Sunday, 29 September 2013

First Cornish rarity in a long while! (28th September)

With news of yesterdays Black-winged Stilt I decided on an early night so as to prepare for an early morning start the next day.  Instead of rushing straight out, I went for  brief visit around the patch, checking the Golf Course and even did some seawatching before positive news arrived of the Stilt.

The Golf Course at Pennance produced a steady trickle of Swallows and House Martins, although they were regularly blown inland again following gusts of SE wind.  Vis-migging also produced a couple Meadow Pipits and 1 Skylark (heard only).  Seawatching on the other hand was far less productive and despite considerably stronger winds (compared to the last couple days of still weather) I only managed to see 2 Mediterranean Gulls, 1 Sandwich Tern and 1 Gannet...

I left for Hayle at 10:40am, choosing the lazy option and jumped on the train.  The trip went surprisingly smoothly with no long waits and no delays (a very unusual turn out for transport by trains!).  Despite only doing a very short stretch by bike, the cars gave me the most grief with some ludicrous drivers on the road and inconsiderate idiots honking their horns every 5-10 minutes as we stood at the side of the road watching the estuary from The Causeway.

The main area of marsh didn't seem to be hosting the stilt so I scanned through the gulls instead.  11 Mediterranean Gulls were the highlights.  Thankfully, a very friendly couple relocated the bird on the other side of the causeway in Ryan's Field.  A quick hop across the dual carriageway and sure enough there was the BLACK-WINGED STILT nimbly picking its way through the shallow water and feeding oblivious to all the attention.  I worked my way around to the hide were much better views were obtained and enjoyed the bird from close quarters before it flew back over the causeway and was lost to view.  I managed to connect with the bird on two or three other occasions throughout the day although not as well as I had done that morning.

Black-winged Stilt on Ryan's Field

I hung around in the hide for a short while after the bird had left.  Suddenly, all the birds on the estuary took flight, a tell-tale sign of a flyover raptor.  It was rather surprising to see the gulls take off too as Peregrines don't usually seem to bother them as much so it must be something larger!  Sure enough the long wingspan of an Osprey came gliding through the gloom, flanked by two mobbing crows.  It seemed intent on fishing but the constant harassment was too much of a distraction and it moved northwards through the estuary.  It did return later with a small fish in its talons and was seen on several other occasions lingering around the area.

Osprey over the estuary

Equally surprising was a Clouded Yellow that flew past my feet whilst walking around Ryan's Field.  The estuary was fairly productive too and hosted 2 Little Stints, 1 Knot, 2 Sanderling and good numbers of Redshanks, Greenshanks and Dunlin.  Much of the remainder of the day was occupied with traveling around the perimeter of the estuary, going as far as the Lelant Saltings Platform were I had my last view of the Stilt before leaving at 18:15 to take the train back to Falmouth.

one of the Little Stints with 2 Ringed Plover to the left

Lelant Saltings Station and a good viewing point for watching the Stilt

Penryn River (27th September)

Friday afternoon!  I still had enough light to fit in a short visit to Penryn River so I spent a couple hours walking along the northern edge.  I jammed in on two Falmouth Ticks, a Bar-tailed Godwit and 4 Dunlin!  Also of note were 35 Redshanks, 59 Curlew, a couple of Greenshanks, Oystercatchers and 1 1st win. Mediterranean Gull.  I also located a single Whimbrel and 6 Little Egrets in the next creek.

I used the last of the light in an attempt to do some seawatching off Pennance Point.  As usual the rewards were slim and the recent fog/still conditions only brought in 3 Gannets and 1 Sandwich Tern.

Seal Monitoring with the AK team (25th September)

I find it amazing that one moment I can be learning about GIS and RS at uni and the next I’m heading out into the Carrick Roads monitoring seals and seabirds!  In short, it’s a fun life!

