Thursday, 3 December 2020

Buntings beyond borders (02 December)

Wednesday 02 December. With lockdown over and a reasonable forecast I decided to leave Sussex and venture across the border into Surrey and go to Ockley Common to look for the wintering (we hope) Little and Rustic Buntings. I was enthused to do so by Matt Palmer who'd recently seen them and provided me with on-site directions. It was little over 40 miles away and most of it on the A283 so I really had no excuses not to. I arrived on site at about 08:45 and was encouraged that both birds had been seen although neither for a while. A few Reed Buntings were flitting around and within a couple of minutes I had a brief view of the Rustic Bunting and saw the Little Bunting equally briefly ten minutes later. It then took over an hour for another view of either but during the course of the morning I had some nice views and managed a few photographs. Also seen were 7 Goldcrests, a Stonechat, 5 Redpolls, 8 Crossbills (5 males), 6 Goldfinches and 3 Siskins. I was back at the car at 13:00 but decided to come straight home rather than calling in anywhere on the way back as it was rather dull and my feet were only just defrosting. It was my first Rustic Bunting since a very smart male found by Tony Wilson on West Hove Golf Course in spring 2002 and my first view of a UK Little Bunting lasting more than 5 seconds since 1994.

Little Bunting on Ockley Common



Rustic Bunting on Ockley Common





Thursday 03 December. Poor weather and another visit to the dentist meant no birding, but I did get to use my concessionary bus pass for the first (and second) time.








Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Losing 1-2 to Snow Buntings and goose successes (26 November - 1 December)

Tuesday 01 December. I took Cookie to Dacre Gardens, we crossed the Adur and walked down to Coombes seeing a Great Spotted Woodpecker and 5 Fieldfares. Walking back north we saw 6 White-fronted Geese in the field immediately south of the A283 but reaching for my phone to put out the news I realised I'd left it in the car. Unbeknown to me until I was able to check my phone Matthew Palmer had seen the geese while driving past, stopped at High Trees to identify them and put the news out.

White-fronted Geese and 'pig city' from the Adur riverbank
five of the six White-fronted Geese seen from the riverbank just south of the A283
White-fronted Geese and Bramber Castle

Monday 30 November Megan and I took Cookie to Brooklands where we saw 2 Teal, Kingfisher, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, 2 Coal and 8 Long-tailed tits, Chiffchaff and 7 Goldcrests. Back home I was about to set off for Arlington for my third attempt at seeing a Snow Bunting in under a week when news came through a flock of White-fronted Geese being there too and Beans and White-fronted Geese in the Cuckmere. I needed no further encouragement to head east. Edward Paxton was watching the Snow Bunting when I arrived. It was right by the bank but soon flew to the water's edge. I walked on to see the 20 White-fronted Geese in the hope it would be a bit closer when I returned. It was and in very little time I managed to take 5-600 photos of it. Well it was close and is one of my favourite birds. Walking back to the car a message told me the Cuckmere geese had flown north over the A259. I decided to stop at High and Over and can from there. It worked with the Lammergeier and did so with the Cuckmere Geese. First I picked up 7 White-fronted Geese just north of Charleston Reedbed and then, with a bit of help from those watching from Friston Forest, the 7 Beans and 15 White-fronted Geese to the south. Distant but having the extra height helped. In the far distance I could see a moderately sized gull flock in the Cuckmere and decided to check them rather than Friston Forest for better views of the geese. In hindsight it wasn't my best decision. I saw single Brent and Barnacle Geese, 400 Great and 20 Lesser Black-backed Gulls , 55 Sky Larks and 30+ Pied Wagtails. Amongst the gulls was a sleeping individual that might have been an adult Yellow-legged but it never moved in the time I was there.

Teal at Brooklands

half the Arlington White-fronted Goose flock



Snow Bunting on the dam at Arlington Reservoir
quite a relief after recent failures in West Sussex
a brilliant bird, and one of my favourites, especially when seen well





sadly it had an issue with its right foot which it repeatedly picked at
sitting a lot may have been a consequence



five of the seven White-fronted Geese north of Charleston viewed from High and Over
Cuckmere Bean Geese from High and Over
gulls in the Cuckmere - the rear sleeping bird was the only one warranting a better view but it never moved

