Sunday, 27 June 2021

Lavington and Knepp: Woodcock 0 Turtle Dove 2 (22-27 June)

Sunday 27 June. Cookie and I wandered along the Adur from the Railway Bridge up to Cuckoos Corner seeing OystercatchersLittle Egrets, a Buzzard, 12 House Martins, a Sedge Warbler, 2 Whitethroats, a Mistle Thrush and 3 Reed Buntings.

Reed Bunting near Cuckoos Corner

Saturday 26 June. An enjoyable morning out with Frank Lambert. We visited the southern section of the Knepp Estate, Frank for the first time. Between 07:00-11:30 we saw 2 Turtle Doves, 2 Buzzards, Great Spotted and 2 Green Woodpeckers, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Mistle Thrushes and a Yellowhammer. Not a peep from any Nightingales and any lingering Cuckoos were also silent. A Stock Dove visited our garden in the afternoon and 5 Swifts were overhead in the evening.

Turtle Dove just outside the Knepp Estate

Fallow Deer at Knepp
Turtle Dove comfortably inside the Knepp Estate
giving it his all

introduced White Stork at Knepp
two of its three chicks
other White Storks

these didn't appear to have any chicks
Banded Demoiselle at Knepp

Friday 25 June. The day started wet to I took Cookie to the Adur and walked up to Cuckoos Corner. It was predictably quiet with just 4 Oystercatchers11 Little Egrets, a Whitethroat and 3 Reed Buntings. At juvenile Black-headed Gull was my first of the year. After tea as the weather had improved I drove over to Lavington Common for the year's third and final Woodcock Survey. For the first time here I drew a blank, something I would have thought unheard of when I started surveying in 2013 but as numbers reduce it was inevitable it would happen. My two previous visits only produced one bird each time so all very worrying and I'll embark on next year's survey with some trepidation. Three Nightjars seen and another heard made the visit worthwhile and I also saw 3 Coal Tits, a Wood Lark and 4 Stonechats and heard Tawny Owl and Dartford Warbler.

juvenile Black-headed Gull on the Adur

Grey Heron on the Adur

Wood Lark over Lavington Common
sunset at Lavington Common 

Nightjar sat on horizontal trunk at Lavington

Thursday 24 June. Megan and I took Cookie to the Lancing Ring car park and walked around Steepdown. I recorded Quail (heard distantly), 2 Buzzards, 18 Sky Larks, 21 Whitethroats, 3 Stonechats, 19 Linnets, 4 Goldfinches, 24 Corn Buntings (most were very vocal) and 2 Yellowhammers

Whitethroat on Steepdown
Corn Bunting on Steepdown
another Corn Bunting
Stonechat on Steepdown

Wednesday 23 June. I walked the Beeding Hill triangle with Cookie taking a little over three hours. The highlight was a Cuckoo seen from the Monarch's Way, in the same valley I'd seen one on 10-12 June 2020. Otherwise it was much as expected with 3 Buzzards, 2 Peregrines, 15 Sky Larks, 2 Swallows, 16 Whitethroats, 11 Meadow Pipits, 5 Linnets and single Corn Bunting and Yellowhammer. In the evening 3 Stock Doves were feeding on our lawn and 6 Swifts were seen overhead.

Sky Lark from the Monarch's Way

Meadow Pipit on Truleigh Hill

another Meadow Pipit

Tuesday 22 June. In poor weather Megan and I took Cookie around the Adur seeing 15 Swifts hunting low over the airport, Oystercatcher, 4 Little Egrets, 3 Buzzards, Sky Lark and 4 Goldfinches.

Thursday, 24 June 2021

The 1980s: Thailand, Sussex, Austria and Scillies in 1981

The New Year didn’t start well. I was in Southern Thailand with Dick Filby, Richard Grimmett, Frank Lambert and Colin Winyard (see We had all been sleeping near the car and woke to find it had been broken into and various items stolen. None of us had heard a thing! It was the only real glitch on an otherwise excellent trip.

