North West Way: One week to go

Exactly one week today, I will be setting off on my North West Way walk from Preston to Carlisle. At the moment, I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in and enjoying all of the fantastic scenery and places that I’ll pass along the way. The thought of spending all day, every day outside for 10 days is exciting and I look forward to birding along my way. The walks route will take me through some superb areas of countryside. From along the Ribble Way, Malham Cove and areas of the Yorkshire Dales. Many of the areas and paths that I’ll follow are ones that I haven’t before, therefore I’m very excited.

On the other hand, it’s going to be a challenge. The walk is 191 miles long and I will be doing this over 10 days. Meaning that after I include all the times I’m likely to get lost, on average, I’ll be walking 20 miles a day for 10 days. Along with this, I’ll be stopping in different accommodation every night and have to carry all the clothes and equipment that I’ll need for the 10 days in a rucksack. Physically and mentally, it’s going to be very tough. However, not only will I get to experience and visit some incredible areas, but I’m raising money for a very worthy cause. A cause which I’m very passionate about.

Swifts are superb birds. My favourite! However, this wasn’t always the case. There seems to be a story behind everyone’s favourite bird, by that I mean, why that bird is their favourite. For me, this is due to my trips to Spurn. Spurn is a brilliant place to see swifts on migration. In fact, right now great numbers are passing through daily. I remember on my first trip to Spurn, I joined other birders up at one of the points used to observe visible migration, known as Numpties. Within an hour, I’d seen more swifts then I’d ever seen in a single space of time before. This passage of streamline squawkers sent me into a phase of awe as I began to realise how brilliant they are.

There is no better way to spend a day then counting swifts on migration. Bird after bird, you never get bored, but in fact, more excited as the numbers increase and the thought of where they’re going curdles your mind. When I was revising for my A levels, there was no better way to encourage and motivate working then opening my window and listening to swifts.

It would be a real shame to see a bird favourited and enjoyed by so many decline further. Therefore, the research and work being done by the BTO is incredibly important. I am very pleased with the amount that I have raised so far and very thankful for all the donations I have received. If you haven’t yet, you can donate by clicking this link.


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!