North West Way: Another reflection

On the train back from Carlisle, I sat as I always do, by the window and enjoying the scenery. This time, after walking from south to north and now travelling back south, the view was of the places that I’d walked through over the past 12 days. One of the things that doing the walk taught me is that you can never properly experience, enjoy or understand an area by ‘passing through’ either by car or train but the only way to do so is by foot. Compared to the hours I’d spent walking through these areas, the train journey from Carlisle to Preston (where I started the walk) was just a brief summary of the places I’d walked.

Following on from my last blog post, on day nine I reached the highest point of the entire walk (and the highest point on the Pennine Way) Cross Fell. On this stretch, I started in Dufton on a very windy morning. Even before I reached the hills, the strong winds were almost blowing me over. Whilst doing the first climb, I was having to stop and stabilise myself every time the wind gusted. I’d never experienced such conditions before! Once on higher ground, the mist drew in but the wind calmed slightly. Through the bleak conditions, I could hear curlews calling and occasionally flying out and disappearing back into the mist. Along with the blurring silhouettes of other waders as they flew into the mist, it was incredibly eerie. I was also treated to seeing and hearing more golden plover.

Once over Cross Fell, it was all downhill to that nights’ accommodation. Part of this included walking over another grouse moor. One that was obviously more ‘managed’ then the ones I saw on the previous day. This was evident by the sheer number of grouse, traps set up and work being done on the moor. The next day I found an information board that stated the North Pennines to be ‘England’s last wilderness’. This quote infuriated me. If it really is one of England’s few remaining wild places, then why had I seen diggers on the uplands and vast areas that were completely bare? I was aware of this ‘type’ of management on the moors, and after seeing through the original beauty that I thought National Parks possessed, I realised that below the skin, these areas are plain. Those who visit National Parks for its beauty are being conned.

Realising and having to experience this, partly makes me feel quite depressed about the situation. However, the areas have a lot of potential for what they could provide. As I walked along, surrounded by almost emptiness at times, I imagined and questioned how these areas could look and what they could provide. Although I had seen some great birds and sights on the moors and uplands, in the future, this could be enhanced so much more.

During my last three days, I followed a disused railway as far as Greenhead then joined the Hadrian’s Wall Path to my final destination, Carlisle. Although I was partly pleased to get home and have a good night’s kip, I suddenly found myself disappointed that it was all over. At times, it was incredibly tough and I really had to push myself to continue and finish the walk, but this was all part of the experience and what made the whole thing so satisfying and enjoyable. I’m now really looking forward to my next adventure. Being outside for so long every day for 12 days after the stress of exams over the last few months was thrilling, and I still can’t believe all the different places I went to and spectacles of the British countryside that I experienced.

Then, of course, the swifts! On my Just Giving page I’m on my way to £3000. This is unbelievable. I started off thinking that it would be great to get £500, nevermind £3000! I’m going to keep pushing the page until the end of the week to hopefully reach that £3000 figure. On the walk, I also counted the number of swifts I saw: in total this was 176.

Here is the link to my Just Giving page –

A bit bleak on the top of Cross Fell…
Greg’s hut Traps set up on the grouse moor after Cross Fell View from Lambley viaduct over towards Haltwhistle Last full day of walking, following the Hadrain’s Wall Path.


I did it!


Trek for Swift tracking

Those of you who have been following my blog since it first began will be aware of how it’s changed. Not the fact that blogs are becoming less frequent (sorry about that, I promise to do more soon!) but they’re now about a wider range of topics. Some of my very early blogs were mainly focused on the wildlife I saw and recorded, along with my outings. On multiple occasions I blogged about my experiences from the walks I’d been on. I still love going on long distance walks, whether that’s locally or further afield. It’s a fantastic way of delving deep into the countryside.

Below are a few examples of some of my first blogs about my walking adventures. You can view them by clicking on the titles:

Some of you may also be interested in the piece I recently wrote for A Focus on Nature’s (AFON) Christmas advent series. In the blog I explore where my enthusiasm for long distance walking began –

Later this year I plan to put all of this into action by taking on a long distance route. The North West Way. A 191 mile trek across the North of England. Starting in Preston: it follows parts of the Ribble Way, the Penine Way, through the rugged dales of Yorkshire via the thundering waterfalls of Teesdale and High Cup Nick and follows a section of Hadrain’s Wall before finishing in Carlisle.

It will be 11 days of back to back walking and although this may sound slightly mad, I’m really looking forward to it! Even better, in doing so, I have decided to raise funds for the BTO to help support their Swift tracking project.