The seal monitoring group (me included) headed out across the ria from Falmouth Docks making a beeline for St Anthony Head were we located or first Grey Seals.  Not only were a female and bull male guarding the cove but we also saw a newly born pup with them, the first we have seen this year!  After getting the necessary pictures for later cross identification, we moved east along the coastline hugging the bays.  We encountered a further 3 Grey Seals and whilst the rest of the team enjoyed watching and recording their behaviour I diverted my eyes out to sea instead.

female Grey Seal

with her pup

Despite remaining close inshore (the ideal location for hunting and basking Grey Seals) I still managed to pick up on a couple flypast shearwaters, four of which went past unidentified.  Despite the majority remaining relatively distant and the added difficulty of steadying myself on a small swaying boat, I still managed to treat myself to 2 Balearic Shearwaters which passed westwards considerably closer to the boat, making them thankfully more easily IDable.

Commoner species included 2-4 Ravens, 2 Peregrines (including a second cy bird), only 3-4 Gannets, a dozen or so Mediterranean Gulls1 Guillemot and 2 1st win Common Terns at Towan Beach.  On entering the bay, I located a rather distant bird perched high on the water along with 4 Razorbill.  It turned out to be a stunning juvenile Little Gull, a welcome Cornish tick!

juv. Little Gull at Towan Beach

More Dire Seawatching (24th September)

I rushed down to do some seawatching after lectures and just about squeezed in a short shift from 18:30-19:35.  2 Balearic Shearwaters moving west through the bay were the highlight and a distant Commic Tern would have been a Fal Tick.  2 Gannets and there was a large roost of Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls.  A flock of 30 Oystercatchers heading for the Carrick Roads rounded the evening off.

my seawatching spot at Pennance Point

Pendennis Seawatching (22nd September)

Seawatching in dire conditions...

As expected the fog and dead still conditions didn't amount to an eventful seawatch so I gave up quickly to check the coves and wooded areas around the point hoping the fog would clear up before I returned.  A Whimbrel at the point was the best I could do whilst 1 Chiffchaff and 2 Blackcaps near the castle were the highlights from a trawl around the headland.

The fog hadn't cleared up by the time I got back (in fact, it remained for an entire week throughout the day forming a permanent and ominous carpet over the town).

Back at the point, I met John St-Ledger who pointed out a Turnstone sat on the point as well as a flock of Linnets, 2 Grey Wagtails, 2 Rock Pipits and 2 Meadow Pipits.

Whilst John kindly diverted the attention of the tourists, I managed to crack on with some seawatching and was rewarded with a flock of 5 Balearic Shearwaters heading west through the bay.  A Grey Seal also swam past the headland and I found a Common Sandpiper in one of the isolated coves on the east side of the Point.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

AK Wildlife Cruising (21st September)

A trip out with AK wildlife cruise with the wonderful volunteer group, including several up and coming young naturalists and photographers from the uni!  It was great to be out at sea again and despite a rather slow start we managed to pick out the occasional goody.  First up was a routine check to St Anthony's Head for a quick search of the resident Grey Seals.  We managed to log a total of 5 Grey Seals along the coastline between the Point and Gull Rock, despite spending the majority of our time further out in the English Channel.  On reaching the wave Hub our first Harbour Porpoise was called but being elusive animals I didn't manage to connect with this individual.  Instead, I saw 2 Harbour Porpoise a little later as we continued further out along with 2 Razorbills, 1 Guillemot and 2 auk sp.  Turning back inshore we soon crossed the path of 2 Bonxies as they moved westwards and nearing the coast I manged to pick up on a close flypast Balearic Shearwater providing the best views yet that I have had of this species!

Working our way back along the coastal cliffs and beaches we caught up with the odd Sandwich Tern and plenty of Mediterranean Gulls, a Whimbrel and once moored up we finally saw the Peregrine that we had been hoping for during our efforts in scanning the cliffs.  We actually saw this one heading high inland up the Penryn River over the Docks.

