Saturday, 13 March 2010

13 March 2010, two year ticks and many signs of spring!

A day that always promised a lot of birding activity, and in whcih I got to use my newly acquired camera quite a lot!

It started in the early morning, with a few Redwings still present around Seaford, along with a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker from my back garden, while I managed some nice photos taken of one of the local pigeons and a dunnock which has taken up territory in a very obliging bush on the corner of the street, and often shows very well.

After this, I cycled up to Seaford Head, hoping perhaps for a few migrants, but more for some camera-practice. Things started well, a few efforts to photograph crows in the fields at South Hill Barn coming out like this

Crows are among my favourite birds, being inquisitive, cunning and intelligent, however, I have already discovered this intelligence makes them difficult to photograph, They will stay put as long as you are moving, but stop and pull out a camera and in the time it takes to turn it on, the crow will prbably be a distant dot flying away on the horizon, or perched in a field too far away to photograph. However, the Carrion Crows in the latter picture posed well, being at just the right distance to feel 'safe', while the Magpie in the former picture was just luck and some heavy cropping at home as it disappeared over a hill! Also in the fields just to the north of South Hill Barn, a Fox ran through the sheep, causing momentary havoc, annoyingly it was gone before I could get a snap.

The next interesting thing I saw was a Peregrine flying strongly overhead, North over South Hill Barn. I was locking my bike up at the time so I couldn't photograph it, but it was so close I could hear the noise made by its wings as it rushed past!
At the small pond by South Hill Barn, frogspawn was a sure sign of spring around the corner (and for once the weather did feel like this today!), while the usual pair of Mallard posed well for some photographs.

In the pastures East of South Hill Barn, there were 300+ Starlings, with each sheep attracting its own small flock (see picture below), while two more Magpies where slightly more photogenic than the last one

I also took a photo of the sheep, just for the hell of it!

While walking along the path that runs along the eastern edge of this field, I saw a bird perched in one of the tallest bushes in the semi scrub (a mixture of tall-ish bushes and untamed brambles) to my left. It took off with a bouncy, loloping flight, similar to a Thrush or Woodepcker, and as it disappeared from view I got a brief glimpse of a white rump. a Wheatear!! It was my first of the year, the first in sussex this year (as far as I'm aware), and one of the first to be seen in Britain as a whole this year! (They have been much later arriving than in recent springs, it seems.) They tend to prefer open ground, but I theorized that this individual had probably been doing exactly that before the dog-walking mob descended on the cliffs, and had since taken shelter in the low-lying scrub of Hope Gap. I searched for it for twenty minutes or so, but could not relocate it.
While I was looking, I got this photo of a Jackdaw on the clifftop, presumably enjoying the sea view!
I had planned to walk along the clifftop in a vain search for more Wheatears, or perhaps a Black Redstart, but as I walked along the bottom of Hope Gap, where the sea is easily viewable, I saw two birds in the distance, I thought they would be gulls, but the looked diferent in shape, even from that range, and my suspicions were confirmed when they simalteneously dived, not typical gull behaviour! Walking down the steps at Hope Gap to the undercliff, I got a closer look and they turned out to be a pair of Great Crested Grebes. A few of these can often be seen from the coast in spring as the migrate east, but unlike other migrants, they never seem to be in a hurry, simply swimming along and letting the waves to most of the work for them. These two were no different, and thanks to a bit of running, followed by some crouching behind the strategically located boulders found on the undecliff, I got close enough for a few photos. These are very blurry, but you can clearly see that it is a pair, partaking in some pre-season courtship.

I followed the two of them along the undercliff, and as a result found a Fulmar nest above me, and got photographs of Oystercatcher and Curlew on the rockpools that were revealed with the tide. There were also several Rock Pipits along the cliffs holding territory, but I didn't get any photographs, hopefully within a month a walk along here might be greeted by their fantastic but often underlokked display flight.

Here the dedicated male is regurgitating food for his mate, presumably busy incubating their eggs

A Small oystercatcher in a big sea

While I was photographing the Curlew, a soft, whistling sound became apparent in the distance, which I identified as Wigeon. Gradually, it came closer, and closer, until eventually I saw about 100 of them flying out of Cuckmere Haven and out to sea. About 50 of these continued onwards and departed east, with the other 50 remianing offshore, at a distance of about half a mile, from whcih I somehow got this very distant record shot

After walking along the undercliff for about an hour, I eventually arrived at Cuckmere Haven. I didn't see anything else hugely interesting, but got a few decent photos, shwon below

a few Black-headed Gull images, taken from in the Cuckmere, with #1 being taken on the main river and#2 on the ditch that runs parallel to it on the West Side

and a nice chance to get Redshank and Oystercatcher in the same shot.

And finally, ending as I started, with an inquisitive looking pigeon in the dovecote at South Hill Barn!!

I also saw a migrating Meadow Pipit fly NW over the car park as I was unlocking my bike for the ride home.

However, I haven't quite ended. I saw a Tawny Owl, caught in our car's headlights on the way back from Brighton at about 7.30 pm. After the hard-earned year tick a few hours ago, this was somehwat luckier and somewhat easier!!! My yearlist is now 109 species., with the addtion today of Wheatear and Tawny Owl.

My Highlights of the day, as follows;
Red Fox-1 ran accross sheep fields near South Hill Barn
Peregrine-1 flying low NE over South Hill Barn
Starling-300+ in sheep pastures south of South Hill Barn
Common Frog-six clumps of Frogspawn counted in the small pond by the car park
Wheatear-1 in Hope Gap
Great Crested Grebe-a pair observed in courtship as they drifted east past Hope Gap, stopping off in Cuckmere Haven and still present in the bay when I last saw them
Wigeon-100 departing out to sea from the Cuckmere, with about half continuing east and the rest sitting on the sea half a mile offshore for atleast 10 minutes. 
Meadow Pipit-1 NW over the car park at 13:55


  1. Hi Liam great post well done on the wheatear , and good pics to , i like your style of writing , just wondered if it was possible to add my blog to your list ? no problem if you would rather not :)

  2. thats fine mate, I've added it now


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