Swifts are remarkable birds. Watching them dazzling in the sky above me on a summer’s day never fails to put a smile on my face. They are very iconic and for some, a sign of summer. The sight of their dark, sooty brown streamline, forked tail silhouette and shrieking overhead is a memorising sight and a real spectacle!

Unfortunately, their breeding numbers have declined by 47% between 1995-2014 here in the UK. This is an alarming decline and making matters worse is the fact that no one is quite sure why. Although the loss of nest sites through modernisation of buildings is implicated, it is very likely that this is only part of the story.

During the breeding season, Swifts depend on large bursts of insects to collect enough food for themselves and their young. It’s likely that the decline in the abundance of invertebrates that has occurred in Britain due to climate change has reduced the amount of food available for breeding Swifts. However, little is known about their foraging behaviour during breeding due to the difficulty of following them over relatively large distances that they are thought to travel to feed.

Swifts are only present in the UK for 3 months a year, therefore it is possible that they are being affected by processes occurring elsewhere in the world, in the areas that they use outside of the breeding season. To find out more about this, the BTO plans to track Swifts on their migration.

By deploying miniature GPS tags on swifts at breeding colonies in England, the BTO will be able to track swifts both on their foraging flights during the breeding season and over their annual migrations. As each tag will be able to record around 300 locations per deployment, this will allow the BTO to quantify the amount of time spent over different habitats and the distances travelled from the colony through short-term deployments during the breeding season. Through longer-term deployments with different tag programmes, it will allow scientists to look in much finer detail at the use of the stopover points in West Africa on spring migration.

The money that I raise will go towards supporting the BTO to ensure that these tags are safe enough to be deployed on Swifts during the summer and winter so that scientists at the BTO can gather and store data on long term deployments to help them learn more about the challenges they face on migration. This is key, as if scientists can understand what’s going wrong, we know what we can do to reverse this.

To donate please click here.  All donations are greatly appreciated!



Back again

Always start your day with PG tips.

Well, I was just brewing up some tea when the radio announced that a Grasshopper Warbler had been caught in Church Field (an area owned by the Spurn Bird Observatory) and was about to be rung if anyone was interested. I haven’t seen one this year so headed on my way up to where it had been caught in the ringing trap there. But by the time I got there, there was some debate between birders whether it was a Common Grasshopper Warbler. As when the bird was first taken out of the trap its feathers were wet therefore the pattern and colouration of them was difficult to notice and it was thought to be a Gropper. However when measuring began, alarm bells rung as features such as the wing length were too long and as the birds feathers dried, white fringing to the tertials and tail feathers became visible. It was a PG Tips.

Back at the Warren, the tea was mashed and so was my brain. A Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler. Another one of those birds I’ve read about and glared in awe at in one of my books but never thought I’d see anytime soon. It was the 13th bird to be recorded on mainland Britain, and the second for Yorkshire which was again at Spurn. This is typical though, typical Spurn and why I decided to go back to spend some more time there before heading off back into Sixth Form.

The Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler  (Photo courtesy of Micky Maher)

So I’ve been back again and I’m blogging about it again, but I can’t miss a trip to Spurn off here. They’re so important to me and every visit contrasts the last through seeing new bird species, different events and experiences, and most of all increasing my knowledge, interest and enthusiasm of not just Spurn but the natural world as a whole. The wilderness and excitement of being there is a great feeling and I believe it’s important sharing on my blog, which is about natural history, what is inspiring me and firing my

interest. Which is exactly what these trips to Spurn do for me.

From studying the local weather forecast and those on the continent whilst travelling up on the train I knew the next few days were looking good, in particular for vis-migging. The term vis-migging stands for visible migration, so basically birds you can visibly see flying overhead which are migrating. And due to the geography of the land, Spurn deals with a great deal of visible migration of a number of species. Twice now I’ve been to watch the spectacle which is swifts migrating during some of the summer months. I did see some Swifts this time (a large count of three) but eyes were on the migrating Meadow Pipits and hirundines, including Swallows and House Martins. The morning before I arrived I’d also seen that over 2000 Mippits had been recorded flying South and with conditions looking just right, I was looking forward to the following morning.

I must say, Swifts are by far more interesting to see soaring overhead then Mippits which sort of twinkle over. However when the Mippit count neared 1500 along with a Swallow count of over 2000 and over 1500 House Martins, it was thrilling. The shear number of those individual birds in just a number of hours makes you appreciate what’s taking place. These early Autumn migrants making their way through Spurn and marking the year round cycle of recording birds migrate at Spurn which is all incredibly important and valuable.

