Sunday 28 October 2012

The Burgh & Beachy (27-28 October 2012)

26 October: 2 Peregrines at 07:15am on Southwick Power Station chimney in the early morning gloom.  The clocks going back will make cycling to work more pleasant, for a while, but I'd rather have the daylight at the end of the day.  It was much colder on the way home and I felt quite sorry for the 5 Swallows hawking insects over Brighton beach at 5.15pm (but at least it was still light then).  A full set of previously seen colour-ringed Herring Gulls were on the grass at the University of Sussex entrance (A4AH, A4AJ and A5HH).

27 October:  Megan and I spent 2-3 hours quickly walking a circuit of the windswept Burgh, starting from Canada Barn to avoid the Shoreham/lancing roadworks.  It was too cold to hang about but a ring-tailed Hen Harrier flying up the main valley was a very pleasant surprise.  We also saw 3 Buzzards, an unidentified falcon, 12 Grey Partridges, 40+ Sky Larks, a Stonechat and 3 Reed and a Corn Bunting.  I visited the Adur for low tide after a bit of digging in the allotment.  There were no colour-ringed gulls although a Black-headed had a metal ring on.  It was too far away to read and so an opportunity lost by the ringer ...  Six Grey Plovers were my first of the season while 52 Ringed Plover was a reasonable count.

28 October:  Martyn Kenefick and I went over to Birling where we met up with David and John Cooper, Brenda Kay and John King.  Birds seen included Peregrine chasing a Raven, 49 Stock Doves, c1400 Wood Pigeons (but John Marchant had seen 14,000 going out over Holywell and Cow Gap), 12 Swallows, 11 House Martins, 3 Stonechats2 Redwing, 5 Mistle Thrushes, Chiffchaff, Brambling, 6 siskin, 11 Redpoll and a Bullfinch.  Rather disappointing as the conditions had looked quite promising.

metal ringed Black-headed Gull on the Adur

too distant to make out its characters

friendly farmer helpfully shouting directions to one of two birders in a rough field, at least that was my interpretation - "[its] come out of the field ...   by the fence" - never did discover what he'd seen

Thursday 25 October 2012

Worthing Desert Wheatear (25 October 2012)

25 October.  What a superb bird!  I left work early and after cycling home (26 Pied Wagtails along Hove seafront) grabbed my telescope and drove over to Worthing.  I watched the bird feeding on the beach and nearby rocks at Splash Point from about 5pm until it was almost too dark to see at 6.10pm.  An absolute stunner.

Desert Wheatear at Splash Point, Worthing
poor light meant a high ISO or low shutter speed
fortunately it wasn't always moving - no sharp flying gulls at 1/15th for me!
pity it chose the most unsightly post to perch on

it is not often that a small birds legs stand out so much
Earlier in the week a Wheatear on Southwick Beach on 22nd (I did check it for something rarer), Black Redstart by the lock-gates on 23rd, 1-2 Peregrines on the power Station chimney and Herring Gull A4AJ at the University.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Beachy Head & Hove Sabine's Gull (21 October 2012)

21 October.  After yesterday's success Beachy seemed worth another go despite an pretty indifferent forecast.  I met John King outside the University, giving us a chance to cancel just in case the weather was worse than expected.  Fortunately it wasn't and JK drove me over to Birling where we arrived at 7.30 am just after Doreen, John & David Cooper and Brenda Kay.  First bird up the lane was a Black Redstart and a strong easterly passage of Goldfinches was evident.  The Siberian Stonechat was performing along the original fences by the road back to East Dean although viewing was often into the rain.  The light was duller than yesterday which made it look more contrasting but again I failed to see the axilliaries (thanks to Bob Edgar for correcting me on the name of these feathers).  After another couple of hours with the stonechat JK and I covered the rest of the top of the head, leaving Belle Tout to others.  I saw 12 Gannets,  Little Egret, Grey Heron, 2 Sparrowhawks, 2 Peregrines, 4 Stock Dove, 60 Swallows, 30 House Martins, 51 Pied Wagtails, Black Redstart, a late Whinchat, Siberian Stonechat, just 3 Stonechats (keeping their heads down), 2 Ring Ouzels, 5 Chiffchaffs, 4 Goldcrests, 1600 Goldfinches,  4 Redpolls, 220 Linnets and a Reed Bunting.