Richard Grimmet, Dick Filby, Frank Lambert, me and Colin Winyard in Southern Thailand, January 2021 (photo: Frank Lambert)

I’d been back home less than two weeks when Steve Webb offered me a lift for a Cattle Egret in Pembrokeshire. I’d just seen several hundreds in Thailand but there had been fewer than 30 seen in Britain and I was a bit twitchy. We dipped although 5 Chough nearby were some compensation. Two days later it was Steve Webb again, there was a Cattle Egret in North Wales, did I fancy it. Not really but I went. On the drive up Steve told me there had been another seen near Glasgow so if we missed this one … (madness). Fortunately we saw it, my 370th species in Britain.

In mid-February Andy Clements drove a car load up to Hartlepool for a White-billed Diver. He’d hired a Skoda, the only car available at short notice, and it broke down about half way there. One of us had breakdown cover (not me I wasn’t a driver at this time) and as it couldn’t be started we had the option of going on or back. White-billed Diver, easy choice. An address was required - 1 Fish Quay, Hartlepool. The White-billed Diver gave superb views in the harbour and while we were there local taxi driver Martin Blick was able to fix the car, at least well enough to get it back to Sussex. A Black-throated Diver was seen at Arlington Reservoir on 21st and on a couple of subsequent visits while a trip to East Kent on 22nd produced 4 Shore Lark, a Twite and 4 Lapland Buntings on Deal Golf Course with Bittern, Hen Harrier, Water Rail and Bearded Tit at Stodmarsh. Closer to home 4 Jack Snipe were seen in the Cuckmere on 25th and Black Redstarts at Widewater and Southwick Power Station on 27th.

from Cotteridge & Vinicombe's Rare Birds of Britain & Ireland: A Photographic Record (1996)

Early March seawatches from Hove and Birling were unproductive with 2 Wheatears and a Firecrest at Beachy on 14th my first signs of Spring. Firecrests dominated the rest of the month with 20 further sightings at Beachy or in the Cuckmere. Six Slavoinan Grebes were seen on the sea off Church Norton on 20th and 2 swam east at Birling on 29th.

A flock of 8 Avocets east past Birling on 4 April was notable as was an adult Mediterranean Gull while a Black Redstart and 23 Wheatears were seen along Hove seafront in misty weather on 7th and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in Falmer Woods on 8th. Visits to Beachy produced Grasshopper and Wood Warblers on 11th and Redstart and Pied Flycatcher on 12th while at Lullington on 17th I saw 3 Nightingales, a Grasshopper Warbler and an Osprey flying north. The month finished with the Glossy Ibis, a Water Rail and 16 Bearded Tits at Stodmarsh on 22nd, 6 Velvet Scoter E off Hove on 24th and Long-tailed Duck and summer-plumaged Grey Phalarope at Staines Reservoir on 29th.

Seawatching from Hove in early May produced 2 Pomarine Skuas east on 6th. On 7th the wind had gone around to SE, moderate to strong, and highlights between 07:15-11:45 were 51 Pomarine and 9 Arctic Skuas, 19 Little Gulls, 2 Roseate, 9 Little and 8 Black Terns. At the University I called in on Andy Clements who was doing a PhD in the Biology Department and we decided to return that afternoon. Between 16:30-19:30 we saw 2 Long-tailed Duck, Marsh Harrier, 31 Pomarine and an Arctic Skua, 8 Little Gulls and 2 Black Terns. My 82 Poms had been topped by John Cooper at Birling who had seen 102. I wished I’d been watching all day although I did see what was then the largest flock recorded in Sussex, 44. Having seen a flock of 7 Poms fly east my attention was drawn to a fishing boat approaching from the west with a cloud of what appeared to be gulls behind it. They were Pom and landed on the sea. They departed in small groups over the course of the next hour enabling me to be sure how many were involved. The afternoon’s Pom were flocks of 16, 13 and 2. In light southerlies 8 Velvet Scoter, an Eider, 2 Pomarine and 2 Arctic Skuas and 15 Black Terns flew east past Hove between 07:00-11:00 on 8th. A trip to Cornwall on 10th added Squacco Heron to my British List, it was at St Germans which I passed through twice a day going to/from school in the mid-1960s. We saw a singing male Serin at Budleigh Salterton on the way back. Highlights for the rest of May were 2 Roseate Terns east at Hove on 16th, Sussex’s first Greenish Warbler, a singing male, found by Colin Winyard in Belle Tout Wood on 19th, a male Red-backed Shrike at Rye Harbour (I stumbled upon it chasing a rumour of a suppressed Roller) and a female Woodchat Shrike at Beachy on 31st (another great find for Colin).

