Tuesday 5 December 2023

East Yorkshire, 10th-12th June 2023

Day 1:

    On Friday 9th June, I finished my final exam of my second year at Cambridge, which led to me to celebrate with friends for much of the rest of the day. Celebrations were to continue on for several days afterwards, as myself and a few of the guys at university had planned a little weekend away up on the Yorkshire coast. Although specifically focused on seabirds at Bempton, the prospect of North Sea air and Fish and Chips was altogether all very enticing. So at 7am the following day, I left college and myself and Joe got a train up to Doncaster, where Alain and Joash picked us up. By this point already, the trip list included Turtle Dove, Marsh Harrier and Barn Owl added from the train, and a Cuckoo [the only one of the weekend] from the car. 
So as to allow Alain a break from driving in the 30C heat, we dropped in at a nature reserve en route which sounded half decent, this being Hatfield Moors SSSI near Doncaster. It's fair to say the trip started as nothing short of a disaster, as for an hour we wandered around confused at the reserve, failing to not just see birds but figure out where the reported birds were even being seen from. Joe's description of this as forgetful was pretty dead on - in spite of Garden Warblers and Oystercatchers, as well as a few dragonflies, we saw very little, and so our decision to move on as quickly as possible was to save ourselves any more embarrassment. 

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head




Once obstacles such as [Greggs] a painfully slow cyclist and terrifyingly narrow roads were overcome, we reached the RSPB reserve at a little after 2pm. It really was a gorgeous first day - the sun was beating down, there was a light E/SE wind, and we were at one of the UK's finest nature reserves. From the moment we got out the car, Tree Sparrows were chuckling and Gannets were cacking. Alain was already on the brink of running off, his camera locked and ready to photograph seabirds for as many consecutive hours as possible. 

Tree Sparrow youngsters were everywhere

I think that might have been one of my favourite evenings of wildlife-watching I've had in the UK. The best cure for the severe hungover I'd unsurprisingly woken up with seemed to be doing nothing but soaking up the sights and sounds of seabirds from the safety of the clifftop benches. Fulmar, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Gannets, Guillemots and Razorbills were all plentiful, whilst Stonechats, Corn Buntings and Meadow Pipits sang enthusiastically from the edge of the fields behind. The Barn Owl was also busy hunting nearby throughout the afternoon, already the third I'd found that day, and a spot I was far too proud of. In addition to a few offshore Sandwich Tern, a clear highlight for the afternoon was Joash spotting his first Shag and the first of the trip. Equipped with my spare, broken binoculars, and being entirely new to birding, he put us all to shame, showing us just how easy it all is. After a wander along the coastline towards the later afternoon, where this bridled Guillemot showed superbly, we set off to Bridlington to crash. An excellent recommendation meant we found ourselves scranning a top tier Fish and Chips for dinner, this after a walk through Bridlington where screaming Swifts topped off the evening. The Champions League final we watched may have been terrible, but we were all happy enough after a relaxed, successful and ultimately thoroughly enjoyable first day. 

Fish and Chips - many thanks to Sian for the excellent recommendation

Guillemot (the poser of a bridled)

Day 2:

    We started the day far too early at about 05:30, attempting to hear Marsh Warbler singing at Flamborough's Thornwick Pools, where it had been for several days. It took a while to find Thornwick Pools, with different thoughts about where the pools actually were, but when we did we quickly did find the Marsh Warbler, albeit sadly not singing. Either way, it was good to compare the bird with Sedge and Reed Warblers as they fed along the reeds, as well as a Hobby (fairly scarce there.) 


Marsh Warbler - this taken at dusk, as it continued to stay schtup

We then made our second visit of the weekend to Bempton. Aside from a few new additions, such as Eider, Common Scoter flocks out at sea and a couple of Manx Shearwaters, we spent the morning once again watching and photographing seabirds. For me, Fulmar and Razorbills were just that much better than the rest - a bit underrated too, and so though I did take photos (far fewer than Alain) it was especially nice to just watch the birds doing their thing for a few hours. 


With two locations already clocked in the day and plenty seen, after a bit of indecisiveness we eventually concluded a trip to the North York Moors was the best way for us to spend our early afternoon. An hour later, we pulled into the car park at Wykeham Raptor Viewpoint, where Tree Pipits, Crossbill and Siskin all made themselves heard. Over the course of our lunch, an infinite number more Honey Buzzards were strung around us than seen, which was a slight shame. Nonetheless, a brute of a female Goshawk was a welcome sighting, alongside the dozen or so Raven and Swifts. Before we left, time spent with Tree Pipits and Stonechat proved fruitful, with a Peregrine added to the trip list in addition to me getting lucky. It may have been for a few seconds, but failed attempts to improve my Tree Pipit sound recording collection resulted in a mid-day churring Nightjar, always a treat. 