Siberian Stonechat still along the fence at Birling and showing whitish throat, supercilium (at  this angle) very plain underparts and black flight feathers

this photo shows the long primaries but the supercilium disappears
Hearing that a Sabine's Gull had been seen again along hove seafront we came back that way, seeing our only Jay of the day fly over the road in Seaford.  We parked near hove police station (no charge on Sundays) from where it was a 5 minute walk down Holland Road to the sea.  Shortly after we arrived Mick Davies picked up the bird flying along over the sea from the west level with Brunswick Square.  It landed on the water and in the next two hours was watched walking around on the promenade oblivious to all but the closest people.  When disturbed it would fly at little above head high before pitching down on the prom again, although it did go missing on a couple of occasions and did land on the sea briefly again.  Also a Wheatear on Hove beach was particularly pleasing as we'd looked for but not found a couple at Beachy.   Another excellent day in Sussex, and how often can one say that.

Sabine's Gull on the sea off  Hove

flying over the promenade
flying west along Hove promenade
juvenile Sabine's Gull on Hove promenade

very approachable, it caused quite a stir amongst birders and  promenaders alike even though it was very well camouflaged and many walked right past without seeing it. 

many thanks to someone for an absolutely superb find

I was particularly taken with the black smudge in front of the eye

Saturday 20 October 2012

Beachy Head and Siberian Stonechat (20 October 2012)

20 October.  Martyn Kenefick is over from Trinidad and I picked him up from his mum's house in Hove just before 7am.  We got to Birling at 7.30 and joined John King in covering the usual areas up to Beachy Head, but not the cliff path or rides.  There was just about enough about or flying over to hold one interest with 4 Ring Ouzels in Shooter's Bottom and a flock of 5 Wood Lark flying over the hotel garden calling our best sightings.  MK needed to be back in Hove and we left Birling at about 12.30pm but had only gone 250m down the road back to East Dean when I spotted a pale looking stonechat type on the wire by the road which when flushed as we went past seemed to have a very pale rump.  I immediately stopped and we quickly saw the bird further along the wire.  It was a stonechat-type and it was pale and it did have a very pale peachy rump!  I told JK, who was just behind us and wondered why we'd stopped, that I thought it was probably a Siberian Stonechat and desperately tried to remember the relevant field characters while getting some digital images.  A quick reference to a field guide reinforced my view and we tried to contact some local observers but with only limited success.  We watched the bird for about half an hour during which time I got about 50 images of it.  It remained faithful to the roadside fence but a succession of cars, cyclists and pedestrians proved too much f r it and it flew back into the large weedy field near Birling.  Here it was lost, possibily chased off by the local stonechats, and after 20 minutes of not relocating it we had to leave.  Fortunately it was relocated by David Cooper on the bank behind the bus stop and performed until dusk being seen by a number of observers.  Apparently still a British Birds rarity - my first such find for years ...

Birds seen at Beachy included Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Peregrine, 500+ Wood Pigeons, 39 Sky Lark, 5 Wood Lark, 105 Swallows, 25 House Martins, 14 Pied Wagtails, 6 Stonechats, Siberian Stonechat, 4 Ring Ouzels, Redwing, 6 Song Thrushes, 2 blackcaps, 23 Chiffchaff, 26 Goldcrests, 12 Jays (4W at Birling, of which I only saw one and 7E then W over Belle Tout when picked up an 8th), 405 Goldfinches, 8 Siskins, 5 Redpoll, 6 Corn and 4 Reed Buntings.

Siberian Stonechat at Birling - note white throat, pale underparts (colour more like a Whinchat), very black wings and tail and stong hint of a supercilium

a bit blurred but showing the extensive, unstreaked, very pale peachy rump (I'm not able to take photos of moving subjects at 1/15th second and get them pin sharp - ExIf data will shows this had shutter speed on 1/160th)

showing paler than stonechat upperparts too

showing white throat and the supercilium appearing more prominent

the supercilium was more prominent when viewed head on
note the pale unstreaked rump, black tertials with thick pale, buff edges, lack of white in base of the tail, long primary projection and white throat.  The nape also appears quite cold but at this angle the supercilium is quite indistinct

another view of rump, tertials primary projection and tail

tertial edges showing well although the flank feathers are  obscuring the flight feathers.  The supercilium is hardly noticeable from this angle

showing the rump to be as pale as the underparts, in flight it contrasted very well with the black tail 

another view showing the rump and long primaries
rump and tail in flight, although this shot could be anything 

lovely bird, even when trying to pass itself off as a Whinchat!