In June a Firecrest was singing in Stanmer Woods but rarities called with a River Warbler singing on Roydon Common in Norfolk. I caught trains to King’s Lynn and walked arriving soon after 1pm on 4th only had a flight view up to dusk and slept in a nearby hedge. It gave excellent views between 03:15-07:00, a nice birthday tick. I saw a Common Crane at Horsey on a forgotten but rather roundabout return. On 17th I travelled to South Ferriby on the Humber for a Caspian Tern which had moved on but four days later saw another on the Blackwater Estuary in Essex. On 25th I caught trains to Darsham in Suffolk and saw what was thought to be a Collared Pratincole at Dunwich. It was later identified as Britain’s first Oriental Pratincole. On the way home the Caspian Tern was seen at Minsmere.

A trip to the New Forest on 1 July produced 2 Hobbys, 3 Wood Larks, 3 Dartford and a Wood Warbler with a male Red-backed Shrike at Deadman Hill. I became an honorary member and joined the University of East Anglia bird Club trip to Austria from 5-15th (see and immediately on my return had a couple of days in East Anglia seeing Marsh Sandpiper at Minsmere on 16th and Common Crane and 3 Marsh Harriers at Horsey Mere, a pair of Red-backed Shrikes at Santo Downham, 4 Stone Curlews at Weeting Heath and at least 8 Golden Orioles at Lakenheath on 17th when I also noted seeing 30+ Turtle Doves on East Anglian roads. I then managed two weeks with no notebook entries so it must have been very quiet.

August highlights were White-rumped Sandpiper and a selection of autumn waders on Sidlesham Ferry on 4th, Pied Flycatcher in our Hove garden on 13th, Baird’s Sandpiper found by Alan Kitson at Widewater on 19th followed by a Black-winged Pratincole dip at Hilton in Cambridgeshire that evening, Spotted Crake at Beddington on 23rd, 4 Little Stints and 23 Curlew Sandpipers at Pett Pools and 3 Little Gulls, 9 Black and a White-winged Black Tern at Dungeness on 29th. Highlights of 5 August visits to Beachy Head were 2 Pied Flycatchers and flight views of 2 Grasshopper Warblers.

In September I saw 6 Spotted Flycatchers in woods around the University on 4th, 2 Grasshopper Warblers, up to 60 Lesser Whitethroats and 5 Pied Flycatchers at Beachy on 5-6th, a juvenile Bittern at Marazion on 11th on an ill-fated trip for a reported American Bittern that ended up with Tim Toohig’s car being written off on a narrow road on the way to Porthgwarra. Another Pied Flycatcher was best at Beachy on 13th A weekend in London staying with Andrew Moon coincided with Pectoral and Buff-breasted Sandpipers at Perry Oaks as well as 20 Little Stints and 7 Curlew Sandpipers, 32 Black-necked Grebes, Scaup and Goldeneye on Staines Reservoir and 11 Black Terns on Queen Mary Reservoir. I caught the Scillonain from Penzance on 26th seeing 9 Sooty Shearwaters, Leach’s Petrel and Grey Phalarope on the crossing. Nick Preston and Dave Mills (who had found a Yellow-billed Cuckoo a few days before) were already on Scillies and I put my tent up near theirs. A quick afternoon tour of St. Marys produced Honey Buzzard, Dotterel, Wilson’s Phalarope, Tawny Pipit, Citrine Wagtail, Rose-coloured Starling and a Monarch butterfly. I saw another Monarch on 27th and was watching a Red-eyed Vireo on the Garrison when Ray O’Reilly told us there was a Magnolia Warbler on St. Agnes. We went straight over and headed to Barnaby Lane where the bird hadn’t been seen for some time. Frustrated we tried to sneak around the back but soon gave up. Viewing was no better – too many small fields - and while we were away David Hunt pished it in for everyone else who had stayed. A sleepless night ensued and we ware back on an early boat the following morning. Thankfully the Magnolia Warbler had stayed and we had decent views from Barnaby Lane. Also on Agnes we saw Icterine and Booted Warblers, being involved in the identification of the latter, with Melodious and Wood Warblers on St. Marys. Seawatching from Peninnis on 29th produced single Sooty Shearwater, Pomarine Skua, Puffin and 250 Gannets with Lapland and Snow Buntings the best passerines seen. Another breezy day on 30 September with 300 Gannets and 2 Great Skuas seen in a two hour seawatch and 5 Pied Flycatchers, the Rose-coloured Starling and an Ortolan Bunting the best on land.

