Thursday, 7 August 2014

Spurn Day 29 - LIFER ALERT

So for anyone in the birding world I am offering no prizes for guessing what today’s lifer is. For anyone who is not, let me tell you now: it’s a good one! Birders may also be wondering, since it’s the ponds where I work, did I find it? Sadly not, but I did grab myself a place in the books in other ways today. So in case you are in any doubt, today is has been an excellent day.
So where did it all start? Surprisingly it started at Beacon Ponds with hardly any birds at all! And of course that called for a power nap. I’m not going to lie, the situation did not improve much after that. On the Little Tern front there is still 2 young chicks, who are growing nicely, a few juvs and one very young chick which may well end up being left.
On the ponds otherwise there remained one Black-Tailed Godwit, all day, and a Green Sandpiper made a very brief appearance at 11.15, dropping in for around 30 seconds. There was decent passage of Swifts and Hirundines too, so despite the sparseness there were still a few bits around.
I found the first Mediterranean Gull at around 10.00. I was very excited to have found a Med Gull on the beach, so tried to get some photos, but on the whole failed. I noticed a large gull raft further up the beach, but too far to risk going for a look and leaving the terns. Fortunately the mass moved down the beach and was joined by more birds it seemed. By 11.30 there were plenty of gulls on the beach just off from the hide. I had a look through the ranks and found a few Med Gulls. I began to look more, and found more. Continued looking revealed more! I was going to leave, but decided it might be an idea to count them as it may well be the most seen today. So I set about counting. I counted 47 birds, including 5 juvs. It’s the most I have ever seen at one time, but that’s not saying much. However, what is saying very much is that it’s also the most Spurn has ever had, the previous record standing at 45. I am now the Spurn Med Gull record holder, what about that. I would have loved to grab a photo with them all in, but they were too spread out, in 3 or 4 large flocks, and as a result could only make do with a few shots. The highest I have in any one shot is 14, though there are a few birds in those photos that may be Meds, but due to obscuring it is difficult to tell.
-Record Mediterranean Gull Count
Birds had started to move off not much longer after I finished my count, and it was now 12, already half an hour after I would have normally gone for dinner. I could see some people coming along though, too wait in order to tell them that they needed to move. As a result my lunch break was delayed. This is very important in what transpires.
On the way down Beacon Lane I kept an eye open for clouded yellows, but I did not find any. I did encounter a number of Migrant Hawkers, some of which were being very photogenic and allowing me to get some decent shots. I may have flushed around 6 or 7 Hawkers on my walk down the lane alone, and there were even more along the cliff top.
-Migrant Hawker
I leisurely walked back. I had almost reached the warren when it happened. I had just bumped into YWT Alex and asked how his day was, when the radio went off. ‘Terek Sandpiper, Beacon Ponds’. It had to be the moment when I was furthest away that this broke did it not. My relaxed lunch suddenly became a very rushed lunch, running round, trying to get the toaster to toast faster, while topping up my bottle and all that jazz.
I have probably never power-walked so fast in all my life than when I did to get back to my shift. Along Beacon Lane I did pass a Clouded Yellow, but it did not look like landing, and I did not look like stopping. I decided to go to my shift via long bank, that way I would find the twitching mob and know where the bird was. It was of course down at the very far end to my hut, meaning I would not be able to watch it while on duty.
There was already a reasonable crowd (this is where I found out about my Med Gulls), including Paul and a few of the locals. They asked how come I had not found it. Given that I had madly rushed back in order to make sure I did not miss it, this had left my mind. In fairness it was at the far end of the ponds, and I had been very busy counting Med Gulls, which perhaps gives me an excuse. Because Paul was there I had a quick look through someone’s scope and grabbed a few pics before heading to my shift, in order to make sure I was doing my job first.
The bird was sleeping, and my view was very brief, and too far away to make anything out with bins. My photos were appalling, hard to tell which bird it actually was. But of course my shift was the priority and I returned having ‘seen’ the bird and settled down. I arrived back at 1.30 but by 3.00 the beach was dead so I decided to make a return to the twitch and actually get a proper view this time with my own scope (The one from the hut). I had thought my initial views were little more than what I had got for ‘arctic warbler’ and I opted not to tick that because my views were so poor and I failed to get a photo. And the photo for this bird may as well not have been taken.
When I got back I was informed that the bird was not showing; it was asleep! Fantastic, what a time to come off shift! However, it was not long before the bird moved into the open, though still sleeping. After about 20 mins though, it raised its head for a little bit and I was able to see that charismatic bill. I got to see it like this for about 5-10mins before it went to sleep behind a large rock and disappeared from view.
I did get a lot out of my short view. I got to see it stretch and preen a little, showing all its plumage. I have to say had I seen it on my own, I would have probably just though it an aberrant common sandpiper unless I had got a view of the beak, a feature it was not keen to show off. But when it did it became pretty clear as to the birds identity, and I was able to fully appreciate it for its beauty. It certainly was a very handsome bird.
So did I get any photos in the end? Well, I did, but they leave a lot to be desired. I suppose it is a good thing that you can actually tell what it is in them, but given the distance and the heat haze it is hardly surprising that they are not exceptional.
-Terek Sandpiper
 When the bird disappeared from view I headed back to complete my shift, and do a bit of overtime to compensate, though nothing extra happened during my shift. It’s a good thing I returned when I did, because at around 4.30 the bird must have gone. Or rather it was about that time I noticed the crowd had gone, and nobody had come to replace them, suggesting it had indeed gone. It was not re-located, and has not been, so I guess I chose my timing well. Would it not be wonderful if it returned tomorrow and took up with that flock of Dunlin that like to hide behind the hut, that approachable lot? Yes, that would be wonderful!
For the rest of the shift as I mentioned not much happened. I flushed a Common Sandpiper from where the crowd had been, while I was making sure the bird had really left. I also found an adult Yellow-Legged Gull on the beach while checking for clouded yellows, though I found none.
That could well be the end for the days birding, but it was not so. I decided to do a little sea-watching in the evening, though it was very quiet. There was a bit of tern passage, but only really of Commons, as the Sandwich count was down to about 25 in an hour. There were a few whimbrel and gannet too, but not many, as well as a single Knot travelling with some Oystercatchers.
I claimed the highlight for this session. I remember stories about Adam always finding stuff behind you when you were not expecting it. I thought I might see if I could find something unexpected that might liven up the evening. I was in luck. I noticed a bird on the wires above the warren and decided to check it out. Through the bins it looked like a Merlin, but I grabbed the scope to confirm to check.
When I announced it all 6 birders spun round to have a look and a few wandered off to grab some photos of it, even though Merlin are quite common round here. Of course, this was the most buzzing thing I had seen today, strange as it sounds. It was only my third ever Merlin, a lovely female it was, and certainly the best view I have ever had as it perched on the wires being mobbed by the swallows. I grabbed a few shots but did not attempt to get closer and as such they are not exceptional.
Wow! What a lot of writing, but on a day like this it is required in order to make sure all the drama is covered. It’s been an exceptional day to say the least, with my 5th Sandpiper lifer of the year, a place in the record books and then that Merlin! Could I ask for more?

