27.07.21 Willow Warbler numbers slowing building

Overcast with a light SW wind.

Willow Warblers delicately feeding in Hogweed is a very typical sight this time of year. The numbers are slowly building but no big days as yet. A single Reed Warbler at Birling, a Nightingale near Belle Tout along with two Chiffchaff were the only accompaniment this morning.

Yesterday saw an early Whinchat in Shooters Bottom where the juvenile Cuckoo was still present. 10+ Willow Warbler were between the Pub and Shooters.

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21.07.21 Juvenile Cuckoo

A spell of very warm fine weather with high pressure.

An evening walk about the headland. At least two Nightingale croaking in Shooters along with a lovely juvenile Cuckoo. A handful of Sand Martin passed through too.

I’ve been a bit busy with work and haven’t really been paying close attention to the late summer comings and goings on the headland. I’ve surely missed a few early faces. 2 Reed Warbler were in Shooters on the 19th were my first “south bound” ones of the year.

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10.07.21 A pair of Yellow leg’s at Birling Gap.

A wet but still morning, the summer continues in it’s cool and changeable theme this year so far.

Definitely a “downtime” for birding, I’ve been keeping a relaxed eye on things but yet to encounter any migrant Willow Warbler. This morning I decided to check a gull roost that has been gathering just north of Birling Gap for Yellow-leg’s and sure enough there were 2 in amongst the Herring Gulls along with a couple of Lesser black back’s. It’s been a better year for them than 2020 where I didn’t see one until the 13th July.

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04.07.21 First Yellow-legged Gull of the summer

A midsummer visit from Jamie and Graham Gordon was as much about insects as it was birds. Although the changeable weather kept Butterfly and Dragonfly activity down. So with a reduced level of “nerding out” it was a mixed bag of local and off piste Sussex birding. The avian highlight was a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull at West Rise Marsh here in Eastbourne, excellently picked up by Jamie at considerable range as it approached. Where these early south coast birds come from who knows, perhaps the French Mediterranean coast. A loan returning Curlew also flew over there.

My first juvenile large gull of the year, the local Herring Gull chicks are still yet to leave the rooftops.

Other highlights were just general invertebrate stuff, local Glowworms at Jevington, White Admirals & Silver-washed Frittilary butterflies at Abbots Wood plus some good bits at Ashdown Forest including Brilliant Emerald and Golden ringed Dragonflies. There were also family parties of Redstart, Woodlark and Tree Pipit there too.

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23.06.21 Nightingale

A fine day the east wind easing to a light breeze although enough to keep a cap on the temperature.

Another incremental change in the season is marked by the arrival of my first Nightingale of midsummer, these birds gradually begin to appear and it would seem moult, after breeding a few miles to the north of here. Usually their high pitched whistles and wooden croaks are all that allude to their presence although this one was quite showy by Nightingale standards.

There’s an abundance of fledged Whitethroat, Linnet and Stonechat upon the headland at the moment. A small group of Shelduck high to the east at dusk were probably British birds off on their “moult migration” to the Wadden Sea.

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22.06.21 Departing Cuckoo

A very British midsummer day with a cool NE wind and heavy cloud.

A Cuckoo in Shooters Bottom constituted my first of the year. Cuckoo around the solstice are something I’ve seen before here and are undoubtedly birds leaving the county. This is often the first visible sign of southbound migration I see. There were also 2 out of habitat Reed Warbler in full song there whilst a little further west 150+ Swift swirled around Belle Tout and along the cliff edge in the company of 2 House Martin.

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05.06.21 Rosy Starling!

A clear morning with a light westerly wind.

Rosy Starling

A time of year when you’re out hoping for that one bird to make a difference. In light of the recent influx, I’d been hoping to run into one of these and after several friends had been successful and somewhat prematurely, I’d begun to feel my luck was out. That was until I had to bring the car to a screeching halt as I (to my disbelief) saw this in the pub carpark. After hastily abandoning the car on the verge I rushed back to confirm it wasn’t an apparition, there really was a pristine Rosy Starling walking around in there! Unfortunately my time with this beauty was brief as someone opened the door of their camper van flushing the bird which headed north, not to be seen again. A long over due “self find” and a much desired bird for the site. It was the first spring adult I’ve seen and it didn’t disappoint. It constitutes the 6th record for the site.

