Tuesday, 30 October 2012

shore lark, hume's warbler, young birders field trip!

sorry for the unimaginative title, it's been a long day!

There can't have been many times my patch has played host to four young birders at once.  We're a rare enough breed as it is, to see four together borders on the ridiculous! there have also been few times I've walked as far for birds, and even fewer when I've been so well rewarded!

Perhaps, to begin this post, I'll tell you my predictions, that I'd made the past few days. we would be walking from Seaford to Beachy Head, a decent walk taking in Seaford Head, Cuckmere Haven, the Seven Sisters and Beachy. The winds were NW, and it was set to be a good day weatherwise, with a bit of fog to ground migrants.

I predicted the NW winds would bring some northerly birds down- I was thinking maybe the likes of Lapland Bunting, Snow Bunting, Twite or Shore Lark. It seemed to me the best place to see any of these would be the clifftop of the Seven Sisters- on a similar walk perhaps five years ago I'd missed out on a Shore Lark along here, found on one of the sisters on 1 Oct 2007, and one of the most recent sussex records. Would lightning really strike twice?

My second, more hopeful, prediction was of a phyllosc of some variety. The one at the forefront of my mind was Hume's, though Pallas's and Dusky I also considered good candidates for late October. The winds weren't very good for a new arrival, but maybe a bird had arrived on the east coast, and would be blown down here on it's southward migration?

as it turns out, I think I should consider a career in clairvoyancy! But lets start at the beginning, and move on to the wonderful birds later.

I woke up early, planning to meet up with Jake Gearty, George Kinnard and Luke Dray at 7.30 in Seaford. by 7.23 I was out the door, and almost the first bird I heard was a Siskin in the garden. three Meadow Pipit then flew over, heading due south, and a FIRECREST was in with a small crest/tit flock at Blatchington Pond; there was a lot of activity, and all this before I was really awake!

Having met up with the other three muskateers, we headed towards the seafront. In a very brief seawatch, the first bird Jake saw in his scope was a Red-throated Diver heading west very close in! a few Gannets were offshore, and three Brent Geese passing east were most unbrent-like, going high above the horizon. From Seaford Head, George managed to pick out a female-type Common Scoter, sitting distantly on the sea.

It was around now that the mist started to roll in, and for a while visibility was probably only about 50-100 metres. As we walked up the slope from Splash Point to the Golf Course, the first of several Skylarks were picked up coming in/off, and a MISTLE THRUSH did the same before flying off to the west. This is my first record for Seaford Head, and the species is probably the rarest of the six thrushes on passage in Sussex! This was already and early highlight, and the day was shaping up to be a good one!

On the Golf Course, five Siskin dropped down into the bushes of the northward facing hill, and by the radio mast was a decent concentration of birds, with a few Redwing, Song Thrush, Blackbird and a single Fieldfare, seen by myself and Jake only and the only bird of the day! Non avian highlight of the day was a WEASEL seen here, again a very brief spot by Jake, that I also connected with as it darted across the path. Walking along the clifftop was quiet, though Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were both coming in/off in small numbers.
record shot of the very showy Siskin
(Liam Curson)
Hope Gap was also fairly quiet. We managed a House Martin overhead, perhaps 20 Redwing, 4 Jay, 2 Blackcap, a few Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, 2-3 Goldcrest, and two very showy Siskin feeding in the thistles alongside the path. These were superb views, compared to my typical fly-over views of the species on patch. In fact, I've only really ever had views to match this at feeding stations before! a flock of seven Redpoll also flew overhead, heading down into Hope Gap as we were leaving it. These being my only my second records this autumn, it's not been a great one for Redpolls to my knowledge? After leaving Hope Gap we checked Harry's Bush, which did it's usual trick of failing to live up to all our expectations! 15-20 Goldcrest, 5 Chiffchaff and a Treecreeper were as good as it got! However, George's eagle eyes did notice one Goldcrest had a ring on it's leg, quite a spot on such a small, fast-moving and hard-to-see bird!

My overall estimate for the migrants on Seaford Head today was- 40 Blackbird, 40 Robin, 30 Redwing, 25 Goldcrest, 25 Song Thrush, 25 Meadow Pipit, 20 Skylark, 8 Siskin, 7 Redpoll, 2 Blackcap, 1 House Martin, 1 Fieldfare and 1 MISTLE THRUSH. 

The walk then continued on, to Cuckmere Haven, where there were 250+ Wigeon on the flooded levels, among smaller numbers of Canada Geese and Gulls. In the bushes along the west side were small numbers of Song Thrush, Blackbird and Redwing. a YELLOWHAMMER heard might just be one of the last ones left locally! Last year I counted one singing male in Greenway Bottom and one at Exceat, and these were the only two in an area where you could have, a few years ago, seen 20! It's a sad state of affairs when I'm capital-ing what should be a common bird...

Brent Geese, Cuckmere Haven
(Liam Curson)
two juvenile Brent Geese had found themselves on the River, and were quite literally tame as ducks! Brents are a regular winter visitor/passage migrant in the Cuckmere in small numbers, but this was the first time I'd ever been close enough to hear their grunting calls. There's something quite lonely about hearing them call alone, a sort of parallel to the frenetic energy given off by the sound of a whole flock on an estuary. Meanwhile there were three Dunlin on the meanders, and seven Swallows hawking over the river- will those today be my last of the year? From the riverbank near the sea, the two resident Little Owls could be heard calling from the hawthorn bank the herons and egrets like to roost in- the first time I've heard them in quite a while.

