23.3.20 to 27.3.20 Lockdown begins

Obviously this is going to be a difficult period for so many in so many ways. From a birding perspective it will certainly curtail the spring for me. However I am fortunate enough to live within walking distance of my local patch, Beachy Head. When possible, I will make regular visits but at all times will conduct my activities within government guidelines regarding exercise and social distancing.


Looking east from Belle Tout Lighthouse on Friday 27th on another oddly serene morning.

The weeks weather was dominated by clear skies day and night accompanied by a very strong E or NNE wind. There weren’t a huge number of passerine migrants seen and the stand out highlight being a party of 4 Spoonbill on the 25 March. They were tracked along the East Sussex coast prior to and after their appearance at Beachy Head. In regard to the more expect and familiar birds, I’ve enjoyed the return of Linnet to the headland, the gaudy males joyous song really lifts the spirits.


Spoonbill circling out over the sea at Birling where I lost them for a while somehow!


… then almost passing unnoticed to the east.

The annual spring passage of Red Kite also got underway with a minimum of 7 seen. Small single digit counts of Firecrest and Chiffchaff were seen most mornings, along with single Blackcaps on two occasions. There was max count of 4 Black Redstart around Birling Gap on the 25th. A total of 4 White Wagtail were seen.

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The presence of Red Kite here are almost exclusively a feature of spring. This year their passage embodies something reassuringly ordered & timeless against the adverse chaos we are all living in.


Black Redstart at Birling Gap.


Some White Wagtail getting under hoof near Hodcomb.


And this rather tired one in Shooters




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18.3.20 Iceland Gull at Birling Gap

Dull, overcast with a moderate and cool SW wind.


Today, I basically spent hours watching this thing and the 1500+ large gulls following it at Birling Gap. I was amazed not to find a single Yellow-legged or Caspian Gull amongst them but was very pleased when a dainty juvenile (2cy) Iceland Gull briefly dropped in amongst the Herring Gulls.


Iceland Gull. A really elegant one, perhaps a female.


It’s actually my first “white winger” at Beachy Head


Some interesting dark markings in the outer primaries although being confined to the inner webs, not really what you’d want to see if considering kumlieni. Only spending about 5 minutes in the field before departing east, I was unable to locate it again despite spending several hours looking through the Herring Gulls.


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16.3.20 Cranes!

Clear and bright, a cold start with a light NW.


One of two Wheatear in Michel Dean this morning.

A gorgeous day with plenty of spring like action to lift the spirits. There had been an appreciable arrival of passerines with a notable increase in Chiffchaff, small numbers of Firecrest and Goldcrest but most pleasing, at least 3 Wheatear. Some real excitement came as two Common Crane appeared over Eastbourne (viewed from Beachy Head) having previously been seen at Pett Level, Bexhill and West Rise. Big thank to Kris Gillam and Keith Hackett for updates on the birds progress west. Common Buzzard were notable with c18 seen including a group of 7 over Shooters Bottom, all presumed local birds.


Common Crane


They spent quite sometime circling high over Eastbourne.


Before drifting over the northern edge of the hollow. At all times the pair flew in a synchronised manner, the slight size difference probably donates there were a pair.


The birds then lost height and headed west, following the line of the A259 towards Seaford at 10.30am.


Buzzard over Shooters Bottom.

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9.3.20 Firecrests

A clear morning with a strong SW wind. I covered Went Hill, Birling, Belle Tout and the old trapping area.


Winter cliff falls at Birling Gap have covered the foot of the access steps and eaten into the gardens of the cottages.

Relatively quiet, windy and cold the only highlight being my first Firecrests on the headland since last November with at least 3 in the ivy clad centre of the wood at Belle Tout. There were also 6 Long tailed Tit in there too (this species seems far more numerous here over the last 12 months). 10 Stonechat across all sites visited and 5 Robin in odd places suggested there had been at least some movement among the less obvious migrants.


Firecrest in Belle Tout wood.


Female Peregrine “having a look” over Birling Gap this morning a male was in attendance also.

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7.3.20 Slow…

A chilly morning quickly becoming overcast with a cooling light WSW wind.


Chiffchaff in Michel Dean.

A very slow day with little to show for the time spent around Birling Gap, Went Hill and Belle Tout. Only notables were a single Chiffchaff in Michel Dean along with a Goldcrest there. 2 Meadow Pipit were song flighting between Birling and Belle Tout, the wood itself quiet. A sense there were Blue Tit and Great Tit moving around with c15 and c10 seen respectively. I stopped at the old trapping area which proved to be birdless but the muddy, cattle worn area just to the north held a very grey looking Rock Pipit which departed west before I could properly check it for littoralis.


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2.3.20 Early spring and it feels good

A bright day with the WNW wind dropping significantly overnight. The was a sense of spring in the air.

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Raven at Birling Gap.

3 very high Common Buzzard soaring above the headland in the sunshine, at such a height their mewing call was only just audible, 4/5 Raven were actively engaged in similar territorial disputes. In the sheltered spots, the sun felt quite warm the likes of which I’ve not felt for months. It’s so nice to be out birding with purpose again. Only a single Chiffchaff in the wood at Belle Tout although 4 were present yesterday some of which had pollen horns marking them out as true migrants from further south. They are the earliest genuine migrants I’ve seen here since I started watching the headland in 2014. With such fine weather to the south of the UK I’m not surprised. I believe a calm weather window on the evening of the 29th February allowed a few motivated birds to make the leap across the channel.

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Female Stonechat at Birling Gap, these must be days away from a significant increase in numbers.


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February 2020


A period of dull, wet and often very stormy weather with four named storms arriving throughout. A thoroughly disparaging 4 weeks making it the wettest February on record. Although as I write, it is the last day of meteorological winter and the long range forecast promising more settled, migrant friendly weather by mid-March. It feels good to be reaching the end of winter.  RHC had 3 Chiffchaff at Hodcombe today (29th) perhaps sneaking in on a rare evening of lighter winds overnight.

JFC has kept the flag flying with a few seawatches where the highlights were a few good movements of Red throated Diver & Auk.

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