October on St Marys started with a day of almost continual rain during which a new Red-eyed Vireo in Holy Vale was the only notable bird I saw. A better day on 2nd produced a Wryneck, 2 Tawny Pipits (one found by Nick), 2 Melodious Warblers, the Rose-coloured Starling and 2 Lapland and another Ortolan Bunting but another quiet/windy day on 3rd produced just a Spotted Crake, Grey Phalarope and Wryneck. Most of the best birds seen on 4th, another calmer day, were those I’d seen before - Spotted Crake, Tawny Pipit, Melodious Warbler, Rose-coloured Starling, Lapland and Ortolan Bunting.  Although some of the 8 Spotted and 5 Pied Flycatchers were probably new, at least for me, as was a Marsh Warbler I stumbled upon at Carn Warval. Continuing birding pretty much dawn to dusk, particularly in the less visited corners, I saw Honey Buzzard, Arctic and Yellow-browed Warbler and Rustic Bunting on 5th, Grasshopper and Yellow-browed Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Scarlet Rosefinch on 6th, Short-toed Lark, 2 Ring Ouzels, Melodious Warbler and Red-breasted Flycatcher on 7th, Golden Oriole, Barred Warbler, 2 Red-breasted Flycatchers and the Scarlet Rosefinch on 8th and a White-fronted Goose and one of the Red-breasted Flycatchers on 9th. St Marys was beginning to feel quite stale with the Rose-coloured Starling, Ortolan Bunting and Scarlet Rosefinch my highlights on 10th. More birds seemed to be around on 11th with a Cuckoo, 2 Icterine, 2 Melodious and a new Arctic Warbler (found by Rupert Hastings and Andrew Moon in Holy Vale), 2 Red-breasted Flycatchers and the Ortolan Bunting but another front on 12th made it hard going with Icterine, Melodious and the Arctic Warbler my highlights. On the morning of 13th news spread that a Common Nighthawk had been seen in flight at Rocky Hills but had disappeared. Realistically it wasn’t likely to be seen again before dusk but it was hard to think of anything else and I wandered around in a daze periodically passing Rocky Hills just in case. I saw new Melodious and Yellow-browed Warblers and the Rose-coloured Starling before joining the majority of birders in gathering around the NW edge of the airport before dusk. As the light started to go a Short-eared Owl created a minor panic and soon after the Common Nighthawk appeared to a huge cheer (of elation and relief). I saw the Common Nighthawk again at dusk on 14th but only poorly, with Yellow-browed Warbler and Red-breasted Flycatcher the only other birds of note. A Roseate Tern of Porth Cressa was the highlight of 15th when I also saw Barred, Melodious, Yellow-browed and Wood Warblers. On 16th I saw a Booted Warbler that Dave Bishop and Andy Hamby found at Four Lanes. I then headed to Holy Vale and was approaching the bottom of it when I saw Rupert Hastings hurrying towards me. He shouted ‘start running’ and I turned round to do and was told ’not that way, Orphean Warbler at Kittydown’. In my haste I tripped over the stile at the bottom of Holy Vale and landed in a ditch where I was apparently motionless for a minute before getting up and running on, much to Rupert’s amusement. The Orphean Warbler showed surprisingly well, as I was to see it several times in the coming week. Mick Turton found at the bottom of Kittydown. The weather was bad on 17th when my only notable sighting was a Wryneck while on 18th I saw an immature male Golden Oriole and the Booted and Orphean Warblers and Rose-coloured Starling again. The 19th was another grim day with a toss-up between Curlew Sandpiper and Pied Flycatcher for best bird while the weather improved on 20th when a Richard’s Pipit was the only decent new arrival although the Booted, Orphean, Yellow-browed and Wood Warblers were seen again. I had amazing views of the Orphean Warbler and briefly saw an Olive-backed Pipit on 21st, a Richard’s Pipit on 22nd before leaving St Marys for Tresco where a Radde’s Warbler showed brilliantly by the Abbey. It ended a run of 23 consecutive days just birding on St Marys. The 23rd was almost goose day with single Bean, Pink-footed and White-fronted Geese seen on St Marys as well as Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Olive-backed and Richard’s Pipits and an unidentified wagtail at Porth Hellick that sounded like a Citrine as it flew over but appeared grey and white when it briefly landed at the back of the pool. A Pallas’s Warbler on St Martins had me leaving St Marys two days running. I saw it briefly and 1-2 Yellow-browed Warblers. Highlights on 24th were Olive-backed Pipit, Booted Warbler and the Rose-coloured Starling, Richard’s Pipit and 2 Yellow-browed Warblers on 25th with 3 of the latter on 26th before another visit to St Martins where 2 Pallas’s Warblers were seen. As October came to a close and the days drew in birding became harder with 5 Great Northern Divers and a Woodcock new for the year on 27th when I also saw Barred, Melodious and Yellow-browed Warblers, 2 Yellow-browed Warblers on 28th and Richard’s Pipit, the Booted and 4 Yellow-browed Warblers on 29th. On 30th after seeing Ring Ouzel and Yellow-browed Warbler around Peninnis I decided to take advantage of a very low afternoon tide and caught a boat to Tresco seeing a Yellow-browed Warbler and my latest ever Lesser Whitethroat before walking across to Bryher where 2 Snow Buntings were the highlight before returning to St Marys. October ended with Olive-backed Pipit, Barred and Yellow-browed Warblers and a tail-less Firecrest.

