Being a west coast birder who can't drive and until very recently had no local contacts, there has long been a significant gap of my list in the form of the Scandinavian drift migrants. While I managed to pick up a few of the eastern scarcities on Scilly such as Dusky and Yellow-Browed Warblers, standard autumn east coast fare like Wryneck and Icterine Warbler have so far eluded me. I knew the conditions were looking good for the east coast early this week so when Mark Payne mentioned that he was going when we were at Frodsham on Friday, I jumped at the opportunity and managed to get in on the trip. So it was that at 05.30 yesterday morning I was picked up by Mark and Pod, slightly worse for wear after an hours sleep following a boozy night out in Manchester. A McDonald's breakfast on route did much to ease the lurking hangover and we arrived at the lighthouse car park at Flamborough some time around 08.30.
Upon arrival conditions seemed perfect; a strong north-easterly breeze was blowing and out to see the horizon lay shrouded in mist. We began by working the hedgeline along the eastern edge of the gorse field and were immediately rewarded with passerine migrants in the form of a Whinchat and a Garden Warbler. Encouraged by the early signs, we spread pout and continued to work the hedge. Mark was around 100m or so ahead of me when a large, long-tailed passerine flopped out of the hedge on to a fencepost no more than 20ft ahead of me. I immediately knew what it was and a look in the bins confirmed my suspicions. My first ever WRYNECK and a self-found one at that. BOOM indeed! I watched the stunning, cryptically patterned bird for a few seconds before it flicked off over the hedgerow giving decent flight views. The day was off to a cracking start! After a quick search yielded little but a Pied Flycatcher pointed out by a following birder we began to work the hedgerow along the southern edge of the gorse field.
The hedge seemed to have a lot of potential and as we worked our way up we flushed the Wryneck again which proceeded to give more prolonged scope views perched on top of a gorse bush. Scott, who had been camping a mile or so up the coast, then arrived with his girlfriend Samaya and his dog Marley. We continued to work up the hedgerow to the western boundary of the gorse field where we flushed a large grey Sylvia warbler that was most likely a Barred Warbler. Unfortunately it dived into a patch of dense brambles and gorse and we failed to relocate the little skulker. News of a Greenish Warbler at Old Fall saw us heading back towards the car and we obtained nice views of Wall and Painted Lady butterflies on route. I was having a quick check of the gorse field when Mark shouted from further on that he had the Red-backed Shrike. Unfortunately it had dived straight down and despite a good deal of searching we could not relocate it.
On to Old Fall and after a long walk down the hedge which has held so many megas in its time, we were soon viewing the willows at the southern end of the plantation. The location was sunny and sheltered and as a result the willows were dripping with migrants including half a dozen Willow Warblers and at least 3 smart Pied Flycatchers. After a short wait one of the small group assembled located the GREENISH WARBLER and suddenly there it was zipping about in the bottom of the willows giving stonking views! The white wingbar was strikingly obvious as was the long pale supercilium. The bird was also darker on the back and much paler underneath than accompanying Willow Warblers which were more of an even yellowy green tone. A cracking little bird and a nice one to nail after the Bolton bird disappeared a couple of weeks before I got home from uni.
News of an Ortolan Bunting at Buckton caused us to take our leave but after a long walk and a bit of confusion over the precise location due to vague directions, we were left slightly frustrated. A message on twitter reporting no further sign of the bird led us to abandon our search and news of an Icterine Warbler in the same place as the Greenish decided our next destination for us. The first order of business however was lunch and we managed to find a nice pub in North Landing with a very reasonably priced menu. I had a giant Yorkshire pudding with chicken and gravy but declined to have a pint as I think at this point it would have finished me off. Refreshed from our break we headed back down the long hedge to the south end of Old Fall Plantation.
There was a much larger crowd assembled this time included the legendary twitcher and local stalwart Brett Richards. After a short-wait, Brett located the bird perched up in one of the willows and kindly let me have a look at it through his scope. BOOM! ICTERINE WARBLER, my third tick of the day in the bag! We stayed in the area for half an hour and I got several satisfying views of the Icky despite it being much more elusive than the Greenish. While here I also picked up a smart Lesser Whitethroat and a nice flyover Cuckoo. Pod also managed to briefly locate the Greenish but I missed it and managed to almost drift off as I sat down on the floor to rest my legs. The others also felt a bit sleepy so we headed back to the car picking up a Redstart in Old Fall Hedge on route.
We decided to head back to the lighthouse to do so seawatching on the off chance of something like a Long-Tailed Skua, one of the few seabirds that I still hadn't caught up with. Upon arrival at the lighthouse we we're informed that birds had been passing and that we had just missed a Cory's. Undeterred we settled down and one of the first birds I picked up was a dark shearwater close in which soon turned out to be a very dark Balearic Shearwater, a good bird for the North Sea. Soon after this Pod picked up and Arctic Skua going south and I quickly got onto what I thought was the bird. Suddenly I picked up a rather larger skua in the edge of my scope which I quickly realised was Pod's bird. Instantly I realised that I was watching a LONG-TAILED SKUA, my fourth tick of the day!!! The bird quickly caught up with the Arctic making its smaller, slimmer build and more buoyant size very obvious in comparison. The bird was a pale phase juvenile and looked incredibly pale in comparison to the Arctic. Soon after Scott turned up and was irritated to hear that he had missed 2 lifers. Luckily he received some consolation as soon after a dark phase Pomarine Skua, a lifer for him, went past in the company of a couple of Arctics. Other good birds recorded were a few Manx Shearwaters and a strong northward movement of Little Gulls. After this rush the sea went quiet and me Mark and Pod decided to call it a day. I spent most of the journey home sleeping in the back and we arrived back in Heaton Moor just after 7. An incredible days birding on the east coast and my first experience of a proper fall of passerines. I wonder when, if ever, I'll manage to get 4 British ticks in a day again? Cheers to Mark and Pod for driving and allowing me to tag along on the trip in the first place, it was much appreciated! Hopefully the weather holds for Spurn tomorrow!