Trip reports

Field Trip - Gibraltar Point

Dark-bellied brent goose on water at Hayling Island

Sunday, 20 October 2019

The day started well with a peregrine falcon flying over Paternoster Row while we waited for the coach to arrive. Full of anticipation, we boarded the coach for what we knew would be a relatively long journey to the South Lincolnshire coast. Two and a half hours later, we arrived at Gibraltar Point, pouring from the cold coach (the heating was broken) into the weak October sunshine. While many went for coffee and cake at the visitor centre, others couldn't wait to take advantage of the myriad bird-rich habitats on offer.

As we'd arrived at high tide, the first port of call for many was either the Wash viewpoint or the shoreline. On the way to the shore, three lucky members just happened to be passing the ringing station when the warden returned from the nearby Heligoland trap. Asked if he had caught anything good he replied, "Wait a moment", before disappearing into the hut, one strikingly similar to the war-time ruins to be found along the North Sea coast. Moments later, he emerged with a tiny yellow-browed warbler in his hands; a very special treat.

The estuary itself provided a decent show of birds. Mallard, wigeon, pink-footed goose, brent goose, shelduck, teal and pintail were the main wildfowl with waders including dunlin, black-tailed and bar-tailed godwits, curlew, redshank and turnstone. Clouds of knot could be seen out in the Wash and several sanderling were dodging the waves as these hit the beach. Two visiting American birders with us were thrilled to see oystercatcher, a 'lifer' for them. The more dedicated sea-watchers were rewarded for their patience with red-throated diver, gannet and red-breasted merganser.

Wandering among the dunes is a good place to try and spot a rare migrant passerine among the sea buckthorn and hawthorns, dripping with their orange and red jewels above a carpet of grass and autumn fungi. The moderate breeze kept small birds sheltering in the scrub but good numbers of thrushes had come in off the sea; mainly robins, blackbirds and redwings. How many of these will end up in our gardens this winter? A number of ring ouzels were also present and a single redstart was seen. A female reed bunting was carefully scrutinised in the hope of turning it into a rarer species but remained just a female reed bunting!

Birds were not the only wildlife to be seen and the reserve yielded several mammal species including roe deer, brown hare and common seal. Two members were privileged to witness the raw brutality of nature at close quarters. Watching a stoat chase a rabbit for five minutes, the stoat finally caught its prey yards away from them on the path through the dunes. Death came quickly; the rabbit letting out a primal scream as the stoat just appeared to be gripping the back of its neck. After a few seconds it was over, the rabbit could have been sleeping; a scarlet spot on the stoat's chest the only sign of the struggle before it hauled the now lifeless form up the bank to the protection of the thorny scrub.

Gibraltar Point also offers saltmarsh, freshwater lagoons, heathland and woodland and other notable bird species seen included avocet, merlin, peregrine, water rail, kittiwake, stonechat and chiffchaff.

After a rewarding day, we returned to the coach for the homeward journey - an uneventful one apart from the brief moment when the coach driver's tip couldn't be located! Although this initially conjured up the image of searching under seats in the dark or frisking forty two birders each with at least twenty pockets, rucksacks and bags....fortunately, it was easily found!

Bird species: 78
Attendees: 42