A short seawatch off Cuckmere Haven produced another Red-throated Diver west, and a Common Scoter east- we were going to check the beach for Shore Larks and Snow Buntings but the tide was too high. So we proceded to climb the steep slope of Haven Brow, and see what we could find the rest of the walk to Hope Gap.

The answer resolved itself within about 10 minutes; we first saw a small, dark passerine with a bouncing, skylark-like flight, silhouetted and flying out of sight over the brow of the hill. We joked about this being everything from a Black Redstart to a Black-eared Wheatear, but about three minutes later found ourselves once again looking at the mystery bird- I'd decided it was either a Wheatear or a Skylark without really laying bins on it- but George, ever observant called out (minus the expletives), "Oh My God, a Shore Lark!". That's right, a SHORE LARK on my patch!!

what a stunner!
We called news out, to Birdnet and RBA, to Jake Everitt, Jon Curson and Nick Pope, and hoped they would spread the news among the local birders. The first sussex Shore Lark in two years (since another showy bird on the beach at Cuckmere Haven!), and what a stunning, stunning bird! The yellow and black face, the little black tufts, the plaintive, soft, gentle little whistle of a call- this has really become one of my favourite birds in a matter of hours! It was happy feeding on the short grass of the clifftop- though it was getting flushed quite a lot by ramblers and their dogs (when are the two ever apart?). It generally fed on it's own, avoiding the company of nearby Meadow and Rock Pipits and Skylarks.
(Luke Dray)

our plan was to stay around until other birders arrived to see the lark, but that plan was hampered slightly when a HUME'S LEAF WARBLER was discovered at Belle Tout. Now, there are two very good reasons to leave the bird, a) we kinda wanted to see this warbler!, and b) most, if not all, local birders, would go for the warbler first, meaning it might be a few hours before anyone else came for the lark. We reached a diplomatic decision, and trundled over the seven sisters!

my favourite shot! (Luke Dray)

It was a long walk, with not a lot to see other than a Peregrine patrolling the cliffs. But steely determination is a wonderful way to make time fly, and it felt like in next to no time we arrived at Belle Tout. At first the area seemed completely lifeless, a small gathering on the east side of the wood having seen nothing for half an hour. Jake and I took a wander into the wood, and picked up on a Goldcrest who seemed to have a sore throat, the quiet calls even softer than usual. Knowing the warbler might well be with it, we scanned the treetops, but the thin, monotonal call gave it away first. We'd relocated the Hume's Warbler! We called the other birders over, and after a bit of persistence everyone had pretty good views- and over the next hour and a half the bird continued to show well on occasion and call frequently. The following are my notes on a great bird;
  • thin, generally soft but at times quite piercing, monotonal call. Slightly lower pitched than a yellow-browed warbler to my ears
  • very cold grey above, with hardly any greenish colouration on the mantles and wings
  • double wing bar made up of pale fringing to the greater and lesser coverts
  • pale supercilium, with hardly any hint of yellow at all. 
  • was roving Belle Tout Wood with a flock of Goldcrest, and seemed even more 'fidgety' than it's counterparts, and also engaged in flycatching more often (generally a good way to pick it out without bins was as the bird flycatching in the crest flock!)
  • overall impression- a greyer, colder version of a Yellow-browed Warbler

A terrific bird, and an amazing end to the day. While watching the Yellow-browed at the top of Belle Tout, Jake and I picked out a bird flying over eastwards with a harsh, high-pitched chirp- having been prepared for this moment via xeno-canto we both immeditately picked it up as a large pipit sp! The odds of it being a Richard's are of course far greater than a Blyth's, and we feel we can eliminate Tawny- not only is the date very late, but the calls we heard had a higher-pitched, more explosive and harsher quality more typical of a Richard's. Problem is, Blyth's sounds very similar! Probability dictates it is a Richard's, but I'm not sure I want to submit a description of a species I'm not certain of- I know it was rare, just not how rare! And it is partly to do with my suspicion the records comittee would flat-out reject a heard-only Richard's, unless the observer had extensive experience with both Richard's and Blyth's. Am I being paranoid? maybe- but it can hardly rob from one of my finest days birding ever! Thanks to Jake, George and Luke for making it so enjoyable! :)
some great record shots of the Hume's Leaf warbler.
(Luke Dray)

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Desert Wheatear!!!

What a day...

I heard about a possible Desert Wheatear in Worthing late last night. After much discussion on Brighton & Sussex Birders we decided it can only be a Desert Wheatear. I managed to get time of school to connect with it. I was greeted by a mass of about 20+ birders at Splash Point, by the rowing club, in Worthing. We had some very very close views, so close it landed on my foot briefly :D  I have attached some images of this amazing bird :D (sorry for messy layout of photos that's blogger ;) )

no, I didn't see the Wheatear...

in fact today was decidedly dire. The train into Lewes held only one good bird, a Brent Goose at Newhaven... seen to come in off the sea and land in the crop fields between the Mill Creek and the village of Bishpopstone. At school, Jake had yesterday reported a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER, which despite a fairly extensive search before Media I failed to relocate. On the railway land I saw three Chiffchaff, 13 Siskin (I now suspect this flock my settle down to winter here), a handful of Goldcrest and Coal Tit, and overflying Jay and, by far and away the highlight- a late GRASS SNAKE. This is by far the latest I've ever seen this species (though two years ago, I observed a Buzzard carrying a Snake species in it's talons on 27 October, didn't identify it to species however!) I thought all reptiles would be well into their hibernations by now, especially given how miserable it's been for most of the last month! Clearly, this snake felt like being an exception to the rule...

