Autumn Migration at Spurn Point

We traveled north to Spurn Point nature reserve in East Yorkshire, at the end of September 2019. We timed our trip to coincide with the Autumn migration. The potential for seeing huge numbers of birds leaving or returning to the UK was the draw. We also hoped to find the occasional rare bird, more about that later. Spoiler alert, it's worth waiting for.

However, the weather was not on our side that week. We had three comfortable days, with the rest wet and windy. Not that this stopped us, we ended up walking around 30 miles over a period of six days (one was a total washout)!  

A quick warning that this page is image intensive so it may take a little while to load. 

Arrival Day at Spurn Point

Not wanting to waste any of our vacation, we set off early on the Friday morning. Stopping off at Patrington, close to our destination for supplies, we spotted our first bird. A barn owl carved into a tree trunk in the churchyard!

Patrington Churchyard carvingsCarvings in Patrington churchyard

Continuing our journey, we passed through Easington, our home base for the next week, on our way to Spurn Point.

Until December 2013 it had been possible to drive to the lighthouses at the point. However, a storm surge destroyed part of the road, cutting off access, and occasionally creating an island at high tide. You can still walk down to the point but it is important to check the tide timetable to avoid the possibility of becoming stranded.

We left that excursion for another day. Our first port of call was the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Discovery Centre, where we had a warming lunch of home-made soup in the Bluebell Café.

The Trust purchased Spurn Point nature reserve in the 1960s. 

Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts sign on the Discovery Centre

We then ambled down to the Sea Watching Hide near The Warren. Several volunteers were in the hide, counting the birds by pressing hand-held clickers. "Five Gannets just past the platform, flying south," uttered one man. "Red-throated Diver in front of the fives" called out another. We eventually worked out that the platform was an oil rig, and the "fives" were a group of wind turbines out at sea.  

Guess who had left the spotting scope at home? My camera equipment was not adequate in this situation, so I resorted to the binoculars, but still had trouble seeing the reported birds.

We left the hide to walk down to the Wash Over point. The tide was out and there were waders and ducks feeding on the muddy estuary. The weather was murky, so the light wasn't great for photography. I settled for a few record shots, then we headed for our accommodation.

Guided bird walk - Day 2 at Spurn Point

The next day dawned - wet and windy.

We had seen a guided bird walk advertised for 9am so headed off early to the Discovery Centre. Only to discover that we were in the wrong place. Retracing our steps, we arrived at the Spurn Point Bird Observatory with minutes to spare, expecting to see a group of people ready to set off.

However, we were the only people daft enough to turn up in the rain! Johnnie was happy to take us out, stating that we might not see much because of the weather. Undeterred, we ventured off on a route known as The Triangle.

We passed the Crown and Anchor pub, which we later found did great food. Then we joined the footpath along the edge of the Humber River, where I photographed my first Curlew of the trip. There were also Little Egrets on the water's edge and a Sparrowhawk flew over our heads. 

Curlew on the Humber EstuaryCurlew on the Humber estuary

We turned left towards The Warren, and Johnnie pointed out a late Hobby, a bird of prey that resembles the larger Peregrine. I waited for it to fly close to the Hebridean Sheep weather vane to show the direction of flight. The trust use these rare breed sheep to graze the land to keep the ground cover under control.

Hobby flying past the weathervane at Spurn HeadHobby and Spurn Point weathervane
Hebridean Sheep taking a drink at the Canal Scrape

Crossing the road, we climbed up the bank to the Sea Watching Hide for our second visit. My third bird of prey for the morning, a Short-Eared Owl, flew past, allowing me to grab a few distant photographs. 

We walked along the cliff edge, where a beautiful Wheatear posed for my camera, before dropping onto the beach. 

Wheatear on cliff
Wheatear on cliff at Spurn Head
Wheatear on beachClose views of a Wheatear on the beach at Spurn Head

A single Ringed Plover was also foraging on the beach. We turned back to the road, had a brief stop off at the Canal Hide which only provided two Moorhen, then headed back up the other side of the Triangle past the sunflower field. It was raining hard, but I forgot all about the weather when I spied a Roe Deer amongst the remaining flowers. She soon spotted us and swiftly ran off, but not before I got some photos.

By lunchtime, the weather started deteriorating rapidly, with almost horizontal rain stinging our faces and forcing us to walk backwards. We still had one side of the Triangle to travel, so imagine our delight when a passing ornithologist offered us a lift back to the Observatory. On our return, we accepted hot drinks and had a chat with volunteers who had sensibly stayed in the dry, after which we headed back to our cottage for a complete change of clothes and some lunch.  

The rain eventually stopped, and the sun shone, so I went for a walk around Easington where someone had seen a Yellow-Browed Warbler, but I was unlucky that time. 