Corn Bunting at Birling

15-19 October.  Cycling to work I only saw a Peregrine on the Power station chimney twice.  At least it is still light, just about, both ways, but only for another week.  Herring Gulls A4AH and A4AJ were seen at the University of Sussex and a lunch hour in Stanmer Park produced 2 Nuthatches but very little else.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Beachy Head (14 October 2012)

I met John King at Birling at 07:15 having had to scrape my car windscreen for the first time this autumn.  We covered all the normal areas on top to as far as the rides above the eastern side of Whitbread Hollow.  There was good early visible migration, most notably pigeons (a sure sign that autumn is getting on), but a clear night seemed to have cleaned out most of the smaller land birds.  Fortunately Ring Ouzels were still present, and performing better than previously.

In 7 hours I saw 4 Sparrowhawks, 2 Buzzard, 3 Peregrines, at least 35 Stock Doves (most pigeon flocks included one or two), 2000 Wood Pigeons (flocks were counted in 50s so a more accurate count than it may seem), 3 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 80 Swallows, 70 House Martins, 47 Pied Wagtails, Grey Wagtail, 21 Robins, 12+ Ring Ouzels, Blackcap (just one!), 6 Chiffchaffs, 12 Goldcrest, Firecrest (in the hotel garden), 16 Great Tits (more obvious than usual), 6 Jays (2 at Birling, 2 at Shooter's Bottom and 2 over Whitbread Hollow), 600 Jackdaws, Raven, 590 Goldfinches, 28 Siskin, 7 Redpolls and 5 Reed Bunting.

We saw at least 10 Ring Ouzels in Shooter's Bottom with 2 or 3 more seen in the hotel garden and at least one heard in both France's Bottom and Whitbread Hollow (where I'd seen 2 and 4 respectively the previous day).  At Shooter's Bottom they were favouring the north east quadrant but were keeping out of sight most of the time.  On one occasion 7 got up and flew across towards us in a loose flock, most appearing to be males - a wonderful sight.

juvenile Ring Ouzel in Shooter's Bottom
considered to be a female as the throat is paler than the breast, at least that is my reading of Svensson's ID Guide to European Passerines!

close foliage being annoying
another Ring Ouzel at Shooter's Bottom, nice of it to sit up , pity it wouldn't turn around ...
the rounded tail feathers in autumn suggest an adult
and the white crescent, the edge of which is just visible here, a male. Stunning birds whatever.
Low tide on the Adur was its usual disappointment - 1 bait-digger, 1 Little Egret, 15 Ringed Plover, 6 Redshanks and few gulls (no colour-rings).

Saturday 13 October 2012

Beachy Head (13 October 2012)

With the days drawing in I won't be cycling to and from work in daylight for much longer, unfortunately, although a busy week meant that some return journeys ended in darkness -definitely time to put some new batteries in my lights.  A Peregine was seen on Southwick chimney twice, a Grey Wagtail over Brighton and colour-ringed Herring gulls A4AH and A4AJ at Sussex University, where both had been ringed (as adults) in 2007.

I got away on time on Thursday and, with the lock-gates open as a cargo ship was going out, I cycled on to the East Arm of Shoreham Harbour.  There I was rewarded with a nice view of a Purple Sandpiper, 3 Turnstones and a Rock Pipit.  It is not often that I thank the Shoreham Harbour lock-gates for being open, although as one side or the other must always be closed it is beyond me why cyclists and pedestrians can't be directed across the western lock-gate when the eastern one is open to boats.

