Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Week in Sussex- 24-30 September 2012

records gathered mainly from the Sussex Ornithological Society Website (stated if otherwise)

the week started with very poor weather conditions, that sea-watchers hoped would bring in the goods. Sadly their was little to be excited about. Selsey scored poorly on Monday the 24th, and only a Sooty Shearwater saved some grace the following day for a few hardy observers. Splash Point fared marginally better, a Garganey was a good bird for an autumn seawatch on the 24th, though it was only really propping up some otherwise dismal totals for the time of year. the 26th saw a Balearic Shearwater and a few Great Skua, while Arctic Skua were a feature of both sites in small numbers all throughout the wet and windy period.

The rest of the county's birders fared little better. Warnham LNR retained it's Red-crested Pochard on the 24th and the Opsrey was seen again here the following day (for it's 47th day in the Adur Valley!); While the Spoonbill remained in the Rye Bay area throughout the week. A very late Wood Sandpiper was also hanging on nearby at Northiam until at least the 29th, with 3 Green Sandpiper for company. An Osprey flew over Salehurst on the 26th, but the only other interesting birds of the first three days of the week were in gardens; a Nightjar in an Eastbourne garden and a Turtle Dove in Burgess Hill.

The 27th saw the first Ring Ouzels of the autumn at Beachy Head, (and on the same day, myself and Jake had a possible at Lewes Railway Land), a possible Marsh Warbler at Sidlesham Ferry, a possible Corncrake at Steyning Roundhill and a Pied Flycatcher at Seaford Head. Garden Nightjars seem a regular but still unpredictable staple of autumn, with another in Birdham also on the 27th. There seem to be at least 3-4 records a year, but when you consider how many garden birders we have it's still fair to call them a garden mega! I often dream of one sitting incongrously on our garage roof one morning though.

the 28th was crap beyond belief- the only report of note was that the Spoonbill had moved from Pett Level to Rye Harbour for the day!  

For it's 51st day in the area, the Osprey was seen at Shoreham on the 29th. Thrushes appeared to arrive in a small influx; Ring Ouzels at Warren Glen, Hastings (per Wild Hastings Facebook group), and Edburton, and a flock of Redwing (the first of the autumn I believe), heard calling over Hove after dark. the Hastings area had a decent day, with a Dartford Warbler at Hastings Country Park arguably the days best bird. Though possibly a commoner sight on migration these days, I feel the Honey Buzzard over Littlehampton probably steals it's crown however!

The 29th was also a glorious day which saw some decent numbers of common migrants. Many thousands of Swallows and House Martins were all along the coast, with a few hundred Sand Martins and 27 Yellow Wagtails at Seaford Head. I personally saw 10 more heading south of the Cuckmere in md-afternoon, and I'm sure many more weren't recorded. a few Redstarts, Whinchats, Spotted Flycatchers, Willow Warblers, Wheatears, Siskins and Tree Pipits were also reported, and a Hobby was at Firle Beacon. Another Hobby was at Whitbred Hollow the following day, which also saw the bulk of the migrants with 500 Blackcap and 200 Sand Martin the pick, plus a late-ish Lesser Whitethroat. Elsewhere on Beachy Head was a Merlin near Belle Tout, and 15 Jays in Horseshoe Plantation. Are these birds fresh in from the continent? do they single a large-scale movement of Jay's? should I be on the look out for a Nutcracker in the coming weeks?????

Elsewhere today, another Spoonbill turned up at Pagham Harbour, and probably the rarest bird of the week turned up at Pulborough- a difficult to see Pectoral Sandpiper. That this is the rarest bird seen in a week during the peak time of autumn really signifies how dire this week was. Here's to hoping things liven up and the winds change around!

Commotion amongst the corvids

First blog and a test run!
Huge amount of corvid activity this morning in the field behind our house. The noise was deafening. As I watched it became apparent that the cause of it was a pair of buzzards. they were eventually driven off and the corvids became quiet. The buzzards seem to be resident and bred this year in woods nearby. The juvenile buzzard has been very vocal the past few weeks. It has been sitting in various trees around the edge of the field and calling to its parents. As it has got braver it has ventured to different parts of the field but still stayed quite local. I have not heard it so much the past week so presume it is finally becoming more self sufficient and less dependant on th adult birds.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

29 Sep '12- mahoosive movements in the Cuckmere

Early morning reports and garden birding

early on, Jon Curson reported a few Yellow Wagtails and Tree Pipits in a brief search of Seaford Head. It's been, to my understanding at least, a pretty good year for Yellow Wagtails, I've seen more of them (and til later in the year) than I've managed probably since autumn 2008, when they seemed so numerous I could count flocks of 20+ on the suburban fields I played football in! I normally don't see many Yellow Wagtails past about the 20th, but have had a few trickling through throughout this week, including 10+ at Portland Bird Observatory on the 22nd.

The morning/early afternoon were not especially bird-orientate for me, but I love autumn because migration is evident anywhere you go, at least around here. Hanging the washing up at around 12:30, I counted a small stream of Meadow Pipits, generally heading W or SW over the garden. This is the time of year when Siskin and other finch become evident on migration, and I picked one up by call as it flew over the garden. It was heading very low and in a NE direction, and almost landed in a Leyland Cypress 40 yards away before veering off to the north, Jon saw one do something similar earlier, I expect it's the same bird hanging around to feed up before continuing it's journey south. I've noticed an increase in reports of Siskin at garden feeders on the SOS, are these the returning winter birds or migrants, gratefully stocking up on an easy meal? Also seen was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a none-too-common bird in the garden.

