Saturday, September 18, 2021

SPURN 2021.

Spurn, nowadays, and the approach you have to take whilst birding there, has changed significantly compared to the situation that presented itself when first I used to visit and stay there in the late 1950's. I was still at school, of course,so visits were done on a day basis or during the holidays when we used to stay at Warren Cottage. The penninsula itself, facilities, ownership patterns and even the area covered are much different to those days when , for instance, two fields had to be crossed in order to get to the shoreline from Warren Cottage passing a small reed filled marsh on the way. One thing it has not lost and that is its magic, an aspect that ever increasing numbers of visitors are now begining to discover for themselves! One thing steadfastly remains and that is that it is one of the premier bird migration locations in the UK, an aspect that even seems to improve and assert itself further as the years go by! The observatory has independent status, has a modern residential facility, staff, a vibrant committee, an ongoing research programme and an ever expanding record of success. One major element has changed , however, and that is the bird recording area embraced by the observatory.
As can be seen from the map above , this area has a northern boundary which circumvents Easington village in the north. This "new extension" has , itself, produced a whole string of excellent records and has certainly enhanced the importance in ornithological terms of the extreme tip of south east Yorkshire. The village too has attracted an ever growing population of resident birders !! This "development" has emerged when another important change has occurred to the penninsula itself. Several years ago the penninsula was (finally ) breached and it is no longer possible to journey down to the Point by car. This has made coverage of the recording area for one individual somewhat of a challenge, although the advent of electric bicycles which are able to cross the sandy breached area has improved matters for the lucky few. Alternatively,simply determining a schedule of visiting several of the key areas and picking up on a good selection of what is around is a reasonable startegy. Short wave radios are put to good use , but the frustration of being at Sammy's Point and learning of something good which has turned up at the Point never fails to go away! The fact that such a selection of riches regularly graces the Spurn/Easington area is testament to its unique position and importance. With people seawatching,catching and ringing birds, carrying out visible migration studies coupled with a veritable army of enthusiasts combing the recording area from dawn to dusk each day such prominence is hardly surprising. So, taking a holiday here presents endless opportunities and guaranteed enjoyment. I've started paying regular visits again since moving back to Yorkshire, an aspect supported over the past couple of years by the ever changing lockdown arrangements. As the Observatory itself provides a very detailed report on line each day drawn from the activities of its staff and volunteers, my entries will simply reflect my own coverage ( considerably much less adequate ) from my stays! I'll also just present it as a weekly summary too, the first one of which is set out below.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The start of it all!!

A busy day from the onset with packing the car , a supermarket shop and other errands even before setting off. I'd decided to detour from the direct route to Spurn by calling at the RSPB Blacktoft Sands Reserve to try and see the WHITE-TAILED PLOVER. It's an easy option to simply turn off the eastbound M62 and go through Goole to the reserve. It wasn't that busy and the bird was actually showing from the first hide next to the Centre. How convenient!!!! After having my fill of what is an extraordinarily elegant, even shy looking , bird I visited the other hides as it's some time since I was last here due to all the Covid restrictions.
As I understand it this is only the ninth time this species has been recorded in Britain, so it's quite a significant occurence. ( Yorkshire is somewhat blessed today with a Green Warbler turning up at Buckton and the Black-browed Albatross sporadically returning to Bempton ). As I moved on Cetti's Warbler called loudly from nearby cover and proved to be the best of very few passerine species in evidence and recorded. As might be expected at this time of year waders were in good numbers. It was good to see numbers of Common Snipe , Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Green Sandpiper, together with a few Greenshank and Lapwing. An adult and immature Water Rail dodged about on the edge of one of the extensive reedbeds, three Marsh Harriers put in an appearance and several duck species were present ( Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Teal.). Conscious that I'd been there for three hours I retraced my steps to the motorway ( the only downside of this cunning plan! ) as I wanted to miss the Friday night exodus from Hull. It proved to be even less busy than previously, despite the roadworks affecting the centre of the city and I managed to reach Spurn by the end of the afternoon. This weekend coincides with that of the Spurn Migration Festival ( again I believe its ninth anniversary ). Its location has changed this year to the large field on the left immediately before the bad right angle bend at the Blue Bell. Previously held at Westmere Farm ( where I always stay in one of the self catering units) it had proved easy in the past to leap out and intercept old friends that had been spotted amongst attendees. A bit more ingenuity might be required this time around! Having unpacked the car some nine hours after the reverse process I got sorted out, ate and went to bed!

