Spurn: The Adventure Continues! – Harry Appleyard

Above: Spurn Lighthouse view © Harry Appleyard

It’s been a few months since I finished my Practical Conservation Traineeship at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Spurn National Nature Reserve. I came to the area determined to use my newly-gained conservation skills and knowledge back home in Bucks but I soon fell in love with the area and admittedly was not prepared to leave it so suddenly in October 2022! Fortunately though, with thanks to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, I have been able to return in 2023 to lead some of their Bespoke Birding Tours across the Spurn area.

Spurn’s Bespoke Birding Tours are tailored for small groups of up to 6 people, spending the day on the lookout for the many birds the area has to offer while providing guidance and tips on their identification, by sight and sound. With reserve transport for part of the route, the entire length of the Spurn area is covered, including the Spurn peninsula and its neighbouring reserve, Kilnsea Wetlands, from 9.30am to 4.30pm. You can find out more about them, including upcoming dates for the autumn tours here: https://www.ywt.org.uk/bespoke-birding-tours

My first set of the tours this year took place around mid-April, with a mixture of winter stragglers and newly arrived spring migrants spotted across the area. Dark-bellied Brent Geese, one of Spurn’s familiar winter visitors, were very slow to leave this year, with them still being present past mid-May. They gather here in the hundreds every year, mainly between September and early May, spending a lot of time feeding around the mudflats of the Humber estuary before heading back to their breeding grounds in Siberia. A lone Fieldfare was seen feeding near the southern tip of the reserve and a late wintering flock of 7 Pink-footed Geese were seen landing at Well Field, near the northern edge of the reserve on 18th April’s tour.

Brent Geese at Kilnsea Wetlands -19.04.2023 © Harry Appleyard

As a few remnants of winter lingered, small numbers of Yellow Wagtails and Sand Martins were a sign of warmer times ahead, while some of the remaining Bar-tailed Godwits around the wetlands were gathering their stunning fiery breeding plumage. By early May, many of the familiar summer migrants had returned. Common Whitethroats were singing across much of the Spurn area, while a few Wheatears were still dropping in on passing visits. Whinchats seemed thin on the ground this spring, so it was good to point out a couple in the last week of May, one at Parade Ground near the southern tip of the Peninsula and another by Well Field at the northeast corner of the reserve.

Gadwall x Wigeon with male Garganey, Kilnsea Wetlands – 30.05.2023 © Harry Appleyard

A photogenic oddity in the later tours of the season was a suspected Gadwall x Wigeon hybrid at Kilnsea Wetlands, seen side-by-side with a male Garganey on spring passage on 30th May. All other birds on 31st May were overshadowed by the arrival of Spurn’s 6th Great Snipe, which was spotted landing in Clubleys Meadow by Jacob Spinks, a short distance from the Spurn Discovery Centre. A rare vagrant for Britain more likely to be found in northwestern Europe, it soon attracted a crowd. There couldn’t have been a much better end to a birding tour with it still being on show in the late afternoon, favouring a small pool where it continued to delight countless more birders from the local area and further afield to 3rd June.

Great Snipe, Spurn 31.05.2023 – Harry Appleyard

Not quite of the same calibre as the Great Snipe but mid-way through my last spring tour on 15th June I spotted my own rarest Spurn bird, a Nuthatch! It was given away by calls as it flew over Burrow Pit at the north end of the reserve, mobbed by 2 Meadow Pipits as it made its way south. Though they are a familiar sight in many of our landlocked woodlands, they have so far generated less than 25 records in the Spurn area, making them an even rarer visitor than some of the more exotic migrants like Hoopoe and European Bee-eater! It was re-located shortly afterwards by two others at the Warren Cottage but not seen to leave.

Some of Spurn’s other inhabitants took the spotlight throughout the season. It was a productive year for the Green Hairstreak butterfly, which are plentiful across the Spurn peninsula but a few were also present further north near Kilnsea Wetlands this year. Several species of odonata were on the wing on the warm sunny afternoon of 16th May, including a male Red-veined Darter which was the first recorded at Spurn since 2021. Initially looking like a very early Ruddy Darter at first glance, its suspiciously blueish lower eyes were apparent in a low fly-past and its identity was quickly confirmed by Adam Hutt and Tim Jones, who also noted the subtle reddish-veins in the wings from my images. It is believed to be both a resident and migratory species here, with this one possibly being a recent arrival from continental Europe.

Male Red-veined Darter, Spurn 16.05.2023 © Harry Appleyard

This spring certainly didn’t disappoint, with a wide variety of both Spurn’s regular and scarcer species being on show. You can never quite fully predict what you will find on these tours, so there’s always a thrill in pointing out a species that has just arrived or is not often found there. It’s always a pleasure to talk about the area, the changing landscape and the conservation work in its many forms being undertaken to maintain it. Again, many thanks to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for bringing me back to this amazing little part of the world and the Spurn Bird Observatory for their hospitality and local knowledge.

If you would like to find out more about Spurn National Nature Reserve, click here:  https://www.ywt.org.uk/nature-reserves/spurn-national-nature-reserve

Harry Appleyard
July 2023