Saturday, 10 April 2010

fantastically bonkers day in the Cuckmere, 9/4/2010

It didn't look like a good day for birds in the Cuckmere. The wind was light S/SW, and by the time I arrived the world and several distant relatives of its had trampled every square metre of my precious patch. Things didn't look very promising at all for the first half an hour, with a pair of Shelduck and a solitary phyllosc (probably a Willow Warbler) the highlights. Things picked up a tiny bit on the east side around the meanders, with this unusual escapee among the Canada Geese.
With the addition of the Bar-headed Goose, my spirits were lifted somewhat, and they went a notch higher with a distinctive wailing 'peeuw' call that I heard from the river. After two minutes of patience and some attempts to call it out (it was a call farly easy to mimic), I got a brief view of a Little Ringed Plover. However, a dog plundering through the saltmarsh sent it back out of view, and it didn't look like it would come out again. Around the back of the scrape, during my first look, I saw a Wheatear and a pair of Stonechats. 2 White Wagtails were feeding on the edge of the scrape, and a Swallow was hawking over the scrape and the surrounding fields. From here I went to check the sea, and I found this dot offshore.

believe it or not, this is indeed a Black-necked Grebe! It was so distant, I only managed to ID it after zooming in on the photos a huge amount, and even then I could only tell it apart from slav grebe by shape. It was a summer-plumaged bird, usually one of the finest sights in birding, but sadly, no matter what angle I tried to look at it from, it was constantly in Silhouette. After taking all these photos, my camera had run out of battery, I didn't think this would be a problem, as I doubted I would see anything much more interesting during the rest of the day.

However, by now it was about 3.00, and a lot of people had eft the Cuckmere. I walked back up to the scrape, and was looking at the White Wagtails again when I turned around and noticed something sitting on a fencepost about ten metres away. On my first look, I could see it was a Pipit, and an odd one at that, with a striking supercilium, an all-black beak and a greyish coloured head. It dived down into a ditch, but reappeared, and this time I got an excellent view for about 15 seconds. I noted that it had a browny-grey back and wings, long legs and a long tail, and a breast with a few pale streaks on the upper breast, but otherwise the breast and throat were very clean white. I had now narrowed it down to Water Pipit or Scandinavian Rock, but luckily I had the old Collins Field Guide with me. What I had seen ooked very much like a typical Water Pipit, but in the book was an illustartion of a rare variation of Scandinavian Rock which was very pale and grey. The illustartion showed it to have a dark malar patch, and when the Pipit appeared again, I checked, and it lacked that patch, leaving me with quite a clear cut Water Pipit! However, before long it flew off, showing white flanks to the tail, another good marker for this species. It called now as well, a sharp, explosive 'tseeeeep', very similar to Rock Pipit but subtly higher-pitched and more drawn out, giving a more evocative feel. Following this, I frantically searched all the small creeks and floodwater around the Scrape. The number of White Wagtails around was now at least six, the Swallow was hawking the fields again, there were plenty of Meadow Pipits, 5 Snipe were flushed from one of the islands on the scrape by a goose plondering through the grass, and a Little Ringed Plover showed well on the scrape. But in all this madness, I couldn't find the Water Pipit, and eventually gave up, heading back up the river towards Exceat Bridge. I heard the other Little Ringed Plover calling away from the river, but it wasn't immediately visible, and I couldn't be bothered searching for it again. However, at ht epoint were the meaders started, a pipit flew up from the bank of the river and landed on the shore of them, uttering exactly the same call as the Water Pipit I had heard earlier. It was indeed the same bird, and, at a happy distance and with no one else nearby, provided good views for five minutes, n the company of a Meadow Pipit and a Reed Bunting. There wasn't much else to look for now I had all the major details, but I piad more attention to its shape. It had proportionately longer legs and tail than the accompanying Meadow Pipit, and had a longer-necked, slender, more upright stance, similar to Richard's Pipit.

Walking back up the river, over the bridge and up Chyngton Farm, I saw the Bar-headed Goose on the meadners, with another Swallow and two Sand Martins hawking above. Two juvenile gulls n the meanders proved to be a Great Blackback and a Yellow-legged, with a nice comparison between the two easy. Finally, I saw two more Swallows over Chyngton Farm, and a group of 7 Shelduck feeding together in the fields below, before heading home pretty much on cloud nine!

1 comment:

  1. Jealous! That's a great list.

    I went out the same day in Firle and saw 1 Swallow. :~(


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