Friday, 20 September 2013

AK Wildlife Trip (18th September)

Back on the brilliant AK Wildlife Trip that's running from Falmouth Docks!  We had a great time despite the poor weather and braved the rain in search of Grey Seals.  The Seals were our main purpose of the trip with the intent on finding and recording them over a long study period to build up a picture of where/when they are present.  Since there has been a considerable decline in the local area due to disturbance and inhumane fishing techniques, it is important that every individual is valued.  We were lucky enough to encounter a total of 5 Grey Seals between St Anthony Head and Towan Beach, including 2 bull males and 3 females as well as experience some unique behaviour as a female approached one of the male's beaches to find herself a suitable place to pup.

tough conditions but rewarding none the less

one of the females

and  a bull male guarding "his" beach

Day out with Dan (18th September)

It's been a long time since I've been birding around Cornwall and it was equally great to meet up with Dan again for a days birding around the SW.  Our first destination was Pendeen for an early seawatch.  Admittedly, we weren't as early as we should have been as we scrambled down the cliff at about 7:30am to begin our seawatch.

The sea appeared productive from the start and it was great to get a different angle on the birds especially after familiarising myself with a lower angle on the birds whilst seawatching at Spurn earlier in the month.  Picking up other peoples birds an additional challenge as the distance to the horizon is far greater covering a larger area of open sea from a higher angle on the cliff.  As a result, it took some time before I had my eye in the game.  It soon became clear that a good proportion of the passage was occurring relatively close inshore, making ID conveniently more easy (although the majority of distant passage was ignored).

After a considerable amount of fidgeting about (trying to find the most comfortable spot with the least exposure to the rain) I was finally able to enjoy the occasional Sooty Shearwaters go past along with the odd Balearic Shearwater.  A continues stream of other seabirds also made for an attractive backdrop as they included many more Gannets, Manx Shearwaters a trickle of Bonxies, 2 Common Scoter, a couple Arctic Skuas and even 2 Basking Sharks.  The majority were passing at rather close range to cliff and it was thanks to this that we also connected with an impressive 7+ LEACH'S PETRELS.  I was too intent on seawatching so the notebook didn't even get opened, hence my poor recollection of the numbers we saw.

Yet another Leach's had just been called and a couple people were commenting on the nearby Peregrine that was agitating the bird.  Thankfully I locked eyes on the Leach's for a couple seconds as it pattered its was casually over the surface of the water oblivious to the danger.  It was at that moment that the Peregrine swooped in and grabbed the petrel from behind before banking upwards and carrying it off back to land!  It was an incredible sight and an amazing experience (unfortunate for Leach's) but it still made all who connected gasp!!

We were also treated to a brief view of two raptors shooting across the sea together and interacting with each other in mid-flight.  At least one was identifiable as a MERLIN!

Moving on, Dan and I left at 12:30pm, content with what we had seen to continue with a WeBS count at Helston Boating Lake, Loe Pool, Hayle Kimbro and Croft Pascoe Pool.

We stopped at Marazion briefly for a short walk along the beach and checked the muddy margins to the marsh but to little avail.  A surprisingly late Clouded Yellow at the marsh was probably the highlight but 3 White Wagtails on the beach were equally pleasing, although not quite as exotic.

Our next stop was Helston Boating Lake and whilst Dan checked the lake, I had a quick wander around the sewage farm and connected with a single Grey Wagtail before jumping in the car and headed for the Lizard.  I just about managed a quick peak at the Whooper Swan as we drove past.

Loe Pool was rather quiet and with much of the morning and early afternoon already gone, there wasn't much remaining other than a brief burst from the local Cetti's Warbler and two minute scan offshore in less than ideal conditions produced a couple very distant Gannets.

Hayle Kimbro was next and we even went to the extent of wading shin deep in the water, only to flush 2 Snipe and a couple of Mallards.  Croft Pascoe wasn't too different as 2 Little Grebes were the only highlight here.

A quick check at Stithians on the way back to asses the water level for future trips.  It was the lowest I've seen it but still no waders, just a Fox and a couple Wigeon among the Teal.

Penryn River had a dozen or so Curlew, Redshank and 2 Oystercatchers (a slight increase on recent figures apparently).

