Monday, 6 July 2020

Migrants Way. Stage 11. Atwick to Skipsea

A mild day, the wind lighter than in previous days, with a threat of showers. I timed the walk so that I'd be at Withow Gap at low tide. I park at the end of Church Lane at Atwick.
The East Coast Museum
You might struggle to find the East Coast Museum. The reason is that the museum was actually in a private cottage at Atwick - I believe the one in the photo above - and no longer exists. Mr William Morfitt, a grocer from Goole, took early retirement and moved to Atwick with his family in 1890, where he lived until his death in 1923. He developed an interest in fossils and archeology and prospected and collected on the beaches, cliffs and fields around their home, helped by his sons, Aaron and Beaumont. Their cottage's cabinet of curiosities attracted much local attention. The Morfitts corresponded with curators and donated their findings to various museums, including the museums at Hull, although later they fell out with the curator Mr Thomas Sheppard. Amongst their findings are a red deer skeleton they excavated from a peat exposure north of Hornsea, bone spear points now at the British Museum (which caused much controversy), an iron age chariot at Hornsea, and a Roman gold coin. The family collection ended at the Yorkshire Museum in York.
It didn't take me long to find the unusual headstone of the Morrit's at the Atwick's St Lorenz churchyard, it's right by the entrance gate. Very fittingly, it is a large glacial erratic. Mr Morrit senior and his son Beaumont are buried here: 'Founders of the East Coast (Atwick) and Hornsea Museums' reads on the plaque.
 Most of the walk today was likely to be a regular walk for the Morrits, as they walked along the lanes and cliffs towards Withow Gap, one of the closest peat exposures to their cottage. I walk along Cliff Road and then turn left onto Long Lane, a straight lane parallel to the coast.
Pond by Cliff Road. 
Marmalade hoverflies, a common insect migrant.
View North from Cliff Road.
 I could see a the rainclouds over Flamborough. I was mostly spared today, with just a few drops as the clouds passed by. The cloud formations and the low tide made for dramatic landscapes.
Bridlington Bay.

Pill Box by Long Lane.
Linnets, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Swallows flying over the wheat and barley fields at Long Lane. A Small Tortoiseshell, two Small Whites and a Ringlet flutter by.
Long Lane.
The lane ascends onto Moor Hill. I'm surprised to see a trig point there (OSBM 10637), as I thought it would have gone. On close inspection, it turns that it has been moved back to avoid it falling down the cliff.
Moved trig point
I get to the first caravan park, Low Skirlington, and I follow the cliff top path. I hear Oystercatchers. One after another, sometimes in pairs, thirteen Oystercatchers fly over from the fields to the beach, piping noisily.
 At the end of the caravan park the access is blocked to the clifftop onto the next caravan park, Far Grange Park (apparently because of COVID-19?). This forces me to take a detour across and around it. I can rejoin the clifftop path by the golf course, and it's actually one of the prettiest stretches, with Bridlington Bay and the white cliffs of Flamborough stretching in the distance.

Male Linnet. Surprised that the ash branches are still in bud.
Meadow Brown butterfly and 5 spot burnet.
Meadow Pipit.
After the golf course, it's only a short walk, descending to Withow Gap.
Grassland on the cliffs near Withow Gap.