The Daily Oystercatcher
But let us not forget out true stars. I got to watch them during the day, and they avoided the stardom as they were at the opposite end to the Terek, up at the north end with me. I upset them a few times traveling between Terek viewing and the hut, but they were fine, simply flying off to get out of the way. I also say one sit down in a small sunken pit in the mud, which was quite comical, almost as though it was sitting on a nest…

Species List:
Beacon Ponds: Mute Swan, Sand Martin, Black-Headed Gull, House Martin, Oystercatcher, Linnet, Ringed Plover, House Sparrow, Redshank, Common Gull, Whimbrel, Common Tern, Little Tern, Arctic Tern, Sandwich Tern, Little Egret, Swallow, Herring Gull, Swift, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Meadow Pipit, Cormorant, Woodpigeon, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtail, Green Sandpiper, Pied Wagtail, Grey Heron, Black-Tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Common Teal, Sanderling, Kestrel, Whitethroat, Sparrowhawk, Turnstone, Mallard, Avocet, Yellow-Legged Gull, Grey Seal, Common Lizard, Ruddy Darter, Migrant Hawker, Emperor Dragonfly, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Small White, Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Wall Brown, Meadow Brown, Common Blue,
Seawatching: Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, Common Gull, Common Scoter, Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Knot, Merlin, Swallow, Goldfinch, Grey Seal,


  1. Glad to see you caught up sandpiper Daniel, it would have been a great injustice if you'd missed it!

    Great blogging as always.

  2. A lifer a day...what a great bird......Clouded yellow was nice as well can you send it to Halifax please...

  3. I will see what I can do, the way this wind is blowing it might make it by itself!