straight to RSPB Blacktoft Sands but a recent bird alert told us of a Baird's sandpiper at White Holme Reservoir. This was a rare visitor from North America, so a little detour was required (

On arrival at the reservoir, other birders were evident, raising our hopes. A distant blob on the sandy beach sent half of the group circumnavigating the reservoir; alas, this was to be a mistake as the bird flew and those who stayed on the path got a brief in-flight view, and that would be the last sighting of it for us. White Holme is on top of the Pennines - a wild windy, exposed moorland landscape, the wind turbines strangely beautiful in the morning sun.
Some of the other birds observed on the moors were stonechat, red grouse, wheatear, meadow pipits and pheasant.

Leaving White Holme and travelling east towards RSPB Blacktoft Sands for lunch and a much-needed hot drink (, a bus bonus species turned out to be two red kites circling over the M62.

On entering the reserve, you couldn't fail to see that the bird feeders and hedgerows were heavy with tree sparrows, chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches, linnets and tits.

Visiting the hides, we noted reed bunting and hirundines, and heard a Cetti's warbler in front of the Singleton hide but, alas, only a few saw the elusive bearded tits.

Waders and waterfowl using the lagoons included ringed plover, shelduck, mallard, teal, shoveler, wigeon, little grebe, dunlin, ruff, black-tailed godwits, snipe, redshank and spotted redshank, little and great egret, and lapwings. Several green sandpipers could be seen at the back of the reed bed, whilst several water rails weaved in and out of the reed beds along with some moorhens. A pied wagtail landed on a scrape - some of us thought it might be a white wagtail, but no.

On our way back to the car park we were treated to a view of the cutest stoat dashing around the flattened reed bed close to the feeding station.

Amazingly, the reserve still had a meadow with the more spring/summer-like flowers - poppies, daisy's and corn marigold - in full bloom.

Of the visiting raptors, buzzard, kestrel, merlin and marsh harrier were seen over the reed bed.

What was to follow next was totally unexpected and distressing for our group. One of our members shockingly had his car broken into and some of his possessions stolen; we were all stunned. What made it worse was the car window could not be repaired until after the weekend, which meant our friend had to go home, his trip barely started. Due to this shocking incident, our group decided to head straight for our hotel, Premier Inn Hull North, to drop off our bags, rather than go to another site.

It was after 5pm before we headed for Kilnsea and Spurn ( for a quick taster before our full day there on Saturday. As we arrived at the fabulous little Bluebell café (, a little grebe cut a lonely figure on the nearby pond. House sparrows foraged over the neighbouring caravan site.
We called into the lagoon at Kilnsea wetlands, where mute swan, greylag and pink feet joined mallard and teal. Clambering up the bank for a closer view, we were delighted to see little stint and a poor curlew sandpiper with a bad leg

Back to the hotel, but not before we were treated to a jaw-dropping, close-quarters view of a barn owl flying though some farm buildings close to the road.

Saturday, and a foggy morning dawned, not that this was going to put us off - nothing like a little bit of atmosphere to enhance the experience. After a substantial and delicious breakfast, we were back on the road. We would be spending the day at Kilnsea and Spurn.

First stop, the impressive new bird observatory, Sadly, we weren't able to go into the building and take a look as a course was running, but Nathan from the observatory was good enough to take the group on a little guided tour of the site, including Church Field, which houses the ringers' Heligoland Trap. The field is specially planted for the benefit of the breeding tree sparrows and many migrant birds that shelter and re-fuel there on migration. There is a feeding station in the north-east corner (memories of the ringed ouzel we'd seen there the previous October when we came to see the Siberian accentor and shore larks). They have also created some small ponds, which are proving popular with the local toads in spring, and with various dragonflies, some of which were on the wing whilst we were there. Talking of on the wing, an unexpected highlight of that walk was when a bittern decided to fly overhead - a rare sight and a special one for many. Tour over, we headed up the road near to the Crown and Anchor pub to search the car park for warblers, but no sign. We had travelled further down to the Warren to do some seawatching when a bird flew up into the bushes. "A warbler!" Neil shouted. It had an eye stripe; another without an eye stripe was chasing it: we had found our own yellow-browed warbler and a willow warbler! Astonishingly, at the same time Sean found another migrant, a red-breasted flycatcher. This, of course, caused a bit of a commotion and, as the jungle drums beat, other birders appeared out of nowhere!

Moving on to the Spurn seawatch hide, we squeezed in and surveyed the waters in front of the North Sea offshore wind farm. Distantly, you could see shearwaters, scoter, skuas, gannets, cormorants, terns and divers flying past the turbines. Back on the Humber shoreline, plovers, godwits and dunlin fed.
By this time the weather was looking a little threatening so we beat a retreat to the lovely Bluebell café for cake and coffee, and only just in time as the heavens opened and birders ran in - drowned rats, I believe is the saying!

Back to Kilnsea scrape and pool and a walk along Long Bank. A Brent goose appeared to be sleeping on the scrape, a regular long-stayer, we were informed. Viewed from the embankment, a group of pink-footed geese was causing some discussion between the more experienced birders: were there bean geese in this group? Longer bill, orange legs?? I don't think they reached a consensus. A joy to see, several roe deer and hares could be made out in the high grass of adjacent fields; they were later to be joined by curlew, wood pigeons and godwits. A white flash drew our attention to a barn owl flying low by Long Bank; it briefly disappeared, then landed on a post complete with its dinner! Was this the owl we'd seen the evening before?
The drive back to the hotel was fittingly eventful, as a large gathering of birds on a ploughed field turned out to be hundreds of golden plover, a congregation no less. Safety in numbers was the order of the game as now and then they took fright and flight before settling down again. Mmh, Could this be the reason they were so nervous; further down the road a sparrowhawk sat obligingly on a post, a great view for those on the right-hand side of the bus.

