Tuesday, 15 February 2011

what happened in January

well, January was by and large a quiet month for me birds wise. The only time I really got out was on New Year's Day, and after reaching 200 last year, I haven't bothered with a yearlist this year. Too much effort, and I found myself focusing on my list more than the actual birds on occasions. Personally, I think birding is a far happier thing to do if you are appreciating the bird for being a bird. For being unusual, fr being commonplace, for being an ID challenge, for being drop-dead gorgeus, for having a nice song, or simply being charismatic. But I don't think a true birder should appreciate birds solely for a tick.

2011 started with an expedition to Pett Levels. A RED-BREASTED GOOSE had turned up here, along with 300+ White-fronts and a few Barnacle and Brent Geese. I thought that was all the geese we would see, but birding can be full of surprises...

Joining me and dad on this New Year's Day trip were Dave, Katie and James Beadle (our company on the canadian trip), Rick Munday and Nick Pope. As our cars drove up to Pett Level, a 300+ strong skein of geese circled over the marshes. Setting up the scope, we quicky found the RED-BREASTED GOOSE, along with 300+ White-fronted Geese, 70+ Barnacle Geese and c30 Brent Geese. Looking at the Brent's closer, we found 11 of them were PALE-BELLIED, a very high count of a very scarce species in Sussex. I then checked the see, which held 50+ Great Crested Grebes and a handful of Red-throated Divers, but not a lot else. The pools and fields had plenty of waders, Lapwing in the thousands, three figure numbers of Curlew and smaller numbers of Dunlin, Golden Plover and Redshank. A few more Dunlin were roosting on the beach with 40+ Turnstone and a few Bar-tailed Godwit. Ducks were also in plentiful supply, with thousands of Wigeon, hundreds of Teal and Mallard and two-figure counts of Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Shoveler. A Stonechat flitting around a ditch and fenceposts by the road was a nice find, especially given the December we had had.

What happened next all happened so quickly I can't quite recall exactly what happened. But Rick put up a shout of two BEAN GEESE. No sooner had he put everyone on them than we noticed there were actually six. But they were very distant and difficult to identify. Their short necks and stubby bills immediately excluded Taiga Bean, but they were too distant to see the bill or leg colour on reliably. However, two had silvery-coloured backs, and four where browner coloured, so we concluded they were 4 TUNDRA BEAN GEESE and 2 PINK-FOOTED GEESE. Both rare birds in Sussex, and the Pink-feet a new sussex bird for me.
We walked to get closer, but a Peregrine put everything up. After about 15 minutes the geese came back, and we wanted to try and see they grey geese again. But now there were eight of them! After quite a lengthy debate between Dad, Nick, Rick and myself (the Beadles had departed by now) we eventually decided there were now six PINK-FEET and two TUNDRA BEAN GEESE! However, considering the possibility some of the geese may have been out of sight before they were spooked, and sme mya have come into view, I'd say there were at least six Pink-feet and four Tundra Bean Geese, as we had been confident of our ID's the first time around, there were only two that looked like Pink-feet that time. Oh, and while we were sorting out this great debate, we were having to avoid being distracted by the Red-breasted Goose, which literally seemed to glow amongst its duller companions. And the Black Brant was nice too. And I don't exactly see White-fronts, Barnacle Geese or Pale-bellied Brents every day either! By the end f the day we had ammased the following total from Pett Level

  • c300 White-fronted Goose
  • c70 Barnacle Goose
  • 19 Dark-bellied Brent Goose (branta bernicla bernicla)
  • 11 Pale-bellied Brent Goose (branta bernicla hrota), if I'm not mistaken this is the largest group of this race in sussex for many years
  • 1 BLACK BRANT (branta bernicla nigricans)
  • 4 TUNDRA BEAN GEESE (anser fabilis rossicus)

  • c2000 Lapwing
  • c100 Curlew
  • c100 Dunlin
  • c50 Golden Plover
  • c40 Redshank
  • c40 Turnstone
  • c20 Bar-tailed Godwit

  • c3000 Wigeon
  • c200 Teal
  • c200 Mallard
  • c40 Gadwall
  • c20 Shoveler
  • c20 Pochard
  • c10 Tufted Duck
plus a Stonechat. I feel I should mention that Stonechat.

click on these photos to enlarge them and (hopefully) see where the rarer geese
are amongst the hordes of White-fronts, Barnacles and Brents!

To round off a brilliant day, we saw three WAXWING as we drove through Winchelsea, as they perched on telegraph wires above the road.

After this day, I did very little birding in January. On the 10th I saw 3 Purple Sandpipers at Newhaven East Pier, getting great views of one very confiding bird. But other than that, the only birds were a Stonechat that has wintered in a small little reserve along Seaford seafront, known as the Old Brickfield, a Blackcap seen in a garden walking to school on the 31st and regular singing utbursts from Robin, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Great Tit, Dunnock, Wren, Greenfinch and Goldfinch

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