It’s been mostly mild and unsettled with a colder, calmer period towards the end of the month.
Birling Gap late January.
A typically slow month with most interest occurring off shore. Despite it being a good autumn for Dartford Warbler in 2022, I’ve only managed to locate one this winter, a male above Birling Gap. A lone Brent Goose on the sea at Holywell on the 23rd. I joined RAB for a seawatch on the 24th which predictably produced a movement of 693 Auks east and 47 Red throated Diver (mostly east) in two hours. A further 50+ Red throated Diver were on the sea at Birling Gap on the 25th. Amongst the grazing cattle, a notable increase in Common Gulls now feeding in the fields, which is a sign of late winter. A Short-eared Owl was seen on the 24th (MEC) whilst a far more unusual Barn Owl was watched hunting around the dew ponds near Bullock Farm on the evening of the 26th. A single Chiffchaff was in the wood on the 29th, which along with the appearance of the first lambs, could lead you to believe it’s a migrant. It’s not until the ones appear with pollen dusted crowns in early March that I regard as true spring migrants.
Red throated Diver.
Two attempts to see the over wintering Penduline Tit at near by West Rise proved fruitless but there were at least three different groups of Bearded Tit, which were good to see.
This review focuses on the birding highlights on Beachy Head over the last 12 months with an odd mention of significant birds from near by Eastbourne. All notable sightings are credited with the observers initials.
Sun rising above the sea fog April 2022.
January and February
Traditionally a very quiet period although that was turned on its head in 2022 when a duo of top draw rarities were found very close to the recording area. The first, a Hume’s leaf Warbler just 600m east of Beachy Head along Eastbourne promenade where it remained faithful to the same area from 17th January to 18th April. Often proving very difficult to see amongst the dense Holm Oaks it chose to frequent. On 8th February this eastern scarcity was elbowed into the shadows as an American Robin (MCH) was discovered a few km’s to the north. Typically showy, it proved very popular attracting a large number of admirers until its departure overnight on the 27th Feb, which incidentally coincided with a perceptible nocturnal flight of Redwing. These two birds, along with a Hooded Crow at Polegate, an overwintering Shorelark at Pevensey and several Hawfinch in Abbots Wood, made for a good late winter mix of birds all very close to home.
Hume’s leaf Warbler.
The American Robin shortly after its discovery.
March and April.
1st March brought two spring firsts for me, two Black Redstart at Birling Gap and a Chiffchaff feeding under Belle Tout. Come early March spring seawatching had begun in earnest and a persistent ESE airflow provided some dramatic mornings of wildfowl passage.These conditions producing a record spring count of 48 Garganey.
Russia bound Dark-bellied Brent Geese.
Richard Butler diligently recorded totals, a reproduction of wildfowl counts from Trektellen below.
Pintail and Shoveler.
The annual wader passage also featured with Bar-tailed Godwit peaking on 21st April when 1001 recorded, accompanying them was the usual mix of other wader species throughout the month of April. The full spring seawatching totals, including Skuas and Terns, can be found here courtesy of Richard Butler.
East bound Bar-tailed Godwit.
Always nice to note the first few common summer migrants of the year across the headland, most being slightly later than usual. Wheatear 17th March, Willow Warbler 28th March, Swallow 2nd April, Ring Ouzel, Common Redstart and Common Whitethroat on 12th April, Nightingale 13th April, Yellow Wagtail 16th April,Lesser Whitethroat, Grasshopper Warbler and Tree Pipit 18th April, Sand Martin, a remarkably late 21st April, Hobby 26th April, Swift 29th April.
A newly arrived Yellow Wagtail at Cornish Farm in April.
May and June.
Early May saw a small fall of migrants on the 4th including a group of 4 Ring Ouzel, 3 Whinchat, Common Redstart, Grasshopper Warbler, 4 singing Reed Warbler, 4 Wheatear, whilst a Merlin and a late Redwing arrived in off the channel.
