After a very early start on Friday to do a breeding bird survey before work, we had a late start and an afternoon visit to Woods Mill yesterday.
The transect was more interesting for migrants than breeders, with a total of 11 Spotted Flycatchers seen (including the walks to and from home). Compared with my highest total of spring Spotties of 3 in May 2019, that’s remarkable. We had a couple of Whinchats and our first Swifts of the year too.
Woods Mill was rubbish: no Turtle Doves, hardly any Nightingale action and not much else, other than a mass of Beautiful Demoiselles. We saw a Cuckoo on the way, and also had a Banded Demoiselle, but it was a big disappointment. The walk back was going to end up in the dark, so we had some hopes for owls: we needed something to make 24 miles hauling a 2 stone rucksack worthwhile. It paid off: we had a Barn Owl hunting on Bramber Brooks before a stop off in The Castle in Bramber for a beer (purely to make sure it got dark enough, you understand: the beer was a necessary evil). On the way back we had two other species of owl (including Tawny chicks), and a couple of badgers. A good end to an average day.
We had more signs of spring this weekend, with our first damsels and dragons on the brooks, while overhead a noisy Peregrine was bragging about its dinner.
A full day’s seawatch was disappointing, as usual this year, until late afternoon, after the wind had turned south east and Skuas started moving. Eventually four Poms came past at close range, along with two Arctic Skuas (and another Arctic harried a Tern just offshore from us: superb).
Meanwhile in the garden, a family of Robins, with five young, are hopping around and our Pheasant is proving approachable.
A truly awful seawatch this morning was saved when Karen found the pod of Bottlenose Dolphins that have been mucking around offshore for the last few days, just as we were about to leave. About 8-10 dolphins initially appeared in the murk, scarcely visible in the distance, but slowly came in and started their antics. Unfortunately the light was awful: you couldn’t even see the horizon, making focus and exposure on distant things a nightmare. However, an hour and a half watching a UK lifer can’t be bad.
Nearer to home, the Raven nest near us has become a noisy place, with four chicks demanding food. Adding the two adults, the six birds here is nearly half of the total Sussex count for the 1990s. Welcome back!
It’s been a funny few weeks: we both came down with COVID just before Easter and have found it a hard work getting back into the swing of things. Fortunately when we were struggling to get out, it seemed that all we had to do was send out for delivery of some artificial but fun sustenance – we managed to add White-tailed Eagle, introduced into the Isle of Wight onto the house list and the day after had six of Knepp’s plastic White Storks. Not the wildest birds, but still spectacular.
Things are beginning to get back to normal (well, we’re walking as far as ever, just much slower). Here’s a few pictures from the last few weeks.
Five reptiles of three species today, and not a leg in sight. A Grass Snake and a couple of Slow Worms at home were followed by a walk up to Cissbury in the hope of some migrants and a chance of seeing our Adders again. The migrants didn’t turn up (other than a Swallow late in the day), but the Adders did, with two (one of which we didn’t see last week). One of them was chilled enough to allow a close approach and even a bit of gentle gardening to allow some decent pictures. For some reason I decided against trying to move the stick that was lying on it.
We had a quick dash up to Cissbury Ring yesterday, when Nick & Claire found a Ring Ouzel. I arrived before Karen and had nice, but distant views for about 15 minutes: a stunning male. Unfortunately it disappeared completely just as I was getting Karen onto it: she arrived literally 5 s too late.
Today we headed up there again, in the hope of finding it again and also looking for Adders, which are there, but I haven’t seen one anywhere in a couple of years. We were unsuccessful, drawing a blank on the Ouzel and finding only a discarded Adder skin, until we got a call from Nick: they had refound the bird. This time Karen got there in time and was able to admire it before it again vanished. On the way back we went over to show them the skin, when Nick found a basking Adder, very smart. After a sit and look for an Ouzel (no luck, but Karen found another Black Redstart) we went our separate ways. Checking on the Adder location (in hope rather than expectation) we found two Adders dancing: only the second time we’ve ever seen it (and both times I’ve managed to get some pictures). Not a bad day!
Every March the Wheatears turn up, and Karen gets bothered that she hasn’t seen one yet (even though we’ll see loads as the year moves on). We haven’t seen one yet, but it was a major surprise when the first Wheatear of the year turned out to be a Desert Wheatear at Goring yesterday afternoon. Karen has never walked 5 miles as fast (and she was well behind me, as I was going like the clappers). Fortunately it was still there when we arrived and showed beautifully at times. A smart bird. Otherwise it’s been a bit rubbish on the migrant front (unless you seawatch while I’m at work, it’s great for them).
One of the disadvantages of getting a great start to the year is that it has to end sometime. Recently I’ve had a series of long and medium walks that have yielded very little. Still, it’s better than staying in a house that’s in turmoil due to prolonged upheaval as we get our kitchen done.
We had a trip to Eastbourne on Friday, to see the American Robin, which has been there for nearly a week. A smart bird, viewed from above rather than inflicting ourselves on the folk in the cul-de-sac. While there, we also managed to get brief views of the Hume’s Leaf Warbler, but that took too long to allow us to get the Hooded Crow on the way home.
We’ve also had a couple of walks, nothing too long, which has added a Merlin and, even better, a Jack Snipe onto the on foot list. No photos of them, alas.
In order to add a few common ducks to the walking list, we walked to Swanbourne Lake in Arundel last Sunday. Pochard, Tufted Duck and Mandarin are not birds you would normally make an effort for, but they’re not reliable locally, so this is the lowest form of twitching, hence the name.
A glorious day saw us add Siskin to the year list walking through the Dover and distant Cattle Egrets were in sight as we approached Arundel. At the lake there were loads of Tufties and a huge population of Gadwall. Mandarin put in an appearance as a female cruised across the lake with a retinue of 8 males, all looking stunning. Pochards were in short supply. A walk up the hill to the Hiorne Tower gave us a chance of Hawfinch, which unexpectedly turned up just as we were leaving. Back on the lake, still no Pochard. A circumnavigation of the WWT reserve didn’t find any in with the collection either, nor was there any sign of the Glossy Ibis that had been around a few days before. Nice views of a Cattle Egret were welcome, though.
The Walk of Humiliation next autumn – 28 miles for a Pochard – could be a major test of my commitment to the walking list.
Again, the pictures aren’t up to much as I was carrying my small camera.