We must say we had very good customer service in the Kingswood restaurant: they arranged the tables to seat 16, had a varied menu and served our food quickly. Seated together, we all had the chance for a catch up on the day and to relax. Jenny B was hopeful, trying to pay for her bill with her bus pass - should have gone to Specsavers... ha, ha!

Sunday, and a mission to squeeze in both RSPB Bempton Cliffs and Flamborough Head before an afternoon date with a boat.
Arriving at the reserve, we were quickly on to some warblers in a scrubby patch by the car park. Chiffchaff, blackbird and dunnock gave way to a splendid lesser whitethroat and a male blackcap. Nearby was the bunting feeding station; sadly, the only thing of awesome note was the extraordinary number and size of the rat family that scurried under the feeders!
From the cliffs, a seabird spectacle awaited us: although the seabird breeding season was over, there were still some young, unfledged gannets, clinging to the cliffs with their parents. Over 1000 gannets were still present, bickering, diving, hanging on the wind - terrific!
Other birds espied by eye or scope on and over the sea included guillemots, scoter, kittiwake, fulmars, herring gulls, great skuas and jackdaws!
The reserve visitor centre has had a makeover and now features a nice café and shop to shelter in from any sudden squalls of inclement weather, and yes we did get caught out: whilst on the cliff viewing platform, we endured a rather unpleasant five minutes.
We were nearly back on the bus when a sudden shout went out that a juvenile red-backed shrike has been found. Lovely - and smiles all round, especially for Jenny and Laura, as this bird sighting meant they had both reached the 200th species target on the 'my 200 bird year challenge'

Onwards, a quick visit to Flamborough South Landing and a stroll through the woods. Another yellow-browed warbler had been seen but we didn't have time for an extensive search; a great spotted woodpecker and some splendid sea views had to do.

The afternoon saw us getting on the Yorkshire Belle at Bridlington for the RSPB skua and shearwater cruise: a 3-hour sailing from Bridlington up to three miles off Flamborough Head, looking for migrating seabirds (
Packed to capacity with eager birdwatchers, the Belle sailed out of the harbour walls, and we noted onomatopoeic kittiwakes and clockwork turnstones as we passed. Once out towards the headland, the 'chum' - a stinking mix of fish bits -was thrown out at the boat's stern; this helps attract the birds in close to the boat, so commentators and volunteers from the RSPB's East Yorkshire Local Group can shout out any sightings.
We were not disappointed: sightings included a fabulous sooty shearwater, Manx shearwater, and all four skuas - bonxie, arctic, pomarine and long-tailed. (Breathtaking bullyboy bonxie harassing gulls.)
Others seen included assorted gulls, fulmars, gannets, cormorants, guillemots and terns. Not forgetting brief glimpses of harbour porpoise and seals.
A great afternoon and we were pleased to say no one was seasick. And a final surprise: just as we were getting off, we bumped into a birding friend from home, Derek - three hours on the boat and we never knew you were there!

Meanwhile, back on land, after a quick mooch through the town, Debs walked along the prom and ate her lunch watching a few turnstone and sanderling looking for their lunch on the beach as the tide went out. Venturing on to the beach herself, she walked about two miles towards the wind turbines on what was a lovely sunny afternoon. Not far out at sea, juvenile gannets practised their diving technique: a slight upward lift, a half-turn, wings folded and dive, dive, dive, splash! Bob back up and take off, wings flapping ponderously, and start all over again. On the walk back, two common terns flew overhead and then landed further up the beach, among a small flock of gulls, and three young boys stripped down to their trunks and ran into the sea - only to run out again moments later, shrieking with shock at the cold. Debs also encountered her first ever Jackuahuas - Jack Russell x Chihuahua for the uninitiated. Plenty of exotic wildlife to be seen on Bridlington beach!

Fish and chips and mushy peas in Bridlington rounded off the day for us all and prepared us for the long drive home. "Carry on driver!"

119 species seen over three days:

Mute Swan, Tundra Bean Goose, Pink-Footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Brent Goose, Shelduck, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Common Scoter, Red Grouse, Grey Partridge, Pheasant, Red-Throated Diver, Little Grebe, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Bittern, Little Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Hobby, Merlin, Barn Owl, Water Rail, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Black-Tailed Godwit, Bar-Tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Ruff, Black-Headed Gull, Common Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Great Black-Backed Gull, Sabine's Gull, Kittiwake, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Long-Tailed Skua, Pomarine Skua, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Black Tern, Guillemot, Razorbill, Feral Pigeon, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, Wheatear, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Yellow-Browed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wren, Red-Breasted Flycatcher, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-Tailed Tit, Bearded Tit, Red-Backed Shrike, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Raven, Starling, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting.

A trip remembered...
The East Yorkshire coast at Bempton had been highly recommended, and it certainly didn't disappoint. From the wide open spaces of the arable lands to the dramatic chalk cliffs at Bempton itself, the landscape was breathtaking, and as for the birds .... ! I had never seen so many golden plover at one time, or had such close-up views of gannets preening and pairing and floating out from the cliffs into the rising breeze. A wonderful weekend. Anne Pope