The 9th May was the best day for Pomarine Skua passage when an assembled crowd of locals recorded 82 of the springs 114 birds. The rest of the month included no other notable falls of land birds although scarce migrants were seen during the latter part of May. Early on the 14th a Golden Oriole (LP) burst from cover above the hollow and a Red-rumped Swallow (MEC & RHC) spent an hour on the headland mid-afternoon. Further southern overshoots on the 20th when two vocal Bee-eater (LP) passed east high over Shooters Bottom mid afternoon. A pair of Black-winged Stilt (CB) were found out on Pevensey Levels on the 21st. The 22nd May saw a Hawfinch (AW) and Hen Harrier pass over the headland, whilst another Golden Oriole (MEC & RHC) was recorded on 8th June.
Spotted Flycatcher, a typical early May migrant.
This Nightingale sang in vain throughout the spring failing to attract a mate.
The mid-summer solstice saw a Cuckoo on the 18th and a small group of Sand Martin on the 21st were all undoubtedly departing/reorienting summer migrants as were a congregation of 300 Swift on the 27th June.
Marbled White in June.
July and August.
Looking west over a parched headland early July.
Early July typical feels as if bird migration is in a brief stasis, although it’s always short lived, several croaking Nightingale were dotted about the headland within the first week, my first Willow Warbler of the autumn seen on the 21st July and my earliest ever autumn Pied Flycatcher on 26th along with a very juvenile looking Wheatear.
Things started to improve throughout August with a Wood Warbler (ES) in Belle Tout Wood on the 10th, an Osprey (RB) departed out to sea early on 15th and a Dotterel (AR) flew north over the pub on the 16th. A decent day on the 17th with 18 Wheatear, 4 Common Redstart, 3 Pied Flycatcher around the top of the headland. The 18th saw two Honey Buzzard (AB) together which marked the beginning of a good autumn for them here. With Sussex becoming a stronghold for this migratory raptor, autumn passage through Beachy Head is likely to increase. It’s hard to rule out duplication but a minimum of 10 were seen this year.
Honey Buzzard (photo:Alex Brookes).
Another Dotterel (LP) went west early on the 20th August and later that day a smart male Hen Harrier went east . The 26th saw a decent fall of passerines which included a bumper count of 55+ Willow Warbler around Birling Gap alone, two Spoonbill (AB) circled above the pub, and a minimum of 3 Honey Buzzard were seen during the early afternoon (SL, LP) with a dark Arctic Skua circling high inland over Warren Hill was a notable oddity whilst raptor watching.
September and October.
Looking east from above Belle Tout wood.
On the 2nd September a Wryneck (RB) appeared near the pub, a Spotted Crake (AW) was discovered at near by West Rise Marsh on the 3rd, whilst a second Wryneck (ES) was at Belle Tout on the 5th. A Honey Buzzard (RE) went out to sea over Belle Tout early on the 9th September. A number of us enjoyed a decent raptor-watch on the 11th which involved no fewer than 4 different Honey Buzzard, 3 Marsh Harrier, 15 Sparrowhawk and 8 Kestrel. This period is characterised by large diurnal movements of Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin and although there were days where they occurred in the 1000’s, it seemed numbers were generally lower than previous years. I saw my last Swift of 2022 amongst such a movement on the 19th September.
Juvenile Honey Buzzard over the old trapping area on the 11th September.
On the 15th an impressive flock of c50 White Storks (SL) were seen drifting west over Belle Tout, these birds would have originated from the Knepp estate project. Two Short-eared Owl were in Francis Bottom for a few evenings from the 17th September. A truly outstanding day on the 29th when Beachy Heads’ second ever Booted Warbler (DT) was discovered above the hollow whilst another Wryneck and a Yellow-browed Warbler (MEC & RHC) were also seen. A Honey Buzzard was reported on the 30th.
Booted Warbler (photo. David Thorns).
Early October is often peak passage time for Ring Ouzel with a maxima of twenty seen on the 2nd (KG). The latter part of October proved most productive when a Radde’s Warbler (DT) was discovered above the hollow on the 21st followed by the remarkable discovery of a second Radde’s (SH) in Shooters Bottom the following day, both departed overnight on the 23rd. Another Short eared Owl on the 22nd, a Cetti’s Warbler (one of four recorded this year) in Shooters and a Long tailed Blue butterfly was at Belle Tout on the 23rd. A Pallas’s Warbler (JMS) was found in Belle Tout Wood on the 29th October proved challenging to see throughout its two day stay, feeding high and mostly concealed in the tree tops.
