Sunday 3 July 2022

An East Coast Adventure - 2nd July 2022

My big twitching days tend to a thing of the past nowadays with the odd invite now and then to see something new that tickles my ornithological fancy so an invite from Bradders to head to Bempton to look for the Turkestan Shrike appealed partly because I would also get my first chance to see the Black-browed Albatross that has increasingly spent the summers there.  The world, his wife and their dog have all seen it or at least attempted to see it over the last three years and this was my opportunity to join the club.

I was fortunate enough to see the original ‘Albert’ at Hermaness at the very tip of Unst in the Shetland Isles back on the 14th April 1995 where he strutted around his ledge way below us from our precipitous overhanging viewpoint  We were lucky he was there and a fly round was never going to happen.

So fast forward 27 years and after a few hours kip at Chez Bradnum we headed cross country to meet Messers Lethbridge and Vaughan at Stansted before the journey further north.  It was already light at 4.15 when we set off and the journey up was enlivened by Red Kites, Buzzards, Hobby, Kestrels and Ravens.

It was a grey and patchy skied morning with rain threatening all around and once in the main reserve car park it became a very cool walk back down the lane and then onto a gravelly track towards the farm where the Shrike was residing.  There were birds on the way down with singing Corn Buntings, Skylarks, Whitethroats, Tree Sparrows, Meadow Pipits and Yellow Wagtails and after coughing up a tenner each to the farmer we were allowed into the ramshackle yard with piles of deceased fridges and other miscellaneous metal scrap to stand and look for the bird in the adjacent hedge. 

The gusty wind and spitty rain were always going to keep it low and we had to wait twenty minutes for this cracking male to pop its head out from the middle of the hawthorns. It watched the world for a few minutes and then reversed back in.

Turkestan Shrike

Turkestan Shrike - Pete Webster stayed longer than we did and was in the right spot when it came closer.

Another short wait ensued before it did the same again but this time came fully out and clambered along before diving back in.  The head was boldly marked with contrast between the rich coloured crown and the slightly greyer mantle and a broad black mask while the tail was richly fiery red.  To be honest I can’t see much in the way of differences between this male and the male at Cliffe in October 2011 that was not assigned to either Daurian of Turkestan but hey ho.

I have to admit that I was itching to go and see the Albatross that was sitting on his ledge about 500m away over the rise and as it did not feel like the Shrike was gong to be popping up on top of the closer hedge I headed the way with the lads not far behind me.

A few minutes later I had seen it standing on his ledge down at Staple Newk and having a quick preen before settling down for a kip.  I was happy but so wanted to see it fly this time and thankfully we all got lucky as a Gannet came in and landed on it forcing and immediate evacuation to the skies where it circled once and then headed majestically out to sea with barely a beat and the westerly wind behind it before ditching with a splash as a dot in the distance.  I was elated and beaming.

Black-browed Albatross

That first flight

I ambled to the actual viewpoint so that I could look down on the Gannets on the arch as well as the sub-adults loafing on the actual cliff top when I picked up the Albatross coming back in. It veered little from its course with just some light effortless tacking and then suddenly it was just below us and spent the next 15 minutes or so circling this section of the towering cliffs.  There was much gasping from the crowd gathered as has undoubtedly happened countless time since this huge bird decided to call this its summer home.  Cameras rattled and memories were filed away with every graceful pass.

We came to see the Shrike (which if I was a good lister and obeyed the rules) would be a new bird but we all agreed that nothing would beat the performance from the Albatross.  It was truly epic.

I left the lads chatting away and ambled along the cliff top ogling at the other species and taking in the soundscape of grumbling Auks, crooning Puffins, cackling Fulmars and Gannets and agitated Kittiwakes. I loved every minute of it.  The westerly kept the smell to a minimum and the birds below cliff top level but it was good to look down on the comings and goings at a thankfully still healthy looking seabird colony. 

If you look closely you can see vast amounts of blue and orange fishing net

'The bloody Albatross went that way!'



Five species in this one

Spot the bubby Razorbill

Rock Doves whizzed back and forth and although there are some Feral type plumages amongst them most still look as smart as anything that I see up on Shetland in the Autumn and they are still filling the same niche within the cliff ecosystem.

Rock Dove

I scanned further out for cetaceans but saw none but did find a couple of Manx Shearwaters heading towards Flamborough.  There sheer scale of the volume of birds on these cliffs could best be seen when looking back south and it always takes my breath away.

There was other wildlife to see too with two Brown Hares lolloping around the top fields with Skylarks, Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers, Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits obviously second brooding with so much song going on.  Tree Sparrows regularly passed over and I found a little dust bowl that they seemed to be fond of although I should have helped out and removed the large stone for them!  It is so good to see this species still thriving up here.

I first visited back in the early summer of 1986 (I think) on a Redbridge YOC holiday organised by my parents and had a fantastic first experience with these mighty cliffs. Gannets were only just becoming established and Tree Sparrows were everywhere. Happy days.

Tree Sparrows

I found a few Pyramidal Orchids and what we think was a Southern Marsh x Common Spotted along with many Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet moths on the Trefoil and Knapweed.

Pyramidal Orchids

Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet 

Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet 

 Not sure on this robust Chamomile as I could not get near it for a sniff!

 Southern Marsh x Common Spotted ?

We had toyed with going back for the Shrike which had briefly popped into the farmyard but had soon returned to the hedge but decided to cut our losses and start wending our way homewards. This took us to just outside of Yorkshire and into Nottinghamshire at Newington.  It took a little while to get there and I did not mention my terrible track record with Caspian Terns in the UK but I needn’t have worried as we stepped out of the car and there it was patrolling up and down the back of the pits.  They are always such a powerful looking bird and we even saw it plunge in and come up with a fish a Cormorant would be proud of.

Caspian Tern

A Marsh Harrier patrolled further back and there were Avocets, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Little Ringed Plovers which is fantastic for a such an inland site.  The lagoon look superb with shallow margins, bare islands and grassy areas.  There was a big Black-headed Gull colony and it was pleasing to find two fledged Med Gull chicks with a fine adult keeping a watchful eye.  Ginger brown young Black-heads were out exploring and there were plenty of Common Terns and Sand Martins around and Sedge and Reed Warblers sang in the channel edges.  I am not entirely sure who manages this site but it was very impressive.

Med Gull family

From here we moved into Sherwood Forest and the Welbeck Raptor Watchpoint.  I was unaware that it s actually just a mown verge with a view over the lake and the woods beyond but it was a pleasant spot to while away an hour of the late afternoon before the rest of the journey home. We may not have seen Honey Buzzard and Osprey but we did see lots of Buzzard action, Hobby, Red Kite and add Sparrowhawk to the day list.  Yellow Wagtails and Skylarks were out in the wheat fields and Swifts and House Martins were patrolling the woodland canopy.

It was a good run home and I was indoors just after nine after a fine day out made all the better with good company and banter and a grand selections of memories to savour in years to come.


  1. You did all that in a day ?

  2. Hi Howard
    Was a pleasant surprise to bump into you at the cafe. We didn't go to look for the shrike but we did get lovely views of the albatross in the afternoon. We also saw a cracking barn owl cruising past the cafe as we helped ourselves to a second helping of cake... Hope to see you on an insect walk sometime in July...

  3. An exellent trip. Bravo!