Saturday, 22 December 2012

Lewes, Newhaven and Cuckmere in the rain and murk (22 December 2012)

22 December.  I tried unsuccessfully for the Lewes Waxwings during lunchtime on Thursday 20th although it was a good excuse to take the car to work rather than cycle on another wet and windy day.  They were still being seen so I retuned to Mayhew Way on Saturday morning arriving at about 9.15.  At 9.30, by which time Dave Cooper and Brenda Kay had arrived, seven flew in and I watched them in the rain continually for two hours getting a few poor photos, not helped initially by inadvertently setting the camera to 1/320sec which gave some very dark results.

Two of seven Waxwings by Mayhew Road, Lewes
Waxwing along Mayhew Road, Lewes
By now John King had arrived and we decided to see if we could find any interesting gulls in the Newhaven/Cuckmere area.  First we tried Newhaven Harbour as the tide was low although few gulls were on the beach and the main attraction was 5 Fulmars flying along the cliffs apparently prospecting.  There were hundreds of gulls by the Ouse project although one had to almost look directly into the rain to see them and most were standing back on.  Nothing was evident amongst those we could see from the shelter of the car, although we were not helped by being on the east side of the road with our viewing interrupted by traffic.  With the rain easing off we got out of the car and started to go through the flock more seriously but I'd only got half way through when they all flew off.  We continued to the Cuckmere where Dave Cooper had found three Caspian Gulls north of the Golden Galleon the previous Sunday (while I'd been to see the Hobbit).  A lot of gulls flying south down the valley was not a good sign as we drove over the hill from Seaford and the fields were very flooded but there were still reasonably numbers of mainly Greater Black-backed Gulls north of the road.  We checked these without finding anything and  as the rain had eased off we walked further north where a more mixed flock was partially obscured behind hedges.  An adult Mediterranean Gull and a pair of South African (Cape) Shelduck were present there while I had a very brief view of an interesting gull which immediately flew south.  Half the other gulls flew too but started drifting back and while we were waiting hoping more might do so Dave Cooper phoned to say he'd found a third-winter Caspian Gull just north of the Golden Galleon - presumably in the Greater Black-backed Gull flock we'd earlier dismissed!  We joined David five minutes later and he pointed out a bird, fast asleep half way across the valley and directly head on!  A brilliant bit of spotting.  Eventually it woke up and we were able to see enough on it to agree with the identification although subsequent examination of David's images suggests it was an advanced second-winter rather than a retarded third winter.  It was also not the bird David had originally seen, which was a third-winter.   I left John and David to find my dome lens cover which I'd dropped near the further flock and by the time I'd returned David had refound the third winter, this one with a yellow ring on its right leg.  It was also asleep and head on and by now the murk had descended but eventually it showed well enough for me to just about identify it.  David left and a few gulls flew off, including the original third winter, while some of the others moved around revealing an adult Caspian Gull amongst them (either that of it had just dropped in).   A very satisfying day despite very poor weather and rubbish photos.  Later discussions with David suggested that the adult might have been the unringed bird he saw the previous Sunday as it too was characterised by a very flat head.  My only image of it is not worth showing being just a blurry sleeping grey mantled white headed gull.  It had a pure white head with forward positioned bullet hole dark eye, long thin slightly drooping bill, long neck, darker than argenteus Herring Gull mantle, long wings, extending well beyond the tail, white tip to p10 which was more white than black, dull long thin legs and a sagging vent.  I did not note a capybara in its gullet and it didn't do any giraffe impressions as it soon sat down to sleep. 

very poor shot of sleeping presumed second-winter Caspian Gull (3rd from right and slightly side on)
the same bird with its head up.  Much better photos at

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