23rd September 2016 Goodbye Beachy



Since Monday, I had made several visits to various far flung corners of Beachy Head but failed to produce anything more scarce the Whinchats, Spotted Flycatchers and groups of Wheatear. Although the overhead movement of birds (mostly hirundines and Meadow Pipit) is always a spectacle to enjoy against the beautiful back drop of the Sussex coast. There were however two Honey Buzzard and another Wryneck seen by luckier birders this week.

Last post for a while, I’m away on Fair Isle from tomorrow followed by a stint on St. Agnes, Scilly until the 23rd October.


A Grasshopper Warbler underneath Belle Tout taken on the 18th.


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19th Sept 2016 – Yellow-browed Warbler

Whilst fruitlessly looking for yesterdays reported “Harrier sp. probably Pallid” redemption came as the autumns first Yellow browed Warbler announced it’s arrival, calling from cover 800m east of Cornish Farm. I believe it’s both a seasonal first for the county and the south coast.






There was also HUGE passage overhead between 06.30 & 09.30. Some 2000+ Hirundines (probably an underestimate) 450+ Meadow Pipit, 3 Tree Pipit, c45 Yellow Wagtail headed east into a light NE airflow. An immature Marsh Harrier headed out to sea early on. Chiffchaffs were very numerous with somewhere upwards of 60+ present. Also 4 Whinchat and 3 Wheatear.

It seems to have been quite a day for Chiffchaff with Bob Edgar, who was ringing in the Hollow, estimated the area hosted c400! There was also a Red breasted Flycatcher in a private garden at Hodcomb on the 18th.


A Wheatear up at Cornish Farm.


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Marsh Harrier tag no.3X

This Juvenile Marsh Harrier appeared near the pub, coming in from the west and proceeded to gain height. Lost to view as it headed out to sea. It was wing tagged and through various filters in photoshop I managed to get a legible image of the numbers on the lime green tag which were 3X. Phil Littler kindly contacted me with a life history and it is always pleasing to see a story behind a migrant bird. She was a Norfolk born lass who had an eye on being somewhere warmer for the winter.


Marsh Harrier 3X over Beachy Head pub.


Tags just visible on the upper wing.

Sexed as a female the bird was ringed & tagged in the nest at Fakenham, Norfolk on 25th June 2016 and was one of three, her two siblings being male. She was at Cley NNT reserve on 10th August and today appeared to be leaving the country for sunnier, winter climbs. Further info on the Harrier project can be found here.


Above “3X” getting her tags put on. Photo by Andy Thompson.

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15th Sept 2016 – A lively morning.

Settled warm conditions continued, a light wind meandered from east to south. Again fine calm conditions provided birds!_mg_6859

Yellow Wagtails.

The main feature this morning was a strong overhead, easterly passage. Notably Swallow and House Martin with 1200+ birds moving in the 1.5 hours I was on site. I find the highest point of the cliffs around the pub often best for seeing the most impressive concentration of birds first thing. Other numbers as follows, Yellow Wagtail (c50) with smaller numbers on the deck mainly around the cattle, 45 Meadow Pipit, 2 Tree Pipit, 3 Alba Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail. In terms of warblers there was a scattering of the usual suspects but a fall of 40+ Chiffchaff was most apparent with not a Single Willow Warbler seen! There was also a Reed Warbler singing this morning! There were also an additional 30+ Chiffchaff and a single Sedge Warbler around Belle tout wood at dusk. 4 Wheatear were also seen. A wing tagged Marsh Harrier also passed through which I’ll put details up about shortly.

So many of the Chiffchaff appear to be juveniles each with it’s own wheezing version of the adult contact call, like adolescents with breaking voices. I don’t notice such a variation amongst the Willow Warblers that proceed them.



Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit and Lesser Whitethroat were new additions for the garden too.

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12th September 2016

Having missed quality days both today and yesterday, I had a quick look this evening in overcast conditions after a bright sunny day. Wind light from the east.