Long tailed Blue.
November and December.
An easterly passage of Goldfinch is a prominent feature here in November.
A period characterised by large, mixed finch flights, interspersed by the occasional Woodlark, my last Swallows passed through on the 13th November (although RE saw two in the hollow on the 19th), 9 late Ring Ouzel on the 4th November. c4 Dartford Warbler at various locations across the headland. Slightly further afield 5 Penduline Tit (DT, KG) were discovered at nearby West Rise on 18th November which lingered into December.
A cold snap during the 2nd week of December saw heavy snowfall and freezing daytime temperatures throughout East Sussex. This brought a large number winter waders to Beachy Head, which remained relatively snow free. Several Snipe were flushed from grass near the pub on the 16th and around 80 Golden Plover and 30 Lapwing were on the ground.
Golden Plover opposite Shooters Bottom.
The cold snap was short-lived and the weather reverted back to a mild, transatlantic pattern bringing a stormy and very wet end to 2022.
Looking west above Birling Gap late December 2022.
As always an appreciative thank you to everyone who shared news this year, especially to Richard Butler, Chris Ball, Alex Brookes, Roger and Liz Charlwood, John and Doreen Cooper, Michael Clayton-Harding, Kris Gillam, Matt Eade, Bob Edgar, Jake Everett, Sara Humprey, Al Redman, David Thorns, James Wooldridge and Andrew Whitcombe.
A three day period of SE winds gradually becoming lighter.
Usual fare given the date, the last few days have been characterised by finches moving first thing, overwhelmingly Goldfinch, with much lesser numbers of Linnet, Redpoll,Greenfinch and Siskin mixed in. A Woodlark and a late Swallow were notable on the 13th alsosingles of Snipe and Golden Plover passed overhead, 3 Chiffchaff, c4 Firecrest and c15 Goldcrest could be found in the wood but the latter not constituting high numbers. 3 to 4 Black Redstart were in the Birling area including a very smart adult male. 4 flocks of Brent Geese were heard passing overland after dark. One thing was very notable, a species emblematic of gorse downland the Stonechat were contextually absent, I think I saw no more than 6 scattered about the headland over the entire weekend. A marked departure of breeding birds and migrants. A low number remain over winter until numbers rise again with early spring migrants.
A stiff NNE wind on the 4th November saw a reasonably busy morning in terms of visible migration including a Woodlark, 9 Ring Ouzel (3 in the bushes and a flock of 6 east), 800 Goldfinch, 15 Redpoll, 10 Siskin, 10 Greenfinch, 8 Reed Bunting, 30 Chaffinch, 2 Brambling, 30 Skylark and 2000+ Woodpigeon. With the exception of the finches, birds were coming in off the sea.
Another morning of very strong wind, a quick check of a few sites on the headland produced little of interest beyond a late Ring Ouzel feeding roadside at Shooters Bottom. I tried my hand at some seawtaching in yesterdays (1st Nov) gale but beyond a steady number of Gannet west, 5 Mediterranean Gull east, a single Brent Goose and passing Auk sp. I saw little of interest. A decent over head passage of finches (1000+) took place on the morning of the 31st Oct, mostly audible only as they past high SE, mainly Goldfinch but also included, Siskin, Redpoll, Linnet and Greenfinch. 2 Black Redstart were also at the pub.
A Pallas’s Warbler (found by JMS) in Belle Tout proved to be very difficult to see but I did get reasonable, if distant views on the 29th Oct keeping loose company with 10 Goldcrest and 2 Firecrest.
Strong SSW wind heavy rain midmorning, sunny spells.
I found overall numbers of migrants to still be quite low across the headland with only 3 Firecrest, 12 Goldcrest, 6 Chiffchaff seen, a single Fieldfare, c200 Goldfinch passed through after the rain along with 20 Linnet. The two Radde’s Warbler (DT/SH) were still in situ, JE found a Cetti’s Warbler in Shooters (which is only the third I’ve seen here). Very little seen really although a freshly emerged Long-tailed Blue butterfly was a treat at Belle Tout in the mid afternoon sunshine. A single Swallow passed east and a Clouded Yellow seen. A single 1cy Yellow-legged Gull was in amongst the gulls behind Hodcomb.