The fourth part of our day [man I want these long days back] was spent at Flamborough Head, a site I'd long wanted to visit and so being able to sit at the furthest point and seawatch for an hour or so was ideal. We nearly didn't bother going, but it funnily enough ended up being our collective favourite section of the trip. Manx Shearwaters, Eider and Common Scoter may have been seen out to sea, as well as the hundreds of auks and a few Turnstone, but Alain and Joash got their dream Puffin views. Not Skokholm/Skomer levels, but at least a dozen Puffin were crammed into the cliffs beside us, providing some dreamy views of the birds for not just us, but the many visiting tourists/walkers there that evening. A bit chilly by the end, but an evening well spent, despite failing to hear the Marsh Warbler again just before leaving - a smart moulting summer Sanderling was some consolation, as was another Barn Owl, a bird that I simply could not stop finding. A dinner of pizzas, garlic bread, salads and chips rounded off the day once back, before we crashed after a good 15 hours in the field. 



Day 3:

   The car had to be back in Cambridge by about 3:30pm, and so we were to leave the area at the latest by 930/10. Driven by blind optimism, we thought we'd be able to replicate the events of the evening prior at Flamborough and get our best views of seabirds yet. No birds were present upon arrival, and so we made the decision within minutes to head to Bempton one last time. A distant, muffled Quail greeted us, its distinctive song occasionally whipping through the wind from nearby fields, only audible at certain rare points. Joe noticed it first, but credit to Joash who also did, 2 days into his birding career once again, as usual, showing myself and Alain up. 

Fulmar - my personal favourite, closely followed by Razorbill, of the common seabirds

Tearing ourselves away from Bempton was near impossible, but after 90 minutes longer, we eventually contributed to the cafe's income one final time before heading back. Still with a strange amount of optimism, we dropped in at Fen Drayton at around 13:45 to try and twitch the Blue-winged Teal found there the day we'd left Cambridgeshire. It was not to be, heat haze making it impossible to see anything too far away with any detail. Little Egrets were sound recorded however, and Turtle Doves heard well in their usual spots, bringing to an end another excellent birding trip in the UK. An enormous thanks to Alain for the driving, and to Joe and Joash for the company - here's hoping similar can be done this summer. A day or two every summer at Bempton is something I could never tire of...

m Stonechat


Joash perfecting the art of the phonescope

Alain reviewing his art



Group selfie

Alain togging

Gannet - three of Alain's photos, which are a heck of a lot better than mine



Tuesday 14 November 2023

Norfolk, 28th October 2023

    It's funny how in three years at uni in Cambridge, there's failed to be an autumn where the weather and conditions have come together to produce one of those dreamy 'big' days. Either way, last December myself and Joe did a foray to the Norfolk coast by public transport. With Alain also joining us this time, we did the same thing - our journey started at Cambridge train station for a 06:30 train, arriving at King's Lynn for 07:30. From here, after breakfast and a caffeine hit, we got the Coastliner bus up to Titchwell, arriving by 09:45. 

Over the past year I've taken far fewer photos than usual, and as Alain was keen to photograph waders, myself and Joe focused almost entirely on watching and looking. Wind and an overall lack of opportunity also meant few birds were worth sound recording. Titchwell started off well with 2 Hawfinch, one which flew over as we failed to find Pallas's Warbler and another youngster which didn't look to be in the best state, as it fed in the car park moving every now and then to assure us it was still alive. These were enjoyed, as were at least 2 or 3 Yellow-browed Warblers dotted around. Goldcrests were everywhere, and from the moment we reached Norfolk thrushes were continually arriving in off the sea. Really cannot complain, even if light SW winds were far from ideal. 


Hawfinch - Joe's photo

Seawatching took up a good hour or two at Titchwell. It was a 5 grebe day there - on the reserve was a single Black-necked and 2 Little Grebe, whereas on the sea were 3 Slavonians, 2 Red-necked and a dozen or so Great Crested. Red-throated Divers, Razorbills and Gannets were some of the other highlights, alongside several hundred Common Scoter. We spent a while watching a Blackbird battling to reach land, clearly exhausted given it repeatedly plunged into the water. We thought it would be heartbreak, but eventually it reached land, a true hero. Things like this mean I'm always a fan of a seawatch, and it was nice to sit back and stare out to sea for an hour or so as Alain got a chance to photograph waders (Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderlings were just some of a few featuring along the beach.)

Knot - Alain's photo

Waxwings avoided us all day, going over Titchwell whilst we seawatched, then again later as we were on the bus to Holkham. It was almost funny by the time we reached Holkham, where they'd been seen half an hour earlier, alongside a group found in Kings Lynn once we'd left there too. Oh well...
Holkham was, as always, a treat. The weather had cleared by the time we arrived, and so time was split between bashing through pines looking for migrants, and scanning the sea. The pines were reasonably quiet, aside from a few more Yellow-browed Warbler and Crossbill. A bunting sp gave us the slip in a patch of bushes, so with what little time remained we watched Little Gulls, Kittiwakes and waders from the dunes. A mini highlight was a passerine going through at head height, calling as we pursued it over the dunes to reveal itself as a Brambling. In-off migration, so good.

Sanderling - Alain's photo

We didn't get a Short-eared Owl or Hen Harrier at dusk, but did get to watch Pink-footed geese and a Starling murmuration developing over Lady Anns Drive, reaching many thousand as we left for our bus. The day felt like it ended without that one star bird - we may have gotten 105 species, but felt like it missed that major rare. Nonetheless, we were not at all disappointed. It was a much needed, lovely away day, where we all got exactly what we wanted and needed - time away, on the coast, watching migration at some top birding spots. The next trip awaits, soon...