from Cotteridge & Vinicombe's Rare Birds of Britain & Ireland: A Photographic Record (1996)

My visit to Scilly finished with the Olive-backed Pipit on 1st November and 2 Turtle Doves and 2 Yellow-browed Warblers on 1-3rd. I came off on the Scillonian seeing Sooty Shearwater and Great Skua and was given a lift to Hayle where I saw 4 male and 3 probable female American Wigeon and Stithians Reservoir where we just beat the fading light to a Long-billed Dowitcher before continuing on to South Wales. We were in the hide at Magor before dawn and during the morning had good views of most of the American Bittern. Back in Sussex I saw a Grey Phalarope fly west off Widewater and a Kentish Plover and Mediterranean Gull on the River Adur on 15 November and was twitching again with Andrew Moon, Rupert Hastings and Pete Naylor on 28th when we saw Hudsonian Godwit at Countess Wier on the River Exe. The next day we were on the Humber at Blacktoft seeing 2 Penduline Tits.

from Cotteridge & Vinicombe's Rare Birds of Britain & Ireland: A Photographic Record (1996)

I only went out birding three times in December seeing a Waxwing in Harlow town Centre and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Cheshunt on 19th, Velvet Scoter, Great Skua and Little Gull at Selsey and 2 Scaup and 3 Smew on Pagham Lagoon on 20th and 2 White-fronted Geese, 3 Hen Harriers and Little and Short-eared Owls at Pevensey Levels on 25th, the first Christmas I’d been home since 1976 although I was in the final stages of planning a big trip in 1982.

[blogged June 2021]

Monday, 21 June 2021

Back in Sussex, lacking enthusiasm (12-21 June)

Monday 21 June. We took Cookie to Brooklands for a change of scenery and to provide some shelter from the rain. A loose flock of 30 Swifts flew east soon after we arrived with 15-20 drifting west later. Young waterfowl were in evidence with 7 Mute Swan cygnets, many fully grown Mallard, 4 juvenile Moorhens and 5 juvenile Coot seen. Cetti's and Reed Warblers were heard with one of the latter glimpsed. Driving home 10-15 Swifts were seen over the Norfolk Bridge, they appeared to be flying NE.

juvenile Moorhen at Brooklands

Sunday 20 June. We walked around Shoreham Beach from Harbour Way back along the Adur to the Ferry Bridge then across to the boardwalk and back by the Fort. I saw Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, 4 Turnstones, 4 adult and 2 baby Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 5 Goldfinches. In/over our garden were a Stock Dove and 5 Swifts.
Ringed Plover by Harbour Way
Turnstones from the Adur Ferry Bridge

Saturday 19 June. Megan and I took Cookie to Mill Hill seeing a Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chiffchaff, 9 Common Whitethroats, Mistle Thrush, 11 Goldfinches and Yellowhammer. Cetti's Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat were heard.

