Thursday 13 October 2016

Spurned 24th-28th September 2016 Part 3

So our last full day at Spurn arrived all too soon. Following all the driving of yesterday I decided that I would stay local and out of the car as much as possible. To this end we all decided on a spell of sea-watching first thing and made the short drive to the seawatching hide at the far end of the road by the old Observatory.

A huge articulated lorry with Lithuanian number plates had contrived to get completely stuck in the mud as it attempted a U turn at the end of the road. The driver was standing by the huge vehicle looking forlorn and it was obvious he was going nowhere which was unfortunate as the container he was towing contained fresh fish destined for Grimsby fish market. How on earth he managed to get so lost and find his way to this dead end road in the middle of nowhere and miles from Grimsby is hard to fathom.

We went up the steps leading to the seawatching hide and as expected found it already full of birders. No matter, we got some chairs and sat outside in front of the hide so we could communicate with the birders inside and vice versa. There was, however, little happening, just some divers and ducks going past and our first Pink footed Geese, four in total passed south far out to sea in front of the wind turbines. A regular in the hide very kindly made us all a cup of tea cementing the impression I had already got of how friendly the local people are hereabouts.

The wind turbines 5 miles offshore
Oxonbirders seawatching from outside the Hide
Some other birders were vis migging ( watching visible migration), just off to our left, as migrating birds came down the narrow strip of land, following it out to Spurn Point, some three miles distant and then crossing the huge Humber Estuary to make landfall on the Lincolnshire coast

After an hour we got fed up with the comparative lack of birds and Andy decided to walk to Spurn Point. I took Badger and Clackers back to the Kilnsea Wetlands Hide and then drove back to the old Observatory having decided that I too would take up my self made promise to walk the six mile round trip to Spurn Point and back.

I set off, first tackling the long arduous stretch of soft sand which is where the sea had breached the strip of land on a few previous occasions, pressaging the day, not too far in the future when it will reclaim this narrow hundred metre wide strip of land, but for now it was safe to cross as the tide was going out and it was not predicted to be a high tide anyway. There are signs giving tide times and predicting on what dates the tides will be threatening and also there is a small, cramped looking hut affording shelter for about two people in case you do get trapped on the wrong side of the peninsula and have to wait for the tide to recede. 

The lonely  walk out to Spurn Point was all you would expect of a narrow strip of land surrounded on both sides by sea; on one side the North Sea and on the other the huge Humber Estuary. Wild, lonely and deserted at this early hour I shared the shoreline with the odd Grey Plover, Curlew and Common Redshank.  I was on my own, with a strong southwest wind blowing down the beach into my face and the occasional wild cry from a shorebird to add to the feeling of desolation and emptiness. It was with an unsettling combination of exhilaration and foreboding that I headed for Spurn Point

Looking away out to Spurn Point, some 3 miles distant curving round to the right
Walking onwards I eventually came  to an area of dunes and sueda with a track running through the middle. Birds were very hard to see due to the wind which had obviously sent them  into cover but the occasional Robin and Dunnock briefly emerged from the dense cover. Hardly exciting.

I caught up with Andy who told me he had flushed a large thrush but it had disappeared into the sueda and despite searching we could not find it again. We walked on together, towards the Lighthouse which is, contrary to expectations not on Spurn Point itself but some quarter of a mile inland from the actual Point. 

Spurn Point Lighthouse
We walked past the Lighthouse and onwards and came to a small number of modern buildings that house the Lifeboat and Coastguard crews as the Lifeboat is moored out here.

The Lifeboat and Coast Guard houses at Spurn Point-accessed by Landrover
It was somewhat incongruous to see these modern buildings in such a wild and lonely place and to me a shame that these buildings have to be here but needs must I guess. The surrounding habitat looked superb for finding birds both rare and not so rare but today there was little about apart from flocks of migrant Swallows, Linnets and Meadow Pipits passing low over us and heading south.

We turned and walked back encountering other people coming out on the long walk. You used to be able to drive out to Spurn Point but the road is impassable and officially closed due to the dangerous situation with the tides and encroaching sea. I was glad we made the walk when we did as I got a real feel for the unique wildness of this strip of land, no more than a low lying peninsula of green surrounded by huge empty skies and sea.