Thanks again to Dan for all the driving, much appreciated!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

How can I forget the old Patch! (12th September)

I'd entirely forgotten to mention my brief visit back to my old patch at Wilstone Reservoir, which I visited two days before heading down to Falmouth.  I was there in the vein hope of picking up the Spotted Crake that had been seen only two days prior to my visit but to no avail.  Despite obvious disappointment, I was glad to have squeezed in a brief visit as I haven't been to the res's for months!  However, whilst scanning the far bank I did encounter 4 Water Rails, 1 Greenshank, 2 Snipe and a Hobby even made a brief appearance.  An Oystercatcher also flew in calling from the direction of Startops's End.  Steve Rodwell also made an appearance and it was a pleasure bumping into him again.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Med Gulls (15th September)

Once back in Falmouth it was straight down to the patch to check the coastal stretch between Pennance and Pendennis Point.  Not much to mention as I didn't have long but I still managed to locate 7 Mediterranean Gulls covering 4 different age groups!  (1 1stCY, 2 2nd CY, 1 3rdCY and 3 adult winters).  Also about were 2 Whimbrel, a flyover Grey Wagtail and a Peregrine flew over clutching its feral pigeon prey.

juvenile Mediterranean Gull

2ndCY Mediterranean Gull

3rdCY Mediterranean Gull (pics taken at 8pm hence the poor quality)

from left to right 2nd CY, adult and 1stCY Mediterranean Gulls

Chewy Fudge (14th September)

My holidays at home came to an end and it was sadly time to leave my family for another term at uni down in Cornwall.  My dad kindly offered to give me a lift down with my luggage and we even squeezed in a detour to Chew Valley Lake where we pulled up at Herons Green Bay and had a scan through the ducks for my target species.  I found the male FERRUGINOUS DUCK fairly soon and had decent views of it lingering with the numerous Tufted Ducks.

male Ferruginous Duck

A scan of the mud also produced a selection of other species, including half a dozen Black-tailed Godwits, a couple Snipe, 3 Green Sandpipers and 1 Kingfisher.  I was also keen to connect with the reported female Fudge Duck that was seen in the same bay so the scanning continued.  After a considerable amount of searching I finally found the female FERRUGINOUS DUCK preening herself only meters from the bank, right under my nose and exactly where I wasn't looking!  After reviewing my pics and noting the eye colour, I've come to the conclusion she might be an immature bird as there is still a dark speckle on the vent (remnant from a juv) and the flanks have an obviously bared look which should appear more uniform in an adult female.  Opinions welcome!

female Ferruginous Duck

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Spurn!! (31st August-9th September)

This was the trip I was really looking forward to for months!  Thanks to the BTO I was kindly given a grant for £150 to act as a volunteer at the bird observatory for 10 days a brilliant opportunity to meet like-minded people and get out to simply bird.

To sum up the visit, I can only describe it as obsessive persistent birding, exactly what I was hoping to do.  The vibrant and stimulating environment with equally keen birders and other naturalists is incredibly encouraging and a big influx of young birders was great to see.  Some great young birders with whom I managed to go birding with including local birder Daniel, Liam Langley and David Campbell as well as many other "Next Generation Birders".

I arrived around midday on the 31st August and after a grueling train trip north through the country followed by a short lift from Andy Roadhouse, we started by sussing out the RED-BACKED SHRIKE at Sammy's Point along with 8 Whinchats.

Next up, was a quick nip to Paul Collins (the Warden) before finally arriving at the obs and heading straight out birding!

The first couple days involved exploring the place at random, getting to know the place as well as the people before falling into a routine that coincided best with peak numbers of seabirds/waders/passerines.  First up, was a walk around The Triangle.  A Whinchat and 1 Spotted Flycatcher were decent enough, as were 4 Yellow Wagtails, an additional 5 Whinchats, 1 Wheatear and a Snipe at Beacon Ponds.  A Stoat or Weasel also shot down the path ahead of me.

The Point, was my next attempt and after a long slog of 3 ½ miles down the spit I eventually made it to be rewarded with a single Willow Warbler and 5 Swifts, barely compensation for the effort I had invested to see the Corncrake I had hoped for.