Cuckmere Haven- 13:30-15:00

A daylist for the Cuckmere managed 28 birds, but that wouldn't tell the full story at all! There were 2000+ Hirundines, with a ratio of about 70% Swallows and 30% House Martins. three SAND MARTINS felt almost like a rarity for me, they've been really hard to catch up with locally this year, and today smashed my previous 'last-of-year' record for the species by several days!  Also moving over were 2-300 Meadow Pipits, unsurprisingly a great day for one of the commonest autumn migrants on my patch. I picked up the calls of at least 10 YELLOW WAGTAIL as they passed south, these also being a record date! Is this year, which has been fantstic for them so far, the year I finally see an October Yellow Wag? (one of my odder birding ambitions).

As if that wasn't enough, I recorded four more record dates! Three were for Butterflies, Large White (of which there were still 100's), Small Heath (1), and Small Copper (4, and all the better as this is by far my favourite butterfly!). The latter two species were present in a small area (20 yards or so) about 50 metres NE of the Coastguard Cottages. Also seen today were 50+ Small Whites, 3-figure numbers of Red Admirals and a single Comma. The other record date of the day was a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER, feeding near the horse paddocks by the Golden Galleon. Otherwise grounded migrants where few and far-between, with perhaps 20 Chiffchaff, and a single, late Willow Warbler near Harry's Bush.

Small Copper (a.k.a the best butterfy in britain!) and
Small Heath, photographed near the Coastguard Cottges
However, migration was still in evidence, even in some of the commoner birds. seven Little Grebes on the meanders were the first returning birds of the winter (I can't wait til there's 30+ here!), and there was a slight inflation in gull numbers, with 200 Black-headed, 30 Herring and 12 Great Black-back at an estimate. However, the only ducks seen were 10-15 Mallard (the Shelducks go elsewhere to moult, but I'm surprised there are no Wigeon back yet), and the only waders were 5 or so Curlew heard calling from the fields of the west side of the valley.

one of several Black-headed Gulls present today

How much really moved through today?

when you think about it, this was the quietest time of day for birding, and yet the number of birds was phenomenal. so How many birds were migrating through the Cuckmere today? vis-mig is often at it's peak from first-light for about two hours, in this case 06:30-08:30. it then gradually tails off, and by the time I visited the Cuckmere should really be at quite a low rate. of course there are exceptions to that rule, but I still expect far more was moving through in the 7 hours of daylight before I arrived than the hour and a half I was there. so how much was really moving? I'll give my little estimate, which could of course be way off, but here it is anyway.

15,000+ Hirundines- days like this are pretty much annual in sussex, but still remarkable

1,500+ Meadow Pipits- could well have been more, but I'll try and be conservative. The rate of passage today was at least 150 an hour while I was present, and was probably higher in the morning!

100+ Yellow Wagtails- dad reported some overhead at Seaford Head this morning, and there were at least 10 moving over this afternoon.

In addition, Tree Pipit (JC) and Siskin (JC and myself) have been reported today, so small numbers of both those were probably moving over. Not forgetting the possibility of something rarer, maybe a Tawny Pip or a Citrine Wagtail among it's commoner relatives?
Rook at the Golden Galleon- totally irrelevant but it's a nice pic! 

Why today?

This question puzzled me a bit, as although the skies are very clear, the wind was generally S swinging round to NW today. However, I think this could have been last big push of british migrants leaving the country, which may well have been held up by the awful weather, and were today all leaving in one big stampede! The Westerly winds would support this theory, as often these birds appear to leave the country through areas like Portland, and could have been pushed further east towards us. Not forgetting the NE winds that brought additional Scandinavian and eastern birds into the country last weekend, these migrants have also probably been waiting around for a good day to leave. Some of you might think this question is a bit trivial, but if I remember this for the next time similar conditions occur, I'll be up at first light to see what's moving!

good birding to all

Liam C

Friday, 28 September 2012

Lewes Railway Land- 27 Sep '12

Welcome to the first real posting on this blog! I thought I'd begin with the last time I did some birding in Sussex, namely yesterday!

With sixth from finishing at 3.20 yesterday, I took advantage and took a walk around the Railway land with Jake Gearty. It being the afternoon there wasn't a lot about. However the resident tit flocks included Coal (new patch bird for Jake) and plenty Long-tailed, along with an estimate of 5+ Chiffchaff and 10+ Blackcap. A few of the latter gave great views, but most were heard only or briefly fly-catching out of bushes and disappearing back into them. We also got two brief, but intriguing fly-by's from a fairly large, brown warbler with pale-looking flanks. Maybe a Blackcap, but something about it made me think Garden Warbler or Reed Warbler. It was certainly too big for a phyllosc, but not quite big enough to string it into a Barred! One that'll get away I guess.

However, an altogether more frustrating on-that-got-away was a Thrush that flew out of a bush alongside the river, giving us only the briefest glimpse of what looked like the scaly wings of a RING OUZEL. Jake thought he saw the bird one more time, but I didn't. We did, however, see a lot of Blackbirds in the same area, and based on our view you couldn't quite rule out a blackbird caught in the light. I never heard any 'chacking' calls distinctive to the species either, but I am sure one will turn up here eventually this autumn!

One of two new birds for this patch was however, a Thrush. Jake picked up a Mistle Thrush calling, and we quickly got semi-decent views (OK they were crap, but still identifiable!) as it powered overhead, towards the railway line. The other new bird patch was slightly more underwhelming. It's a bit embarrassing that in three weeks of checking this place, this was the first Swallow I'd seen flying over! They took my 'school terms yearlist' up to 53 species though still eight ahea of Jake! 

It's also the time of year some of our commoner birds may start coming in from further afield. I've already mentioned an increase in Blackbird numbers, and I got some prolonged views of a Robin that seemed to be showing characteristics of a continental bird, but I'll need to read up on that a bit before I try and claim any with confidence!