Saturday 31 December 2016

Dungeness, Birling and Shoreham (29-31 December 2016)

Saturday 31 December. A visit to Shoreham Fort when the mist cleared produced 2 Purple Sandpipers on the wooden jetty, a Rock Pipit on the west arm and 7 Razorbills on a flat calm sea. On the way back a Greenshank was roosting with the Redshank by the houseboats.
Greenshank with Redshank on the Adur Saltings
Friday 30 December.  A very foggy walk around Birling and Crowlink with Megan, Nessa, Ruth, Emma & Cookie. So much for the BBC weather saying it would be clear from mid morning. I heard a Raven and saw a Rock Pipit.

Thursday 29 December. A quickly arranged trip to Dungeness with John King where we saw the female Stejneger's Stonechat, male Ring-necked Duck, a male and 2 female Goosanders, 7 Tree Sparrows and a Marsh Harrier but otherwise it was very quiet with hardly any gulls about and we didn't even bump into a Great White Egret. Nice to have a brief chat with Martin Casemore too.
Stejneger's Stonechat at Dungeness
it rarely sat still for any length of time
and when it did it was often back on

a very nice bird
Ring-necked Duck about to dive
it was surprisingly active

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Serin at Newhaven (28 December 2016)

Wednesday 28th. I was rather shocked to discover that I had not seen a Serin in Sussex (or Britain) since June 2002 and with the Newhaven bird appearing to be being seen more regularly I thought I'd better give it a go.  I arrived at 08:20 just after an initial view. It then went missing until Jon Curson saw it about an hour and a half later. I was talking to him at the time, through a gap in a wall and it appeared on his side and I missed it. It finally showed well about half an hour later. Rather nice. I then went to the Cuckmere to check the gull flock but virtually all the 550-600 birds present were Great Black-backs with only 15 Lessers and 25 Herrings. Disappointing but I'd had a very good run on my previous December visits. In the afternoon I took Cookie to Beeding Brooks where I saw a Barn and at least 4 Short-eared Owls, all rather distant making a scope necessary. I find negotiating stiles tricky with a scope at the best of times but add a dog on a lead and they take on a whole new level of difficulty. Only two of the owls were seen flying, both Short-eared, while later 4 Short-eareds were visible at once, two sitting on fences, one on a gate and one in a tree while the Barn Owl was also sat in a tree over towards the river bank.

Serin at Newhaven Tidemills
my first in Sussex for rather too many years
it very much kept to itself, shunning small groups of Chaffinches, Linnets and Goldfinches and a flock of 40+ Greenfinches. It was mostly feeding on the ground out of sight and only flying or sitting up infrequently.  

Tuesday 27th. Hardly any wind so it was no great surprise that nothing was moving off Shoreham Fort when I took Cookie for an early morning walk. Just one Purple Sandpiper on the wooden jetty and 6 Turnstones on the beach. A fine late afternoon walk around Beeding Hill with Megan and Cookie was very quiet with a Sparrowhawk the only notable sighting.

Monday 26th. Three Bullfinches (2 males and a female) were very nice on an early morning walk around Mill Hill with Cookie but Blackbirds were the only thrushes seen. Later I heard a Ring-necked Parakeet from the Long term parking at Gatwick north terminal while waiting to pick up Ruth and Emma over from New Zealand.

Sunday 25th. An early morning walk around Shoreham Fort with Cookie was enlivened by a Black Redstart, my first of the winter and a nice Christmas bonus, as well as Rock Pipit and two roosting Purple Sandpipers.

Saturday 24th. I recorded 3 Red-throated Divers, 2 Great Crested Grebes, 4 Gannets, 6 Kittiwakes and about 20 auks during an hour seawatch from Shoreham Harbour. Most birds were flying west but the only auk identified, a Guillemot, and the grebes were on the sea. A Purple Sandpiper was roosting on the wooden jetty. Later, at low tide, 3 Little Grebes and an adult Mediterranean Gull were see on the Adur.
Mediterranean Gull on the Adur, still sufficiently unusual here to make a visit worthwhile

Friday 23rd. We went to Petworth, me walking Cookie around the park while Megan and Nessa visited the house. Cookie and I saw a drake Goosander on Lower Pond, Green Woodpecker and 2 Nuthatches.
drake Goosander at Petworth, very smart bird and the closest I'll come to Scaly-sided Merganser this winter ...

