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The Magic of Spurn – YCN Birding Holiday Reviews 2021

Sat 27th Nov, 2021

“Quick look, hundreds of thrushes, Redwings and Blackbirds just fell out of the sky right outside the breakfast room window”! It was 0730 on the 3rd November and our guests had just woken up to the biggest songbird ‘fall’ of the autumn. We always use accommodation as close to the action as possible in Kilnsea, this means we not only get the best out of our five-day holiday at Spurn we also have a relaxing week with little or no driving.

Our first birding holiday at Spurn in 2021 was the Wader ID and Phonescoping Workshop in early August. This was our third year running this course and we were fully booked again. The week started with fantastic views of no less than 14 species of wading birds including Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper and Little-ringed Plover very close to the hide at Kilnsea Wetlands. These close views were exactly what we needed to not only teach our guests how to identify these birds but also get some great photos.

Paul Wheatley is our YCN guide on this tour alongside myself. Paul specialises in teaching phonescoping. His results are amazing. Lots of our guests are now successfully using their scopes to record photos and film through their phones. Paul also uses the most up to date technology in the hide. Paul has created a lovely film of waders on our tour page, Click Here.    

We always try to time our birding walks with the best tidal conditions at Spurn to get the best out of the spectacular scenes as thousands of waders are pushed up towards the shore or onto the nearby wetlands. We had great views of summer plumage Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot and huge flocks of Golden Plover as they roosted in the saltmarsh. Back on Kilnsea Wetlands the passage waders such as Ruff and Spotted Redshanks were still performing well alongside the local Little Terns. By the end of the holiday, we had seen 106 species including 21 species of waders.

Our second Spurn holiday this year ran from 18th – 22nd October the first of two Spurn Migration Birding Holidays. Traditionally October is the best month for scarce and rare songbirds at Spurn. This holiday was all about full-on migration and this week didn’t disappoint. The star bird was a Two-barred Warbler which all our guests saw really well. With only 12 previous British sightings this was a real mega start to the week.

Every day at Spurn is different that’s what makes birding here really special. Our second day was full of waders, wildfowl including arriving Whooper Swans from Iceland and great views of three Spoonbills.

On our third day the winds were warm and from the south-west which opened the visible migration floodgates. In the first two hours of the day, we stood in the warm and beautiful Spurn Bird Observatory (SBOT) garden and watched hundreds of finches migrate over our heads with some dropping into the bushes to feed. Siskins, Redpolls, Chaffinches and smaller numbers of Bramblings moved south followed by birds of prey such as Sparrowhawk, Hobby and Merlin.

A small group of Snow Buntings had been seen earlier in the week near Beacon Ponds. We were really keen to catch up with this flock but they had evaded us the whole week until the last day. I decided to stop for a break on the beach allowing everyone to catch a few warm rays of sunshine. Let’s look at this sea rocket flower, taking our minds off the buntings might just work I said. As if by magic three Snow Buntings walked right up to us. We spent a wonderful hour sitting carefully so not to disturb them and watched as they fed right in front of us. This was a great end to the week and the 90th species on our holiday list.

Holiday review from October guest Jeni Davies; Truly wonderful stuff! I have already booked for next year

Early November offers plenty of birding excitement on the east coast of the UK. Late migrants leaving our shores mingle with arriving winter songbirds and winter waders, wildfowl and seabirds, it’s a brilliant mix of birds from many different parts of the northern hemisphere. Our holiday this year was again timetabled for the first week of the month. I had been checking the forecast every day for the previous week hoping for good conditions and we were in luck! The week started with calm winds from the south allowing us to have several ringing sessions with Spurn Bird Observatory warden Paul Collins. Paul has a wonderful relaxed manner and is excellent at teaching our guests all about the value of birding ringing. We were introduced to a very smart male Lesser Redpoll and a Brambling on our first session. Visible migration was again happening all around us. Spurn is a great place for Short-eared Owls and this trip was extra special as we watched no less than five together with a gorgeous sunset behind us, a wonderful end to our first full day.

The trickle of migrants on the 2nd November was a nice taster for what was in store on the 3rd as the wind switched to a south-east then north and birds poured down from the sky. Big flocks of redwings rushed past us all moving west along the road as we started our birding. It was a fantastic sight as very soon we were experiencing thousands of birds. On this day Spurn recorded the largest number of Redwing arriving into the UK from across the North Sea with a count of 9504! Alongside these fabulous birds were big numbers of Blackbirds and smaller numbers of Fieldfare, Ring Ouzels, Bramblings, Woodcocks and Jack Snipe.


Every time we visit Spurn with one of our YCN groups we arrange a tour in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) Unimog. These special trips are the best way to see Spurn point and a visit to the lighthouse. The view from the top is spectacular. On this trip we were all getting ready to walk slowly down to meet our YWT guide when news came through that Paul had just caught a Dusky Warbler in the SBOT garden all the way from Siberia! We were only five minutes away so a quick diversion was easy. We had great views before we climbed aboard the Unimog. The trip team list for this week was the biggest of the year with 105 species.

After such a difficult year for everyone our Spurn holidays this year felt extra special. Everyone gave us great feedback and we were moved by some of the comments. At the end of the year, we always donate a significant percentage of our takings to SBOT. This year I was proud to hand over a cheque for £750.00 to Tim Jones the bird observatory development officer. Tim, Paul, Rob Adams and Jonnie Fisk and many others all make us so welcome and its great to support their amazing work. Helping birds and wildlife through our tours is vitally important.

It was just as exciting to see the amazing work YWT are doing in Kilnsea this year. We were introduced to the work of YWT by Andrew Gibson, Adam Stoyle and Andrew Mason huge thanks to them all for always making our stay special. New habitat for waders was being created as we were birding nearby in early November. Only a few hours after the digger moved away, I counted 24 waders using the new habitat, now that’s a great quick return on investment!

Our 2021 Spurn Birding Holidays have been such a great success we can’t wait to get back there next year. We have planned four YCN holidays for 2022; three migration weeks including a new spring week at the end of May Click Here. And the exciting wader workshop in early August again Click Here. If you prefer a single day’s birding at Spurn, take a look at our special Spurn Birding Discovery Days Click Here.

Richard Baines

Yorkshire Coast Nature