The dry basin of Skipsea Withow Mere, with a drain in the middle.
Withow Gap.
Ancient Meres
Many small water bodies and larger 'meres' formed at the end of the last Glacial period and lasted for much of the Holocene in Holderness. Evidence for former meres exist at Easington, Withernsea (at Valley Gardens), Roos, Barmston and Skipsea. In fact, the villages ending in 'sea' might indicate the former existence of meres. The only surviving of these meres is Hornsea Mere. Coastal erosion exposes the peaty mere deposits on the coastal cliffs, or on the beach when the sand is removed by tides. These deposits hold a wonderful treasure: a detailed environmental record of times past. The pollen shed by surrounding trees and aquatic plants and other organic remains, including timber, present during their formation and ulterior infilling can not only identified to species level, but also dated using carbon-14. The study of sediments of these ancient meres provides a window into environmental changes. The sediment profiles and pollen records from cores of several meres in the area has been analysed to reconstruct the vegetation changes and the impact of temperature changes, human colonisation and farming during the late glacial and the Holocene, including Withow Gap, and local kettle holes (Gilderson Marr, Roos Bog, Sproatley Bog and Skipsea Bail Mere) we have a detailed record of how the Holderness forest formed.
Withow Gap: the Holocene Holderness Forest
The reason I wanted to be at Withow Gap at low tide, is that I wanted to photograph the whole exposure (above). Looking at it today, it is hard to picture Holderness covered in thick forest, with extensive carrs, meres and other wetlands on the landscape, the coast very far off from where it is today, in the early Holocene, about 10,000 years ago, still connected to northern Europe through Doggerland. At Withow Gap, a drain cuts the low cliffs, providing easy access to the beach. From the beach, a dark, elongated shape of peat deposits extends both sides of the gap (above). Underneath there are grey silts. This is a nationally important geological site where the deposits of an ancient mere are exposed (Withow Mere SSSI). The exposure is about 50 m long and the mere deposits are over 7 m deep, accumulated from the end of the last Ice Age to the Holocene. When the climate started to warm up after the ice age, plant species colonised the UK from warmer areas in the south (what is known as 'Glacial Refugia'). Trees, flowers and bushes colonised at different speeds, depending on their particular tolerance to cold and their dispersal ability.
The northern end of the Withow Gap exposure showing the glacial till at the bottom, the grey silts and the dark peat below the soil.
 The first signs of warming were followed by sparse woods of Birch and Scots Pine. Hazel, alder, elm, and oak followed around 9,000 years ago, the tree canopies closing into dense woodland. Alder started growing in the lower lying areas. By 5000 years ago glacial till soils had a woodland cover of lime, oak, hazel and elm. The wood found in the Withow Mere peat are identifiable as alder, oak, elm, birch, and hazel
 The woods and wetlands of Holocene Holderness held populations of wild cattle (aurochs), red deer (with fossils found at Withow Gap, Hornsea), roe deer, elk, wild boar, and beaver, amongst others. One of the best sites providing faunal evidence for this period is Star Carr, a few miles inland from Filey. It is also likely that Holocene Holderness was rich in birds. Star Carr has yielded fossils of a range of waterfowl, some still found today (Great Crested Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Diver), others that became extinct in the UK like Common Crane, now being reintroduced.
Branches and brushwood in the peaty deposits, remains of a Beaver Dam on the north side of Withow Gap.

Coppicing beavers
What Thomas Sheppard, curator of Hull Museums, initially identified as woodwork and was later assigned to Early Neolithic coppicing, turned up closer inspection to be logs cut by beavers - natural carr managers. Sheppard's description, on hindsight, is quite clearly of a beaver dam, "the end of a stake, which had certainly been pointed artificially, though in a very rude manner, [...] was at an angle of 45", with the point downwards, beneath a dense mass of twigs and 'brushwood' a foot in thickness, containing hazel nuts and acorns.” 
Fossil beaver dam? Criss-crossing thick branches and tree trunks visible in the peat. Beaver hair was recently found at the site.
The largest trunk with my pen for scale. The state of conservation of wood that could be 10,000 years old is amazing.
After lunch at the exposure I walk on the beach to the end of the walk proper, Cliff Road at Skipsea. No easy access to the road, but the locals facilitate scrambling down to the cliff with a handy rope.
 I make my way back on the beach. A local had assured me there were spots near Atwick where you could climb back to the clifftop and I did find one, near a collapsed pillbox that took me to near Long Lane.
Another socially isolated walk today.
Featured bird: Oystercatcher
Oystercatchers are distinctive waders that are not only obvious for their large size and distinctive plumage, but they are noisy, with loud peeping contact calls. It is Amber listed due to recent breeding and wintering population declines, particularly since 2005. It is vulnerable in Europe and Near Threatened in the IUCN list. Oystercatchers might be sensitive to shellfish harvesting (particularly mussels and cockles), and predation. Their numbers increase in winter with the arrival of migrants from Scandinavia. As breeding birds, there have been losses in the Scottish moorlands, but increases in England. In East Yorkshire, they have increased as breeding birds. The lack of saltmarsh or even patches of shingle in the soft cliffs of the Holderness coast appears not to be a problem if there is nesting habitat nearby, and Oystercatchers have proven to be resourceful, even nesting on rooftops, as, unlike other waders, they bring food to their chicks. I wonder if today's Oystercatchers will have chicks waiting for them in the fields.

