Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Grey Days

"Dawn massing in the east her army
                   Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of grey" - Wilfred Owen; Exposure

In a cruel parody today, the birding was about as dull as the weather! With all the snow melted on the coast, a band of freezing fog coming in and an ENE wind to boot, it wasn't really a pleasant day to be out at all! Still, Wednesday is the only day myself and Jake Gearty (one of the very few other young birders in sussex, who also happens to go to College with me!), finish at an early enough time to head out birding, and so, after a train, a McDonalds (I ordered Tropicana in a vain attempt to appear health-conscious) and some swearing and cursing, we were birding by about 1.15.

We were birding an area around Newhaven, East Sussex. Now, I hope this'll work, if not blame blogger, but below this line of text should be a map showing the area!

View Ouse Estuary project and Newhaven Tide Mills in a larger map
The snow that had previously covered the whole area had melted completely overnight, but Thrushes were still everywhere! The fields opposite the A259 contained about 100 Fieldfare, a few Redwing, 20 Lapwing and 4 Curlew. There must have then been about 400 Fieldfare and 200 Redwing as we walked down along the cycle path, but at this point it was spitting rain from the NE at a ferocious speed, and we were both rather miserable! A gorgeous male Stonechat offered brief relief, and I got a yeartick in the form of a drake Gadwall that did a lap of honour over the marshes around Denton Corner. This was also my first record of the species here!

Another first came soon after with two fine female Shovelers, among a loose group of 20 Teal on the flooded basin opposite the cycle path. Maybe these aren't everyone's favourite bird, they certainly aren't as gaudy and beautiful as the males, but they, like all female ducks, always present a bit of an ID challenge and a feeling of self-satisfaction that you just don't get from the males! In this case though, those bills make them pretty hard to mistake, no matter what!
leucistic drake Mallard- © Jake Gearty
 There were still Thrushes everywhere, more Teal were found as we moved on down the cycle path, along with a second male Stonechat. A ratther incongruous surprise was a leucistic drake Mallard being chased and harangued by a decidedly more regular-plumaged male, but the days highlight was just about to come. After I was almost caught out by a Moorhen in flight, Jake spotted a bird feeding at the edge of the reedy channel where the path to the viewing screen forks off from the cycle path to Newhaven. It disappeared back in rather too quickly, but in profile it was clearly a Water Rail! Mercifully, it re-appeared, giving some of the best and most prolongued views either of us had had of the species in some time. I hear them on almost every winter visit here (though surprisingly not today!), but unsurprisingly, I'm not often lucky enough to see one.

© Jake Gearty

Eventually it disappeared again, and we checked the arable fields to our left. These have been doing fairly well for birds recently, with Caspian Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, White-fronted Goose and Brent Goose all being reported in the last moth. There were very few gulls, and the White-fronts clearly weren't around today, but four Brent Geese did show well, presumably the same as those I saw  from the train to school today, and the two yesterday. On one of the flooded flashed were 150 or so Dunlin, an excellent  count for this site, and they were joined by numerous Lapwing, Redshank and 3 Golden Plover, a first record for the area for me.

We followed this up by walking to Newhaven Tide Mills. In short, bad move!! For starters, it meant taking a shortcut through the badlands of Newhaven Docklands, a place that makes Baltimore in The Wire seem like a suitable place to take your family to. Secondly, you could really feel the breeze here, not being in the lee of the South Downs quite so much. Thirdly, we saw jack-all! a handful of Redshank were on the Mill Creek, 40 Fieldfare flew over and there were about 20-30 Song Thrush trying to eke a living from the vegetated shingle, having presumably forgotten far more fertile spots have now thawed out! Feeling rather dejected, we went out separate ways, me the 20-minute walk back to my house and Jake back along the cycle path towards the Ouse Estuary. He told me later he saw the Water Rail, but I was so cold, bitter and tired by the end of such a draining walk that I really didn't regret missing seconds on the bird an awful much!

fyi- for anyone interested, myself and a few other young birders have formed a team blog which I hope will be of interest! There'll hopefully be new stuff on there everyday, with updates from all over the country and all walks of birding! take a look on to have a look, though avoid the current top post unless you want to re-read this(I know, I know, double-posting is a deadly sin, tut tut)! thanks to all readers, whoever you are and whatever tragic reason means you've somehow ended up on this blog :-) 

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