Having already gripped me off with a Yellow-brow within the ground of our school, Jake then proceded to find a CROSSBILL today! It flew into the trees on the raised mound outside Cliffe House at about 14:50; and, no surprise, by the time I got out of Biology at 15:10 it was long gone! It was another 'one-up' on me, and brings Jakes school-list one closer to mine!

In order to quantify that last statement, I should first explain our competition. When we found out we'd both be at the same college for a year, we devised a yearlist competition, basically who could see the most birds within the school year. The location was the college grounds and Lewes Railway Land, the LNR opposite our sixth form.

I stormed into an early lead in September- wrapping up some regular migrants like Common Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtail, Garden Warbler and Reed Warbler to give me quite a fair lead! two Shoveler on 1 Oct  and some vis-migging Skylarks on 9 October extended my lead, but recently Jake has pulled back! Sparrowhawk and Kestrel were two of his 'grip-backs' and should be easy ones, but with the Yellow-browed and Crossbill he has, in the last few days, made it a much narrower lead! Currently I have seen 59 species to Jake's 56! we'll keep you updated on the competition over the coming months...

meanwhile, I'm just praying that Wheatear is still there on Saturday!! 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Seaford Head- 22 October 2012

I'm afraid I reneged on yesterday's promise of Rouzel-hunting on Malling Down- the option of finding my own on Seaford Head seeming far more appealing! When I left the house it was still pitch black outside, and very, very misty. With NE winds overnight combined with this, I imagined it wasn't going to be a terrible day!

It was marginally lighter by the time I arrived at the south-west corner of Seaford Head Golf Course, from where I began my count of the day's migrants all across the headland. Walking through Seaford in the darkness, Robins and Blackbirds were both calling in gigantic numbers, obvious signs of an overnight arrival! Once on the Golf Course I could see this to be the case, with both species present in every bush and tree! Redwings were also torpedoing overhead, out of sight in the mist. A few were also in the bushes, alongside a handful of Song Thrush, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest. A single Fieldfare was picked up by it's 'chacking' call, which I tried without success to string into a Ring Ouzel. However, this was my first returning Fieldfare of the autumn. A Firecrest was also calling unseen from within these bushes. The calls of Redwing, Robin and Blackbird were with me all the time, accompanying me through a mist so thick I was struggling to see a large proportion of the birds I was hearing!

around the Radio Mast, there were a minimum of 30 Chaffinch, with about this number again scattered around the other areas of the patch. Also present were Redwing, Blackbird, Song Thrush and Robin in decent numbers, though still nothing rarer!

Moving on into Hope Gap, The numbers were really picking up. a little flock of Goldcrest in the north of the gap held at least one showy Firecrest, my finest views of the species for perhaps two years and a real treat! The numbers of all the common thrush species were enormous, Robin, Blackbird, Redwing and Song Thrush once again arriving en force, and two Fieldfares among them. A few Chiffchaff called and showed, while one singing Blackcap was heard halfway down, and a female was present in the bushes near the sea. here the resident pair of Stonechats announced their territory, while I got good enough views to racially identify a Song thrush for the only time today. The yellowish breast and rufousy-brown back identified it as race Clarkei, the british race. I was hoping to identify some continental birds today, but all the other thrushes I saw were too flighty for this! One showy Chiffchaff was hoping around in the low bushes right by the sea, accompanying the pair of Stonechats on their circuit.

I didn't check Harry's Bush, as there were some angry looking heffers with their calves around here; but in the trees opposite the style into that field I found another little crest flock, containing another showy and impossibly gorgeous Firecrest! By now it was time to leave and hastily march to the train station, leaving the birds behind for the sake of this silly thing called an education.

Overall it was a great day for quantity, though the quality bird or two I'd hoped for didn't really materialise! It was the kind of day where binoculars tend to be used just to give you good views of some familiar faces, rather than to pin an elusive ID; but overall it felt good to be out in the morning, and when you see that many Redwings, and get views that good of Firecrests, it would be a bit selfish to complain! However, I was slightly gripped by Seaford Head's third YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER of the year being found later this afternoon! Apparently present in the bushes car park, finder uknown, but Jon Curson visited at about 4.30 and could hear the distinctive calls once or twice, from the line of bushes running north on the eastern side of the car park. I have literally never seen a worthwhile bird here before! What makes it equally galling is that this is only the second time I've made it up in October. both days had perfect conditions for Yellow-brows, and on both days they've been found, but on both occasions, it's been after I left. c'est la vie and all that I suppose, would be nice to see one though! maybe if it sticks around til tomorrow...

my estimates totals for today were;

Meadow Pipit         30
Skylark                   15
Blackcap                  2
Chiffchaff                10
Goldcrest                30
Firecrest                   3-4 (first for Seaford Head this autumn, 2 very showy birds)
Robin                   150 (high count)
Blackbird             120 (high count)
Redwing               130 (high count)
Song Thrush           40
Fieldfare                3 (first of the autumn)
Chaffinch               60
Linnet                    50
Goldfinch              30

Monday, 22 October 2012

it's about taking a fall

it seems to have been a great day for Black Redstarts generally! one in Seaford (seen by yours truly), one at the Cuckmere (seen by my Dad), and a minimum of six at Seaford Head (per Matt Eade and Bob Self), who also reported a Merlin, and large numbers of Redwing and other Thrush species. There were a few more Black Redstart scattered around the sussex coast as well, but none in quite as high a concentration as the 8-9 in the local area.

Even this was small scale compared to the east coast though. A friend at Holme reported 10,000 Redwing, 5,000 Fieldfare, hundreds of Song Thrush and Blackbird, 300 Brambling 500 Robin and 5 Black Redstart. Spurn Bird Observatory had 20 Black Redstarts, 420 Robin, 57 Ring Ouzel, 1020 Blackbird, 9345 Fieldfare, 835 Song Thrush, 21,100 Redwing, 800 Goldcrest and 2675 Brambling! I'm hoping some of these will filter down over the coming days! 