Seven Sisters and Cuckmere Haven

Sunday 29 November. I left home early and was at Chichester Marina well before dawn. I gave it until 07:15 hearing Water Rail and Cetti's Warbler before heading on to East Head. There were already 19 cars in the car park but much less disturbance in the Snow Buntings favoured area. I'd taken a stool and sat overlooking the area for two hours. Disturbance was much less and I was initially hopeful. Six Sky Larks, and 11 Meadow Pipits were coming and going and 2-3 Pied Wagtails were around most of the time but no sign of the Snow Buntings and again I gave up. Returning to the car via Snowhill Marsh I saw 3 Red-breasted Mergansers, 48 Sanderling, Greenshank, 2 adult and 2 juvenile Sandwich Terns, 2 Jays and 4 Stonechats.  Another couple of hours at Chichester Marina at least provided views of Kingfisher, Cetti's Warbler and 2 Chiffchaffs but low flying Pheasants over the reedbed were the closest I came to a Bittern. Maybe if I'd not gone to Specsavers ... Cold and boredom became the better of me an I gave up on bittern too. This time I made sure I was looking out for the Sherwood Rough layby and climbed up to the clearing where I spent a couple of hours overlooking the valley to the south. In the first hour I saw at least 11 Hawfinches flying around and sitting in tree tops, mostly ones and twos but once 8 flew across from the west while there were already 3 in trees to my left. Also seen were Coal and Marsh Tit, 3 Redwings, 2 Mistle Thrushes, a Nuthatch, 10 Greenfinches and 4 Crossbills. Finishing with an hour at the Black Rabbit at Arundel produced 5 Egyptian Geese and a Little Egret into Arundel WWT and 5 Marsh Harriers flying north. Again no Barn Owl and news of the East Head Snow Buntings being seen after I'd left just about summed up my day. At least Lewis Hamilton won the Bahrain Grand Prix although Romain Grosjean's crash looked horrific.

Chichester Marina reedbed
Cetti's Warbler at Chichester Marina



Hawfinch at Sherwood Rough



Saturday 28 November
. I seawatched at Widewater from 07:35-08:35 in a light NE wind with the Rampion hardly visible. Flying east were 5 Brent Geese, a Common Scoter, Kittiwake, unidentified auk, 13 close Red-throated Divers and 3 Gannets. A Great Crested Grebe and a Guillemot flew west and a pair of Wigeon, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers were on the sea. Two Sanderling were with 13 Turnstones on the beach and 8 Little Grebes and a Kingfisher on the lagoon making it my best visit in a while. Two Purple Sandpipers and 10 Turnstones were on the wooden jetty at Shoreham Fort where I was pleased to see shingle moving doesn't happen at weekends. Checking the Selsey blog in the evening I discover the East Head Snow Buntings had been seen again and also the Bittern at Chichester Marina. Later Nick Preston told me he'd seen a Bittern at South Gare several mornings running just before dawn which had me thinking I should head west again.

Sanderling and Turnstone on the beach at Widewater
Kingfisher at Widewater

Grey Heron at Widewater

Friday 27 November. I went to East Head hoping to see the two Snow Buntings that had been present for a couple of days. Arriving soon after 09:00 I spent a couple of hours looking over their favoured area but they did not show. An almost constant procession of walkers, most with two or more dogs, probably didn't help and I assumed they had moved on. While there and at Snowhill Marsh I saw 650 Brent Geese, 2 Eider, Avocet, 2 Golden Plover, 27 Black-tailed Godwits, 39 Sanderling, 2 Greenshank and a male Stonechat. A brief visit to Chichester Marina produced 4 Tufted Duck, a Water Rail heard and 3 Fieldfares. That the Bittern might appear in the half-hour I was there seemed a very long shot. Dell Quay was little better with a Greenshank and 3 Sandwich Terns the highlight. I'd intended stopping at Sherwood Rough but unintentionally drove past the lay-by and so rather than turn back I continued on to Arundel. A slippery walk along the Mill Stream to the Black Rabbit was very quiet, apart from me squelching through the mud, with only a Great Spotted Woodpecker to show for it. Watching from the latter for an hour from 15:30 produced at least 4 Marsh Harriers, probably 5 or 6, flying in to the WWT reedbed and heading out again. Eventually 4 flew north up the valley as did 2 Egyptian Geese and a Peregrine. Two egrets came into the WWT reedbed from the south, both were probably Little Egrets, the first certainly was. A Tawny Owl was heard but no Barn Owls were seen. All in all a rather disappointing day.