Thursday, September 9, 2021

To Blog or not to Blog?

When I look at the last Blog entry I made ( 1.1.21.) it's full of some certainty and resolve. A handful of days after writing it [ and after a really great morning of birding with Matthew ( my son ) to celebrate the new year ] we were in lockdown again! Great, I thought, here goes, back to following the intentions set out in the previous Blog dated 20.4.20 and accepting the limitations. Well, it's not turned out quite as bad as I thought it might as lockdown restrictions were lifted to some extent during the Spring and Summer such that birding might tentatively begin again and I managed to enjoy periods at Spurn in May, July and, more recently, late August. It's not until very recently though that I've felt a sufficient level of certainty that's then allowed a bit of forward planning to emerge. An enthusiasm for following up a few survey ideas has returned together, this time, with sufficient confidence to believe it might prove possible to see things through to the end! I'm just about to go back to Spurn for 2/3 weeks and then, similarly, from mid October to mid November, so life has certainly begun to take on shape again. Caution is still the word in many respects if a sensible approach is to be followed as I'm sure we'll face one or two "Covid challenges" over the autumn and winter but , nonetheless, I believe we've now reached a point where we can look forward with increasing confidence whilst embracing this new normality. In my case it hasn't yet reached the point of considering foreign travel !! So, the answer to the question posed in the Blog title is an emphatic "yes" and an accompanying expressed hope that opportunities to put words on paper and share the excitement and wonders of the outside world will now emerge. Watch this space !!

Friday, January 1, 2021

It seems a long time since I committed to producing a Blog on a regular basis (too long!). In the meantime, much has happened to affect all of us and the outcomes are most certainly not a cause for celebration ! So here we now are at the onset of a New Year with a large measure of uncertainty hanging over us. To me, the only way forward is to work within the official parameters made available and to make the best of things. Whilst I've remained at home today, setting up various things, I'm still looking forward to what the next twelve months will bring and to the inevitable surprises. Way back in the autumn of 2018, whilst in Cornwall, I had a bad fall down a steep, cliff footpath , took a battering, injured my left knee, which then took some time to mend. By 2020 I was recovered, starting off the year in Scotland, seeing a few nice things, including White-winged Scoter, and was ready to engage with a year of promise. Later, a week in Norfolk was something of a washout and, shortly after that, the problem with the Covid 19 virus emerged and lockdown restrictions followed on soon afterwards. Short periods at Spurn in July, August and October, when restrictions eased, revived the spirits and intent and, now, here I am again looking forward to future birding, but with the whole UK enduring various levels of restriction. It seems likely that this situation is going to apply in some form or another for a while yet and, therefore, the challenge is to construct activities within the regulations and get on with it ! For my part I've abandoned all plans to go abroad until at least well into 2022. I've decided to concentrate primarily on local birding, travel within the County as regulations allow and adhering to all the guidance and, then,more widely as restrictions are lifted. Easy, unequivocal and stripped bare of " what if's" and "if onlys". Given my home area is still in Tier 3 I feel very lucky having the opportunity to travel around in what is a countryside area where it's not difficult to avoid people entirely ! I've decided on a personal recording area of two 10 km squares ( OS areas SE 10 and 20 ). Large....yes, ambitious....yes but an area overall with a large variety of opportunity and challenge on the eastern flanks of the Pennines up onto the open moorlands themselves. Reservoirs, woodlands, moorlands, swathes of agricultural land combine to provide a rich variety of habitat. Whilst the current situation gives rise to serious concerns, there is room for hope once the vaccination programme really gets underway. In the meantime I think everyone should do their level best to accept the disciplines of the guidance and help to minimize the pressures on the NHS to whose staff our heartfelt wishes should be offered. Take care, stay safe and have an enjoyable year.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Quick update !