I realise I'm not really posting my own sightings here, but when it's dark by the time you get home from school this is sometimes a bit difficult! Tomorrow I'm Rouzel hunting on Malling Down, so I'll post back with news of my dismal failure in good time! 

Black Redstart mini-influx, and Ode to a Redwing

I don't generally expect to see much while getting ready for school- so a Black Redstart giving a brief show  from my bedroom window was a great surprise today! it's a new bird for the garden (god knows what the list is now, but it included Honey Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Whitethroat, Woodcock and Reed Bunting!) and a rather fantastic bird generally! Mine was a female/juvenile type, but Dad went one better with a gorgeous male by the Golden Galleon, at Cuckmere Haven. He also reported a lot of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, but nothing rarer among the Turdus.

speaking of Thrushes, A while back I asked Bob Edgar about how to tell apart a continental Song Thrush (race philomenos) from a british Song Thrush (race clarkei). I haven't seen any big numbers of Thrushes recently, but if there has been a little arrival I'll definitely pay attention to any Song Thrush I see and report back!

and how can I ignore perhaps my favourite autumn bird, the Redwing? I've so far failed to post anything about them on here, other than my first few at Seaford Head on 7 October when other birds stole some of the headlines; but they're moving over in decent numbers every night now. For me they really are the epitome of autumn, better than the finches and pipits, better than the wagtails pouring along the cliffs, maybe even better than Ring Ouzels, or Whinchats, or the thrill of finding something a bit out of the ordinary. Maybe it's the call, piercing through the typically cold October nights, and how you can take a walk around at night and literally feel like the sky is bursting with them! In Canada, you could have nights where the sky was littered with 'spinks' and 'chips' from thousands of Warblers and Sparrows and Thrushes flying over- but none of the rest of our passerines ever seem to be as vocal as their nearctic counterparts, bar of course the Redwing! It's a sign of autumn wherever you go, you could hear one over a bustling city or a deserted mountainside, and for these reasons and so many others, they're my favourite autumn bird.

I think I got a bit carried away there! I apologise to anyone who tires of the romanticised droolings of bird bloggers, but I can't really help it. I've got to head off to school now so I'll leave it there, but thanks for reading and good birding to all!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Stonechats and Sabine's Gulls

I was in an understandabl tired state this morning, having turned 17 and been out with friends last night! I woke at about 9.30 to Dad on the phone, saying he was watching the SIBERIAN STOENCHAT at Beachy Head! Being a very kind father (and probably still in birthday mode), he came back to pick me up, and about half an hour later we were stood with a crowd of 20+ other birders at Birling Gap, watching this gorgeous bird fly from perch to perch, in a set-aside field of thistle and kidney vetch. At times it came up to perch on the barbed wire fence on the side of the road, showing at a fantastic fifteen feet!

The white rump in flight was very distinctive, as was a larger white wing panel than on a nominate Stonechat. I was also surprised at just how pallid 1st-winter Sibe Stone looks compared to ours. I couldn't find my camera, but Peter Denyer has kindly donated me some photos to use... 

Also around at Beachy Head were 20+ Swallows moving through, 200+ Goldfinch, a few Skylark overhead and a tinkling of Goldcrests in Belle Tout. 

I thought this was going to be the highlight of my day- how wrong I was! Brian Cox (the birder, not the physicist or the thespian!), came over to say hi to the family/steal my birthday cake, and his pager alerted us to the reappearance of the Hove SABINE'S GULL seen yesterday. I sent a text to Jake Gearty who was still out, and him, Peter, Jamie Wilkinson and Luke Dray relocated the bird on the way back from the Stonechat. I got down there for 4.00, and met Jake, Luke, Dave Boddington, George Kinnard and the maverick himself along Hove seafront! The gull showed ridiculously well, down to about four metres! 

How to see; the bird is incredibly obliging, generally present along the seafront west of the burnt-down pier. it is often flighty but can allow remarkably close approach at times! It is apparently also a fan of chips, so birders, splash out a bit for some fabulous views! 

One feather on the left wing (not visible here) is also already moulted into it's winter plumage. If this bird hangs around for a while (which I hope it will) it'll be interesting to see whether it's moult develops any further.

thanks to Peter for letting me use his photos and Jon, Brian, Jake, Luke, Jamie, George and everyone else for a great day's birding! 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Merlin at Rodmell

a female MERLIN was the highlight today, seen from the train as I headed back from School. It flew across one of the fields and over the River Ouse where it forks of to Glynde Reach, and the falcon was heading in the direction of Rodmell Brooks. My first returning record from the Ouse, but presumably the same bird Cliff Parrott (great name for a birder!) reported on 15 October on the Sussex Ornithological Society Website. A few Skylarks and Goldfinches do still seem to be moving over, but other than that vismig has really dropped off! Butterflies are now vanishing quickly too- only Red Admirals remain easy to see, and today was the first day for many months that I failed to see a single white butterfly! Perhaps my last Speckled Wood of the year was in Seaford on Sunday 14th October, and other than that there's not a lot to report! 