Thursday 22 December 2016

Caspian Gulls in the Cuckmere (21-22 December)

Thursday 22nd. Finishing work at lunchtime and with the sun shining I decided to revisit the Cuckmere as I was already part way there. Low tide was later and the wind had dropped so I wasn't expecting as many gulls and that proved to be the case. The main flock, of 800+ birds, were in the same field but only half-way across. This time Lesser Black-backs were the predominant species with a rough count of 560 present. Checking through them I picked out a bright-billed adult Caspian Gull (different from yesterday's) and two adult Yellow-legged Gulls. The gulls flew but most immediately returned. Going through them again I saw a smart first-winter although I couldn't find the adult, presumably it hadn't returned. After 10 minutes the first-winter sat down virtually obscured and I continued checking the flock but then couldn't relocate it. All the gulls flew again, some dropping into the next field, some returning and some heading out to sea. The same or another Yellow-legged Gull was seen in the next field but nothing else so I left. Again a Raven flew over calling providing a nice distraction. Images are a mixture of digiscoped and bridge-camera.
adult Caspian Gull in the Cuckmere. This bird had a relatively bright bill, but the sun was shining, and a brownish eye. The brightness of the bill, even accounting for the sun, made it a different bird to yesterday's
showing small white head, snouty appearance, parallel sided bill and long thin legs
showing extensive white on the underside of p10
showing the thin black bar across p5 and very long thin stilt-like  legs
the bill looking longer in this image and the eye smaller
ventral bulge showing well
showing the black subterminal bar on p5 and the grey on the outer primaries cutting into the black
showing the long pale tongue on the underside of p10

gulls in the Cuckmere, the first-winter Caspian is dead centre
a very smart bird, showing all the expected features although I never saw its underwing. Dark bill, a bit foreshortened in this image, very white head and underparts, a few neck streaks forming a shawl, grey mantle with a few dark centres, fairly uniform brown coverts, black tertials with thin thumbnail edges, long black primaries, ventral bulge and thin fleshy legs.

showing the long thin dark bill and a clearer view of its tertials
to me a classic bird
differences from other large gulls might be subtle but combined make an attractive package
fewer gulls in the Cuckmere today
second-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull, not the most familiar of plumages
colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull 6W, also seen here on 17 December. It was ringed as an adult male in Oost-Vlaanderen, Belgium in June 2011, and seen in Zeeland, Holland this June and in northern France (near the Belgian border) in September 
colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull, I wasn't able to read any of it, likewise a red-ringed bird in the flock (with white characters so not North Thames, maybe from Suffolk)
sleeping Yellow-legged Gull
another sleeping Yellow-legged Gull but at least this one was standing up

Wednesday 21st.
A strong wind and an afternoon high tide seemed ideal for large gulls roosting in the Cuckmere and so it proved, but an improving forecast didn't materialise and viewing conditions were poor. The flock was also in the far side of the field opposite Harry's Bush but walking round to the river bank would have meant viewing into the drizzle and would probably have disturbed the flock anyway. As it was they flew four times, most soon returning. I picked out 3 birds that I considered to be Caspian Gulls, a third-winter, fourth-winter and adult, and two adult Yellow-legged Gulls. Poor images follow, much imagination is required ... Two Ravens flew over calling providing a nice distraction.

a lot of large gulls in the Cuckmere, I estimated about 1300 of which 1100 were Great Black-backs
third-winter Caspian Gull (left hand bird), primarily aged by brownish tones on  the coverts. Structurally the bird was all one would expect of this species. Its small white head, small dark eye, long thin bill and anaconda neck are evident in this image. It also had long thin legs, a ventral bulge and an attenuated rear end/long wings
the same bird
the same bird preening far left and the fourth-winter head on far right
the fourth-winter, structurally very similar but with uniform grey upperparts without browner coverts
the same bird, aged as a fourth-winter by the black band near the tip of the bill, otherwise as an adult from what I could see
the same bird in front of a presumed argentatus Herring Gull, note the similar mantle colour
adult Caspian Gull, front-centre, showing amongst other features small white head, small dark eye, washed out bill, anaconda neck and long legs
the same bird
Yellow-legged Gull in the Cuckmere
by now the light was truly awful
 Sunday 18th. A misty day so I didn't venture far. Hardly anything at Shoreham Fort/Harbour and 2 Little Grebes and an argentatus and a colour-ringed Herring Gull on the Adur. 
Lancing College in the mist
argentatus Herring Gull and 'ring-billed' Common Gull on the Adur
North Thames Herring Gull S8WT on the Adur