Saturday, 3 April 2010

Gropper and Crest

With winds SW mostly today, my initial plans to go to Splash Point were hampered, but, still determined to see something interesting today, I went up to Seaford Head today, whcih prived an inspired decision.

Along the cliffs between Splash Point and Seaford Golf Course were loads of Kittiwake, several Fulmars and 3 territorial Rock Pipits. As I was walking past Seaford Golf Course, along the clifftop, something flew up from the long-grass on the cliff-top side of the path, flew accross the path, and landed in some long grass on the opposite side. I had flushed up a few Meadow Pipits already, but I immediately knew this wasn't one. It was smaller than a mipit, with a longer tail. Its wings were shorter and it had a less direct flight. In flight, it also had its head bowed forward, rather than holding it straight like a mipit. As it flew away from me, I could see it had an olive-brown coloured back, with some streaking just about visible. I already had my suspicions, and they were happily confirmed when, the millisecond before it landed and disappeared for good, it fanned its tail out, revealing a row of white spots. I may not have seen it brilliantly, but this was a fairly typical view of a Grasshopper Warbler! It is very early for Groppers (the colloqiual south-east nickname for Grasshopper Warbler), to be back, but the earliest ever sussex record was on 2 April 2002, and last year one was seen at Selsey Bill and 4 April, so it does happen! However, aside from 50+ Meadow Pipits scattered accross the head, this looked like the only migrant. I did manage to see a fantastic sight in a Peregrine dive-bombing the pair of Ravens and 20 or so Jackdaws, which had seemingly come along to egg on their big cousins. However, the Peregrine won quite easily, and soon all the crows, even those double the falcon's size, had scarpered away over the cliff, leaving the Peregrine to lazily flap around in a victory parade.
I met a few other birders around Hope Gap, all of whom had seemingly had no luck whatsoever, seeing nothing in the gap. A tiny bit dissuaded, I carried on with my regular walk of the patch nontheless, and near the top of Hope Gap, in the small trees on the west side of the path, heard a tiny, shrill song, just on the edge of hearing range. It sounded like a Goldcrest, but lacked its jingly, melodic feel, leaving only one real alternative, a Firecrest, which showed incredibly well! I have only seen one well once(though I have seen plenty not very well at all!), and that was in a slightly worn plumage, being present on Seaford Head last October. However, this bird was immaculate, with an incredibly bright crest he was puffing up (not the right term I know but erecting just sounds wrong!), a crisp black and white facial pattern, lime-green wings and back and a slight orange tinge to its upper breast. I would have got a photo but sadly my camera point-blank refused to focus on it when there were so many branches to intercept its focus, and the bird's attempts at staying still for longer than a microsecond were absolutely pathetic.

Finally, walking back along the path on the western side of Hope Gap, I saw two gamebirds running accross the field to my right. For a brief, heart-stopping moment, I thought they were Quails, but looking on closer inspection they turned into the inplexably bizzarre and avant-garde plumes of two Red-legged Partridges. Where they had come from, I have no idea, they are probably the result of one of the farmers releasing them nearby, but maybe, just maybe these two had decided to cross the channel, and turned up on my patch!

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