Life At World’s End

Emerging from my car when I parked near the end of the road to Spurn Head, I was accosted by a cheery soul who had just left his at the same time.

“Have you seen it yet?” he asked.  “Or heard it?”

I looked puzzled for a moment and listened.  There was nothing but birdsong in the air, which for my questioner was the whole point.  He had seen the long lens of my camera and assumed that I was, like him, a “twitcher”, a bird-watching enthusiast.  It wasn’t an unreasonable query for we were at the edge of Spurn National Nature Reserve.

English: Spurn Pilot Jetty (1979) From the air...
English: Spurn from the air. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spurn, or Spurn Head Spit as it is also known, is a sliver of land that continues the East Yorkshire coastline down into the mouth of the Humber, the estuary formed at the confluence of two great English rivers, the Trent from the south and the Ouse from the north.  This marked the southernmost border of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria (North of the Humber).

Spurn reaches nearly half way into that estuary, but being only about 50 metres wide at its narrowest point is a fragile yet strategic location for several reasons.

Firstly as a landing stage for migrating birds crossing the North Sea.  My new friend was excited at the arrival of Savi’s Warbler, and went to tell me that the nearby bushes were already full of visitors keen to catch a glimpse of this small brown bird that is virtually unknown so far north.  Breeding pairs in the UK usually reach as far as Norfolk and number in single figures.

No chance of me seeing it, as my need to walk the 3.5 miles down to the end of the spit meant a noisy stride as loose change and lens cover rattled rhythmically to mark my passing.  My wildlife observations were mostly confined to gulls and sparrows.  Further down the strip of land, which changes shape according to tidal forces as attempts at sea defences have been abandoned, another twitcher pointed out a wheatear to me and explained how its name was a corruption of white arse!  The bird was gone before he finished his sentence.  Even the weasel that crossed the path right in front of me did so with such speed that there was never a chance of a photograph.

The other reasons that Spurn is important are for military reasons and navigationally, factors I shall cover in subsequent posts here, but for now let’s focus on the element of wildlife that was in no hurry to get away.   In fact I was keener to get away from it.  There were signs along the way warning of the hazards arising from collapsing pathways and lost roads (there used to be a railway that ran the length but what traces remain show tracks heading off into the sea to one side and the estuary to the other).  There was though a more prevalent hazard.

As the spit grew wider there was more plant life, and stretched between twigs were dried out structures, thicker than web and clearly fairly robust as these were from previous seasons, but further south there were more and fresher examples.  Fresher because they were still occupied, and occupied by a writhing mass of… caterpillars.  That may not sound hazardous, but these are the offspring of the brown tail moth and they pack a serious punch.  The tiny hairs that cover their bodies break off and can cause rashes, headaches and breathing difficulties.  You don’t want to mess with these little guys (unless you’re wearing gloves).

Perhaps I should have saved them for my next post about Defence on Spurn!

The Seventh Wave

Sting – Love Is The Seventh Wave

Hearing the weather forecast predicting high winds this morning my intention was to head for the coast in the hope of giant waves breaking over the pier, and more impressively, the lighthouse.  The tide was almost at its high point when I arrived, but there was no sign of monster waves, just more of the bright sunshine that challenged me yesterday.

Still the sun at least provided some backlighting for the spray that the wind was whipping off the wave tops.  This was one of those occasions, in contrast to yesterday, where I think it’s acceptable to have the highlights burn out to pure white as you can see on the left of these images.

Deciding not to go for a portrait in this harsh light I returned later in the afternoon as the sun was starting to set.  It was now at me back as I faced out to sea, giving perfect lighting for the white wave crests and breaking foam.

The sun’s position in the sky had another benefit; casting shadows that revealed the patterns on the sand created by other waves.

Yet it was something else caught by the light that please me most.  A large “cloud” of sea birds, too distant to identify but probably dippers like these, was wheeling about the sky.  Initially impressive for the black shapes they were throwing against the sky’s blue backdrop, as I raised the camera they turned again and the sun caught their pale underbellies in a flash of white.  Sadly their shape disintegrated at the same moment, but they still make a striking sight, like a multitude of stars (though I can’t spot any constellations).

Still no portrait, but as I walked up the shore I spotted a body-boarder retrieving a child’s football from the water, to the delight of his mother.  This was Thomas, still wet from his activity, and with that low sun I had no problem getting that detail into the shot.  (Click on it to enlarge and you’ll see what I mean!)