Walk information
13 km. Start: at Atwick Church Road, TA184507. Finish at Skipsea Cliff Road. Facilities: Mr Moos, car park, cafe and ice cream, toilets. Beach accesses: ramp at Far Grange Park caravan site (unclear access as private caravan park), Withow Gap accessible from Mr Moos.

More information
Mr. William Morfitt. Nature 113, 57 (1924).

Information on Withow Gap:

David Craven's blog post on Withow Gap:

Coles, B. J. Doggerland: a Speculative Survey. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 64, 45–81 (1998)

Tweddle, J. C. A high resolution palynological study of the Holocene vegetational development of central Holderness, eastern Yorkshire, with particular emphasis on the detection of prehistoric human activity. (University of Sheffield, 2000).

Clark, Grahame 1954. Excavations at Star Carr: An Early Mesolithic Site at Seamer Near Scarborough, Yorkshire. CUP Archive, 1954 - Scarborough (England). 200 pp.

A report on Withow Gap by Tracy Masters

Friday, 3 July 2020

Migrants Way. Stage 10. Hornsea to Atwick

I hesitated in doing the walk today as the weather was looking pretty rough, showers and a strong SW wind. But by 10am it looked that at least the rain wasn't going to be too bad, so I headed for Hornsea. I got to Kirkholme point and as soon as I left the car I realised I had underestimated the wind. The point is very exposed and the wind direction made it hard to shelter anywhere. There were clouds of hirundines and swifts feeding on the sheltered side of the trees and of Swan Island (above). The rain was light and I decided to start the walk and stop by the mere on the way back, in case the wind had eased.
Canada Geese, with some greylags.
A Mute Swan pair with cygnet on a relatively sheltered spot.
I cut across the streets of Hornsea toward the boating yard. The tide was low, and flowing. I walked by the promenade, surprisingly lively given the weather.
Summer plumage Redshank on a groyne.

Sea defences at Hornsea North Cliff.
A stranded flat fish.
 At Morrow Street I turned inland and walked alongside Cliff Road until Double Gates, where it is possible to descend to the beach, clambering down the rocks that defend the ramp. I walk on the beach the rest of the walk.
The ramp at Double Gates.
The cliffs off Atwick, looking north, the cliff reduces on height towards Skipsea.
A palaeolithic moment
A crow was feeding on something in the distance, on the beach. When I got there, it was a dead Grey Heron. Little meat left on it, but the head and legs looked in very good condition. Unfortunately the head was very well attached to the body and I had no tools. Thinking on a messy job I covered the head with sand and carried on. It wasn't a long walk today and I got to Atwick quickly afterwards. I tried to find a sharp rock to get the heron's head, but all the flints were quite round. I decided to have a go at knapping, something I hadn't done since I was a kid. I found a piece of flint, and hit it with a rock to remove a few flakes off it. The edge produced was so sharp, I had to be careful when I put it in my pocket for later. After a quick lunch it was time to turn back to the heron. The flint edge dealt with the heron's skin in no time, and I put the head in a bag.
My flint flake and the heron's head.

I walk on the beach all the way to Hornsea as the tide was still out. On the way, a Little Egret flew north, Gannets south, Common Tern and two Turnstones were other fly pasts.
Little Egret.

North Cliff fishermen.
 I make my way back to the mere though Hall Garth Park.

Hornsea Mere
As I return to the mere I'm blasted by the wind again. I walk to Kirkholme Point, a spit made of gravel, part of the glacial moraine that dammed the lake in front of the receding glacier.
The Mute swan family had moved on and were taking the brunt of the waves.
One of three Swallow Fledglings at the cafe.
The most spectacular sight were the swifts circling  the swarm of swifts feeding on the lee of the wind at Swan Island. You may need to click on this photo to enlarge.

