Sunday, 13 January 2019

Sussex 4-13 January 2019 (Crossbills, Gannets and puzzling gulls)

Sunday 13 January. JK and I went to the Gills Lap/Wrens Warren area of Ashdown Forest where we spent over three hours in the morning wandering around looking unsuccessfully for the Great Grey Shrike. Twenty-three Crossbills, seven Redpolls and two male Bullfinches provided decent compensation. Late afternoon I visited Beeding Brooks but failed to see any owls, a strengthening NW wind probably not helping. A Marsh Harrier seen three times, a sign of the changing times,meant the visit wasn't entirely wasted and Cookie had a walk.
male Crossbill at Gills Lap

female Crossbill at Gills Lap

looking north to a shrike-free Wrens Warren
Saturday 12 January. A morning visit to Pulborough where a walk in the woods pleasant but quiet with two Coal Tits the highlight. A Marsh Harrier was seen over the brooks from the visitor centre and a Buzzard next to the A259 just north of Shoreham - on a fence post on the way there and a gate on the way home. Later I went to Newhaven's Riverside Park where I met up with JK and we tracked down the Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler greatly helped by it's occasional calling. We continued on to Newhaven Harbour for dusk. The tide was high but several hundred gulls were roosting on the west arm although unfortunately the juvenile Glaucous Gull seen earlier in the day was not amongst them.

Friday 11 January. A morning visit to Shoreham Fort with Cookie again found the Black Redstart and a Peregrine but most of the action was on the sea with exceptional numbers of auks, gulls and Gannets feeding a few hundred metres offshore. A calm sea made viewing fairly easy and between there and Widewater I estimated 950+ Razorbills, 25+ Guillemots, 250 Gannets, 61 Cormorants, 31 Great Crested Grebes, 19 Kittiwakes and 400+ Herring Gulls. Very impressive We walked from Widewater to Lancing Yacht Club where the two Velvet Scoter I'd seen on 2nd were off-shore, again easier to see in the calm conditions. In the afternoon at high tide Megan and I walked across the lock-gates to the East Arm but there were no Purple Sandpipers roosting there. The Peregrine was still sat on the lighting gantry DS and I had seen it land on when we'd been at the Fort in the morning.

Black Redstart at Shoreham Fort

Gannets and a Razorbill off Shoreham Fort

two brave Razorbills in the mix
sadly no white-winged gulls, a day too soon and 20 miles too far west ...

mainly Razorbills

Wednesday 9 January. I took Cookie to Brooklands where we saw a Pochard, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers and a couple of puzzling first-winter gulls. A high tide visit to Shoreham Fort failed to find any Purple Sandpipers although the male Black Redstart was still about. The tide wasn't high enough to flush waders out of the saltings by the houseboats but I did see Curlew, Greenshank and Kingfisher. Later at home three Stock and ten Collared Doves were in the garden.

puzzling first-winter gulls at Brooklands. Left presumably Herring despite predominantly dark tertials, middle Caspian or Herring or hybrid, right Yellow-legged (despite black Wellingtons)?
it was the middle bird that initially caught my eye even if it was pretending to be a chicken
Caspian Gull or hybrid at Brooklands, note its long primary projection
to me its plumage looked pretty good for first-winter Caspian although the scapulars are perhaps too strongly marked and the greater coverts more heavily barred than most. While its head and underparts are not gleaming white they are much whiter than Herring.
its bill didn't look particularly long but it lacks any gonyeal angle and gives a snouty impression, at least at this angle, while the eye is 
its legs didn't look thin but aren't particularly short either
venetian blind inner primaries at a pinch

small head and ventral bulge
very small head but bill looks very short too although somewhat foreshortened
clear cut black tail band and lightly patterned rump
solid black tips to inner primaries and underwing looking whiter when not so shadowed

I had images which seemed to show most pro-Caspian features and a trait score seemed to put it in the pure Caspian zone but it didn't feel quite convincing enough for me. Maybe the views were too good? Time to look at the other bird ...
its robust bill and heavily patterned scapulars looked good for Yellow-legged Gull as did its thick banded tail but had its worn tertails been notched? 

Greenshank roosting  on the saltings by the Adur houseboats, presumably the bird that has spent the previous two winters in the area. Welcome back.
Sunday 6 January. Megan and I took Cookie to Lancing Ring and Steepdown where we found just three Corn Buntings, a Stonechat and a Redwing. Later on Beeding Brooks Cookie and I stuck to the river bank (avoiding the fierce cows) and saw two Short-eared Owls and three Fieldfares.
Short-eared Owl at Beeding Brooks
Saturday 5 January. JK, Cookie and I had a day in West Sussex starting at the Black Rabbit at Arundel a little before dawn. Here we saw a superb Barn Owl (aren't they all) hunting across the river and three Marsh Harriers (one a male) leaving roost. Next stop was Chichester Marina where there was no sign of the three Black-necked Grebes seen in Chichester Channel earlier in the week. Twenty-three Little Grebes and seven Red-breasted Mergansers in the channel were little compensation. P&BJ who we saw as we were leaving had just seen four Waxwings in Emsworth so continued there but arrived half an hour or so after they'd flown off. An hour standing around in a pub car park was enough for us and we left (a good move as it turned out as they were not seen again). We returned via the Burgh, stopping first in Burpham where the ten Bewick's Swans were in the water meadows from the church and the Siberian and five Common Chiffchaffs, Grey Wagtail and a Bullfinch at the Sewage Works. We saw six Grey Partridges, three Marsh Harriers, six Red Kites and 250 Linnets at the Burgh. We would have done better to stay in the Arun as the day quickly went downhill after a good start but recovered somewhat at the end.

Friday 4 January. Two very distant Pink-footed Geese were seen near Rodmell. Later Megan, Cookie and I visited Beeding Hill seeing Little Owl, Fieldfare and three Redwings.

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