the hyper-efficient Gatun Lock, Panama Canal, August 1985.  Shoreham could learn a few things from them.
13 October.  I made the basic mistake of believing the previous evenings weather forecast and anticipating a nice sunny day left home just after 6 a.m. to start at Shooter's Bottom at dawn.  To make matters worse, as I anticipated doing a fair amount of walking, I left my umbrella behind.  I arrived at 7 a.m. to find it hardly light, just starting to rain and with heavy black clouds heading my way.  The rain got progressively heavier and I got quite wet in my not-so waterproof trousers before it finally blew over and the sun came out.  Until then I was rather wishing I'd been due a flu jab which had kept JK away although I ended up having a fairly satisfying day.   I covered all the usual areas on the Head including Cow Gap beach and Whitbread Hollow although by the time I got to Birling (done last rather than first) there was little to be seen there.  I recorded 4 Sparrowhawks, 3 Stock Dove, 500 Wood Pigeons, Great Spotted Woodpecker, 25+ Sky Larks, 85 Swallows, 4 House Martins, 67 Pied Wagtails, 22 Robins, 7 Ring Ouzels (2 in France's Bottom, 4 in Whitbread Hollow and 1 in the hotel garden), 21 Blackbirds, Whitethroat (east of Belle Tout Wood), 17 Blackcaps, 64 Chiffchaff, a late Willow Warbler along the cliff path, 7 Goldcrests, 4 Firecrests, 15 Jays (10W and 5 around Whitbread Hollow), 2 Ravens (over the hotel and again tumbling over Belle Tout lighthouse), Brambling (heard only), 470 Goldfinches, 2+ Siskins (several others heard) and 3 Redpoll.   Unfortunately none of the Ring Ouzels gave particularly good views.  I only saw 2 perched and those were not for long enough to digiscope.  In addition 4 Ring Ouzels were seen in Shooter's Bottom after I left there.

Few gulls, a Little Egret and 2 Redshank were on the Adur at low tide although it was hardly worth looking.  Finally 8 Blackbirds in our small back garden at dusk.

Raven at Beachy, regularly seen these days but they still give me a thrill
Whitethroat at Beachy, or did I just overlook a Swainson's Thrush?
no birds on the Adur (as is usually the case for me) but an interesting sky
Aurora adurensis

Sunday 7 October 2012

Beachy Head (7 October 2012)

1-5 October.  Cycling to work, some days in poor weather, produced 5 Ringed Plover on Southwick Beach on 1st, a Robin in the fenced off area there on 3rd and 2 Wheatears on the beach on 4th.  Only one Peregrine was seen all week.

6 October.  With some chores to do on Saturday 6th I decided to try Cissbury Ring when the early rain stopped.  Migrants were in short supply although there was a constant trickle of Swallows moving west with 75 seen in two hours along with 7 House Martins.  Birds around the ring included 2 Sparrowhawks, Buzzard, Green & Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a male Blackcap, 12 Chiffchaffs, 4 Goldcrests, a smart Spotted Flycatcher, 6 Long-tailed Tits, 5 Jays, 80 Goldfinches and best of all 2 juvenile Bullfinches.  A low tide visit to the Adur produced 1 bait-digger, 7 Ringed Plover, 12 Redshank and no gulls.

7 October.  I met John King at Birling just after 7 am on Sunday and we covered all the areas between there and the rides above Whitbread Hollow.  It was a better day than either visit on the previous weekend although again no Ring Ouzel or  Firecrest was disappointing.  The main event, at least in the first hour or so, was an easterly passage of Goldfinches although I particularly enjoyed a some flocks of Jays and a westerly movement of Blue Tits.  I saw Peregrine, 2 Stock Dove, 200+ Wood Pigeons,  Short-eared Owl, Green & 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 27 Sky Larks, 150 Swallows, 30 House Martins, 66 Pied Wagtails (all but 2 flying east), 21 Dunnocks,  Black and Common Redstarts (one of each in the old trapping area), 14 Stonechats, Wheatear, Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, 5 Blackcaps, 40 Chiffchaffs, 3 Goldcrests, Spotted Flycatcher, 90 Blue Tits (of which 71 were flying west in groups of up to 18), 15-40 Jays  (15E then 5W, 5E, 14E & 1W mostly in the Belle Tout area), 975 Goldfinches (of which 795 were flying E in flocks of up to 80), 185 Linnets, 9 Siskin (and several others heard), 6 Redpoll, 12 Corn Buntings and 3 Reed Buntings.

After finishing at Beachy we called in at Harry's Bush, Seaford Head and almost immediately I briefly saw the Yellow-browed Warbler that Matt Eade had kindly phoned JK about.  We waited another 90 minutes or so and although it called a couple of times it did not reappear in that time.  Not an easy site to work although a few Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests showed well.  A frog JK found in the field there was almost as impressive as the warbler.

2 of a flock of 14 Jays at Beachy
Jay in scrub near Belle Tout lighthouse
brilliant to see in an unusual setting
Redstart in the old trapping area
frog near Harry's Bush