Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reflections on Hurricane Gonzalo.

After a number of weeks away I'm back "on base" ....and what a welcome!  Hurricane Gonzalo ensured last night was more than a little stormy, noisy and disruptive.  But , in between....

After a period of being on the move I then spent a couple of weeks based near Spurn Bird Observatory.  But, first of all, let me give you details of where!  Based at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire, is Westmere Farm, Kilnsea ( see www.westmerefarm.co.uk ) where Sue and Andrew Wells provide bed and breakfast facilities ( and evening meals by arrangement ).  A working farm, there can be no warmer welcome than at Westmere .Whilst George Clooney opted for a 7Star Hotel for his honeymoon, I opted for Westmere and feel I got the better service. If you wish to stay near Spurn then look no further!!  And, to boot, Westmere is the base out of which the Spurn Bird Festival operates so if you wish to have assured accommodation , then book now for the future!!!

So what did Spurn deliver? Well, I had a great time. I suppose the late 1950's and 1960's saw me spending quite a lot of time there and being introduced to real birding by real birders.....John Cudworth, Charlie Winn, George Edwards and many others whose names I've forgotten.  A return visit was a joy, but a sentimental journey too. I suppose my best personal contribution was finding a Lesser Grey Shrike ( 1958) and, in associated days a Spoonbill , which sparked off a discussion with Ralph Chislett, the indomitable County recorder,despite a photograph of  a species now increasingly part of our avifauna, even as a  breeding species.

This stay was no exception.  Whilst I'd missed a couple of weeks within which Spurn had recorded half the Western Palaearctic list , or so it seemed from the distance of patrolling things via a pager!!  However, I couldn't grumble. A Masked Shrike, 3rd for Britain, Barred Warbler, Firecrest, Yellow-browed Warbler, Richard's Pipit, Black Redstart, Pomarine Skua, Little Gulls.....no complaints at that . I missed a Little Bunting and Common Rosefinch.

Later there were two days when duck and goose passage much exceeded  those records previously established. On the first day I was "camped out" near Easington to the north and thoroughly enjoyed a ten hour seawatch despite being cramped in a car. Ducks and geese flying tight in to the coast, even over the beach, was a tremendous experience supplemented by southward moving waders, Red-throated Divers and terns. A great day! And next day was just as good, although I'd to extract the car  in a somewhat right angled condition after so many hours of dedicated observation !!!!

And then back to Islay. At Claddach Bay this morning the wind backed rollers moved incessantly towards the coast in a never ending succession creating a seething cauldron of white frothing water within the bay, replenished by huge rolling banks of water whose white tops were swept away by the wind. I actually saw Shags attempting to take off and being swept through 180 degrees and deposited roughly within adjacent waters! Some managed to gain height , but could make no progress!  The exception was Gannets, a number of adults of which still, despite the conditions, managed to fight their way northwards.  Precious little was in evidence within a full two hours until a young immature Long-tailed Skua swept through southwards on the wind, turned, held in the wind, before moving on. A real bonus followed, sadly, by little else despite high hopes. It would have been easy to miss birds further out, although a fog bank limited distant observations, but the vigil had been worthwhile extended further by finding a group of 12 + Purple Sandpipers in a nearby bay.  Not a bad return!!

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