Hi everyone.   Well, I'm afraid my well laid plans and intentions have not really produced.  My "local routes" provided a good selection of local birds at the very beginning, but since then have failed to deliver any nice surprises.  I have to say that I've really enjoyed listening properly to Blackbird and Song Thrush songsters as, normally, I'd probably only utilise such wonderful outpourings as evidence of presence within a survey of some kind I was undertaking.  Yes, I agree , shame on me !
By far the most exciting discovery has been a local Greenfinch on territory.  It started off a bit creaky ( if not bronchial ) but has since developed and is now giving daily doses of its rasping calls coupled with a few melodious notes .  This is great news in a way as even the presence of an odd bird or flyover  within the three/four years I've been here has been has been decidedly thin !

Eyes to the skies from now on in the hope of intercepting something of note.  Fairly soon I hope to record the first House Martins that breed in the nearby estate and, fingers crossed, even the lone pair of Common Swift that bred next door  last year.!  In the meantime I'll continue to flog the "exercise routes" and turn thoughts to what will eventually prove to be a completely relaxed set of circumstances and complete mobile freedom.  At the same time I 'll also work hard at suppressing interest in the current system of north east and easterly winds, circumstances that are avidly prayed for usually but now, of all times, impose themselves when we're unable to glean any benefit from the bird passage they might influence.  And then I think of the people who might also have had a similar interest, but who, tragically , have succumbed to the effects of the epidemic which confronts us.  Time to turn to the uplifting notes of our nearby thrushes and to feel thankful !

Sunday, March 29, 2020

New Mammal Atlas for UK.

The book shown below has only just been published and is a volume that should grace the bookshelf  \of anyone with an interest in wildlife in the UK.

Inspired by the late Derek Yalden, the Atlas presents the collated results of records from the UK for the period 2000-2016. The design layout and presentation of text, maps, illustrations and diagrams is absolutely excellent, as is the up to date information on all our familiar mammal species. Particularly pleasing and interesting are the details made available on the wide range of bat species and cetaceans, many of which are supported by relatively few records.

A book that can be browsed time and time again, releasing new information, inspiration and delight on each visit.  Copies can be obtained from Pelagic Publishing  ( ) or by visiting the Mammal Society website ( ).


Saturday, March 28, 2020

Birds of Cyprus.

The book shown below was published at the very beginning of 2020 and joins others in the series of field guides produced by Helm.  I was really looking forward to it supplementing the variety of birds to be seen in Cyprus on my visit this Spring , but then current circumstances intervened. I was also looking forward to spending time with Colin ( Richardson ) and to congratulating him face to face on what is an absolutely excellent publication.

   This is not a review in a formal sense, more a celebration of what is a tremendous publication that would no doubt have enhanced the enjoyment and experience of many birders visiting Cyprus for the first time this Spring.  As might be expected from Helm the standards throughout are beyond first class, be it the layout designs, illustrations, presentation of the text and distribution maps and the reproduction quality of the photographs. The authors  and all others involved deserve our thanks for a volume that will give countless hours of enjoyment !

I particularly liked the compendium of birdwatching sites and the exhaustive and precise details for each. Such is a fitting tribute to Colin Richardson's diligent exploration of the island. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone intending to visit Cyprus ( which , currently, is in a more severe form of lockdown than the UK ). Future circumstances will , I am sure, be different and allow the full benefits to emerge from what is a wonderful island. For those who have already reaped the benefits of visiting Cyprus then the book provides a wonderful prompt to reliving  the experiences you have accumulated.

Until last year I'd never had a good view of what is now accepted taxonomically as Cyprus Scops Owl. Then the view of a slightly angry looking bird peering down at us from the upper confines of a large thorny bush were superb and the diagnostic slightly darker and greyer plumage well seen . Such has been perfectly replicated in the stunning illustration on Page 142, even to "the look", an experience now depicted in perpetuity. Thank you.

It may well be that visits to Cyprus might now be curtailed for some time. More reason to get a copy of this book, repeatedly savour the contents and build up your enthusiasm for a visit at a future time.
You'll not be disappointed in any respects.

A challenge to isolation !

