Spurn Stories: A Taste of Visible Migration
8th September 2009
by Andy Roadhouse
The previous couple of days had produced a nice selection of common migrants and some good passage including 4200 Meadow Pipits on 6th and a 1050 Swallows on the 7th, but this didn’t give away what was going to happen this morning. The weather was warm with variable cloud cover and a force 2-3 SW wind. I walked down to the Narrows for day break (06.00) and it appeared quiet with just a few Swallows flying past as I approached the Narrows watch-point. This is my favourite place for vis-migging (watching visible migration in action!), it is one of the narrowest parts of the peninsula and has a lofted position 10-15 feet above the Humber shore on one side and the sea-shore on the other.
There were only 8 active birders present today and they were thinly spread between ringing, sea-watching and looking for grounded migrants. I had the Narrows all to myself, while Steve Exley and Rich Swales concentrated on looking at the sea as there was a reasonable passage of ducks moving south.
At about 06.45 hirundines suddenly picked up, before I knew it I was struggling counting as Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins were coming at me in mixed flocks, with no help available I had to resort to counting the flocks in timed periods as there was a constant stream of birds moving through. I did 5 minute counts and this then gave me time to look at the ratio of each species flying past me. When it appeared they sped up or slowed down I would do another 5 minute count. I know I would have been underestimating by doing it this way but it was the only way possible when on my own and birds moving down either side of me. It was exhilarating and was generally counting 100-200 birds per minute with occasionally a flock of 400 per minute coming through. At about 09.30 it slowed down for a while, then for an hour between 10.15 and 11.15 it picked up again with about 80-100 moving through per minute. I hardly had time to drink my coffee or eat my prepared sandwiches, as amongst the hirundines were 6 Swifts, 652 Meadow Pipits, 28 flava Wagtails, 1 Grey Wagtails, 3 alba Wagtails, 2 Great Tits, 69 Tree Sparrows, 4 Greenfinches, 13 Goldfinches, 69 Linnets, 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Corn Bunting. Not to mention the offshore passage of ducks, which I knew were being covered by the sea-watchers and included 1 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 27 Shelduck, 17 Wigeon, 1 Gadwall, 331 Teal, 5 Mallard, 4 Pintail, 15 Shoveler, and 24 Common Scoter.
By 11.15, 21,000 Swallows had been recorded after which there was a steady trickle for the rest of the day. The totals we put down in the log by the end of the day were 1100+ Sand Martins, 22,000+ Swallows and 7000+ House Martins.
Vis-migging is great fun and can be challenging and fortunately no rare birds were found to take away my enjoyment from one of the best vis-migging sessions I have ever witnessed. 🙂