Swifts, moths and sunsets – A week at Spurn

Last Monday, 22nd June,  I made my way to Spurn bird observatory in East Yorkshire. My trip to Spurn came about when I applied for the BTO’s Young Bird Observatory Volunteer Fund which was accepted.

Out of all of the observatories on offer I decided to choose Spurn for many reasons. I regularly read and hear a lot of positive things about the observatory, whether that be sightings on social media or accounts from NGB’s (Next Generation Birder’s) therefore I wanted to go and have a taster for myself. Spurn is located on the East Coast, around 30 miles from Hull and not far from Kilnsea. The base for the bird obs, where the visitor centre, Warren Cottage and other buildings are, is situated 3 miles from the end of the spit (Spurn Point). Overall the obs consists of a number of habitats from the nearby wetlands in Kilnsea and canal scrape to the chalk bank and mudflats along the spit and Humber Estuary.

When I finally arrived after about 4 hours of catching 4 trains, a bus and getting a lift to Spurn, the weather wasn’t the best so I spent a few hours settling in and went for a walk down the beach and along the estuary to see what the place was like and if I could see anything. Even though I had a good walk I didn’t see much and as you can see from the photo below it was very dull. However I did see about three seals and a few oyster catchers.



The next morning I was up nice and early as the warden, Paul, had told me about Barry who comes every morning to have look in the moth traps. In the past I have done a few home-made moth traps but they’ve never worked very well so to see the variety they got was amazing! I was also shown a deaths head hawk moth, unfortunately it had been found dead but it was great to see and have a look at its markings.






I was told the traps  hadn’t been that good as the weather still hadn’t picked up but I was amazed and looking forward to what else will be caught throughout the week.

After emptying the traps I went to have some breakfast whilst I stood looking over the river Humber and the mud flats there. At this time of the year there aren’t many wading birds a part from those few just coming back from breeding. Due to this I only saw a few oyster catchers but I did see a roe deer acting quite strange.  I watched it walk along some of the boggy area then it bolted for the Humber estuary, straight across the mud. When it reached the river it stopped dead then started walking along the river line. I’m told there is a plant or a type of weed that it was most likely looking for.




Before I went venturing off again I decided to go and have a sit in the Sea Watch hide where I met two other birders from Spurn, Ian and Steve. As it was a Northerly wind there was quite a few sea birds passing which would of been heading to the colonies further North, most likely places like Bempton Cliffs. Some of the birds include manx shearwater, gannets, red throated diver, puffins, guillemots, razorbills, auks, sandwich turns and a few others. After a couple of hours it died down a bit so I went off to the wetlands at Kilnsea. I’d managed to borrow a bike from the obs which made my adventures nearby endless! I was quite surprised by the use of land in the area. A lot of it was meadows and areas just left for the wildlife, very different to where I live where most of the land is used for farming. The area was extremely wild which was fantastic, there was lots of people enjoying the nearby area but not many cars about on the road.

Whilst at the canal scrape and Kilnsea wetlands I saw some shelducks, little egrets and lots of avocets with chicks. Below are some of the photos I got.






Once back at the obs I was eager to do some more exploring so I made my way down to Spurn point. For those who know me well I really enjoy walking but walking along the sand here was quite a trek. It felt you took one step and went back three! However the walk down to Spurn was enjoyable, I saw about 10 knot, 12 little terns, ringed plover and a kestrel.







On Wednesday morning it was another early start to see the moths again. As the weather had started to perk there were a few more species. Quite a few of the moths at Spurn are Spurn specials, migrants or rare. In fact, I was told that in the past they have had a few first for Britain which sounded very exciting!

cinnabar moth

common pug











Small elephant hawk moth

As the wind was blowing more southerly today, eyes were set to the sky to count passing swifts. The first year swifts (born last year) don’t actually breed. There isn’t really much of an idea of what happens to them but it is thought that they circle round, maybe just Britain or maybe more of Europe. The reason why they’re not too sure is because they haven’t been able to attach a satellite small enough to a swift to monitor its activities. Overall on Wednesday I think there was only about 160, I may be wrong but there wasn’t that many. Whilst we were watching out for the swifts I also saw lots of sky larks, tufted ducks flying past, little egrets, a jay and a yellow legged gull.

When the swifts slowed down and there wasn’t that many passing through I decided to go for a walk along the canal area as it had really brightened up. There were lots of butterflies about including lots of meadow brown, small heath, common blue and silver Y which is actually a day flying moth.



small heath


Around Spurn it is obviously very open and flat so the sun sets were especially special.


Another day at Spurn and I was up nice and early to see what moths had been caught. As the weather had warmed up the traps were more successful.








peppered moth

privet moth

red green carpet moth

Not just moths in the traps!



After looking at moths that had been caught I went to see if any swifts had been passing as again it was a more southerly wind. Unfortunately though it was unsuccessful and today only about 150 passed through. As the weather was great again and very hot I went on a walk along a path which runs parallel to the beach. My original plan was to try and spot some bee orchids, even though I didn’t see any I did see plenty of other species which was great. This included lots of terns and waders at a wetland a bit further down, lesser black back gull, a grass snake (which I nearly trod on!) and a common lizard. I also had a surreal experience with a seal whilst walking along the water edge, only about 10 feet away!





Thursday was my last full day at Spurn and luckily enough for me the swifts were showing very well. By the end of the day well over 2000 birds had flown over which was amazing! When they flew over they were in groups of anything from 2 to 30 and were quite low down too. However unfortunately no ‘special’ ones flew over.

Whilst standing around and counting the birds today we also saw three Mediterranean gulls, hobby, sandwich terns and some eider ducks out at sea.




privet moth

Today was the day I was travelling back. I didn’t want to miss anything and wanted to make the most of it so I was up nice and early and out by 5.00. Before I left, about 9.30 we saw about 650 swifts go by, a hobby and to finish it all of a siren, which is a bird I’ve never seen before!

ghost moth

horned moth












Overall it was a superb week and I really enjoyed myself! I really look forward to going back and it wasn’t just the wildlife that made my week, the people there did too. Not only were they very funny and loved a bit of banter but they were very knowledgeable and I learnt quite a lot.

Please take a look at the Spurn Bird Observatory website here – http://www.spurnbirdobservatory.co.uk/

Over the next few weeks I will be doing a few ‘follow up’ blogs about my trip, for example about the swifts, beach clean, moths and the proposals for the visitor centre the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust want to build there.



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