Below, John Cooper kindly provides a modern historical context for Rosy Starlings on Beach Head.

1984: An adult accompanied Starlings at Birling Gap on 24th to 26th Aug. (TWP, CAW)

1994: An adult in immaculate condition was found in a set aside field immediately to the north of Birling Gap or on the adjoining pumping station wall from 11th to 15th June (D. Cooper, J.F. Cooper et al.)

2001: A juvenile in Cow Gap from 3rd to 7th Oct (Mrs. D. R. Cooper, J.F. Cooper et al.).

2008: A fine adult male came in over the cliffs at Whitbred Hollow on the 30th May. (J.F.Cooper).

2020: 20th June an adult male was present above Belle Tout wood which then flew towards the old lighthouse but could not be re-located (C. Ball)

The preceding days had mostly been spent wandering the site in the mornings thinking about the above, the only bird of note was a lone Crossbill feeding in the pines at Birling on the 3rd of June.

Crossbill at Birling

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31.05.21 Marsh Warbler

Light easterly breeze, cloudless skies.

Very quiet as is to be expected this time of year but the promise of something special during this excellent spell of late spring weather is of course high. Unfortunately there was little to raise the pulse with 2 Red Kite the highlights.

Better fortunes on the 30th where under murky skies Kris Gillam discovered a brilliant Marsh Warbler in the hollow. The bird sang strongly at times but was difficult to see. Out of caution, we collectively felt it wasn’t appropriate to release the news, given this species sparse and sporadic breeding distribution in the UK. I have seen Marsh Warbler breeding in very similar habitat in Kent in the 1990’s. It constitutes only the 4th site record since 1960. 2 Bee-eater were also seen elsewhere on the headland by two fortunate observers.

A clip of the Marsh Warbler song. A fast rambling, agitated babble including much mimicry which involved Chiffchaff, Swallow, House Sparrow, Blue Tit, juv. Starling, Blackbird alarm call, Nightingale and Stonechat to name some of what we could identify. John Cooper kindly provided some historical context which is reproduced below.

1970: One singing and seen well was later trapped and ringed in Whitbred Hollow on the 7/6. In song it was imitating many species including Goldfinch, Nightingale, Thrushes & Linnet etc. (J.F.Cooper, B.E.Cooper, K. Verrall, R.H.Charlwood, K.D.Atkin, M.J.Rogers & P.J.Wilson et al). PerB.H.Bird Report.

1973: One was seen and heard on 28/5 in Whitbread Hollow. (P. Clements, A.R. Kitson, N.A.G. Lord). 

1990: One at Belle Tout on 28/5 (R.H. Charlwood, R.D.M. Edgar).

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A wet start with a moderate WSW wind, with overnight rain.

A relatively quiet morning with 2 Spotted Flycatcher, a single Willow Warbler, an unseasonal Redpoll at Birling and a Reed Warbler singing below Belle Tout the most obvious passerine migrants. Although the breeding birds are very active with many fledgling Stonechat, and nesting Common Whitethroat and Linnet.

Recent highlights included a singing Grasshopper Warbler on the 18th May (CB) and a Stone Curlew reported flying NE over Birling Gap on 14th May. After a much delayed start Red Kite have started moving through the headland with 6 seen on the 17th and a single on the 18th.

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A brisk southerly which calmed into a light SE breeze mostly clear, clouding over by late afternoon.

A brief seawatch in the morning was relatively quiet with 2 Arctic Skua the highlight for me. The land was generally quiet too, Lesser Whitethroat are certainly more evident this year. I’ve not seen a Willow Warbler since the 10th perhaps they are starting to wane. Despite the afternoon feeling perfect for something “a little bit special”, an easterly passage of c30 Swallow along with a single Swift were the only encouraging signs of movement. A question I keep asking myself this spring, where are all the Red Kite? I’ve seen maybe 5 so far this year.

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