During my first week good vis-migging followed through until Wednesday. And Wednesday brought some interesting birds from Seawatching including Balearic Shearwater and Great Northern Diver, which were both lifers for me, and a Great White Egret. Which stopped off along Easington Straight then flew down the Humber, after being tracked in action from Hornsea where it flew South just a short time before and obviously followed the coastline until it met Spurn. Later that day, just after lunch a Wryneck was called out at an area slightly north of Spurn which was on the road in front of the gas terminal in Easington.

What an afternoon it was! Another lifer and what a fantastic bird. I knew that my chances of seeing a Wryneck during this trip were high but we got some fantastic views of the bird for about 15 minutes. Feeding and rummaging through the grass then sitting in between the bars of the metal fence. At the same time, four Whinchats turned up. Things were looking good. And they were. One thing after another and a Barred Warbler was called up at an area about half way down the peninsula, towards Spurn point. I knew my chances of seeing the bird were very, very slim as they’re very elusive but nevertheless, I decided to give it a go and off I went. Unfortunately there was no sign, but by far it wasn’t wasted time. It was obvious a few migrants had arrived including quite a few Wheatears, Whinchats, Spotted Flycatchers and Willow Warblers. As well as another Wryneck! Just a few hours after I saw my first one, I was looking through my bins at another. Not just two in a day but a self-found bird. Wonderful, and there I spent most of my afternoon observing the bird feeding on the roads grass banks.

Friday kicked off the Migration Festival weekend at Spurn. Their fourth festival now and forever growing again this year with the number of people rolling up and leaving inspired by Spurn and had hopefully seen a memorable bird. And I imagine it certainly was one for all those around on Saturday. A sodden day yet everyone went around with beams across their faces and why wouldn’t you after all the mig-festers got the opportunity to see the weekend’s star, a juvenile Kentish Plover on Kilnsea Wetlands. Another fantastic new bird for me, and for many others too. On Sunday there was a complete weather contrast and it was quite a pleasant day. There was lots of opportunities for attendees to see some of the vis-migging as well as, like on Saturday, attend one of the numerous events which were taking place all day.

There can’t have been many who didn’t enjoy their time at the Migration Festival. It was a very well organised weekend with none stop walks, talks and opportunities to chat to experts on Spurn itself or whatever they were seeking to learn more about. From the seawatching in the morning and guided walks covering all areas of Spurn which included Easington, Sammy’s Point, around Peter Lane, Beacon Lane, the Triangle, up to the Point and much more. This was all followed by evening events. I’m not going to go into too much detail about migfest as I could probably write a separate blog all about it! It was superb though; Spurn was showcased for the special place that it is. Without a doubt it was also great to see so many youngsters strolling about and enjoying themselves equally. As well as seeing the BTO and the Observatory being in partnership as organisers for the event. They were superb and it was odd chatting to those from the BTO about Spurn as through their fund (the Young Bird Observatory one) I started coming here, and since I’ve been as many times as I’ve possibly been able to fit in!

The week after mig fest always seems to bring something amazing which leaves those who came deeply depressed and further striving to go back soon. Tuesday’s fall after some South Easterly winds didn’t bring that though, as it could have, but there was again an increase in migrants such as Blackcaps, Goldcrests, Spotted Flycatchers and Pied Flycatchers. And the excitement created by the conditions and the thoughts of what may be lurking in the bushes was soon dampened by thick fog on Wednesday morning, which pretty much followed through to the Thursday evening. This made all birding pretty difficult and many migrants flying over were obviously deterred and encouraged to fly straight over. However, Thursday morning was quite promising with reportings of Yellow-brow Warblers popping up all along the East coast. Then, of course, one was called out along the Peninsula. This time I was successful though, another great bird as my two weeks at Spurn drew to an end.

But then the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler turned up, undoubtedly the best bird I have ever seen. Making all that hopeless mopping around in the sea frett all forgivable. Not that it needed to be in the first place as being at Spurn is always amazing and I really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else…certainly not school.

There’s no doubt Spurn is going to be on fire over the next few weeks, and I’ve already got everything booked to spend some more time there mid-late October.

And so, since I left Saturday afternoon; Blyths Reed Warbler, Leach’s Petrol, another Wryneck, more YELlow-BROWED warblers, aNOther Barred WArbler, RING Ouzel, GreeniSH WARbler, RICHARDS PiPit, OrtOLAN BUNting AND an LAPland BUntING. MORAL OF THE STORY – NEVER LEAVE SPURN!…ESPECIALLY IN SEPTEMBER!

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 –

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.