This past Saturday I had the pleasure to enjoy what was, without a shred of doubt, one of the best days birding I have ever experienced. A day jam-packed with everything which makes the hobby so appealing: globetrotting rarities, seasonal spectacles, serene settings and a wealth of fantastic people. All of which unfolded as I departed the house at the ungodly hour of 3am to hitch a lift South, to Spurn Point and the nearby town of Easington. Thanks for the lift Jack!
For many, the Spurn area represents the geographical holy grail of birding sites in the UK: so much so that it is discussed with awe by almost every avian-inclined person I have ever encountered. It’s fantastic variety of habitats, topography and well-placed setting often leading to exponential falls of rarities and common migrants alike. Though, truthfully, before now, I had never really experienced the site on a “good day”. My previous visits coming up short of the exceptional tales recited by others, and resulting in little other than a few common warblers and the odd flycatcher.
I am glad to say, however, that all of this changed on Saturday, the day starting on an otherworldly note when we merged with the crowd waiting to lay eyes on Britain’s second ever Siberian Accentor feeding with the Dunnocks at the site of a former school near Easington. Which we soon did – the bird, complete with its altogether beautiful yellow/black head pattern, showing down to a few meters as we sat wide-eyed amid the throng. Easily one of the most appealing (and confiding) rarities I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy – though my decision to leave my camera at home proved rather foolish. And as such, if only for enlightenments sake, I have included the below image from Wikipedia. Look at it!
By Jargal Lamjav from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – Siberian Accentor (Prunella montanella) – Сибирийн хайруулдай, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39422345
Following our success with the Siberian specialty, I could, quite honestly, have headed home content. Though given our location, it would have been rude not to explore the area further and experience fully the deluge of migrants falling around us. Something brought home with resonance as we arrived back to the car to shouts of “Great Grey Shrike” – the bird, one of my favorites no less, seen briefly on top of a nearby hedge, and proceeded by a Short-Eared Owl drifting in high overhead. Much to the annoyance of the two-hundred or so Redwing and Fieldfare also in the area. A good omen if ever there was one.
Arriving at Spurn a short time after, we were immediately greeted by another eager crowd, this time waiting for the release of a Pallas’s Warbler processed and banded a few moments earlier. A bird that I have wanted to see for many years that, until now, had managed to avoid me. This individual performing admirable upon its exoneration, flying into a small Alder right in front of me: its characteristic yellow markings alive momentarily in the growing sunlight, before it dropped out of sight. Spurring on our departure. The short walk that followed revealing hundreds more thrushes, more Robin’s than I have ever seen before in my life and no end of Goldcrests. The next highlight coming in the form of a Shorelark feeding, unphased by its admirers a stones throw from the nearby carpark. A bird I have seen on a number of occasions that never grows tiresome and never fails to delight the crowds.
From hear a leisurely stroll to the reported location of our next target ensued, stopping ever few meters to admire something new and exciting. A flock of Brambling feeding on the track, a superb female Black Redstart, flocks of Siskin, Redpoll and Skylark, alongside Blackcap, Whitethroat and yet more Goldcrest – many and more dropping into the grass beside the track as we advanced. The short walk culminating in amazing views of another lifer – a Dusky Warbler. The bird flaunting itself in the branches of a stunted Hawthorn much to my own personal delight. The experience only amplified by the steady passage of geese overhead, the best of which comprised a flock of eight Bean Geese and a personal count of thirty-one White-Fronted Geese. Both representing species I seldom see back home in Northumberland.
I could waffle on about Spurn all day – we really did have an amazing time – though I feel I should curtail such here. With other interesting odds and ends seen including three Woodcock, a second Shorelark, Wheatear, Little Egret, Scaup, Pochard and more Chiffchaff than you could shake a stick at. A brief “second helpings” stop at Easington providing more views of the Siberian Accentor alongside a ridiculously confiding Common Redstart, and a later pitstop at Saltburn in Cleveland turning up the fourth new bird of the day. And another far-Eastern gem, a Siberian Stonechat – much paler that our own russet coloured birds. Doubtless, I have missed off a few things here but that really is little wonder, with so many birds seen throughout the day. The migratory madness unfolding at Spurn like nothing I had experienced before.
On a quick side note, it was also great to catch up with a few familiar faces from social media – the day resulting in life ticks of fantastic young birders Elliot Montieth and George Dunbar, and a long overdue catch up with the lovely Sophie Barrell. Alongside others, from the local birding scene in Northumberland, from Next Generation Birders and beyond. From the ensuing Twitter posts, it looks like each and all enjoyed a similarly exceptional day.
Awaiting the Pallas’s Warbler…