Finders-in-the-field: Pacific Swift, Hornsea, East Yorkshire

Pacific Swift, Hornsea, Yorkshire, (© Will Scott)

Strong and blustery southerly winds greeted me as I entered the 1st field on the southside of Hornsea Mere around 08:30am Saturday 10th August. It was also sunny and warm and the light was good so I was looking forward to getting a few hours birding in. My vantage point by 1st field reed bed is in a dip so I'm relatively sheltered from the wind whilst scoping the Mere.

Several Bearded Tits had been reported from the reed bed earlier that morning so I was hoping to catch up with these whilst scanning the Mere. A couple of small groups of Teal appeared to be fresh in, juvenile Common and Mediterranean Gull loafing with 18 Little Gulls off the reed bed, and 2 Common Sandpiper on the shore edge. Hirundines in good numbers, mainly Sand Martin were also apparent.

More Little Gulls were present feeding over the Mere with several Common Terns, as is often the case with some southerly component in the wind direction at this time of year, Little Gull numbers often pick up here, so it was no surprise when c30 birds arrived over the east end of the Mere just after 09:00am. As I picked these birds up through bins, I noticed in the background a sizeable gathering of Common Swifts over by Kirkholme Point and Swan Island.

Often in blustery conditions here, Swifts and hirundines feed in the channel between the north side of Swan Island and the northern wooded edge of the Mere, exiting the feeding loop at the east and west ends of Swan Island, before entering back into the sheltered channel to feed. A quick scan with bins over towards Kirkholme Point and the island i estimated some 150+ Swifts with a bias in numbers towards the west side, so I decided to scope there first. What I saw next was off the scale!

The first swift I scoped had a gleaming white rump, an attenuated rear to a forked tail, and long thin scythe shaped wings! I immediately had an idea of what I was looking at and tried to keep my composure as best as I could, well aware in the back of my mind I could lose sight of this bird very soon. I actually got a much longer look at the bird than I anticipated, as the bird was just hanging/shearing in the wind with 2-3 Common Swift off the west side of the island, before then banking back east through the tree line and out of view.

I needed others sharpish to get on this bird. Hornsea Mere regular Jon Lamplough was present so I rang him first, Jon was in 2nd field on the southside some 5-600 yards west of my position. I explained with a rapidly drying mouth what I'd seen and exactly where I'd seen it. Tim Isherwood and Tony Martin were then contacted. Jon rang me back several minutes later to say he'd had two brief views of the bird off the west side of the island! Sheer relief on my part that someone else had seen it, happy days! Tim and Joanne Richardson met me in 1st field around 09:30 by which time I'd had another couple of brief views again over the west side, it took us perhaps another 15 minutes to get another look at it when Tim then picked it up over Swan Island at approx 09:45. Needing closer views we headed to Kirkholme Point. There was no further sign initially until around 10:29 when Tim picked the bird up distantly over Heslop's reed bed briefly on the south side of the Mere. More people were arriving on site, and without a sighting for 10 minutes or so Mark Thomas superbly relocated the bird high above Swan Island, thus giving us the closest and most prolonged views we'd previously had and the first time most of the assembled birders a chance of seeing it.

The bird then performed well in between 11:00-11:20ish in the channel between the island and northside giving excellent scope views and left us in no doubt about the birds identification as a Pacific Swift. The bird continued to perform on and off in spells in tricky conditions till just after midday, allowing for most of the visiting birders to catch up with it.

Its great to find such an amazing bird, but its even better to share the experience with your closest pals when they are also in sheer disbelief/joy at what they are looking at! A big thanks to Jon Lamplough, Tim Isherwood, Joanne Richardson, Ade Johnson and Tony Martin for the quick reactions and keen eyes, Mark Thomas and Will Scott for achieving the near impossible and managing record shots in the most challenging of conditions.

Mark Robinson,
14 August 2019


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