Yellowhammer at Mill Hill
Knapweed Broomrape on Mill Hill
thanks to Simon Linington for identifying it
Pyramidal Orchid on Mill Hill
Spotted Orchid near Mill Hill

Friday 18 June. I walked around Mill Hill with Cookie for an hour or so not quite managing to be in the wood during a couple of heavy showers. Twenty-five Swifts in 3 flocks flew NE and I saw a Lesser and 5 Common Whitethoats and 7 Linnets.  A singing Chiffchaff remained hidden although I only made a half-hearted attempt to see it..

singing Lesser Whitethroat on Mill Hill

Thursday 17 June. Megan and I took Cookie to the Adur. On our usual circuit we recorded Little Grebe, 3 Oystercatchers, Grey Heron, 4 Little Egrets, Cetti's and Reed Warblers and 4 Linnets. A Stock Dove visited the garden and 4 Swifts were seen in the evening.

Stock Dove in the garden

Wednesday 16 June. I took Cookie to West Mill and we walked out to the Downslink and back. I briefly heard a moderately close Turtle Dove on the way out and back but failed to see it, the path at this point was rather enclosed with few viewpoints. Four Nightingales were heard (more croaking than singing) and I saw two. Also seen were 2 Lapwings, Red Kite, 2 Buzzards, Great Spotted Woodpecker, 7 Sky Larks, 6 Long-tailed Tits, 4 Chiffchaffs, 4 Reed Warblers, Blackcap, 2 Lesser and 3 Common Whitethroats, 2 Meadow Pipits, 6 Linnets, Yelllowhammer and Reed Bunting.

Reed Bunting at West Mill
Reed Warbler at West Mill

Tuesday 15 June. Megan and I took Cookie to Wolstenbury. Superb views in lovely weather and a few expected orchids but little in the way of birds with Buzzard, Sky Lark and Meadow Pipit about it. 

orchid meadow at Wolstenbury
Greater Butterfly Orchid at Wolstenbury
Spotted Orchid

White Helleborine
same again?

Monday 14 June. I took Cookie to Knepp for a Turtle Dove fix and saw 2. They were probably different from the two I'd seen in May but neither was close to public paths dashing my hopes of taking reasonable photos. I heard a Cuckoo and 2 Nightingales. In three hours wandering around I also saw 3 Stock Doves, Buzzard, 4 Great Spotted and 2 Green Woodpeckers, 7 Jays, 4 Chiffchaffs, Garden Warbler, 2 Whitethroats, Goldcrest, Mistle Thrush and male Bullfinch. Eight Swifts were over our garden in the evening.

Jay at Knepp

Mistle Thrush at Knepp
Cookie meets a friend
distant Turtle Dove at Knepp
White Storks at Knepp

Sunday 13 June. I dropped Megan off at the Brighton Centre, where she was volunteering as a Covid Vaccination Steward, and took Cookie up to Devil's Dyke. We wandered around for an hour or so seeing 17 Sky Larks, 2 Whitethroats, Mistle Thrush, 12 Meadow Pipits, 9 Linnets and a Corn Bunting. I also heard a distant Quail singing intermittently. In the evening 5 Swifts flew over our garden.

SW from Devil's Dyke

Saturday 12 June. I took Cookie down to the Adur, walking a circuit down to the Norfolk Brdge, across Adur Rec and back by the airport and Old Toll Bridge. I saw an Oystercatcher, 2 Turnstones, a second-summer Mediterranean Gull, Grey Heron, 3 Little Egrets, 2 House Martins and single Reed Warbler and Whitethroat. In the evening 4 Swifts flew over our garden.

Mediterranean Gull on the Adur
Little Egret on the Adur
Cookie by the airport

Purple Poppies 
and White-tailed Bumblebee or something similar