A little disappointed with my first visit to the point I soon discovered the variety and number of waders on the Humber were worth far more appreciation as they included tens of thousands of Knot along with lesser numbers of Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and 2 Whimbrel 4 Wheatear were dotted along the spit but I was relieved to arrive back at the Warren for a bit of seawatching.  2 ARCTIC SKUAS, both stunning dark morph birds were a great treat as they flew south past the hide and other snippets included 7 Little Gulls, 2 Manx Shearwater and 3 Common Scoter.

An early start on the 1st September brought a couple more migrants to the doorstep and a brief check of the Humber yielded 1 Mediterranean Gull.  A round walk of the fields and scrapes north of the obs produced 15+ Yellow Wagtails, 4 Whinchats and a single Reed Warbler working its way through the hedgerows.  From here onwards I had a longer seawatch with a single RED-THROATED DIVER being a much overdue year tick.  2 Grey Seals also made regular appearances and 2 Whinchats west of the Warren were also of note.

Radios at Spurn are also extremely popular and with passage migrants moving quickly over the point news needs to be circulated quickly to give everyone the best chance of connecting with what’s about.  As a result, a radio through of a Wryneck only a couple hundred meters up the road led me to abandon the otherwise dull seawatch and after a couple minutes I was watching not one but 2 WRYNECKS!!  They fed intermittently on the side of the road before being flushed every now and then, which led them to become more elusive but they were stunning birds none the less.

I was pretty keen to get away from all the busy running about so sat down and click counted Shelducks, a good suggestion by Andy as I managed an impressive total of 1016 birds!  Next up, a brief visit to another local Red-backed Shrike, also residing at The Triangle.  This was yet another juvenile (as was the one at Sammy’s Point) which showed reasonably well, as well as being an added bonus to the day.  I found a couple other migrants dotted about the field margins, including 1 Redstart and 2 Yellow Wagtails4 Ruff at Kilnsea were other additions of note along with 1 Tree Sparrow before heading back to seawatching.  Not much was happening here either but a distant Grey Heron moving north was a surprising migrant.  Yet another surprise migrant came heading towards me at 90 degrees to the shore and it was only when it banked sideways that I realised it was Kestrel!  This was almost definitely a migrant from the continent as I first noticed it as a small unidentifiable dot on the horizon.  However, as it reached the last dozen meters of its flight, it wobbled and pitched down exhausted on the beach after completing its epic trip over the North Sea.  It was a miracle of nature that Spurn seemed to symbolize!  The seawatch also produced a pale phase Arctic Skua chasing Sandwich Terns on the shoreline in front of me which was also a great close up treat.

Red-backed Shrike impaling a bee on a spike at Southfield Farm

There wasn't much else to do once I arrived back at the Warren so once again I returned to seawatching.  The highlights were 2 SOOTY SHEARWATERS, 2 Arctic Skuas, 2 further skua sp. and 1 Little Gull heading north before I finally called it a day.

Yet another early morning start on the 2nd September with more seawatching on the menu!  A little more wind than on previous days brought a couple more birds into action with an increase to 22+ Manx Shearwaters (mostly moving south), 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Arctic Skuas going south.  A Sooty Shearwater was once again noted going south and 4 more skua sp. were unfortunately a little too distant for certain ID.  A Whimbrel also flew south past us, followed by a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull heading north.  It was only young Daniel and I that remained in the hide seawatching and as it was still first light we were still enjoying a moderate passage of birds.  Up until the point we had a crackly radio call from Adam Hutt who was watching a possible Crag Martin over the Warren!!!  We were less than 50 meters from where he was stood!  The scope was abandoned and within a couple seconds we were on scene.  It had gone by the time we arrived but Adam thought it might have moved southwards down the peninsula so we tore it down to the Narrows in his car, scrambled out the car but there was no further sign, it must have gone…

Back at the Warren we opted for a quick check of The Triangle which produced a single Yellow Wagtail and 1 pos. Wryneck which shot over the tops of the bushes before disappearing out of view.

Other sightings from the 2nd September included a Whinchat at the Warren, a large Toad crossing the road a female Redstart down Beacon Lane and the showy Red-backed Shrike.


