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Recording at Flamborough
Site Guide Outer Head | Print |


The area known locally as the Outer Head refers to the eastern most part of the headland that is Flamborough. It covers an area of roughly 20 hectares, which, although forming only a small proportion of the total recording area, is responsible for many of Flamborough’s rarest birds. The reason for this is simple. The Outer Head is an area of first landfall for tired migrants, while relatively sparse cover (due to its exposed position) allows birds to be found more easily than in thick woodland. On the downside, this sparsity of cover, offering poor feeding and little protection from the elements, means that a high proportion of passerines move on very quickly, frustrating attempts to successfully “twitch” rare birds. There are, however, notable exceptions.



The area is essentially a place to observe migration, so the months of April and May, and August to October will be most productive. Breeding birds are low in variety, with Meadow and Rock Pipits, Skylarks and Whitethroats being amongst the most evident. The cliffs themselves are internationally important for their breeding seabirds. The winter is very bleak and nothing but the hardiest landbirds venture onto the Outer Head at this time of year.



A number of birds have made this area very well known amongst birdwatchers. In 1972, a Rufous Bushchat spent two days in Selwick’s Bay, while more recently Red-flanked Bluetail, Paddyfield Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Pallid Swift were added to many birders’ lists here. Both Dusky and Radde’s Warbler have found their way into the bramble thickets of the Outer Head. Whilst two of the former have remained for several days, it is notable that not a single of the latter has ever done so. Pallas’s and Yellow-browed Warblers also occur here from time to time.




On 26th April 2003, a new bird for Britain was located on the Outer Head, Taiga Flycatcher. A wander around the Outer Head in early morning uncovered a gem, which was enjoyed by in the region of 2000 admirers during its four day stay. It proved to be an exceptionally interesting and informative bird and much was learned by all in terms of the identification criteria for this species.


October 2007 saw a Brown Flycatcher stay for two days, which was also an addition to Category A of the British List. Whilst it was initially elusive on its first afternoon, several hundred birders were able to enjoy fine views the next day.



Amongst the numerous birds that have spent only a few hours or minutes here are a Lesser Kestrel, a Blyth’s Pipit, a Desert Warbler, two Pechora Pipits and several Red-throated Pipits, Siberian Stonechats and Red-footed Falcons. A Little Swift was seen briefly on 18th and 22nd July 1988, but not in between. Several Bee-eaters, Alpine Swifts and Red-rumped Swallows have flown straight through this area or stayed a short time here, but one of the latter uncharacteristically spent several days around the Fog Station in November 1987. Perhaps the most contentious of records from the Outer Head concerns a White-cheeked Starling in and close to the Gorse Field from 17th to 19th May 1990. Accepted by the rarities committee on identification, it was rejected as a “definite escape” due to the fact that “it is a short distance migrant, there being evidence of excessive feather wear, and it is a common cage bird”. The first two statements are simply not true, while the last also applies to many species that are firmly on the British list, including Red-flanked Bluetail. It is hoped that one day the debate about this bird’s status is aired without prejudice and it is given the same treatment as a similar far eastern bird, Daurian Starling.




The Gorse Field in many ways typifies the Outer Head. It is very exposed and offers relatively little cover, but is nevertheless a good place to start to “attack” the area. Located immediately east of the lighthouse car park, it is an area of rough grazing ground with a dense patch of gorse. On its eastern perimeter, there is a low hawthorn hedge. Although the field is private it can be watched from public land. Flamborough’s first Stone Curlew was encountered here. A permissive footpath runs down the eastern fence of the field to the cliff edge. The hedge has held Paddyfield Warbler and Thrush Nightingale in the past. The arable field immediately east of the Gorse Field is a regular site for Twite, Snow Bunting and Lapland Bunting and is a good place to look for the very scarce Shore Lark.



If you head south on the permissive footpath along the eastern perimeter of the Gorse Field towards the cliff edge, where the Gorse Field ends, a ditch begins, which is known locally as Bluethroat Dyke. It stretches for about 150 yards and a hedge of hawthorn and small trees has been planted. As its name suggests, Bluethroat Dyke was once famous for attracting Bluethroats in May. The 1970’s and 80’s saw good numbers of what was a regular spring passage migrant at the time en route to Scandinavia. Sadly, the species is now much rarer in Britain as a whole and September 1998 was the last occasion that an individual reached Flamborough. In any case, the ditch would be less hospitable for this chat now, however the slow growing hedge is beginning to draw in a few warblers that pass through.



Where Bluethroat Dyke starts, there is a small wooden bridge and another permissive footpath heads off in a westerly direction along the southern edge of the Gorse Field. The few bushes and recently planted small trees can hold warblers and finches. After 600 yards, the path turns south at a right angle corner. From here, part of Head Farm Pond can be viewed from the footpath. Moorhens breed and if water levels are low, waders may be present. Again, do not enter the private field. Following the footpath south will reach the clifftop path after 500 yards. This footpath follows what is known locally as Wryneck Hedge and Wryneck is probably the most reliable of the scarce migrants in this area, as there are plenty of ants on which they can feed. The hedge is made up mainly of gorse and small passerines can stop off here to rest in the thick cover.



Selwick’s Bay is the scenic bay just north of the lighthouse car park. There is public access to the extensive area, but please keep to the well trodden footpaths for your own safety and avoid any parts cordoned off by the Heritage Coast to prevent erosion. A certain amount of protection is provided by the cliffs, enabling low cover such as willow, hawthorn, bramble and willow herb to grow. It therefore gives an important resting and feeding place for tired migrants and merits a good deal of searching. Wrynecks and Barred Warblers favour this area, while almost anything can turn up.


The Golf Course is situated next to Selwick’s Bay and is another site where it is worth looking for birds. Early morning is essential as birds are soon flushed off. Do not go onto the golf course, but watch from the clifftop path or the road. Wagtails, wheatears and pipits are the commonest visitors. These include regular Blue-headed and White Wagtails and Scandinavian Rock Pipits. A Citrine Wagtail found this spot to its liking in 2002 and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper was located in September 2007. Waders are occasionally found and both Hooded Crows and Scandinavian Jackdaws were formerly annual. Walking northwest along the clifftop, you can check a large proportion of the golf course and you will come to Breil Nook after about a kilometre, an important part of the cliffs for breeding seabirds. Another kilometre or so on brings you to a dead end permissive path leads to a screen that overlooks the newly created Northcliffe Marsh. This area has already attracted Flamborough’s third Pectoral Sandpiper and regularly holds small numbers of common dabbling ducks. Back along the main road, you can view more of the golf course from the Old Lighthouse and next to this is a spot known as the Walled Garden. This small enclosed grassy lawn is one of the most regular sites for Black Redstart. Do not enter the Walled Garden, but watch from the road. Please also resist the temptation to look in the private gardens near here.


On the southern side of the Outer Head, a footpath runs along the clifftop towards South Landing. There is very little cover indeed here, typical birds to be seen including larks, pipits and buntings. The area is best in autumn when stubbles provide feeding for Lapland Buntings and occasionally Richard’s Pipits hide in the longer grass. Snow Buntings can be seen feeding along the path in late autumn, but are sadly becoming much scarcer. In the winter, the south rocks are frequented by waders, gulls and ducks. A look on the rocks here is worthwhile in almost any season, but the back end of the year tends to be most productive with autumn waders and winter gulls. These include regular Iceland and Glaucous Gulls.



Last Updated ( Saturday, 27 February 2010 )