Coots, Greylags, Mallards and Swans also sheltered on the behind Swan Island.
Common Tern over Mute Swans.
Swan Island from Kirkholme Point on a brief sunny spell.

The last Ice Age
The last Ice age, also known as the Devensian, lasted from 115,000 to 11,700 years ago, with glaciers at their maximum extent 22,000 years ago. An ice sheet up to 300 m thick grew over Holderness, butting onto the Wolds, and plugging the Humber Gap at North Ferriby. The seasonal fluctuations meant that during summer, ice melt water rushed out from glaciers, accumulating in a massive lake called Lake Humber -upstream of where the Humber Bridge is today and alongside the Vale of York - and at Lake Pickering, between the Yorkshire Wolds and the North York Moors. The sea level of -100 m exposed Doggerland south of the ice. According to Bryony Coles, it was
 “a rolling landscape cut by the tunnel valleys and longitudinal lakes, drained by braided rivers, with many areas of unstabilised sands and gravels, subject to desiccation and permafrost, and colonised by tundra-like vegetation”
Few plants and animals could survive on the ice, although mosses have been dated from sandy lenses at the cliffs at Dimlington towards the end of a glacial advance. On the areas away from the ice sheet, short vegetation developed, similar to what is found in the Arctic today with lichens and dwarf birch and willow and grasses that would slowly grow in the summer. Herds of Woolly Mammoth, Woolly Rhinoceros, Bison and Reindeer grazed the plains.
Featured bird: Swift
This week is peak autumn migration period for Swifts. Autumn? It may appear surprising, as breeding Swifts are busy feeding chicks and you are likely to see them around until mid or the end of August. It is the yearlings - birds born last year - who migrate into their breeding grounds, prospect for potential nest sites, and may wander widely, but don't stay to breed, who return to Africa at the end of June/early July. Last Sunday, at Hunmanby Gap (just North of Bempton Cliffs) an astonishing 18041 swifts were counted migrating, one of the largest Swift counts in the UK (read a first hand account at Mark James Pearson blog. Swift breeding populations have been in steep decline since the early 1990s and it is an Amber Listed species in the UK.
Breeding Bird Survey index for Swift (from Maximino et al 2019).

Walk information
10 km circular. Start at Mere Side, Hornsea, TA199475 or Kirkholme Point TA198473. Finish at Atwick Cliff Rd. Check tide tables if walking on the beach. Kirkholme point is private land, holding a cafe and a sailing club. The gates are only open Thursday to Sunday 10:00 to 16:30. Access to beach at Hornsea Promenade and Double Gates, sailing club. 

More information
Walk here: ViewRanger - Hornsea - Atwick Loop - Walking route in Hornsea, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom.

Arctic animal remains found in quarry at Burstwick and Atwick “A walrus tusk from Kelsey Hill and the tooth of a mammoth from the cliffs at Atwick”.

Mammoth tooth discovered at Spurn.

Paleolithic Yorkshire Fauna:
Palaeolithic Yorkshire – mammoth and other ancient elephant finds

Ice Age in East Yorkshire:

Massimino, D., et al. (2019) BirdTrends 2019: trends in numbers, breeding success and survival for UK breeding birds. Research Report 722. BTO, Thetford.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Migrants way. Stage 9. Mappleton to Hornsea

A sunny, warm day with a south westerly breeze. I start my walk at Mappleton at 8:30, about an hour after high tide. Today's walk is mostly on the beach. As the tide ebbs, the huge expanse of the sandy beach opens. The cliffs are about 15 m high, with a reddish till at the top and a purplish one at the bottom.
At the top of the beach there is a band of exposed clay bed with stuck pebbles, occasional glacial erratics, and shingle with some pieces of wrack in the tide line, then there is clear sand.
Fossil hunting
This is a good fossil hunting area. The fossils were brought here in the till with the glaciers from the Jurassic, Cretaceous and Carboniferous clays and rocks from Flamborough and more northerly areas. I find an ammonite fragment, Gryphaea, a snail, and coral fragments. The photo above shows my little haul.