Sanderling at East Head

they really are quite nice when seen well

Thursday 26 November. Megan and I took Cookie along the boardwalk to Shoreham Fort seeing just 4 Turnstones, there was a lot of shingle moving going on which probably didn't help. At low tide on the Adur I saw 2 Grey Plovers, 19 Dunlin, 9 Redshank, 2 Little Egrets and a Kingfisher but very few gulls.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Adur and Arun (19-25 November)

Wednesday 25 November. I took Cookie up to the Lancing Ring car park from where we walked a triangle past Cowbottom Hovel (love that name) to Combe Copse then up past Combe Head to the corner of Steepdown and back along its eastern side. In just under 3 hours I saw 30 species, the more interesting being a melanistic Pheasant, 7 Stock Doves, 2 Buzzards, 4 Kestrels, 320 Carrion Crows, 31 Sky Larks, 2 Redwings, a Song and 2 Mistle Thrushes, 3 Stonechats, 21 Pied Wagtails, 45 Meadow Pipits and 35 Corn Buntings. Mid afternoon I visited the Adur, just after high tide. I saw 110 Lapwings, the partially white-headed Grey Plover, Curlew, 10 Redshank, 25 Great Black-backed, 350+ Herring and a Yellow-legged Gull and a Kingfisher. There were few smaller gulls and none on the usually reliable Cuckoos Corner sandbar, I was too late arriving there, whatever birds had been present having gone off to roost.

Stonechat near Cowbottom Hovel
melanistic Pheasant near Steepdown
Corn Bunting near Steepdown
Robin at Lancing Ring
Great Black-backed Gull JJ859
it was ringed when a chick at Langholmen, Strand, Rogaland, Norway in July 2018 and seen Parc du Marquenterre, Baie de Somme in September 2019

Yellow-legged Gull on the Adur
rather dull legs and bill so perhaps not fully adult


a strikingly bleached and tatty looking Herring Gull on the Adur

another Great Black-backed Gull with a flounder

too large to swallow, stabbing and picking was more successful

Tuesday 24 November. Megan and I took Cookie up to the Beeding Hill car park and walked a circuit down past Golding Barn, on to Windmill Hill and back up the Bostal. We saw 6 Sky Larks, and on the drive back a flock of 12-15 Goldfinches. Disappointing. Later I visited the Adur at low tide seeing 107 Lapwings, 4 Grey Plover, 6 Dunlin and 11 Redshank. Amongst about 600 gulls (270 Commons) were 3 with colour-rings. The two I could read I'd previously seen.

North Thames Herring Gull Y4NT, also seen on the Adur in late October, was ringed as a 2CY at Pitsea, Essex in January 2018
Herring Gull with, at least from where I was, an unreadable (perhaps faded?) ring. Almost certainly a North Thames bird
Dutch Black-headed Gull EH9M near Cuckoos Corner
it was ringed as nestling at Griend, The Netherlands in July 2016, seen there in Spring/early Summer in 2018 and 2019 and on the Adur in mid February and early March 2020

Monday 23 November. I took Cookie up to Mill Hill. On a lovely calm, mild morning I saw 2 Blackcaps, 19 Blackbirds, 15 Song Thrushes, 13 Robins, 3 Wrens, 2 Bullfinches and 4 Goldfinches. My best visit for a while. In the afternoon Megan, Cookie and I walked along the north side of Southwick Canal seeing a Kingfisher and 90 House Sparrows in fading light.

Song Thrush on Mill Hill
one of 15 seen, my best showing there this autumn


Sunday 22 November
. I met David Buckingham at Pulborough at 08:00 and we spent all morning walking around. On the North and South Brooks I saw several hundred Canada, 10 Greylag and 3 Egyptian Geese, 9 Shelduck, 60 Shoveler, 1700 Wigeon, 310 Pintail, 600 Teal, 200 Lapwings, 350 Black-tailed Godwits, 6 Ruff, Little Egret, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Great Spotted Woodpecker, male and female Merlins, Raven, 2 Marsh Tits, Chiffchaff, 11 Long-tailed Tits, 6 Goldcrests, 8 Fieldfares, 8 Redwings, 2 Mistle Thrushes, 3 Stonechats, Nuthatch and 28 Greenfinches. From the Mill viewpoint at Rackham DB eventually picked out the 2 White-fronted Geese from amongst at least 250+ Canada and 50 Greylags. We also saw 5+ Shoveler, 100+ Wigeon, 10 + Pintail, 500+ Teal (I wasn't counting ducks that carefully), 200+ Lapwings, 220 Black-tailed Godwits, Buzzard, Kingfisher
Great Spotted Woodpecker and 3 Stonechats. At the Burgh just before dusk were a Red-legged and 24 Grey Partridges, 5 Red Kites, Buzzard, a distant Short-eared Owl and 3 Ravens. Returning home DB stopped ahead of me, he'd a superb Barn Owl in his headlights. The perfect finish to a very enjoyable day. 
Marsh Tit at Pulborough
the first time I've noticed the pale patch near the base of the bill

female Merlin at Pulborough
the rather strikingly plumaged Ruff at Pulborough
the pale pink legs and bill might suggest it's a partial albino?
Red Kite at the Burgh
Red Kites and Raven at the Burgh