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Patching Black Redstarts

Whilst walking the dogs we weren't expecting to see toommuch other than the usual including 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 5+ Jays, 2 Meadow Pipits and a single Skylark. The suprize was seeing 2 Female Black Redstarts in the horse paddock behind patching church! Not to shabby.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Pagham Harbour Spoonbills

Was pleased to see 2 out of 4 Spoonbills that was reported at Pagham harbour today. One showed at a greater distance whilst the other 1 was feeding close by. Other birds sighted were 1 Male Sparrowhawk, 1 Peregrine, 4 Whinchat and 1 Male Stonechat. Nice evening!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

bits and bobs

Not much the last three days, as school has largely dicated the pace. Yesterday morning was poor in a morning on Lewes Railway Land, though Redwing and Skylark were new patch birds (57 and 58 respectively), and 13 Siskin, a Mistle Thrush and a few Goldcrest were scattered about, as well as two more Siskin and a handful of Meadow Pipits heading over. Splash Point the morning beforehand was dreadful beyond belief- a Common Scoter was the sum of 20 minutes before I gave up and headed home!

However, today was at least notable for some good numbers in the sunny conditions! A flock of 200+ Woodpigeon headed over Seaford, along with a few Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Goldfinch and Siskin. , there were about 400 Goldfinch in the fields around Tide Mills and a flock of 150+ heading south over Piddinghoe Pond, where about 500 Swallows and House Martins were gathered. Remarkably, another HOBBY flew over Newhaven from the train, eight days after I'd seen one previously here. Lewes was full of Goldcrests, and a few Skylarks were still piling overhead late morning, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood, Large White and Migrant Hawker were also all out on the wing. Not a lot, but more than I would hope for on the days largely dominated by school!

Monday, 8 October 2012

the week in Sussex; 1-7 October

a miserable, miserable late September only improved slighty at the beginning of the week, but a long overdue change in the weather brought a few decent birds towards the end of the week;

Bird of the week? well the author would like to nominate his RED-RUMPED SWALLOW at Seaford Head as a contender! but really, RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER is a rarer bird down here (the last was in 2009, and there have been Red-rumps at Arlington (4!), Cuckmere Haven and Rye Harbour in the same time period). The RBflick was also considerably more twitachble, with 50+ connecting during it's stay at Climping Gap on the 6th, inlcuding our own Luke Dray and George Kinnard. However, Seaford Head wins my site of the week however, with my Swallow and a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER turning up on a phenomenal Sunday 7th October!

The Flycatcher was one of very few birds that stayed around long enough to be twitched during the week, probably the only other bird was the PECTORAL SANDPIPER that remained at Pulborough until the 4th.

Migration was still very much in evidence all through the week, this warm weather has (in my opinion) caused a much more productive October for summer migrants than recent years. Sand Martins were still going strong, with counts of 40 at Weir Wood on the 1st, 20 at Pagham on the 2nd and 50 again at Weir Wood on the 5th. The only Swift of the week was also at Weir Wood on the 1st. three Hobbies were seen, at Newhaven on the 1st, Pulborough the following day and at The Burgh on the 7th. Also at Newhaven was a late-ish WRYNECK seen on the 2nd. Turtle Dove is a very scarce migrant these days, so one at No Man's Land (Steyning) on the 4th was notable.

Of the common migrants, a handful of Reed Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler  were still being seen, including three of each of the latter at Seaford Head on the 4th. Yellow Wagtails included a remarkable 64 over Seaford Head on the 7th, with 12 here on the 4th and 30 around Southease the same day the other two large counts. Tree Pipit reports were reduced to two reports from the 7th, of three at Seaford Head and four at Sheepcote. Whinchat and Wheatear were widely spread, with a notable count of 50 of the latter in the Ouse Valley on the 4th, including what were considered likely to be a few Greenland-race birds.

Seawatching was generally poor. Splash Point and Selsey Bill largely failed, a Black-throated Diver past Splash the only notable bird from either throughout the week! A  Pomarine Skua was reported past Shoreham on the 1st, and a late report from 30th September concerned 5 Balearic Shearwater from the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry, seen in Sussex waters. Unfortunately, a Cory's Shearwater also seen was a bit closer to France!

Long-staying birds from last week included the afro-mentioned Pectoral Sandpiper, the Osprey in the Adur (to the 7th), and the Pagham Spoonbill (to the 1st).

Among more classic October migrants, Siskin movements picked up, and included a few reports of Redpoll. five Brambling were also reported at Seaford Head. There was also a considerable movement all along the coast on the 7th, with reports from Sheepcote, Seaford Head and Birling Gap all reporting excellent movemets of Chaffinch (200+), Goldfinch (1000+), Skylark (100+), Meadow Pipit (300+) and Pied Wagtail (100+). A few Redwing were reported, included nine at Seaford Head and three at Sheepcote on the 7th, while a Woodlark at Climping on 4th represented the quality. Merlins were reported at Burpham, Pulborough and Seaford Head, and two Short-eared Owls were at Sheepcote on the 7th.

Nuthatch are a very rare visitor to the coast, but two were reported this week, I believe the third and fourth of the autumn! One at Church Norton on the 2nd was the observers first there in 20 years(!), while another was at Bailiffscourt (Climping) on the 6th.

And finally, it really wouldn't be a complete review without documenting the Jay invasion! here's a summary of all reports gleaned from the SOS, which surely represent the tip on the Iceberg! for some reason the only reports I could find were from the 4th onwards, though there were obviously more birds moving prior to this!

4th- 20 at Seaford Head
82W through Newhaven!! the highest count by far this week
21 at West Wittering

5th- 15-20 at Telscome Tye
10W through Newhaven

6th- 23N at Sheepcote

7th- 10 at Sheepcote
an observer at Pevensey noted that they 'seemed to outumber Woodpigeons at one point'!
15-45 at Beachy Head
11 at Steyning Roundhill

in addition to these were numerous counts of smaller numbers from all over the county- some are obviously just resident birds but I expect there's a high probability any Jay seen at the moment, especially near the coast, may be of continental origin. I've said it before, but if we don't find another sussex Nutcracker in a year like this we probably never will! the last was in the 60's or 70's overflying Beachy Head (and what a fly-over that would have been for the observer!)

