Sunday, 18 September 2016

Spurn Migfest 2016 - Isn't Migration Brilliant!

Migfest (or Migration Festival to give it a full title) really kicks off the Autumn migration season, and is held at Spurn on the East coast. With the highest mainland avian species list, excluding Shetland and Scilly, there really is no other place like Spurn if you want to see the phenomenon of migration in full force! 

Early Saturday morning I arose from a sleepless night, with just a 3 hour journey separating me from a fantastic weekend teeming with birds; and of course catching up with some great friends. Arriving at 9am, I was soon equipped with scope and bins and coat as well (for those of you that attended Migfest you'll know why a coat was particularly necessary). However, before I ventured into the (let's just to put it bluntly) absolute down pour, I called in at Westmere Farm to collect tickets for the Migfest and hog roast, and to say hello to the fabulous organisers and collect a pager for the weekend (thanks Brian/Rare Bird Alert).

On the journey down to Spurn, in fact just approaching Hull,  my phone had notified me of a KENTISH PLOVER seen on the Humber Estuary. On arrival however, after talking to a couple of individuals and the finder, BTO's Andy Clements (well done), there had been no further sign for at least an hour. As the tide was on it's way in, I decided that my best bet for finding the bird would be Kilnsea Wetlands. So I dashed there from Westmere Farm, seeing a couple of late Swift on the way, and meeting up with a few fellow young birders in the actual hide.

As expected the hide was absolute full of sodden birders, however thankfully I managed to squeeze my scope into the little room there was (jabbing the odd person with my tripod leg, sorry if it was you) and began scanning the scrapes. Due to high tide nearly being upon us, waders were flooding in and giving some pretty special views. Hundreds of Dunlin, Golden Plover, Redshank, Knot, Ringed Plover and a few Bar Tailed Godwit were soon settled making life much easier for picking through the masses.

We also got some great close up views of a stunning Wood Sandpiper.

I located the odd Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint within the Dunlin flock. However after nothing else particularly unusual I moved on to the mixed Plover and Knot flock. I scoured through the large quantity of birds; Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Knot, Ringed Plover... and then there is was, the Kentish Plover!

I literally shouted Kentish Plover and everyone in the hide soon had their scopes swinging round to locate it, but just like many scarcities it was quite a distance away. The decision was made with the other young birders to try viewing the bird from the top part of Kilnsea Wetlands alongside Beacon Ponds where hopefully the views would be clearer, but still a safe distance from the bird.  The relentless rain made it much harder to get good views from most places, but we carried on regardless. It was worth it, the views from the bank were great.

Kentish Plover admirers!

This Kentish Plover was only the third record for Spurn. What an amazing start to the weekend.

Sadly the Kentish Plover flew off onto Beacon Ponds, ending up just a tiny spec in the distance. I headed off with a couple of other young birders to do the full walk round the 'triangle', an area with a couple of fields surrounded by scrub, perfect for grounded passerines. With the awful conditions I thought there would be a few less common birds around, and sure enough we managed great views of species like Whinchat, Lesser Whitethroat and Redstart.

As always on the Saturday night there is the official evening of Migfest where great food is served, great people gather to talk to and the evening lecture takes place.  This year the evening lecture was about two international observatories; Cape May bird observatory in North America and Falsterbo in Sweden. Both these birds obs were interesting as they are both on spits just like Spurn.  But first of all, for the 2nd year running, the Spurn Young Birder of the Year award was presented. It was fantastic to see the BTO and Spurn Birds Obs  joining forces to support the under 16s in this fantastic young birders opportunity. This year's award was presented in memory of the fantastic and inspirational birder Martin Garner who has sadly passed away since Migfest 2015.

Martin was an inspiration to all generations of birders and it was so right that the Spurn young birder award is now named "The Martin Garner Young Birder Award".  This year the award went to a great young birder (of course from Cheshire!) called George Dunbar.  I feel so lucky to have met Martin last year at Spurn.  I have always heard so much about him from Bill Morton at Frodsham Marsh, where Martin did his birding at my age. Last year I talked with Martin about Frodsham Marsh. I wish that I could have walked round No. 6 tank with both Bill and Martin, even just once.

On Sunday morning I was up early for the sea watch as the weather was so much better. Visibility was fantastic. The sun rising over the cut corn fields round Spurn was just stunning.

 A couple of juvenile Arctic Skua were the first birds I spotted flying south relatively close in. They were then followed by a third bird even closer which put on a great performance as it chased the juvenile Common Terns. The highlight of the sea watch for me though was the Black Tern which flew past at only 10 meters off shore!

At the start of this blog I mentioned that Spurn is the place to come if you want to see migration. My stand out moment from Migfest was just a Meadow Pipit; well not really just "a" Meadow Pipit. The Arctic Skua, Long Tailed Skua and even the Kentish Plover were totally outdone by the amazing spectacle of migrating Meadow Pipits.  Standing on a grassy bank next to the North Sea, I witnessed not hundreds, but thousands of Meadow Pipits flying overhead and out across the sea. Living in land locked Cheshire I have never seen migration so raw like that before, and I will never forget it.

I spent the rest of the morning at the narrows observing the migration of the many pratensis going over. After being grounded by the weather the day before, there was no holding them back on the Sunday.

Isn't migration brilliant!

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday


  1. Very exciting stuff. And yes, migration is amazing! You had a great show and I love when these epic events happen! Congrats on the observations!

  2. Sounds like a great trip and some awesome birds to boot.

  3. You saw great number of birds! Yes, migration is amazing!

  4. Nice post - always good to find a bit of a rarity (so they tell me!). Glad to see you back on WBW - hope the new school year goes well.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  5. It's an amazing phenomenon that defies human explanation. You got some great shots.

  6. yes, migration is great. It is the only time of the year when I can see at least some of the vaders :)

  7. It is brilliant and so was this blog post! I'm happy to know that so many birds are doing well. Good news. We've only witnessed a migration of snow geese and Sandhill cranes in great numbers like that and I certainly will never forget it. I can imagine how you feel.