Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Spurned 24th-28th September 2016 Part 2

I awoke on Monday to find a clear morning and the sun shining but still with a strong southwest wind blowing. My focus this morning was to go to the Canal Scrape Hide to look for the Jack Snipe once more whilst Clackers fancied hanging around the Crown and Anchor car park looking for Yellow browed Warblers and anything else that might turn up in the surrounding trees and bushes. Andy and Jason were on a more adventurous mission, planning to go to a  place called Hatfield Moor some hour and half's drive south. The incentive for them was a reported Buff breasted Sandpiper that had been frequenting there for the last week or so and the fact that Andy had never seen one.

I left the others and made for the Hide and unsurprisingly for an early Monday morning found myself the sole occupant. I looked out expectantly to where the Jack Snipe had been yesterday but there was not a sign of it there or anywhere else on the scrape. 

Jack Snipe habitat and where it showed so well yesterday but not today!
I sat, morose and inwardly chiding myself for being so foolish as to allow my expectations to get the better of me. I have birded enough to know that birds often never do what you expect or wish and so it was here. The chill wind blew straight into my face through the open viewing slat as half an hour passed waiting in a forlorn hope that the Jack Snipe might emerge from the reeds.

I watched the regular Little Grebes fluffing themselves into rotund powder puffs on the shallow water and a Water Rail skulked along the edge of the reed bed. The Hide door opened and I was joined by a local birder also armed with a camera and like me hoping to see the Jack Snipe. We greeted each other and then sat quietly waiting and hoping. He must have noticed me shivering as he offered me a cup of tea, a typically friendly gesture of the birders in these parts and very much welcomed by me.

Many migrants were moving southwards along the peninsula to the Point where they would leave the narrow strip of land and cross the Humber. Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits. Swallows and Starlings could be seen or heard passing overhead

Time dragged on with some of the parties of Swallows heading along the peninsula stopping off at the scrape for a few seconds, calling to each other as they swooped across the water before heading inexorably southwards on their huge adventure. There is an indefinable urgency about these migrating birds that you find yourself getting caught up in as if they are touching some long suppressed primal urge.

Three Whinchats were sharing a barbed wire fence with some Reed Buntings, dropping down into the grass to seize prey and then flying back up to the fence to resume their vigil. It was sheltered where they were by a large reed bed with maroon tasselled reed heads waving in the wind behind the fence.

Two Common Snipe landed very close in front of the hide and in the early morning sun proved too tempting a target not to take some photos and we both clicked away merrily as the two snipe followed each other along the water's edge,  probing their enormous long bills into the soft mud. They always look to me slightly unbalanced, almost top heavy as their legs are comparatively short compared to the extraordinary length of their bill. Eventually even the snipe could hold my attention no longer and I said good bye to my new companion and headed back to the pub car park to find Clackers. 

Common Snipe
He reported that he had seen a Yellow browed Warbler really well so at least someone had a successful morning. We decided to follow Andy and Badger and drive to Hatfield Moor. I contacted Badger on my phone and he gave me instructions as to how to get there. After a brief hold up in Hull in the inevitable rush hour traffic we were soon making good time but the weather was now turning for the worse and a gentle, persistent rain and gloomy grey skies took over from the earlier sun.

To cut a long story short we, not without some difficulty, found the car park at Hatfield Moor where Andy had parked his car. I called Badger again and discovered we had the prospect of  an epic walk in front of us before we got to the area where the Buff breasted Sandpiper was meant to be. This brought an audible groan from Clackers. Needless to say Badger and Andy had not yet found the sandpiper.