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Wick Bottom

Being unable to raise myself out of bed early this morning I decided nonetheless to check out one of my local patches, Wick Bottom (immediately east of Sheepcote valley for those that don't know). Started well with 6 Stonechat all within a few metres of each other; a while since I've seen that many together. Clearly stuff was passing - though it seemed slow compared to yday, when I'd logged c250 Swallows & c600 House Martins in little over an hour over Sheepcote, along with a flock of 23 Jays ! Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Siskins and Pied Wags were all moving in small nos; the only Jay flock consisted of 7 NE, but a large Jackdaw gathering must have numbered c200 (near Roedean). A lone Brambling flew west, calling and 5 Yellowhammer was a good count for the area. What I decided must've been a Kestrel (Merlin was a brief poss) flew straight at me carrying a small mammal in it's talons before disappearing from view. Then the highlight of the day (and the weekend come to that) was a Short-eared Owl right in front of me, being harrassed by Jackdaws; it flew above my head (about 10 m away) and looked just stunning with that beautiful azure blue October sky behind it. It gradually gained height before moving off south. Then a moment later another SEO popped out and put on a similar performance.  Fantastic birds.

Sidlesham and Church Norton

No where near as exciting as Liams day today very jealous but very glad he saw a Red-rumped swallow! Anyway stared of at the Ferry Pool at Sidlesham where there was very little, just 60+ Lapwing and 30+ Teal, with drakes coming into full plumage. On the way down to Church Norton there were 15+ Blackcap (most of which were male) , 30+ Chiffchaffs, 1 Greenshank calling, 1 Avocet in the harbour an adult female marsh harrier made an appearance over the harbour putting all the waders up! Also 3 Common Buzzards and 1 Whinchat  in the west fields. At church norton there were 10+ Goldcrests in the church yard (unfortunately firecrest) 6+ Siskins overhead and another Whinchat along the shore line with 3 Stonechats.

George Kinnard


it was 08:08 this morning, when a flock of four hirundines flew past me on my circuit of Hope Gap, heading NE. Three were House Martins, but when I got on the back bird I knew it had to be something different. It was, to be quite frank, one of the briefest views I have ever had of a hirundine, but despite thinking over every other alternative, making myself doubt my identity, and not quite believing my initial ID, I can't think of anything this bird could have been other than a RED-RUMPED SWALLOW.

As I first got on it, I noticed the pale rump, ruling out Swallow or Sand Martin. My immediate impression from shape was that is lacked the short, forked tail of a House Martin, and it had long, elegant shape and long tail streamers of a hirundo species, and appeared even longer-tailed than a Swallow. The birds uppersides had a distinctive colouration, not as dark and navy-blue as the House Martin's it accompanied, more light blue-ish black in colour, and not as deep blue and glossy as the uppersides of a Swallow. But before I could see any more detail it was flying away from me, and all I could see was the back view. However, the flight was immediately reminiscent of the hundreds I saw in Bulgaria a month ago. It had wingbeats that were deep but also sharp, giving the impression that the bird was flicking it's wings with every beat, and it was less 'fluttery' than the House Martins it accompanied. This was interspersed with occasional periods of gliding; but it was only on view for another 30 seconds or so, before this hirundine flock disappeared from view.

At first I rather doubted myself, it took a minute for it to sink in what I had seen, and in the blind panic of those crucial seconds it was on view I had failed to note whether the bird had a red-rumps pale, buffish collar on the nape! The rump also seemed too pale at first, but remembering my experience with Red-rumps in Bulgaria in strong sunlight it was consistent with those birds. I fear the SOSRC might not put through a red-rump if I failed to notice the nape-collar, but I'm happy with the identification at any rate, despite mulling it over again and again til my head hurt.

Aside from the Swallow, it was a phenomenal day at Seaford Head, and here are my counts

Mistle Thrush-1
Song Thrush-3
Pied Wagtail-105
Yellow Wagtail-5
Grey Wagtail-4
Meadow Pipit-325
Tree Pipit-3
House Martin-80
Common Sandpiper-1

I was then back up at Harry's Bush an hour after getting home, when Nick Pope found a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER. Needless to say, I failed to see it. I'd write some more detail on am amazing day but right now I'm shattered!

the first frosty morning at Seaford Head
sunrise over the patch

Blue Tit, on Seaford Head Golf Course

a group of Jackdaw on the fence running parallel to the Golf Course

 hundreds of Goldfinch were in this flock at Hope Gap!!!

Brighton birding

on the way to a friends 18th party in Hangleton yesterday evening, and I saw the following of interest...

  • a roost of 50+ Pied Wagtail near Churchill Square
  • 40 Curlew flying low over Hangleton around 7pm
  • my first Redwings of the year flying over Hangleton at around 10:10PM

That was yesterday, but it isn't too much hyperbole to describe today as one of my finest ever day's birding! the write up will be coming up soon...

Saturday, 6 October 2012


RED BREASTED FLYCATCHER at Climping beach today. Originally seen from the car park with the local tit flock, and then again from the footpath that runs between the Atherington Pools up to the sea front. A great bird for West Sussex. Very poor light so sorry for the very very noisy images :(

The mass of people - these are just the ones to the right of me, 20+ to the left. 