A late afternoon seawatch was rather slow going but we did note 1 Little Gull and a single Manx Shearwater heading south.  There was also a little bit of a controversial ID over an albino hirrundine that appeared over the Warren before I picked it up later flying over the caravan site.  Depite rather certain claims that it was a juvenile Swallow by most of the local birders I returned unconvinced to try and set the record straight as I was pretty sure it was a House Martin.  Anyway, here are my best attempts.

albino House Martin

By the fourth day of my visit I was in a steady routine and yet another 6am start rewarded us with 2 Red-throated Divers, 1 Bonxie and 12 Little Gulls on the early morning seawatch.  A total of 21 Wheatear and 6 Whinchats for the day as well as a bonus LITTLE STINT which I found whilst scanning through the waders at Chalk Bank.  The evening seawatch was comparatively dull with only 1 skua sp. seen flying south.

I rolled out of bed at 2am on the 4th to accompany Paul, Jack, Tim and Daniel with the wader ringing.  A total of 20 Dunlin, 1 Redshank and a Grey Plover were ringed and released.

Grey Plover

Next, a quick stop on the way back at Canal Scrape to try our luck at finding a early morning crake.  Instead we chanced upon a Kingfisher which flew in and began feeding from the exposed perch at the centre of the scrape, the first record for the Spurn recording area this year!

Kingfisher in the hand, caught at Canal Scrape

Seawatching once again dominated the day and other than 3 skua sp. and 6 Red-throated Divers we also struck lucky with a VELVET SCOTER that flew close in shore past us.  2 Arctic Skuas, including a dark phase individual chasing terns added a bit of action to the seawatch and I connected with a juvenile Marsh Harrier.  There was an obvious improvement once I returned to seawatching, following a brief excursion to count waders on the Humber as there was a steady trickle of 8 Bonxies, 5 Arctic Skuas, 14 Little Gulls, 1 Black Tern and 3 Arctic Terns.  2 probable CORY'S SHEARWATER also flew north but poor views and controversy over the ID of the birds, which only four of us had seen, led to some disagreement so it was safest left unIDed.

record shot of the Velvet Scoter

2 Bonxies

The 5th started as always with a seawatch.  1 Arctic Skua flew south, 2 Red-throated Divers also followed.  A single Chaffinch flying south was of greater interest to me as it represented the only one I heard on my visit to Spurn!  Passerines of note included 1 Whinchat, a trapped Garden Warbler and later on a WRYNECK was caught and ringed at the obs!  This allowed me to finally appreciate them at a close range, after all, they are stunning birds!  Daniel and I also found 2 Cuckoos and enjoyed yet more good views from the Red-backed Shrike.  A mix of other birds from the days total included 3 Swifts, the remaining Kingfisher at Canal Scarpe, 8 Arctic Skuas, 1 Red-throated Diver, 7 Little Gulls and a Hare.

Wryneck in the hand!

Cuckoo at Southfield Farm

The following day was by far the most productive and despite getting up 15 mins later than usual I still managed to jam in on a ROSEATE TERN that flew north with a group of Common Terns.  There was a general increase of most seabirds with 11 Red-throated Divers moving offshore, 21 Arctic Skuas and 6 Little Gulls before we were interrupted by a radio message from the Warren.  This was followed by a quick sprinted down the slope before setting eyes on a LEACH'S PETREL casually flapping its way across the Humber.  It afforded half decent views as it banked occasionally showing its distinctive rump before gradually moving further east down the river.  Back at the seawatch, we noted 1 Sooty Shearwater, 3 Bonxies, 1 Porpoise and 3 distant skua sp. going south.

pale phase Arctic Skua

A short and uneventful excursion down to the point with Laim and Daniel was rather pointless as the rewards were slim.  Only 1 Whimbrel, 2 Whetaear, 3 Whinchats, 1 Redstart and a Spotted Flycatcher.

