SUPER STONECHAT @ SPURN POINT
On Thursday I visited the superb Spurn Point National Nature
Reserve which is located off the tip of the coast of East Yorkshire. Spurn is a narrow sand tidal strip of land which reaches into the North Sea and forms the north bank of the mouth of the Humber estuary. Up until a storm in 2013 you could drive right down to the southernmost tip, but this storm made the road impassable at high tide. A storm in 2017 further damaged the sandbank, washing away the remaining part of the road that was damaged in 2013.
The island beyond the breach is over three miles long and as little as fifty yards wide in places. The southernmost tip is known as Spurn Head and is home to the RNLI lifeboat station and two disused lighthouses. Spurn Head covers 280 acres above high water and around 450 acres of foreshore and has been owned by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust since 1960. In the Middle Ages, Spurn Head was home to the port of Ravenspurn where Henry of Bolingbroke landed in 1399 on his return to dethrone Richard II. It was also where Sir Martin De La See led the local resistance against Edward IV's landing on 14th March 1471 as he was returning from his six months exile in the Netherlands.
The lifeboat station at Spurn Head was built in 1810 and owing to the remote location, houses for the lifeboat crew and families were added a few years later. The station is now one of only a few in the UK which has a full time paid staff with all the others being on the River Thames in London. During the First World War two coastal artillery batteries were added at either end of Spurn Head with quick firing guns in between them.
The military also built a railway line from the village of Kilnsea all the way along to the end of Spurn Point with a total length of 3.75 miles. The line was built in 1915 to supply military installations along this stretch of coast. Spurn Point had originally been militarised in 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars and when the First World War was declared the number of military personnel greatly increased overnight. The War Department decided that a railway line between Kilnsea and Spurn Point would be the best option for a supply chain and purchased the land.
The line was constructed by CJ Wills & Company with the rails and other second hand materials coming from the Great Central and Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railways. The line was eventually closed down in 1951 and was replaced by a road and the land was demilitarised between 1956 and 1959 before being sold in 1960. Apart from some small sections of the rails sunk into tarmac/concrete, there is not much left to show that this railway even existed.
Since the storm in 2017, Spurn has now become a tidal island, as the narrowest part of the sandbank connection to the mainland is flooded with each high tide. The spit is made up from sand, shingle and boulder clay eroded from the Holderness coastline that is washed down the coast from Flamborough Head. Material is washed down the coast by long shore drift and accumulates to form the long narrow embankment in the sheltered waters inside the mouth of the estuary.
There are two lighthouses at the end of Spurn Point, the Low Lighthouse (built 1852) and the brick lighthouse in the middle of Spurn Head (built 1895). Only the foundations of the low lighthouse now remain with a large water tank replacing the rest of it. The brick lighthouse is painted black and white and its main light had a range of twenty miles before the light was discontinued in 1985. In 2013 the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust was awarded nearly £500,000 to restore it and once the work was completed it reopened to the public in March 2016.
The landward side mud flats are an important feeding ground for wading birds and the area has a bird observatory for monitoring migrating birds. Their migration is assisted by the east winds in autumn, resulting in drift migration of Scandinavian birds, sometimes leading to a spectacular "fall" of thousands of birds. Many rarer species have been sighted there, including a Cliff Swallow from North America, a Lanceolated Warbler from Siberia and a Black-Browed Albatross from the Southern Ocean.
More commonly, birds such as Wheatears, Whinchats, Common Redstarts and Flycatchers stop off at Spurn on their way between breeding and wintering grounds. When the wind is in the right direction migrants are funnelled down Spurn Point and are counted at the Narrows Watchpoint, more than fifteen thousand birds can fly past on a good morning in autumn with three thousand quite normal. In 2018 the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust opened a visitor centre and new car park near the entrance to the reserve.
It was a nice sunny day and as I neared Spurn Point Nature Reserve and perched on telegraph poles at the side of the road were a pair of Buzzards. As I turned into the car park there were two Stonechats perched on a bush right next to the road. After a quick trip to the visitor centre I walked round to the Canal Scrape Hide where out on the water there were several Mallards, a few Moorhens and a couple of Little Grebes. On the far side of the water I spotted a Pintail that was fast asleep amongst some more Mallards.
A few minutes had passed when I heard a Curlew calling from beyond the reeds at the other side of the water and a couple of seconds later it flew in over the reeds and landed at the far right hand side of the water. The Curlew started to make its way along the edge of the water, washing itself as it went and as I left the hide a female Wigeon landed on the water amongst the Mallards. As I walked across to the car the Stonechat put in another brief appearance on a large bush before flying off and I now drove up to Kilnsea Wetlands.
As I arrived at the car park for Kilnsea Wetlands there were several Starlings sat on the telegraph wires overhead. I walked along the path round to the hide from where I could see several Greylag Geese, Mallards, Shelducks and Wigeons. In amongst them was a single Little Egret and over on the far side was a single Redshank and Black Tailed Godwit. A group of Linnets swooped down and landed on the a little bit further out on the mud a Pied Wagtail and White Wagtail landed at the water's edge.