Red - breasted Flycatcher

Not expecting to go out birding today however when I saw that a Red Breasted Flycatcher had been seen as close as Climping I had to go for it! Me and dad got ready to see this smashing bird arrived at around 1:25 pm and dad set of to walk the dogs while I was went in a separate direction to see this little beauty! As soon as I arrived it was on show though very illusive! But  a smashing bird when it put  itself on show! Left at around 2:10 pm as the bird showed itself several times by now but before I left I waited another 20 minutes but the bird  didn't show and as far as I know it hasn't shown since 1:50 pm.

Passive Birding; Liam's update

don't think I'd forgotten you all!

The rather sad thing about sixth form is that school, homework and sleep do seem to take over large portions of your life. I'm expected to do 32 hours a week of work (16 in lesson and 16 out-of), which will understandably take a bit of a toll. So here's my notes on 'passive birding' from the last few days, the birds I've been seeing when I wasn't really birding...

  • Siskin are around in plentitude this October. The number for this morning is well into double-figures, as they pile over the house. I'd estimate maybe 70-80 for today, and probably a lot more going unrecorded!. They've been moving in decent numbers on Thursday/Friday as well. Other vismig includes still healthy numbers of Meadow Pipit, with a small stream all through the morning today perhaps mounting up to 50 or so. The vis-migging highlight has been at least one late YELLOW WAGTAIL, once again pushing back my last-of-year date for the species! 
  • Walking the dog today, it was apparent  that the october crests are coming through in force! probably 20 (mostly Goldcrests I expect) heard on a walk without binoculars, most just giving the 'shree-shree-shree' call that is very difficult to identify at the best of times. However, one obliging FIRECREST was in full song from a conifer on Blatchington Road, Seaford! There were also about 10 Chiffchaff on my regular dog-walking route. 
  • a few Jays around Seaford, though I've only ever seen one at a time at the moment. Nothing like the 270 that flew past Cley one day last week, and no where near as good as the 82 north over Newhaven on Thursday! If you were ever going to find a Nutcracker, this is the year! 

tomorrow will be a day out birding(all homework being done in one mad rush now!) for the morning at least. with the winds looking like they are from the N/NE overnight, maybe it's the day when a Yellow-brow will appear? Myself and Jake have a competition to find one, myself at Seaford Head, and him at Sheepcote Valley. and failing that, we'll just try and find the best bird we can! If any readers want to join us in that challenge, find a good spot for migration and see what you can spot! can you beat myself and Mr Gearty!?

and after that, the winds turn south-east on Monday! you have to face east to point to Mecca, and the winds ideally need to be south-east for our very own Mecca of sea-watching, Splash Point! By writing here, I make a commitment to all you lovely readers that I shall defy the early morning start, the following rush to get to school by 12:30, and the exhausted, unreceptive state I will find myself in throughout all my lessons, and find a shearwater or a sabine's!

good birding

Liam :-)  

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Mass migration as the sun comes out!

Jake again,

Decided what a better way to spend my after college hours than to walk from Lewes to Newhaven following the Ouse all the way along. Besides the Strong SW winds the birds didn't seem all that bothered! The river itself was incredibly high and so I wasn't expecting any common sandpipers but to my surprise one was happily bobbing up and down along a tiny stretch of mud happily feeding away! Plenty of swallows moving over head and the odd group of 3-4 wheaters using the fences that run along side the river as stopping points. The fields either side where very flooded and the local herons seem to be gathering as I counted about 10 in total during my walk, little egrets where also present in a few of the ditches to. A flock of swans flew in from the South and I had my fingers crossed they where early returning bewicks but alas just mutes. A small bunting caused me some confusion for a bit showing some characteristics of a little bunting but after going through some books I feel it was probably just a juv reed bunting also more wheaters. A buzzard flew ahead down river which got my attention on to a raven flying the opposite direction back towards Lewes, I assume this being one of the birds from the cliffs. As I approached Southease a stonechat flew up from underneath my feet and landed on a post in front giving lovely views. By this stage I had already counted about 40 meadow pipits going overhead and my wheater numbers must have been up to at least 20 but as I got over the Southease bridge both their numbers easily multiplied. The muddy area which runs all the way down to Newhaven was littered with birds, mainly meadow pipits, pied wagtails and wheaters. But with some checking I managed to pick out at least 10 yellow wagtails, 1 grey wagtail and a couple of possible green land race wheaters too. Today seem to be the day that everything was moving/ singing as during my walk I heard; willow warbler, chiff chaff, reed warbler, cettis warbler and a squealing water rail. The latter two birds I didn't even no lived in the area! As I approached Piddinghoe there was a flock of at least 15 yellow wagtails moving through briefly landing in one of the fields full of sheep, my highest number in a while. It all sort of went quiet as I approached the towns and the only other real bird of note was a group of 4 curlew at Newhaven Incinerator.

I'm pretty tired now, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Real Birders are out No Matter the Weather!

An early start to school, and I was a free man today by 12:00! Lewes Railway Land beckoned me first. The afternoon's are never brilliant around here, but at least the weather was still nice, for the hour or so I was here! 

Birdwise- a small amount of vismig, with 7 Swallow, 4 Siskin, and singles of Meadow Pipit and House Martin heading south. there were still quite a lot of Robins (I'd guess 25), and 12 Chiffchaff. Plus 2 Treecreeper, a Jay, and a Kingfisher around the heart of reeds. Patch bird no.55 was heard only, 2 PEREGRINE calling distantly over the cliffs. I also saw the remarkable spectacle of a Speckled Wood flying into a spider's web, getting trapped and devoured, and then rolled up into a neat, silk-wrapped parcel. I chose the wrong day not to bring a camera! As I sat for 30 minutes waiting for the train, an estimated 300 hirundines passed over Lewes Station in a constant stream, seeming to consist primarily of Swallows.

