A FLIGHT OF SWALLOWS @ SPURN POINT

On Tuesday 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. The weather had been very wet recently so when a dry day was forecast I jumped in the car and headed for Spurn Point. It was sunny and warm when I arrived and as I crossed the road to go to the visitor centre I spotted a Sedge Warbler perched on top of a bush, two Reed Buntings flying over the road and landing on a wooden sign as well as a Meadow Pipit perched on a fence post. As I reached the visitor centre, Swallows were swooping overhead and when I was sat out side having a drink one perched on a branch just over the other side of a fence. There were also House Sparrows going to and from nest boxes placed just under the roof of the visitor centre as a Song Thrush flew across towards the River Humber. As I walked round towards the Canal Scrape Hide a male House Sparrow was perched on a lichen covered branch as more Swallows flew over head with Linnets perched on the telegraph wires above. On the water in front of the hide I could see two Little Egrets, a trio of Mallards, a pair of Coots and a pair of Mute Swans with five cygnets.

A pair of Swallows were flying back and forth in front of the hide gathering mud from a patch to the left of the hide before flying back to the right hand end and into the hide where they were building a nest near the roof. A Common Sandpiper flew in and landed on the far side of the water whilst a Pied Wagtail made its way across the grass and the Mute Swans had also made their way out of the water and onto the grass. The Swallows were still coming in and out of the hide, occasionally perching on the fence posts and chasing off intruders. I left the hide and headed the short distance north in my car to Kilnsea Wetlands which is about a mile north of the visitor centre. I walked round to the hide as Oystercatchers, Linnets and Skylarks flew overhead and when I reached the hide the water levels were higher than normal which meant there were less waders than usual. Out on the water were several Mute Swans and Greylag Geese whilst in the distance were at least 10 Shelducks, a single Cormorant and several Herring Gulls. Closer to the hide there were also Mallards and a pair of Gadwalls and flying across the front of the hide was a Common Sandpiper which landed at the edge of the water to my right. I left the hide and continued along the path eastwards to where the path splits in two and here I went to the left where after a short distance I heard a Sedge Warbler calling from the hedge to my left. A few seconds later it emerged at the top of the bush singing away before dropping back out of sight.

Fifty yards further along the hedge another Sedge Warbler appeared at the top as Reed Buntings flew along to my right. As I walked along this path a large flock of Brent Geese flew in and landed on the water at Kilnsea Wetlands and another Sedge Warbler flew from a bush close to the path and landed in the hedge behind me. After watching the Sedge Warblers for a few minutes I walked back down the path to where it split in two and this time took the right hand path where I saw several Crows, Jackdaws and a pair of Oystercatchers. It was now past midday so I started to make my way back down the path towards the hide where the Brent Geese had just taken off. I headed back to the visitor centre to visit the cafe for lunch and whilst I was sat outside eating the Swallows regularly perched on the fence nearby. Afterwards I paid another visit to the Canal Scrape Hide where the Mute Swans and Little Egrets were still there as were the nesting Swallows. One of them then landed on a wooden fence post just to my right with the other landing on the wire fence. They stayed there for a couple of minutes before flying off to continue gathering nest material. I left the hide and headed across the road to a path that lead up the side of a field to the sea and singing away in the hedge to my left was yet another Sedge Warbler. I reached the sea and turned to the right, following the path along the edge of the shallow cliff towards the sea watching hide. After a few hundred yards I turned to the right and walked down some steps before turning back to the left and continuing along towards the breach where the sea washes over during particularly high tides.

As I walked along the path through the sand I saw Starlings and Swallows flying over head with Linnets briefly landing on the path but flying off as I approached. I had now reached the breach which was unusually quiet and as I retraced my steps back along the path I saw a Kestrel flying low over the sea close to the shoreline. As I approached the car park it began to rain, but only for a few minutes before the sun came out again and I could see the Kestrel hovering over to my right. I returned to my car and moved it the short distance to the car park near the Bluebell Cafe and walked up Beacon Lane where in the past I had seen Bramblings, Lesser Whitethroats, Snow Buntings, Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats. As I walked up the road I turned into a path where I saw Tree Sparrows, Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons. As I reached the point were the path arrives at the sea I could hear but not see a Whitethroat, but after a few seconds it made a brief appearance at the top of a bush.

On the beach was a lone Grey Seal whilst behind me, perched on a wooden fence post, was a Meadow Pipit which spent a few minutes looking around before flying off across the field. I turned and headed back down Beacon Lane where I had a brief glimpse of a Sedge Warbler. I returned to my car and started to head home and just after I had driven past Kilnsea Wetlands I saw a few Linnets perched on the hedges and just a short distance later I stopped my car as I had seen a Yellowhammer. I managed to get a few pictures as it moved along the hedge before being scared off by a Yellow Wagtail as a Deer bounded across the field in the distance. I have attached below a full sightings list as well as a gallery of the photos I took on my visit to Spurn Point. SPURN POINT - 18/05/2021

30+ SWALLOWS 10+ HOUSE SPARROWS

2 DUNNOCKS 10+ LINNETS

4 LITTLE EGRETS 2 COMMON SANDPIPERS

8 MALLARDS 2 PIED WAGTAILS

2 COOTS 4 MOORHENS

30+ MUTE SWANS 10+ REED BUNTINGS

10+ WOOD PIGEONS 4 OYSTERCATCHERS

2 MAGPIES 10+ CROWS

20+ GREYLAG GEESE 10+ SHELDUCKS

5 BLACK HEADED GULLS 10+ HERRING GULLS

1 CORMORANT 1 GREY HERON

6 SEDGE WARBLERS 2 MEADOW PIPITS

50+ BRENT GEESE 10+ STARLINGS

2 BLACKBIRDS 2 TREE SPARROWS

1 GOLDFINCH 1 BLUE TIT

1 KESTREL 1 WHITETHROAT

1 YELLOWHAMMER 1 YELLOW WAGTAIL

4 SKYLARKS 2 GADWALLS

1 SONG THRUSH 10+ JACKDAWS

2 CHAFFINCHES 1 BUZZARD





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