Friday, 22 April 2011

Summer at Spurn Point

Its the start of the Easter bank holiday, its cloudless, a perfectly tolerable 18 degrees, and I'm in the office. I'm hiding from tourists, listening to The Beatles and getting some much needed reading done. Whilst I'm here I might as well tell you all about Spurn Point, a spit of sand extending 3 miles into the Humber Estuary, graced with 2 lighthouses, a permanent life boat crew, an ABP station and a wonderful Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve.
The newer of the two lighthouses (both now disused) stands around three quarters of the way down to point, be nice to Andy in advance, you may get a tour
If you're a birder the odds are you've heard of the place. The mix of habitats and position on the North East coast makes it a prime site for both resident natives and falls of migrant birds and occasionally something rarer.

The reserve varies greatly moving inland from the sandy foreshore, a scrub of  dense gorse, grass and Sea-buckthorn flank the concrete road and occasional Pyramidal orchids show a flash of purple in the verges. This gives way to salt marsh and then extensive mudflats through which Curlew and other waders pick their way, their numbers swelled bi-annually by huge flocks of migrants. At the entrance are reed beds and ponds which hide Teal and warblers, and in the evenings Barn owls patrol the local grazing pasture.
The spit curves markedly into the estuary, the lighthouse is barely visible in the distance.
When I first went to Spurn with a university field trip on coastal erosion (the coast here is eroding at an incredible pace but that's a subject for another post) I had no idea what to expect. I really fell in love with the place, it has a very isolated feel to it and the passing seals and porpoises proved an excellent distraction from observing the crumbling coastline. I was lucky enough to meet the warden, Andy, a month or so later at the Humber Estuary Conference. I told him that I was looking for a two month summer placement at the end of my MSc and he agreed to put me to work on a project.
Home for two months. The ex-army bunks and my well organised floor-drobe.
After some negotiation with the great guys of spurn bird observatory, who included me in the daily goings on and made sure I got to the pub more than was good for me and my studies, I was put up in the beautiful cobble built bunkhouse. From this base I had perhaps one of the greatest summers I've had since I was little (and the six weeks were always blazing hot and seemed to last forever and every pond was full of frogs). I had the privilege of setting off daily whilst the reserve was still quiet and peacefully walking the three miles to the point.  I was often accompanied by hares, common lizards, weasels, butterflies, clouds of hover-flies, streaming out over the estuary for a week, similarly swifts, arcing the length of the reserve, and shy Roe deer which gingerly creep between the Buckthorn.

Whilst there I was working on mapping anthropogenic pressure on the reserve. I have to say I was astounded by the numbers of people who would flock there when the sun shone of a weekend, but in the week it could be calm and peaceful. On occasions when I was alone in the bunkhouse and the fret rolled in from the sea you could easily forget that there was anyone for miles.

Those days when I wasn't working I was free to explore, to brush up my very poor bird ID skills, and to pester whoever was passing through. I made some brilliant friends whilst there, obviously committed to the field, whom I regularly miss whilst out and about by myself. There was always something new to see as well, from the day that the wind carried hundreds of butterflies in from the sea, the fantastic sunsets that would light turn the damp exposed mudflats bright orange, solitary spider wasps bringing back prey to their burrows, to the gathering of the migratory flock toward the end of my stay. The sound of Sandwich Terns in particular (something that I came to begrudge for its constant intrusion whilst working) is something that will always remind me of my summer on the North East coast.

If you like you're spotting (whatever the species), enjoy your walking or want to go somewhere with a little history, I would recommend going whenever you first get the opportunity. Watch out for Brown Tail moth caterpillars, keep an eye out for passing porpoise, tread lightly near the Little Tern colony, and tell them Natalie sent you.


If you want up to date information on what's around, or to stay in the bunkhouse check out the bird observatory website for general information on the reserve visit the YWT website.

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