Migration continues with a steady trickle of birds through the back field. We’re still getting Spotted Flycatchers and Blackcap numbers are increasing. Out on the Downs it’s the same, but, other than an elusive Grasshopper Warbler and a Wryneck that we missed, there hasn’t been too much to excite us. Over at Sompting Brooks there has been a bit of entertainment, with a Wasp Spider, one of the introduced Storks flying over and a Green Sandpiper was an interesting bird here for autumn.
After the excitement of the Albatross, it’s back to migration on the Downs, which seems to be a bit slower than last year, although we’ve had Redstart, Whinchat and Spotted Flycatchers at home so far. It’s also a good time for insects, with a few late butterflies, and an excellent variety of dragonflies and damselflies in the wetland behind us.
A deeply unsatisfactory glimpse of the Black-browed Albatross back in early July had healed the desperation, but we still wanted a proper view of the bird; we just weren’t prepared to dash around the country for it. Predictably enough, it left just before we headed to Yorkshire for a few days, and its last trip was long enough for us to completely miss it if stayed away as long this time. Leaving Worthing at 0445, we headed north with a simple decision to make: if it is reported before the M18 turn off, we go to Bempton, if not, we carry on to Harrogate. To our delight it was reported about half an hour before the M18, so off we went, still nervous, as we had been so close last time and all we had was a rubbish view.
When we got there the bird was about half a mile offshore, just about identifiable through a fully zoomed telescope. An improvement on last time, but still not quite the thing. After a long wait, it took to the air and meandered its way towards us. It then gave us a fantastic display circling off the cliff. After a while it landed on the cliff, out of sight of course. After a while it left and went back on to the sea for a wash and a rest. Another lengthy wait ended with it coming back to us and performing superbly, giving us close range views at eye level. Many pictures were taken, but a bird that size is difficult to photograph that close.
Best bird ever!
It’s far too hot for anything too energetic this weekend, so we took a short walk over to the wetland behind us in search of dragonflies and damselflies. We weren’t disappointed with many Black-tailed Skimmers, plenty of Emperors and Common Darters, but the stars of the show were our first Scarce Blue-tailed Damselflies that colonised the new stream last year, and are quite likely to move on after this year, as the vegetation grows up.
It’s been a bit busy recently. A couple of weeks ago the Black-browed Albatross that has occasionally visited Bempton Cliffs before being reported attacked and killed by White-tailed Eagles in the Baltic rose from the dead and turned up on the cliffs again. Obviously it did it on a Monday evening, making it hard for us to arrange time off to finally catch up with one of my most wanted birds. The bird was hanging around and so at 0245 on Thursday morning we headed off to Bempton. We arrived at just before 0800, which was more than the Albatross did: it was gone. A pleasant, but frustrating, morning at Bempton was enough to confirm it had gone, and we moved on to Southfield Reservoir in the hope of another bird high on my most wanted UK list, Caspian Tern. By 1600, I had been up for twelve hours and hadn’t seen a bird, but finally one of the terns arrived and gave us a good show. Staying over with Mum on Thursday night gave us a chance for the Albatross to return on Friday, which it duly didn’t, and Saturday, another blank. With the bird clearly gone, we headed back down on Saturday. Lying in bed at 0900 on Sunday morning, the news that the Albatross had returned was not welcome. Deciding to become dirty twitchers for the day, we headed off north on the 300 mile journey to Bempton. Arriving just before 1500, we dashed down and found a group of people watching it. Success, apart from the fact that we still couldn’t see the bird in a cloud of Gannets. Not helped by the large number of contradictory descriptions of where it was, we eventually saw the bird, which promptly vanished behind a cliff and was lost to sight. We walked around for a view of the other side of the cliff, but there was no sign. There was still no sign by the time we left just after 1900. We got back home at just gone midnight, having driven about 10 hour for 10 seconds of the bird. I’m not about to start serious twitching if that’s what it’s about.
A bit more relaxed this weekend, we walked to Knepp to see the Storks and Purple Emperors. A very pleasant 27 mile walk found all of our targets and eased the frustration of the previous weekend and the disappointment of the football.
As the birding slows down, there’s always orchids to keep interest up. The dodgy weather seems to have slowed things down, but there are now large numbers of orchids on the Downs. Around the Cissbury Ring area there are a large number of Common Spotted Orchids, and nearer to home in Sompting there is a bank with over 1000 Pyramidal Orchids on (they’re not all out yet) and, better still, 50 Bee Orchids, the first we have seen there in the 26 years we have been down here.
Spring was an utter disaster moth-wise: cold, wet and wind meant that we hardly put the trap out and and on the few occasions we did it was practically empty . June has started well, however, and numbers of moths have rocketed to the dizzy heights of average. We have had good diversity, though, with a number of new moths for the garden. Last night’s trap was excellent with three new moths, at least two of them migrants, and quite rare ones too: Beautiful Marbled and Portland Riband Wave, the other being a May Highflyer.
Here’s a few moths from recent traps and a couple of butterflies from our walks.
Continuing our Yorkshire weekend, we had an early morning visit to Strid Woods in Wharfedale. The Strid in late May is one of my favourite places, and this year it was as lovely as ever. With loads of Pied Flycatchers, as well as a few Spotted Flycatchers, Dippers, Redstarts, Goosanders, Common Sandpipers as well as the more common woodland birds, and the calls of Oystercatchers and Curlew from the moor above, it’s a great place to be in the morning. Unfortunately there were no Wood Warblers to be found this time, but a Tawny Owl with a well-hidden chick was a treat.
In the afternoon we went up Nidderdale to Scar House reservoir for a walk with Mum and my brother and sister in law. It was a bit quieter than normal in spring (apart from the racket made by a group of motorbikers scaring the sheep) but we still had nice views of Wheatear and many Lapwings.
Our week in Harrogate seeing my mum in her lovely new flat was curtailed to a long weekend, but the bank holiday heatwave made it a very pleasant trip. On Sunday, we managed to find the one place in Britain that was cold: the east coast had a thick sea mist and was decidedly nippy. To make it worse, all of the rarities there the previous day seemed to have left overnight.
However, Bempton didn’t disappoint, with many Puffins and all the usual seabirds showing well, although the light made photography a bit harder then normal. Flamborough was very quiet bird-wise, but a small ledge that seemed to be home to 8 Puffins was fun. The lack of anything else meant that returned early via the scenic route over the Wolds. The news of Bee-eaters over Bempton half an hour later wasn’t greeted with joy!
After doing very little last weekend, when pretty much everything went wrong (apart from flushing a migrating Nightjar on a local walk), and a hideous wet, windy and cold week, it was good to get out today on a very early, still and clear morning (although it was still a bit parky). The mission was to catch up with Turtle Dove, which is becoming ever harder to find, even at Woods Mill, a stronghold in Sussex. Leaving the house at 0300, we got to the mill stream around 0600, having added Spotted Flycatcher by the Adur. There was nothing there, other than a lot of Nightingales, so moving on to the Woods Mill reserve, and then on to Oreham Common, there seemed to be lots of habitat, but nothing doing. Eventually we did hear a distant bird, that promptly flew away, almost invisibly, but having stood around for a while we were able to track down a calling bird, which showed well and purred beautifully for about half an hour. Glorious!