A quick trip out in the car for supplies (and a warm hat) completed our second day. 

We slept well that night!

Kilnsea Wetlands - Day 3

Sunday dawned wet and wild again - This was fast becoming a recurring theme!

Our first stop was Kilnsea Wetlands Nature Reserve, where we sheltered in the hide. Our timing was bad, as the tide was on its way out and most of the birds had already returned to the mudflats to feed.

Small groups of common waders, including Redshank, Knot, Dunlin, and the odd Turnstone remained. Another visitor was a Grey Heron. It kept catching a feather and then spitting it out. Perhaps when it was in the water it looked like a fish? We nicknamed him Shakespeare! 

Shakespeare with his quill.

Walking back to the car we experienced a murmuration of Starlings.

Starlings everywhere!

Moving on to the Discovery Centre, we retraced the previous day's journey, this time on our own. The rain eased off, but the wind was even stronger! 

A female kestrel hovered above us for part of our walk, showing well. We also saw Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits. There was an elusive Snipe along with the two moorhen at the Canal Scrape. Sadly, there was no sight of the resident Water Rail, despite waiting in anticipation. 

Cold and wet, we retired to the Crown and Anchor for a late lunch. Here we sat in comfort and continued our birdwatching through the large picture windows. 

A walk to Spurn Point - Day 4 

With the promise of better weather (at last) we set the alarm for an early start. 

The tide was turning when we reached Kilnsea this time, on route to Spurn Point, but the sun was still casting a lovely golden light on the landscape and birds.

We had the hide to ourselves, as everyone else had already moved on. The remaining birds gradually dissipated, allowing me to get some nice flight photographs of Curlew, Shelduck, Pink-Footed Geese, Little Egret, Mute Swan, Redshank, Avocet and others using my Canon 5D mk IV, and 150-600mm Sigma Contemporary lens.

Flying Curlew at Golden HourCurlew during the Golden Hour
Shelduck flock

All too soon the golden light faded, and we resolved to arrive even earlier the next morning! 

We left the hide and walked towards Beacon Ponds. We made a detour to the Kilnsea Sound Mirror - a huge concrete dish designed to focus the sound of aircraft engines as they approached during the First World War. This was in the days before radar.

Flock of Curlew over Beacon PondsFlock of Curlew over Beacon Ponds

As we walked, more birds deserted the wetlands and flew overhead. Quite a spectacle! The image above shows a lone Avocet in amongst the Curlew. Search for the white bird with black wingtips near the top edge of the flock. 

Flying flock of RedshankFlock of Redshank

Rounding the far corner, Reed Buntings and Goldfinches covered the bushes. There had been talk of a rare Rustic Bunting on the reserve, but we were not lucky enough to see it.

Soon the ground became too wet underfoot, and we reluctantly turned back. A small group of Whimbrel feeding in the field was a nice find just before we reached the car.

Reed Bunting on hedgeFemale Reed Bunting

We returned to the Discovery Center then checked out the sunflower field. The seeds were being devoured by goldfinches, greenfinches and tree sparrows. At one point I heard a rustling beside me, and turning around I glimpsed a Whitethroat in the reeds. 

A greenfinch in the sunflower fieldA greenfinch making the most of the sunflower seeds
A Whitethroat in the reeds beside the field gate

We changed direction and attempted to walk down to Spurn Point. The 7 mile walk proved too much for both of us after our early morning wanderings. I made it to the refuge shelter the other side of the breach, while hubby went a little further before turning back. We saw little bird-life apart from gulls, and a few late swallows.

What you will see along Spurn Point are many remains of World War 2 buildings. Due to the erosion of the sand dunes, these structures are gradually falling into the sea. It is still possible to see Pill Boxes, gun emplacements and store rooms, along with tunnels, albeit flooded much of the time. 

The remains of military buildings from world war 2 at Spurn PointWorld War 2 remains

We ended up shedding layers of clothing as the weather warmed up. A rare treat!

At one point, a tractor carrying furniture overtook us! The only other vehicle that is sometimes seen along the beach is an all-terrain Unimog that operates a Wildlife Safari to the tip of Spurn Point. Sadly, it wasn't running the week we were there.

After our long walk we took a detour up the Big Hedge Footpath, where two little Stonechats were busy feeding. They rested on the fence posts, posing nicely for photographs. Other photographers were still mumbling about the Rustic Bunting, but if truth was told I wouldn't have recognized one from a Reed Bunting. I don't think we saw it.

Photo of a female stonechat on a fence postFemale Stonechat
Photo of a male stonechat on a fence postMale Stonechat

 Some further sightings of roe deer finished the day off nicely. Later, I drew a picture based on one of these photographs. 

