Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Skua, a Shearwater, and One Hell of a Kitchen!

Its October and the Autumnal rarity rush is in fill swing, with The Scillies currently just edging it against The Shetlands.  Easterlies were forecast so I roped in Nicknav, (he was recovering from pneumonia but I did not think that was a good enough excuse to not go birding!), and we headed for Spurn Head in Yorkshire.  I love Spurn as besides the regular scarce migrants and spectacular vagrants there are also incredible numbers of common migrants passing through too.  These provide a spectacle of their own as a side dish to the rarities, and something to focus on when the wind is in the wrong direction. 
Easterly winds are pretty much essential for rarities at Spurn, and clearly a lot of people had checked the weather reports - the Observatory was fully booked!  So was the Crown and Anchor, and so in fact was just about every B & B for miles around.  However, the easterlies would not arrive until Sunday so we had booked on the last RSPB 'Skua and Shearwater Cruise' of the season out of Bridlington.  Four hours up and down in the North Sea hurling chum (rotten bits of old fish) off the back to attract passing seabirds would, I assured Nicknav, do his ailment the world of good!  :D 
In the event it did and no one could accuse the RSPB of mis-naming their cruise, we did see 'A' skua, and 'A' shearwater, just one of each mind, you can have too much of a good thing!  A great skua and a manx shearwater (a Bonxie and a Manxie in the seawatcher's vernacular) were the only eponymous birds of the trip though a puffin I realised was a tick too.  I had not ventured to Bempton or Anglesey this summer so picked up a year tick there.  In any case even if nothing rare or unusual comes near the boat, it is great fun to simply point a camera at the cloud of gulls following the boat and so we spent a happy morning chugging up and down the sea.
Back on dry land we twitched the red-backed shrike at Flamborough, being among the last to see it before a sparrowhawk followed it into a bush and presumably devoured it as it was never reported again!  Shrikes to my mind seem fatally disposed to become sprawk prey, blithely dithering about on top of bushes in full view, their eyes on the ground for bugs.  Its a wonder we get to see any.
Back at Spurn we asked if we could check out the rumour of a new kitchen in the Cottage, and were delighted to find that it was true.  We think it should be named the 'Geoff Neal Memorial Kitchen' in honour of the legend and his equally legendary Full English breakfasts that he forged amid clouds of smoke and steam on the old cooker!
The forecast Easterlies never appeared, the winds swinging round to North Westerlies, about as unwanted at Spurn as bird flu.  There were a few things about though, a brambling being my first of the winter, and who could fail to enjoy the hordes of goldfinches passing through, 11,000 in a week.  We renewed our Friends of Spurn subscriptions and also joined the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, handy for two blokes who live near Leicester!  Still, if you're in one you can visit them all (with a yah-boo-sucks to Norfolk!) and only one of them has Spurn, the best birding spot on the globe! 

Nigel Medcalf lobs another sprat at his adoring followers

With the rarities on strike its time to practice with the camera!

The intriguing design of Spurn hides, with the people on the outside!

The old 1930s bird hides have stood the test of time.

The one by the Crown and Anchor is still manned by 87-year old Perceval Postlethwaite who, refusing to believe the Germans have given in, keeps a nightly vigil for incoming Heinkels.

The amazing Geoff Neal memorial Kitchen, a wonder to behold!  :)

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