On getting back to the start of the road by the old Observatory we found the container lorry was just being towed out of the mud by a tractor and then was forced to reverse all the way down the long road until it could turn at the crossroads by the Bluebell Cafe, owned and run by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Back at Kilnsea we rejoined Badger and Clackers and went for refreshments in the Bluebell Cafe and then headed for Kilnsea Wetlands Hide to look out on the flashes of water. There was not much that was different from yesterday, just a few lonely looking waders and a flock of Wigeon. I got a little bored and left the Hide to go and walk further to view another largish area of water called Beacon Ponds further up the track.

It was better here and hunkering below a bank and out of the wind I set about scoping the water's edge. A Grey Plover,  a Bar tailed Godwit, some Dunlin and Ringed Plover were along the shoreline and on the water itself were some Dark bellied Brent Geese, Wigeon and further on two Pale bellied Brent Geese, whilst a flock of some ten Little Grebes were sheltering in a little bay out of the wind.

With nothing more to see I walked back along the grass track making a small detour to look at 'The Kilnsea Sound Mirror', a forerunner of radar that was used to provide early warning of incoming enemy aircraft. The mirror is made of concrete with a dish of around 15 feet in diameter facing the sea. It worked by focusing the noise of aircraft engines onto a microphone which amplified the sound. A microphone would have been fitted to a metal post set in a concrete block in front of the mirror and an operator would use headphones to listen for an approaching enemy aircraft. It all seems incredibly crude now but at the time it was all that was available and it is good that this example has been preserved.

The Kilnsea Sound Mirror
My order of two copies of the excellent, highly recommended and recently published Birds of Spurn were delivered to The Obs and signed for me in person by the author, Andy Roadhouse who sadly is suffering from terminal cancer but carries on regardless to my immense respect. 

The evening followed its by now familiar routine of  dinner and drinks in the Crown and Anchor and then back to The Obs for our last night of communal snoring.

A spectacular sunset over the Humber Estuary as seen from the Crown and Anchor
The next morning we got all our stuff together, loaded up the cars and bade farewell to The Obs. Andy was determined to walk out to Spurn Point again as he was keen to try and find out just what that large thrush was. Ludicrously I had speculated it could have been an ultra rare White's Thrush but Andy thought Mistle Thrush was more likely, although even that is rare at Spurn. We left Andy to it. Sadly on his return he had not been able to find and therefore resolve the mystery thrush's identity or find the Lapland Bunting reported from Spurn Point yesterday. A final stint of seawatching produced nothing unusual and a final visit to the Canal Scrape Hide produced the customary Jack Snipe but more interestingly a good selection of passerines, as the brisk southwest wind finally relented and dropped to a mere breeze. It was truly amazing how differently the birds behaved with a drop in the wind. Scores of migrants were now steadily passing over, moving south, Goldfinches, Linnets, Swallows, Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings and Tree Sparrows were all actively migrating in some numbers out towards Spurn Point.

One of the Little Grebes present, unusually left the water and stood, unperturbed beside a Greylag Goose which completely dwarfed it.

The long and the short of it! Greylag Goose and Little Grebe
Looking out from the Hide to the hawthorn bushes on the far side we found a Common Redstart, a Lesser Whitethroat, two Sedge Warblers and three Common Chiffchaffs flitting in and around the bushes whilst a juvenile Yellow Wagtail briefly stopped by the water's edge before flying onwards.

Yellow Wagtail-juvenile
The Hide was rapidly becoming crowded as the morning wore on and a party of less serious birdwatchers from Leeds arrived. It was all rather convivial as we pointed out various birds to them for which they were kindly appreciative and then we vacated our seats and left them to it.

We wandered down the road in the welcome sunshine to view The Well Field to our left, part of an area called The Triangle. The fence line was decorated with Whinchats, we counted up to twenty, flying down from the fence wires to grab prey and then back up to resume their position in readiness for the next foray. They were joined by two female European Stonechats and a Northern Wheatear to complete a nice variety of commoner chat species.

European Stonechat-female
A quick visit to the Bluebell Cafe for refreshments and then Clackers and myself were on our way back to Oxfordshire. Our four day spell at Spurn Observatory was over. It could have been better but it could have been worse. It is all down to the wind direction over which we can have no control but we had a good time, enjoyed each other's company and are all still friends and you cannot ask for anything more than that. I for one will definitely return

Video below courtesy of Badger and Megabrock Productions

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