Skuas, falcons and mysterious whales…

Well, I’m back from my weekend exploring the Bridlington area, and a great weekend I had too. Although the falls of rarities of recent weeks weren’t there, I still got some cracking birds that more than made up for it.

My challenge to myself was also to get a weekend list of at least 75 species, from the moment I got off the train on Saturday to the moment I got on it again on Sunday. The birds I saw will now be listed in full anorak-stylee…

I arrived at Bridlington about 11am. Walking to the harbour I picked up a few easy ticks in the form of feral pigeon, robin, jackdaw, starling and (of course) herring gull. The harbour provided the usual species you’d expect there, including lesser black-backed gull, great black-backed gull, black-headed gull, cormorant, mallard, redshank, turnstone and oystercatcher. Best of all were a small flock of knot mixed in with the turnstones – the first year tick of the weekend.




Elsewhere on the seafront a few house sparrows were flitting around, and a couple of wheatears were resting on top of some buildings.

I checked in to my B&B (which was cheap and cheerful, but perfectly fine), and hopped on a bus to Flamborough, picking up a few more species from the bus window – collared dove, woodpigeon, swallow, magpie and carrion crow.

At Flamborough I immediately picked up wren, meadow pipit, blue tit, linnet and rook, and a skein of around 200 pink-footed geese overhead were another year-tick, which were closely followed by another in the form of the many fulmars which were skimming over the sea. Three juveline eiders on the sea were the only time I spotted that species over the weekend, gannets could be seen occasionally at a distance and shags congregated below the cliffs. A good number of kestrels were hovering over the cliffs.


Lesser Black-backed Gull and friend...

That was about it apart from more passerines. I was hoping for stonechat, whinchat, yellow wagtail and redstart but missed all four, but did get a great pied flycatcher at Old Fall, along with a few goldcrests, willow warblers, goldfinches and a dunnock. Elsewhere I found another wheatear, pied wagtail, blackbird, yellowhammer, tree sparrow and whitethroat.

Not the rarity-packed day I’d imagined, but a great walk in fantastic weather, and good few species clocked up.

Sunday started with the RSPB’s skua and shearwater cruise from Bridlington harbour. Here I met up with some of the other Yorkshire members of BirdForum, and it was great to meet them all. Although apparently quite a disappointing cruise compared to some (there were only two shearwaters seen all trip, and neither of them by me), some decent stuff was around.

Several red-throated divers (a year tick) flew past, and the usual gulls (including common gull and kittiwake) followed the chum that was thrown from the back of the boat. Little gulls were seen, but I didn’t manage to see one. Where the shearwaters disappointed, the skuas at least showed up, including a fantastic arctic skua at close range by the boat, and a few great skuas. I missed the first greats that went past, and in my panic I nearly missed the second sighting, an individual sat on the sea, even though it was right in front of me! After many cries of “WHERE?!” and cries back of “THERE!!!” I finally got it, and I got good views of another in flight later on too.

Other birds seen on the trip were guillemots, razorbills, a single puffin, rafts of common scoter, sandwich tern, common tern, a couple of lost redshank, and a great crested grebe. Gannets were of course very evident, with several passing very close to the boat and some plunge-diving into the chum line.

There were also a good number of harbour porpoises around, and I saw a tantalising glimpse of a larger cetacean which the trip leader couldn’t identify on the quick view we had. Bigger, more powerful, longer-finned and rising out of the surface more than a porpoise – minke whale, perhaps?

After the trip there was an additional year tick for me with a small number of purple sandpiper in the harbour.

I then joined the BirdForum group for a trip to Tophill Low, a site I’ve never been to before. This is a Yorkshire Water owned nature reserve near Driffield, and I’d thoroughly recommend it for a visit. The first thing we saw, before we’d even entered the reserve properly, was a hobby, which darted past and it (or, probably a different bird) soon settled on an aerial, giving good views. It proved to be its regular perch, and we got good views of it all day as it surveyed the ground for dragonflies.


The hides at the reserve brought a good number of waterfowl (including teal, wigeon, shoveler, greylag, ruddy duck, tufted duck and mute swan) and waders (including spotted redshank, ruff, lapwing, dunlin and curlew). Other birds seen or heard included long-tailed tit, great tit, pheasant, coot, moorhen, little grebe, buzzard and sparrowhawk.

It seemed very hard to beat the hobby, but we managed it – a falcon flew past one of the hides, provoking some debate as to its species, before coming back and perching openly in a tree and proving itself to be the gorgeous male red-footed falcon which has been frequenting the area! An absolutely brilliant bird, and one I still keep smiling about. I managed one shot of it, which is even worse than that kingfisher one I posted the other week…

Red-footed Falcon... honest!

[EDIT – of course it wasn’t a red-footed falcon after all. See this post!]

Sadly the pintail and red-crested pochard that had been seen recently had gone, but one final addition to the day (and another lifer) was a distant but scopable black-necked grebe. Another non-bird highlight was a red fox hunting along the nearby fields.

So the total turned out to be 78 species, 10 year ticks, and 4 lifers. Not bad at all really. A shame the shearwaters didn’t show, but the falcons at Tophill made up for any disappointment with the seabirds. A great weekend all round!


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My name is Pete

3 thoughts on “Skuas, falcons and mysterious whales…”

  1. It was at Flam, on top of a really mad-looking spire of rock. I think people have obviously liked the challenge of climbing it and leaving a calling card at the top – hence the gargoyle and tire.

    Must admit I did a double take through the bins when I got on the gargoyle…

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