Clackers and myself set off on the interminable walk through woodland and a couple of lakes, passing a huge prison on our left which only made things more depressing but eventually the trail we were on opened out onto a vast acreage of desolate moorland that stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. The whole area was a series of waterlogged large squares that were formed from now abandoned peat extraction workings. It was an acidic wasteland of dark dank earth, heather and birch scrub and looked almost birdless. It would take days to find anything in this huge area and a couple of local birders confirmed our worst fears on that score. Badger and Andy had disappeared into the vast emptiness, later likened by Badger and Andy to The Dead Marshes in Lord of the Rings, looking for the sandpiper. Clackers decided he had done enough walking for the day so sat on a bench with the local birders whilst I wandered off along a central pathway and tried to find anything with feathers on lurking in one of the waterlogged squares or cells as the locals called them. After some while walking between the old workings I came to one large square harbouring some Dunlin, Golden and Ringed Plovers but no Buff breasted Sandpiper. I returned to Clackers and we managed to see some Grey Plover and a Curlew Sandpiper on another square but it was grim, really grim and I was keen to get back to the car, leave this soulless place and go somewhere else.

We watched a trio of European Stonechats as we waited for Badger and Andy to rejoin us and then we made the long trek back to the car. A Common Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests were all we saw on the way back. The RSPB Reserve at Blacktoft was nearby so we decided to give this a try but sadly this was also a great disappointment as the RSPB had been doing a lot of work on the scrapes and birds were at a premium due to the disturbance. A Spotted Redshank, a very young Water Rail still growing its wings and two Bearded Tits, the latter only seen by Clackers were the only highlights and we soon left

The rain was now getting more persistent and all in all spirits were low. I elected to go back with Clackers to Kilnsea and give the Canal Scrape Hide another try, reasoning that at least we would be out of the rain whilst Badger and Andy elected to give the hide at Kilnsea Wetlands a try 

So Clackers and myself entered the Canal Scrape Hide once more to learn from a birder inside that the Jack Snipe had been seen earlier but now there was no sign of it. 

Clackers in the Canal Scrape Hide
The Canal Scrape as seen from the Hide
The birder who we did not recognise knew who we were and it turned out he was from Oxford and had met Clackers on Port Meadow which was near to where he lived. We resolved to sit it out until dusk and sat quietly and patiently hoping that the Jack Snipe, any Jack Snipe would come out of the reeds. People came and went from the Hide and an hour and  half must have passed with the cold wind unerringly finding its way through the viewing slat to chill my bones. A Little Egret paid a brief visit but soon headed for the nearby seashore.

Clackers managed to find a male Common Redstart in the bushes on the far side of the scrape as well as four distant Whinchats and a Sparrowhawk created a stir amongst the Meadow Pipits lurking in the grass. The light began to fade when suddenly from the sky two snipe rocketed down, separated, with one pitching on a sheltered flattened area of dead reeds near to the Hide. The other flew further on, also landed and was hidden from view. I expected them to be Common Snipe but on looking through my bins at the crouched form on the dead reeds was overjoyed to see it was a Jack Snipe and presumably the other one was also. No one else in the Hide seemed to have noticed their arrival.

It was a surprise as I was fully expecting a Jack Snipe to come out of the reeds as it had always done before, not arrive from the sky but here was one just flown in. Had it been migrating and just arrived or had it flown in from somewhere else nearby? We would never know but excitedly I told everyone else that there was now a Jack Snipe viewable very close to the Hide and after ten minutes of remaining absolutely still and checking there was no danger the Jack Snipe rose up on its legs commenced bouncing and walked ever closer to us.

What a fantastic end to what had not been the greatest of days birding.We all watched enthralled as the Jack Snipe fed out in the open but the light was fading rapidly and it was hard to get good photos.Never mind I had finally achieved my aim of seeing it once more. A moulting juvenile Dunlin also flew in and joined the Jack Snipe on the mud.

Jack Snipe
The rest of the evening fell into its by now familiar routine of eating, drinking and socialising in the Crown and Anchor and then back to The Obs and bed. Today had involved rather too much driving for my taste and I resolved that tomorrow I would not be leaving The Spurn Peninsula and Andy and myself briefly discussed walking out to Spurn Point,  a six mile round trip but one we felt every birder should do at least once in their lifetime just as walking out to Blakeney Point in Norfolk is a similar rite of passage that every birder should attempt.

We decided to sleep on it.

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