Yesterday morning I started what I now intend to be a regular habit in the ensuing weeks, that of covering a given small local area and noting what birds I've seen.  Thankfully, where I live is central to two adjacent kilometre squares , one of which has the River Don running through it and the other comprises an upper part of the rising flank of the eastern Pennines.. As a consequence , and easily within reach , are a variety of habitats that inevitably will provide a good selection of birds. I've identified three routes I can follow on my "permitted exercise walk" each day and am quite looking forward to it all.

Yesterday morning was quite cold and a bit misty when I went out ( I suppose the area averages out at a little over 250/260m. ).  I confess it was after dawn (0530 hours ) and whilst a few cars were on the move I only saw one other person.  Suffice to say I didn't see much,  as the route I'd chosen was closest to the houses and predominantly "urban" in all respects  despite the rural location. I repeated it again this morning, with, much the same return, excepting a singing Mistle Thrush and a very welcome rasping Greenfinch..

The contribution our gardens make nowadays in supporting our birdlife is of paramount importance given many of the rough corners within our landscape have been lost in the quest to bring all available areas into production.  The task of monitoring garden birds has risen in parallel and the results from the surveys organized by the British Trust for Ornithology in this respect have been illuminating ( see ).  The benefits of pursuing an interest in our urban wildlife have been championed by many, including the Urban Birder ( David Lindo ) whose indefatigable efforts have led many into appreciating a hitherto undiscovered world on their very doorsteps. See

Whilst my  " local list"  has not yet reached twenty , the opportunity to follow my passion within the circumstances imposed upon us all has already  improved my own sense of well being and offset a sense of restlessness and frustration. Worth embracing the habit I'd say !  I suspect that we might all discover something within our close neighbourhood that lay ignored previously, driven past as we set off for favoured birding areas a little further afield !  Whilst I doubt I shall see anything exceptional I intend registering the area within the BTO BirdTrack scheme and adding the bird species seen into the population monitoring programme.  I'll keep everyone posted on what is recorded within each month and such might be the interest and benefit I gain from it all I might make an effort to keep it going in a permanent sense.

In passing may I add this as a Postscript. Last evening many in my village, along with countless thousands within the UK, emerged on to their doorsteps at 2000 hours  and clapped their hands as a gesture of thanks and admiration to the staff of the  National Health Service ( NHS )  { and now the 600,000 + volunteers who have come forward to help }  for the magnificent job they're doing in countering the effects of the Conovid 19 epidemic..

It was humbling, and not a little emotional, to witness and be a part of something so simple, but so far reaching in a collective sense, happening as it was throughout the country. When I came back indoors I was much reminded of the epic words of Sir Winston Churchill about the Battle of Britain. Substitute "nursing" for "human conflict" and the tribute is as vibrant today as ever was.

Never, in the field of nursing, has so much been owed by so many to so few.

To all in the NHS, thank you, take care and bless you all.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Facing the future !

Well, I'd be the first to agree that it's been an absolute age since I last put out a Blog.  Many things managed to get in the way, but I suppose 2019 will go down as both a good and bad year !!

Recovering from a knee injury , sustained in 2018, which " insisted"  over time in improving, and then deteriorating in equal measure, was somewhat frustrating to say the least. Eventually, in November 2019, things cleared up entirely after over fourteen months.   In between, and on a completely different front, I'd had to replace two laptops  ( yes two ! ).  A complete meltdown on each occasion against which I'm still reaping the penalties.  If anyone reads this and realises I haven't been in touch for some time then please E-mail me as I've probably lost your contact details which probably right now reside in some local cyber cemetery!

There were some better times, of course, when I was at Spurn and the time I spent out in Cyprus ( see the Blog entries ).  Nonetheless, I was rather looking forward to 2020 as the preceding months appeared , overall,  to have moved through less than smoothly !

The New Year started in Scotland from which the return journey allowed a "calling off" at the Firth of Forth where I managed to see both Surf Scoter and the White-winged Scoter. Some local birding followed, including a day south of Doncaster which produced both Common Crane and Rough-legged Buzzard. Not at all bad for South Yorkshire!