Mappleton and Rolston sands
A Curlew flies north by the beach. An then a Cormorant. I can hear a Skylark singing from the fields above.
At Rolston Sands there is a busy Sand martin colony.
 The Sand Martins fly low over the beach in groups: one lands and the others follow, just to fly again. It looks like a dare game, or maybe they are collecting nest material?
I move to the top of the beach and, on the tide line, I find a dead Puffin. No rings. Sadly, this is my first Puffin this year.
A Buzzard hovers overhead. Linnet sing from the soft cliffs.
A Gannet flies south, then changes its mind, rises and drops down into the water to fish, like a missile. A little splash, it missed! Then it laboriously takes off.
 As I arrive at Hornsea I spot a Great Crested Grebe on the sea.
I get to Hornsea defences. These are widely used as an example on the effect of hard structures on rates of erosion.
I climb the steps to the promenade and after the boating yard I walk by the public footpath by Stream Dike.
Up to now the drains and streams flowed towards the Humber estuary, from now on. the streams flow directly to the North Sea. Stream Dike is the outflow to the sea from Hornsea mere controlled by a sluice. My plan was to visit Kirkholme Point at Hornsea Mere for lunch. Unfortunately, the entrance to the point is gated, and locked. A local lets me know it opens Thursdays to Sundays. I walk to Fair Place instead and sit on a bench and watch the swifts and hirundines above. Then a Swallow alarm calls and I see a Hobby in hunting mode chasing swifts! A Cetti's Warbler sings. Then I hear two booming notes, a Bittern? After a short rest, I move to the southern side of the mere, from where one of the islands, Swan Island, and a gravelly spit behind it, are visible.
Hornsea Mere
Hornsea Mere is the largest natural lake in Yorkshire and the only surviving mere in Holderness. It is a freshwater, shallow lake (1.2 m deep on average) of glacial origin, forming as the ice melted and the water dammed by a moraine. The lake is fed by several streams. It is fringed with a belt of reedbeds and fen and grasslands. Carr woodland is best developed on its west end, at Wassand. It is a SSSI for its aquatic plants, wetland habitats and wintering and breeding bird populations, and Special Protection Area due to the large numbers of post-breeding and moulting Mute Swans and over-wintering Gadwall. In addition, Hornsea Mere is also well known for its autumn concentrations of Little Gulls. It is a magnet for swifts and hirundines, and Hobbies are not uncommon. The birds of the mere are documented on the Mere Birders Blog. The fact that the lake is close to the sea and the combination of habitats means it can attract a range of marine birds, especially in rough weather, and rare migrants. The mere bird list is an impressive 232 bird species.
Swan Island from the SE corner of the mere.
I make my way back via the Hull to Hornsea train track, and retrace my steps.
The tide is now almost fully out. Gulls coast or loaf by the water line: Herring Gulls mostly, but also the occasional immature Great Black-backed gull and two Lesser Black-backed gulls. Two Black-headed Gulls and a Common Gull.
Immature (2nd summer) Common Gull.
Great Black-backed Gull (3rd summer)
The gulls' loafing place.
Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed gulls.
An Oystercatcher flies over and starts feeding not far from the loafing gulls. The gulls are keeping a close eye on it, as when it catches something, a Herring Gulls pursues it.
Herring Gull chasing Oystercatcher.
It has been quite interesting to be back on the beach for a walk. Next week, I'll start at Kirkholme Point, where there is a much better view of the Hornsea Mere and its birds.
Record shot of Hobby today.
Featured bird: Hobby
The Hobby is a migratory falcon. It hunts on the wing, and is very agile, catching hirundines, swifts and dragonflies in mid air. It gives a dark, giant swift impression. I was lucky today to watch a Hobby as it hunted, flying very fast and doing stoops. Although it is by no means common, the Hobby is expanding its range, possibly following the expansion and increase population numbers of their dragonfly prey due to climate warming or habitat availability, as Hobbies favour gravel and sand quarries. It is Green Listed.

Walk information
13 km circular. Start: Mappleton Beach car park TA227438 (free). Finish at Hornsea Mere. Walk on the beach. Check tide tables. Beach can be accessed at slipway at Mappleton Cliff lane, and though steps by promenade at Hornsea. Coffee shops and toilets at Mappleton and Hornsea.

More information
Fossils at Mappleton beach