I had the briefest of looks in Shooters Bottom. A total of 52 Yellow Wagtail went over before dusk. As a bird I take to be a diurnal migrant, I find it a regular occurrence to see them moving with purpose at dusk and I’m at a loss to explain why. A small party of Meadow Pipit also followed. On the ground were the usual mix of warblers. 8 Blackcaps along with 12 Whitethroat, 5 Chiffchaff,  3 Reed Warbler and 1 possibly two Grasshopper Warbler flushed.

Matt Eade had what was probably the third Wryneck of the autumn near the pub yesterday and John Cooper had the first Ring Ouzel of the season in the old trapping area this morning.

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7th September 2016 – Birthday Cliff Swallow.

As a kid growing up in the 80’s it was all about Scilly. Octobers of the 1980’s and 1990’s were dominated by news from the magical Islands sinking under the weight of American vagrants. This led to an obsession with American birds & Scilly which has never really gone away. I’ve been fortunate to spend quite a bit of time visiting and living in the US since those days of staring at graining photo’s of Vireos, Warblers and Orioles in the BB rarities round up. So, when on the eve of my birthday, good friend and Scilly resident Graham Gordon discovered a Cliff Swallow, there seemed to be something compelling me to break my non-twitching mantra. I took a deep breath, told myself I could ignore the beige clad army, and get me some Cliff Swallow.


Cliff Swallow. One of Matt’s shot.

Having missed all the cabs meeting the Scillonian (yes we went old skool on this), Matt and I we decided to cover the distance to Porthellick on foot. The bird had now been missing for 2 hours. We headed out of Hugh Town, checking any groups of Hirundines en route. As we neared the airport I stopped to check a few feeding low over a meadow. In the briefest of glimpses the Cliff Swallow passed though my field of vision, banked and then disappeared. I let Matt know I’d just had the bird but with no further sign in 10 minutes of searching, I begun to doubt myself thinking sleep deprivation had the better of me. We then headed on, I again picked the bird up distantly feeding over a stand of tall pines near the airport. We both ran up to the area and with some relief, enjoyed great views as the bird put on a show above us. Reception problems delayed the relay of news to the crowd at Porthellick and by the time others arrived the bird had drifted further away. Some got distant scope views others not seeing the bird at all. It didn’t re-apppear until we had long departed on the ferry to the mainland. I great piece of good fortune for Matt and I.

A pretty fine haul of birds for the day included a Buff breasted Sandpiper (also found by Graham Gordon) at Marazion beach in the company of a fine juvenile Little Stint. My best seawatch on a Scilly crossing ever yielded Great, an insanely close Cory’s, Manx, and Balearic Shearwaters, also a Storm Petrel.

Thanks to Matt Eade for providing the Rich Tea biscuits & skills of a rally driver, completing the trip Eastbourne to Penzance in a little over 4.5hrs. The whole trip itself completed in under 23hrs.

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5th September 2016 Mizzle

Rain until mid-morning, low cloud and drizzle slow to clear. Wind light meandering between S and SW.


Whinchat Birling Gap.

After 48hrs of strong SW winds things abated giving way to light winds and unfortunately, very damp conditions with low cloud. However there were birds to be found and the Wryneck prevails in Shooters Bottom. Totals included; 4 Redstart, 1 Pied Flycatcher, 6 Whinchat, 5 Sedge Warbler, 4 Reed Warbler, 4 Blackcap, c45 Whitethroat, c28 Willow Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff.


Redstart in Michel Dean (the next valley after Birling Gap)

Waders featured today with a party of 9 Golden Plover east whilst Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone were heard going over, hidden in low cloud. Other overhead movement was very limited. c20 Yellow Wagtail, 4 Grey Wagtail and 10 Meadow Pipit past over in the gloom. Hirundine passage almost halted today with only c20 individuals seen, all but 1 Sand Martin were Swallow. 3 Sparrowhawk (seems to be mostly a passage bird here) were also seen.


Pied Flycatcher in the misty drizzle.



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