A period of stormy weather saw a weekend on the East Coast cancelled and damage sustained to the house roof !   Was the improvement trend faltering I asked myself?  A week in Norfolk soon followed , which was largely a washout,  and then following on my return home the Covid-19 virus  pandemic engulfed us all !  The immediate effect of this was that an intended "Spring sojourn"  of several weeks in Cyprus was cancelled and a later trip to the Cairngorms suffered the same fate.  I'm afraid I took the view that decisive action was needed, however much of a disappointment this proved to be , as the uncertainty surrounding the circumstances was unlikely to end for some time. Being a "golden oldie" the advice to isolate soon followed and now, of course, we're subjected to "conditioned house arrest".  My preferred description ! So it looks as if 2020 is set to be worse than 2019, so how best to approach things?

I rather suspect that the overall implications of what affects us all will extend much further than the three weeks , or even three months, that are currently being offered  as popular "milestones".   I truly believe it's best not to create such false horizons, much better to construct a timeline of your own , and to determine a series of activities that link to your interests and thereby provide some form of substitute  to what you might otherwise be engaged in.   A home based bird list, for your immediate area, coupled with the odd migration watch perhaps,  a deliberate selection of wildlife documentaries on television from which you can compile your own world list of species "seen" , and a catching up on reading all those natural history books you've bought but not yet opened. I'm sure there are endless other possibilities and I'd be glad to hear of your ideas.

For my part I've decided to continue with this Blog, to include details of birds I've seen on my local "exercise " walk, to include book reviews and reportage on environmental and conservation topics that might yet hit the news.  After such an absence of regular entries the "readership" of the Blog will take a little time to build up and so feed back and ideas might be a bit thin on the ground, but keep them coming nonetheless.  In the meantime , best wishes to all, take care .

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Further thoughts on the petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

The above petition is now close to reaching 80,000 signatures, a tremendous achievement.   So the next obvious point to make ( of course ! ), is that , if you haven't signed , do so now !.

I'm on holiday at Spurn at present and so have lots of opportunity to consider, again and again, the overall situation as I wander around or complete a slow paced sea watch!  Cutting to the chase, the immediate , most important aspect to address and gain improvement against , is the continuing persecution of raptors.  Many of those affected are iconic members of our wildlife heritage. If there were to be any kind of similar assault on, say, our artistic heritage, there would be an outcry. As yet that hasn't occurred to the same potential extent, but will if the arrogance and self interests of the shooting fraternity continues even given its Establishment associations.

I've little doubt that any call for an outright ban would take some time to bring into being. However, a debate wherein the persecution issue was properly laid bare and the consequences of no improvement arising made apparent could help tremendously. This is where I believe the RSPB could help by encouraging support from its members.  My RSPB Campaign Newsletter arrived this week ,urging people to assist in calling for sustainable farming policies and in resisting  any extension of the large power station complex south of the important Minsmere Reserve.  Laudable both , but some mention of the continuing plight of raptors wouldn't have gone amiss.  To avoid doing so starts to accept the incidents are part of a developing permanent culture and I simply refuse to accept that position.

A recent Blog from the RSPB set out the need for a review of the grouse shooting industry, something I couldn't agree with more. But not all the membership reads such Blogs , a fact I'm reminded of given a series of recent conversations with people  at the BirdFair and elsewhere. The question , in one form or another, seems an inevitable component of any conversation........ " What's the RSPB doing about all this raptor persecution?".     Now I realise that such a demand is simplistic and with no simple answer, but it prompts me to consider whether the RSPB might be a little out of touch with the expectations of its membership ( straight forward demands in some instances).    There's an immensely loyal bunch of people out there with concerns about "its Society " as well as issues like raptor persecution. It seems to me there is an all out need to set out , even repeatedly, the extent of the Society's involvement at any one time and to try and involve the membership wherever possible and curb their frustration.  Incidentally , the one comment that comes through , time and again, is support for the magnificent work of the Investigations Team  ( I couldn't agree more ).  What does seem to go unappreciated are the position statements and summaries of what should be without any accompaniment of action points .

I'd be the first to recognize this is a difficult problem, but let's never accept it as an impossible one, which brings us full circle to the beginning. The need to precipitate action.  ACTION THIS DAY, NOT TOMORROW OR THE WEEKEND.......NOW!!