Trip reports

The September Mini-bus Week-end..... or Birding on the High Seas!

The September Mini-bus Week-end..... or Birding on the High Seas!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

On arrival at the hotel our rooms and luggage were quickly sorted - it was bed for some and a much needed drink at the "local" for others.
At 5.50 a.m. the early morning call from the Herring Gull did an effective job and by 6.30 we were off to Flamborough Head for a spot of sea watching. It was a glorious Saturday morning, there was quite a lot about and, once we'd got our eye in, even the rarities like Sooty and Manx Shearwaters were picked up skimming the wave tops.
The Arctic and Great Skuas were harassing the Terns for fish. Gannets of all ages, from dark plumaged youngsters to immaculate white and black adults, patrolled in small flocks flying between Bempton and their North Sea fishing spots. Several groups were plunge diving into shoals of fish - whilst closer inshore were Guillemots, Shags, Rock Doves and many Gulls ...
All this and we hadn't even had breakfast!!
After a "full English" we were off again, this time to Spurn Point. The journey produced some good birds including a group of Grey Partridge, spotted from the front by Liz, and it was worth a sharp turn around for us all to see them - skilful driving averting any traffic issues.

The tide was falling and at the northern end of the spit we stopped to scan the mud. It was full of waders - Golden and Grey Plovers, Knot, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Curlew, Oystercatchers, Dunlin, and Godwits to name but a few.
We continued down to the Spurn Reserve car park, unloaded the minibus and walked up to the sandy "cliff". It was an ideal place for a little more sea watching and everyone got themselves settled with bins and scopes.
However it wasn't the seabirds that were the main attraction, it was the skeins of 200 - 300 Pinkfeet that were flying in from their northern breeding grounds. We must have watched several thousand en route to their wintering base in Norfolk - what made it so special was that one skein contained a Snow Goose the one the group had probably seen last year.
It was being monitored by wardens as it flew down the east coast. They told us the time that it had passed Flamborough Head and when it would reach us .. and sure enough, to the minute, the skein came into view. The Snow Goose, often in the leading group, brilliant white amongst the dark grey Pinkfeet. The fly past was just a part of the massive migration that will come during the autumn, but what a privilege to be there witnessing the start of it all and to see the Snow Goose again.

It was time for lunch - Gill and Maggie did a great job preparing the "traditional" picnic (Pete having been to Tesco's after breakfast). It was eaten in the sunshine, on the sandy "cliff" and finished off with fruit. We cleared up and decided to go down to the end of Spurn, very few people having been there before.
The sand spit is about 6 kms long. Formed by longshore drift carrying sediment southwards, it has a broad anchor point on to the mainland, a narrow upper/middle section - only 8 metres wide at its narrowest point, and a wider southern end where the newest ridges of deposition are taking place. Here, close to the point, vegetation is thick shrub/low trees and the core of the area is quite sheltered - a real haven for exhausted migrants. However few birds were around, only Liz saw a Wheatear and a Pied Flycatcher, the rest of us had to be content with Linnets!

It was now late afternoon and the revised plan took us to Hornsea Mere, the roosting site for the Little Gulls of the area. What beautiful birds they are. Small, quite delicate and strikingly marked with a dark underwing, they were almost within touching distance as they battled against the wind. Most were adults, indeed Pete spotted only one juvenile, unusual given the time of year.
Then, it was back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothing before we hit the town. We found a restaurant that could cope with all fourteen of us and having eaten too much .. (only three managed any dessert!! ) we adjourned again to our "local" for drinks, chat and to observe the young on their Saturday night out!

The Sunday Herring Gull woke us for an early start to Filey Dams, a small nature reserve sited at the back of suburban housing. It was well managed with several pools and patches of woodland and reed. Highlights were the Tree Sparrows, a Common Sandpiper and some rather smart Snipe.
It was a bright and breezy morning, and after breakfast we walked down to the quay looking forward to the trip on the Yorkshire Belle. However, even before we boarded, there was a splendid Red-throated diver close into the harbour wall and Pete spotted a small group of Purple Sandpipers on the edge of the tideline - another new bird for some.
Then, it was a clamber down the gangplank to get seats at the front end of the boat.
It's a Skua and Shearwater cruise, run by the RSPB - it was the highlight of the weekend and everyone was hoping it would live up to expectations. Beyond the harbour walls the sea became very choppy and this plus the swell made it quite a rocky ride.
A cluster of Gulls and spectacular diving Gannets indicated a fish shoal and the first of many Sooty Shearwaters seared across the wavetops. The boat made its way out to between 3 and 5 miles off of Flamborough Head and skilful steering ensured that as many birds as possible were seen. Guillemots, rafts of Razorbills, Puffins, more Gannets and "Sooties" Bonxies, Arctic Skuas, Manx Shearwaters, Fulmars, Little Gulls, Kittiwakes and then a real rarity a Sabine's Gull. It was a juvenile en route from its Arctic homeland to wintering grounds off the coast of Africa. It is such a slim, beautifully marked, elegant gull by comparison to some of the "bruisers" that were circling round the "chum", (fish offal scattered from the back of the boat). The captain manoeuvred the boat around the gull flock several times in order that everyone had splendid views - it a first for many and a wonderful bird on which to turn and head back to Bridlington.

It was an exhilarating "home run". We were now heading into the swell and the choppy waves were large enough to send huge sprays of sea water right over the boat. Those on the impact side took the full brunt of the wetting, but no one escaped .. you just had to laugh, we all looked like drowned rats.
Once disembarked we squelched through the streets back to the hotel where a hot cup of tea was appreciated by all and a change of clothing was much needed by some!!
Then it was time to load up the bus and it was back down the M18 and M1 with the rain catching us up as we sped southwards. Another wonderful weekend had come to an end and I know that everyone would want to say a tremendous 'thank you' to Pete for all his efforts and brilliant organisation - indeed so enthusiastic are the group that we were already discussing the options for next year.

Janet Matthews