On the way home I called into Newhaven, trying to relocate a Wryneck reported yesterday on RBA. I failed in this assignment, but there were a few good birds in the area;

  • a SHAG was offshore, fishing to the east of the pier about 100 metres o/s. My first in Sussex since 1 September 2011 surprisingly!
  • a small flock of waders flew down to bathe in the puddles immediately south of the industrial land, about 100 metres NE of Newhaven East Pier. They consisted of 17 Ringed Plover, 6 Dunlin and 2 Turnstone. Turnstone is a fairly unusual bird for Tide Mills in my experience, bizarrely I have only seen them here three times previously!
  • 2 Wheatear. One at Tide Mills showed a bright supercilium, long primary projection and uppright, dick's pipit like stance, typical of GREENLAND WHEATEAR (oenanthe oenanthe leucorrhoea), while one, perched on the viewing screen at the Ouse Estuary Project, looked a much more typical 'british' Wheatear. 
  • 1 YELLOW WAGTAIL, my latest ever and first ever record for October! it called three times as it headed over
However, whether it was worth the soul-chilling south-westerlies and the dismal rain is another matter! The highlight of the day was probably the GREENLAND WHEATEAR, great birds that still feel like a bit of a rarity, depsite being pretty regular. Slightly commoner stuff included 30 Lapwing and 20 Curlew, a handful of Gibbugs (Great Black-backed Gulls), my first Common Gull for a few weeks in Sussex, and a handful of Chiffchaff. The tide on Mill Creek was sadly too high for the Pectoral/Buff-breasted Sandpiper that hasn't arrived yet...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Pectoral Sandpiper - Pulborough Brooks RSPB Reserve

After hours of trying to find the Pectoral Sandpiper at Pulborough Brooks on Sunday, I managed to catch up with it today after a few minutes of waiting. For some time it was showing very well then it took of and landed in some grass tussocks and it was hidden for a while. Then again I saw it. After another 15-20 minutes it hid and I didn't see it again. Here is a  somewhat crap video taken by me and a record shot taken by George Kinnard who also caught up with it today...

Video Of The Pectoral Sandpiper - Luke Dray 

Record Shot Of The Pectoral Sandpiper - George Kinnard

Also Note: Green Sandpiper, Wigeon, Teal, Greaylag and Canada Goose + Snipe. 

Wet, bad light and terrible winds. Must be time for birding!

I decide to get to college an hour early to get some much needed birding done as I had not been out for a while, I chose today (02/10/12) to go brilliant choice (not). The weather was bloomin awful, the birds where hiding the only thing that kept me mildly happy was the massive flock of 24 magpie, if 1 is for sorrow and 2 is for joy what on earth is 24? Eventually the sun came out and the birds started to move around a bit more nothing special though just a small tit flock which comprised of, well tits. Oh and a Robin. However I noticed a bird of prey coming towards me I was delighted to watch a peregrine flying towards me and over me before disappearing behind some trees, only to return a few minutes later from the same directions it came from. Besides that terribly exciting moment the only other birds where; 1 kingfisher, 3 grey wagtails, 1 buzzard and a couple of ravens. All in all not terribly exciting but this is my first post on here. Ill try harder when the weather is nicer.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Subbuteo and Shovelers

The journey to school

Being observant on the train paid some fine dividends today. I generally don't see much, but having found Cattle Egret and Black Redstart along this train line before, I generally keep my eyes open just in case! and today it worked out, with a HOBBY over Newhaven Incinerator(hence the rather clever title!), powering on through the awful, awful conditions. My previous latest record was 25 Sep (2010, at Abbot's Wood), and it's always a great feeling to see one of the 'summer' migrants in October!

Also around, there were 40+ Redshank on Mill Creek at Newhaven Tide Mills, and a few Great Black-backed Gulls  (gibbugs for short), looking imperious as always around Newhaven Marina.

Patch Dedication...

is what I call it when you still find an hour to grill your patch despite the dismal rain! And it seemed these difficult flying conditions did ground a few migrants. 30 Robin, 25 Blackbird and 15 Chiffchaff made up the bulk, and 5 Goldcrest, 2 Blackcap and 2 Siskin added a little bit more quality. The true number of migrant Blackbird, Robin and Goldcrest is of course clouded over by resident birds, but considering the inflation in numbers (especially for the former two), I feel safe in saying that a fair number of the birds were continental migrants. To put it in context, the number of Robins was  over twice the number of resident Blue Tits I counted today (14), and both species were almost literally calling/singing out of every bush! The Siskin were a highlight today, being seen a few times among a roving flock of birds that included Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, Blackcaps, Chifchaffs, Chaffinches and Goldfinches! It's also the second time I've seen grounded migrant Siskin here, having found three among a Goldfinch flock on September 17th.  

thought it's not taken today, it's a picture. and it's kinda relevant...  

Other birds today included 5 Meadow Pipits and 3 Swallows SW. A far cry from the thousands of birds moving over at the weekend, but in conditions like this I didn't expect much of a vismig! Altogether more surprising, though, were 2 SHOVELER, also heading SW low overhead. These were an altogether not too bad 54th bird species I've seen on the patch since 10 September! In fact, when you consider it's an inland site with no wetlands, bar an embanked river and a few ditches, I'm rather happy with that total! other patch regulars today included 8 Magpie, a Green Woodpecker and 3 Treecreeper. And after an hour on the patch, with clothes and feel sodden, I went to school and sat watching the rain, in some odd way wishing I could be back out in it admiring my birds.