Saturday 21 November
. I seawatched from Widewater from 07:30-09:00 in a moderate to strong SW wind with good visibility and just a few spots of rain. I saw  3 Common Scoter, a close Razorbill, a Red-throated Diver, and 2 Gannets flying east and the 3 Common Scoter, 4 Brent Geese, Red-breasted Merganser, Purple Sandpiper, adult Mediterranean Gull, 5 distant auks and 7 Gannets flying west. It was a decent seawatch by recent Widewater's standard with the Razorbill my first in Sussex this year. A quick look at the Adur opposite the airfield produced a Kingfisher and 49 Great Black-backed Gulls including a Norwegian colour-ringed bird I'd seen before. I met Megan, Nessa and Cookie at Mill Hill but a Kestrel was the best bird seen while there, with a couple of Goldfinches heard. We could see the tide was still low when we finished, so I returned to the Adur and spent another 90 minutes checking the gulls as the tide came in. Amongst over 500 Herring Gulls were 3 with North Thames colour-rings. Checking at home I discovered that one was new for me and my 200th colour-ringed gull on the Adur. The Kingfisher was still present with 98 Lapwings, 3 Grey Plovers, 7 Dunlin, a first-winter Mediterranean Gull and a Grey Wagtail.

Great Black-backed Gull JC383 on the Adur. 
It was ringed as chick at Vestre Landekvistholmen, Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway 04/07/16, seen Brennevinsmyra, Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway 09/10/16, Boulogne-sur-Mer "bassin Loubet", Pas-de-Calais, France 18/04/17, Newhaven Harbour beach 7&24/11/17, Adur 04/11/18, Newhaven 25/11/18, Brennevinsmyra, Mandal, Vest-Agder 16/05/19, Adur 13/10/20 

Herring Gull Z5RT on the Adur. Until today it had only been reported in 2016. It was ringed as 2CY at Pitsea, Essex in January, seen at Beddington later that month, there and at Little Marlow GP (Bucks) in March, Rotherhithe in April and on the Adur in December
Herring Gull D5KT on the Adur. My 200th colour-ringed gull on the Adur. It appears to have been ringed as 3CY+ at Pitsea, Essex in November 2014 and was seen in Brighton in April 2015 and Beddington in May and November 2015
Herring Gull G2JT on the Adur
it was ringed as 1CY at Pitsea, Essex in November 2014, seen at Shoreham Harbour in January 2015, Pitsea and Beddingham in October 2015, on the Adur and at Beddingham November 2015, Beddingham in January 2016, Pitsea that February, the Thames Barrier Park in August 2017 and the Adur in December 2019 and January 2020
Herring Gull on the Adur, it appeared to have a white and black colour-ring although my brief views suggested it was a bit of plastic
first-winter Mediterranean Gull on the Adur
Kingfisher on the Adur

Friday 20 November
. I took Cookie to the Adur but realised I'd forgotten her lead. I used the short one that keeps her on the back seat of the car but it wasn't easy carrying a telescope and after a quick look (5 Grey Plovers, 2 Dunlin and very few gulls) decided Cuckoos Corner, where I could let her off the lead, would be easier. We checked the sandbank north of the A27 but there were few gulls present. none were interesting so we walked north up the river. We were about level with New Erringham Farm when a bird scarer went off in the middle of the next field. It might not have disturbed any birds nearby but Cookie was off back to the car and had gone 300m before slowing down to see where I was. We returned, checking the sandbar for gulls again. It was now almost covered and no gulls were present. We saw Sparrowhawk, 8 Sky Larks and 3 Stonechats. I had a damp cycle ride to our dentist in Hove for over an hour of root canal work and was glad I'd taken some lights for the journey home. 

Thursday 19 November. Megan and I walked down the east side of the Adur from the Old Toll Bridge, across the Norfolk Bridge to the Dogs Trust and back up the west side beside the airport. We saw 65 Lapwings, 2 Grey Plover, Sparrowhawk, Kingfisher, 19 Sky Larks, a pair of Stonechats and 6 Meadow Pipits.

Kingfisher by the Dogs Trust creek
male Stonechat opposite the airport