It was good to be back at the Warren seawatching again as we saw 2 RED-NECKED GREBES flying south, 1 Balearic Shearwater, 15 Bonxies, 1 Black Tern, 27 Arctic Skuas, 3 Red-throated Divers and 3 distant unIDable skua sp.  Despite the seawatch going well, I couldn't resist a quick nip over to Kew to try my luck for the recently found Rosefinch but just as I was walking into the field, a radio message of news further up the coastline at Grimston of a Long-tailed Skua heading south towards the Warren was enough to have me running back the way I had just come.  I had about 20 mins until the bird would pass the Warren.  However, just as it was predicted to appear the Rosefinch was trapped a couple dozen meters from the site!  Half the crowd, along with myself had a few seconds at glimpsing the COMMON ROSEFINCH in the hand before rushing back up the slope with high expectations of the skua passing but it never came...

Paul Collins reveals the Common Rosefinch at the Warren

I decided to stay until early evening and Daniel and I were rewarded with a Roseate Tern that flew through in the evening roost of Common Terns.

Roseate Tern, a rather blurry white smudge near the front of the flock

The 7th brought a couple more seabirds but it was a big change from yesterdays peak numbers.  8 Arctic Skuas, 2 Red-throated Divers, 7 Bonxies and 6 Little Gulls represented the highlights and we also picked out a Hobby flying over the caravan site thanks to another helpful message over the radio.  Odd ends from a wander around Triangle yielded the usual Red-backed Shrike, 1 Lesser Whitethroat and a brief visit to Kew to enjoy good views of the Common Rosefinch complete with its shiny day-old ring.

Common Rosefinch

twitchers trampling all over Pauls' flower meadow!

Singles of Ruff, Wheatear and Whinchat were all encountered and the afternoon/evening seawatch resembled much the same birds as the last couple days with 1 Red-throated Diver, 6 Arctic Skuas, 8 Little Gulls, 3 skua sp. and 2 Whinchats next to the hide.

Red-backed Shrike at Southfield Farm

showy Red-backed Shrike

The same routine again on the 8th with a morning seawatch to start the day afresh.  This included 4 Red-throated Divers, 2 Bonxies, 7 Little Gulls and 3 skua sp.  At the Warren, Martin Garner picked out a good candidate for a Yellow-legged Gull heading away from us over the estuary after which I had yet another walk around Triangle.  The Red-backed Shrike showed well and I noted a further 2 Ruff and a Wheatear.  Back at the afternoon seawatch, we clocked up 4 Arctic Skuas, 7 Red-throated Divers, 11 Little Gulls, 1 Eider and 1 skua sp.  It was going fairly slowly when I suddenly picked out a Great Black-backed Gull flying south above the horizon.  I checked it through my bins and got a huge shock when a great black head and a huge beak stared back at me!  It almost resembled a Pallas's had it not been for the obvious black back.  After all the fuss, it seemed a GBBGull with a melanistic head might be the best explanation.

Great Black-backed Gull with what appears to be a melanistic head!

The 9th had come and it was my final day at Spurn.  I did attempt a short seawatch and managed 5 Red-throated Divers before I gave up and headed down to the Sheepfields with Clive McKay, a man for a Meadow Pipit obsession and a great person to speak to about the finer details of migration.  I joined him in trapping a total of 27 Meadow Pipits and 2 of the nearby flock of 15 Tree Sparrows which we ringed and released.  Much of Clive's study is focused on the differentiation between the UK and Icelandic races of Meadow Pipits and despite the large overlap in biometrics and personal interpretation of mantle colour (the key features for separating the two races) we did trap and confirm at least one Icelandic Meadow Pipit!

Meadow Pipit of the Icelandic race.  Separated by the colder tone of olive brown on the mantle and marginally longer wing length

also predominantly white on the underside unlike the warmer buff/orange tones of a British race bird

a different Meadow Pipit resembling the British race.  Showing a warmer tone of brown on the mantle

a rather bleached individual

tracial pit on a Meadow Pipit

a rather disgruntled Tree Sparrow

To sum up my visit, it was a brilliant eye opener for the migratory habits of birds and it was a real education meeting and speaking to experts and local birders who all had an enthusiasm for birds at Spurn.  Particular thanks to Andy Roadhouse and Paul Collins for their hospitality and Clive McKay for repeating his slides to me after I missed his lecture!