Roe deer buck (male)
Roe Deer buck side view
Roe Deer pencil drawing by Carol Leather
Roe Deer doe (female)

The light was dropping by this time. So the deer photos are rather grainy, but I still wanted to share them with you.

Flood alert! - Day 5 

We have reached Day 5 of our holiday at Spurn Point. The previous evening, we received an e-mail from the owner. She explained that there was an early morning flood warning for the village because of the combination of foul weather and a Spring tide. The advice was not to leave anything valuable on the floor. Being a bungalow there weren't many options here, so we extensively used the kitchen worktops for camera equipment and the laptop! 

Although the weather was awful, the sea didn't reach us, thank goodness. We spent much of the day indoors - venturing out to Sammy's Point in the afternoon where all we saw was a Curlew.

hobbies - Day 6

Better weather encouraged us out this morning. Our first stop was again Kilnsea Wetlands. Although we had missed Golden Hour, the tide was still in, resulting in large numbers of birds remaining on the reserve. So many that it was difficult to pick out individuals amongst the throng. 

Large flock of wadersLarge flock of waders

When they all rose into the air at once, it was a wonderful sight! But what had spooked them? A pair of Hobbies! These birds of prey are so fast that they are difficult to photograph. My best attempts are below.

Peregrine falcon over Kilnsea WetandsHobby over Kilnsea Wetlands
Peregrine falcon in flightClose up of Hobby in flight

We spent a couple of hours in the hide, then moved on to the car park near the old Bluebell Café building. The full force of the sea confronted us! Two people were following the same path we had walked a few days ago, only now much of it was under water. The sea had also flooded almost all of the car park! 

A rare bird! - Day 7

Drizzle and the ever biting wind greeted us on our last day. As Kilnsea Wetlands were on the way from Easington to Spurn Point we stopped off there as normal. We caught the beautiful golden light and surprisingly there was no one else at the hide. There were plenty of birds to watch though.

It pays to enter a hide quietly as sitting there in front of us when we arrived was a lovely Brown Hare. I managed a quick photo before it saw us and raced off, first towards us and then in the opposite direction. 

Brown Hare sitting in the early morning golden lightA sitting Brown Hare
Running brown hareThe Hare soon raced off

Our next port of call was the Canal Scrape behind the discovery centre at Spurn Point. Again this was pretty empty, but a Little Egret kept us company while it fished for breakfast. The last vestiges of the morning golden light had just about left the sky by this time. 

We were headed down to the Sea Watching hide for a final visit, when we became aware that everyone else was hurrying in the opposite direction. Word was out about another rare visitor to the reserve. 

We asked for information and the excited response was "Booted Warbler amongst the sunflowers!" 

Now I am definitely no Twitcher, but I got caught up in the excitement, so we changed course and followed the crowd. Hubby wasn't that interested so he stopped off at the car to rest his tired legs. I pressed on to the corner of the Triangle where I had previously seen the Roe deer. 

A huddle of men with cameras and binoculars were standing by the gate where I saw the whitethroat on Day 4.  Their lenses were trained on the tangle of plants a few metres into the field. After joining them, I searched the area for a bird without success. 

Please understand that not only had I never seen a Booted Warbler, I had never even heard of one until about 30 minutes ago. I didn't know what said bird looked like, nor its size, so I asked for help. 

All ten men decided to tell me where to look at once! 

"See where there are two sunflower seed heads behind that patch of mauve flowers? It was down the bottom there a moment ago". 

"Showing up top again, on the thistle patch." whispered someone else. 

"Your lens is too high, there you go look around that spot," said another after pushing my camera lens lower. 

Then a soft voice from behind explained... "You are looking for a little fella with a greyish beige back and head with greyish white underside. Watch for when it moves and then follow it until it lands a short distance away. It will stay in position for a while as it's quite confiding."

As chance would have it the bird flew up from the ground and perched where I could at last see it, now I had an idea of what to look for. My camera didn't have the easiest job focusing against the messy background, but I was happy to get some record shots to at least prove I had seen the bird, even if I had to crop in to be able to show you in the photos below.  

It was my first rare bird, and there were many there at Spurn Point that day who sadly didn't get to see it.


Booted Warbler at Spurn Point 2019The rare Booted Warbler in the sunflower patch
Booted Warbler

Now I have to say he is a cute little bird, but I still can't wonder why it couldn't have been something more dramatic or colourful that presented itself to us. Never satisfied, us birders, eh?

It was an exciting finale to our week away. I just hope this little spit of land between the sea and the Humber, doesn't entirely wash away and continues to bring joy to birdwatchers in the future. 

I am certain this won't be our last trip to Spurn Point, so who knows what i will see next time!

NOTE: We are booked in to visit again in October 2021 so watch this space for further adventures in East Yorkshire. 

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