Sunday, 4 December 2016

Rare Wheatears and Starlings (3-4 December 2016)

Sunday 4 December. Having a free morning, Mean was looking at a dog, I decided to try for the Rose-coloured Starling in Crawley. I do not enjoy urban birding and my inclination was to ignore it but I'd not seen one in Britain since 2002 and photos made it look to be in an interesting transitional plumage. Forty-five minutes walking around Beachy Road having seen only 2 Coal Tits and a Mistle Thrush made me wonder if I would have been better off staying at home but others arrived and confirmed I was looking in the right area and soon after the bird flew into a tree in the back garden of number 12. Initial views were somewhat brief and obscured but after disappearing for ten minutes the bird flew back into the original tree by the road where it gave good unobstructed views. It was more impressive than I was expecting and when, ten minutes later, it dropped back out of sight I left well pleased to have made the effort.
Rose-coloured Starling in Crawley with an interesting mix of juvenile and adult feathers
I had seen a juvenile at Portland in December 1989 which I remembered as being rather tatty and singularly unimpressive. It was probably wet and the views were nowhere near as good these although this image doesn't show it at its best


if it stays it will be interesting to see its plumage develop
Saturday 3 December. John King and I went over to Norman's Bay to look for the male Desert Wheatear that had been in the area since Monday. A classy find for Chris Ball. Not having my usual days off during the week I hadn't had an earlier opportunity to go and was convinced it would be a 'Friday night splitter' but John told me the good news that it was already on the pager when we met outside Lewes at 08:00. We arrived and soon saw it feeding along a groyne and being watched by a small gathering. We watched it for three hours and although a strong easterly wind made viewing difficult at times we had excellent views, John greatly improving on those of his previous successful visit (he'd also had an early unsuccessful one). It was a stunning bird and for John well worth revisiting. Heavy swell due to the wind and a high tide, and at times bright sun made checking the scoter flock difficult although there did not appear to be any Velvets amongst the 50+ birds I saw well enough before they disappeared into a trough. We left well pleased with our wheatear views and called in at West Rise Marsh where a quick look on the main pool produced the Slavonian Grebe and Long-tailed Duck we had both seen previously. We continued onto the Cuckmere walking down the west side to view a large gull roost. There were at least 1500 large gulls but they were packed in quite close and nearer the river bank than where we were making most hard to see. At least we had the sun behind us and from a short way up a footpath managed to get out of the wind and gain enough height to look down on the gulls. We scanned the gulls for about 90 minutes picking out one, possibly two, first-winter Caspian Gulls (we saw one, half the flock flew around and dropped back and later we saw another bird that appeared quite similar. I also counted 8 Yellow-legged Gulls in one scan, 7 adults and a third-winter but we couldn't find any adult or near adult Caspians. A very enjoyable day somewhat diminished by my finding that since I'd last used it double yellow lines had been painted on the lay-by where I'd left my car and I'd collected a parking ticket. I'd not noticed the lines in the early morning gloom, although I hadn't really been with it as I also forgot to transfer my wellingtons to John car, not that we ended up needing them. What is the point of a lay-by if you can't park there at anytime?


early view of Desert Wheatear at Norman's Bay
I was very pleased it hadn't departed overnight
this and the next two images were taken as a burst and show it moving from the one side of the groyne to the other
either that or it was caught by an extra strong gust of wind





I had my most enjoyable views along the groyne but as the morning progressed it spent an increasing amount of time hunting from a perch
practising vertical landing, undercarriage down

it kept coming back to this perch which was great, except that most of my several hundred photos of it there look pretty similar





these were a bit different




the gull flock in the lower Cuckmere
rather distant, unfortunately 
Caspian Gull preening left of centre
features other than its very white head are barely discernible in these images
poor image but just about shows bill and head shape and hints at long legs
showing dark tail band, white base and rump and hints at wing pattern

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