Yesterday was a similar story, a lack of birds beyond the Radde’s, with ME picking up a high flying Short-eared Owl late afternoon being the only other notable.
Mid-morning Dave Thorns discovered this wonderful Radde’s Warbler above the hollow, which promptly disappeared, only to reappear almost underfoot at about 12:45hrs. Very showy at times even too close to raise the binoculars as it worked its way up a bare Rosebay willowherb stem at about a metres distance, incredibly tame. Something about these birds really sets them apart from other phyllocs. A real delight, it only called a couple of times. I believe its the 5th site record.
A number of obs. out today AR, AW, ME, JMS, SL, and myself. Raptors stole the show with 4 Honey Buzzard (2 adults & 2 juvenile) seen throughout our 4hr raptor watch, 3 Marsh Harrier (2cy male, adult male and a juvenile), Hobby, 15+ Sparrowhawk, 8+ Kestrel, an uncounted number of numerous Common Buzzard. In the bushes a mix of the usual warbler species for the season along with 2 Common Redstart, 1 Pied Flycatcher. Several thousand mixed hirundines. 50+ Yellow Wagtail and c12 Tree Pipit over.
Below the closest of todays Honey Buzzard, a juvenile at 12.15hrs.
Yesterday, the 10th Sept. saw 3 Black Redstart in shooters, 2 late Swift making up the merge highlights.
A humid day, broken cloud, sunny spells with light SE winds.
The morning felt great, although I cleaved off a large amount of available time trying to see a Wryneck found by ES, just east of Belle Tout wood, which was a waste of time. Although I did have a fleeting encounter with it later in the afternoon. They can be such fickle birds. With RAB finding one at the pub on the 2nd Sept and another at Crow link (AK) the same day, it seems like a return to form for them this autumn. Other totals included 11 Whinchat, 1 Wheatear, a Common Redstart, Nightingale, 8 Willow Warbler, 15 Blackcap, 15 Common Whitethroat. 10 Grey Wagtail over, along with 1000 mixed hirundines over two visits.
Having a bit of unexpected free time I headed down to West Rise at midday where I saw the Spotted Crake (found by AW on the on the 3rd) twice in an hours hot and humid vigil. It seemed very timid whilst I was there. A 1cy Yellow-legged Gull was on the lake, I didn’t check the sleeping eclipse ducks for theGarganey as I was too damn hot. Two Black tailed Godwits were also present.
Foggy start, rapid clearing. Light northerly turning SW by afternoon.
A very good morning for numbers, mostly seemed centred around Birling. Personal totals 55+ Willow Warbler, 80+ Common Whitethroat, 2 Lesser Whitethroat, 20 Blackcap, 2 Reed Warbler, 3 Sedge Warbler, 2 Wheatear, 6 Whinchat, 6 Common Redstart, 3 Spotted Flycatcher, 40+ Yellow Wagtail, 2 Tree Pipit, AB had two Spoonbill circle the pub at 08.40 and 2 Pied Flycatcher along the edge of the hollow. Several 100 Swallow, Sand Martin and House Martin were seen along with 5 Swift.
At 12.20hrs Simon Linington called to say a Honey Buzzard had just gone east over the headland which I luckily saw circling over the garden in Eastbourne. I joined him during lunch where at least two more Honey Buzzard were seen distantly to the NE. I suspect the SW wind was pushing birds east of the headland. More unexpectedly was a dark Arctic Skua found circling high inland which eventually drifted towards us and out to sea. Thanks to Simon for the calls.
A dramatic change to the weather overnight, going from a warm and still evening to torrential downpours backed by a north wind by morning. A obvious downing of migrants in what was a brief look in-between heavy showers.
A cluster of activity mostly around the pub that included 3 Pied Flycatcher, 5 Spotted Flycatcher, 1 Wheatear, 30+ Common Whitethroat, 4 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Reed Warbler, 2 Sedge Warbler, 15 Willow Warbler, a single Sparrowhawk and a Hobby seen.