I left the hide and walked up the path between the reserve and a field towards the Beacon Ponds and as I did half a dozen Skylarks were flying about and hovering over the edge of the reserve. As I reached the gate at the top of the field there were a few more Linnets as well as a few Goldfinches amongst the hedgerow. After going through the gate I turned left and walked along the eastern side of the reserve and over to my right I spotted a Hen Harrier flying along at the other side of the water.
On the water I saw a couple of Mute Swans and a few Black Headed Gulls as the Hen Harrier disappeared from view whilst at the right hand side there was a Little Egret making its way along the water's edge. I turned round and headed back along the path but rather than turning back through the gate I walked on a little way as the Linnets and Goldfinches flew around me. After about a hundred yards I could see a large round pond in the middle of a field over to my left. At the far side of this pond there were several more Mallards, but on the near side wading through the shallow water there was a Curlew Sandpiper.
I walked back to the gate and headed back down towards the car and then drove back down towards the car park at the visitor centre as a pair of Kestrels hovered overhead. I made a stop at the Crown & Anchor pub and walked across to the water's edge at the other side of the road. From here I could see a few Lesser Black Backed Gulls and further out I could see a long line of more than one hundred Redshanks.
I visited the cafe at the visitor centre for lunch and afterwards as I was starting to walk along the Big Hedge footpath a Merlin flew past very fast scaring all the small birds away. When I was about halfway along I could see the Merlin perched on a fencepost about two hundred yards away. At the end of the path I turned right and followed the path along the edge of the beach where after about a hundred yards I could see a young Grey Seal lying half way up the beach.
I continued walking down the path towards the Seawatch Hide and about half way along I spotted a large group of waders on the beach at the water's edge. After taking a closer look I was able to see that there was a group of about fifty Little Ringed Plovers and a little further along the beach there was a pair of juvenile Ringed Plovers. I walked behind the Seawatch Hide and down the steps and turned left and started walking down what remains of the road to Spurn Head.
To my right, perched on the telegraph wires, were more than two hundred Starlings and as I walked past the number of Starlings increased until they all flew off north towards the visitor centre. Over to my left the fifty or so Little Ringed Plovers had made their way along the beach and before I had chance to take a picture they flew off. I continued on to where the road disappeared under the sand and as I approached the breach I saw Reed Buntings, Wheatears and Whinchats moving in the tall grass to my right.
After a couple of hundred yards I emerged onto the beach area which is covered by the sea at high tide. About fifty yards in front of me there was a Wheatear sat on the remains of a red brick wall that had been washed along the beach by the sea. I managed to get closer to the Wheatear as it moved from the red brick and onto several different rocks and got a few good pictures before it eventually flew off. I turned towards the Humber Estuary and near the shore I saw a very large group of waders and amongst them were half a dozen Turnstones, more than thirty Sanderlings, a single Oystercatcher and over a hundred Dunlins.
I turned round and walked back up the beach and back along the sandy path to the road and near the edge of the water there was a pair of Little Egrets. I walked past the path which leads to the Seawatch Hide where I saw a Robin and a Wren in the bushes to the left. Some of the Starlings were still on the telegraph wires but flew across to the trees to my right and when I had almost reached the visitor centre I took a path that goes between the Canal Scrape on one side and the Humber Estuary on the other.
As I walked along I saw a couple of Curlews flying along the edge of the estuary to my left and about half way between the visitor centre and the Crown & Anchor pub I saw a Roe Deer in the tall grass to my left near the water's edge. A little further along I saw a Kingfisher flying very fast over the reeds to my right before dropping down into them about a hundred yards away. When I reached the gate next to the pub I could see a Herring Gull right next to the path probing the rocks and seaweed for food.
It had recently been high tide so although the tide was going out it was still right up to the wall in front of the pub. Over to the right in the distance there was a single Little Egret and as I turned to retrace my steps along the path back to the visitor centre the Herring Gull was still at the water's edge. A little further along the path there were half a dozen Turnstones sifting through the seaweed and scurrying across the mud. As I neared the visitor centre I saw a few Goldfinches in the large bushes at the edge of the path and when I walked past the visitor centre several Starlings flew overhead and landed on the feeders next to it.
I reached the end of the path and walked along the road towards the car park where, sat on a fencepost, was a Stonechat. The Stonechat flew across to the hedgerow leading up to the sea and when I walked round to the hedgerow I could see that there were in fact four Stonechats perched on the hedge. I walked back round to the car and as I drove back along the road I saw several Kestrels. As I went past Kilnsea Wetlands I saw at least half a dozen Curlews in the field to my left and a little further along there was another Roe Deer.
I have added a few photos and a full sightings list from my visit to the always superb Spurn Point Nature Reserve.