After 7 days of relentless SW winds the previous evening and this morning were calm and bright.
There were signs of movement today with my first south bound Willow Warbler of the summer (RHC had two birds last week – really quite early movements), and a single Sand Martin. Although highlight of the day was a very restless and flighty male Serin (RHC) in Shooters Bottom. The Kestrel family (which I suspect breed at Cornish Farm) now have a mobile & noisy family, whilst a Nightingale croaking in Shooters yesterday was the only thing of note in the high winds.
The Willow Warblers seem to be reflecting the same very early movements shown here by the Nightingales in late June. I wonder if other migrants will follow suit.
A nice bright adult male, unfortunately it remained quite shy and mobile.
I never know quite how to label this time of the year, clearly not autumn and more so midsummer. It is however an intriguing transitional period where some of our earlier migrants start reorienting as a prelude to moving south. Nightingale definitely do that here. Birds disperse from their breeding areas inland often arriving at Beachy Head in early July & linger (I suspect to moult). Rarely are they seen, just their whistles and croaks giving them away. This transition period certainly seems earlier than usual. The last few days have seen 2 Nightingale appear at Shooters Bottom (a good 8/10 days earlier than usual) and today, amongst a modest passage of east bound Swift, a few small groups of Sand Martin.
With still so much happening nationally it seems as if this is the spring that never ends. A Rosy Starling seen briefly by Chris Ball at Belle Tout on the 20th, just days after the Blyth’s Reed Warbler, enabled Beachy Head to make some late quality gains at the end of quite a disappointing spring for numbers and passage of common migrants. Other scarce highlights included Black Kite, Bee-eater, several Serin, 2 Common Crane, Iceland Gull and 4 Spoonbill.
There’s now plenty of butterfly on the wing now across the headland, although I wonder how the parched landscape will affect the number of flowering plants, it really looks like it does in late July than June.
I had spent a few hours birdwatching on Beachy Head mostly centred around sky watching and entertaining the possibility of an interesting flyover. It being mid-June, passerine activity was limited to the few species that breed on the headland, Linnet, Common Whitethroat and Stonechat being the most obvious. I had decided to make my way home for lunch and headed back to where I had parked the car. It was at this moment I took an incoming call from my girlfriend. As I walked and talked my attention became drawn to an interesting song coming from a clump of bushes 10m west of the car park at Horseshoe plantation. It was so intriguing I could no longer concentrate on the call and had to make my excuses and concluded the conversation. Now my attention could be fully devoted to the singer. I should at this point interject and enlighten the reader that the time I had spent listening intently to both Marsh and Blyth’s Reed Warbler recordings online had been time well spent. Owing to that degree of diligent revision, I instantly realised I had either a Marsh or Blyth’s Reed on my hands. After listening a few moments longer I was confident the songster was a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. It was initially very vocal for the first hour or so but becoming quieter as the day went on. Always tricky to see and only showing occasionally it did however perform particularly well around 16:30 for some.
It constitutes the first record for Beachy Head and the 3rd for Sussex. With the previous two having been suppressed, this gave a few county listers & Beachy Head stalwarts the opportunity to enjoy it throughout the afternoon.
Unfortunately I didn’t get ant decent images of the bird but thankfully Matt did! The pathway way to identifying this bird was wholly based on the song. The only significant notations I made whilst watching it (views were always brief and often obscured) was a colder overall tone in regards to Reed Warbler and a finer appearance to the bill giving it a weaker more spiky feel about the head. In this instance, it was pleasing to make an immediate judgment on the bird, as opposed to the deliberative process involved when encountering a silent autumn migrant. Total spontaneity!
When in full song it gave a pleasing and varied mix of musical and metallic phrases delivered in a confident, measured manner with each phrase repeated 2/3 times, giving it a composition and delivery reminiscent of Song Thrush. Occasionally it offered a “sub-song” where the structure was less defined and volume reduced. Mimicry was rife and liberally interspersed throughout the song. Species I could decipher emulated were excellent renditions of Chaffinch (both flight call and “chink” alarm call) Yellow Wagtail, Linnet, Goldfinch & a single phrase of Common Rosefinch. Along with pleasant musical elements were metallic clicking noises and softer “tuts” offered 3/4 times in rapid succession together with Blyth’s Reed’s characteristic 3/4 note whistles, descending in scale. It was completely different to the harsh, non-musical & repetitive song of Eurasian Reed Warbler (of which there had been 3 late, out of habitat, singers throughout the previous week). It did have some similarities to Marsh Warbler although it was much slower and lacked the neurotic excitable delivery of that species which to me is slightly reminiscent of Sedge Warbler.
A week of increasingly warm and settled weather ending with some excellent conditions for continental overshoots.
Looking east from above Belle Tout Wood.
As the breeding birds on the headland get stuck into the season, a single Spotted Flycatcher and 2 Wheatear were the only migrant passerine noted. Improvement came on the 8th when KG messaged to say AW had just had a Black Kite passing Shooters Bottom. Remarkably this bird then spent 4 hours on the headland. There was also a large number of Red Kite (c30) over the 8th and 9th. All east bound and all 2cy birds. KG had a Bee-eater at 05.22 on the 9th at Birling Gap which was presumably the same bird that appeared at Hodcombe later in the morning. Kris also had 23 Pomarine Skua throughout the week.
Black Kite behind the pub.
Best views I’ve had of these in the UK
The Kite’s seemed more inclined to linger than usual, with both Red and the Black Kite resting on the ground.
Well, there’s little to say about the last week. April could not be redeemed despite some interesting looking weather towards the months end. May opened in a similar vain. The first Spotted Flycatcher showed up at Belle Tout on 2nd May. Very little change to a static feel on land. Highlights from a short seawatch on the 29th included, 1 Manx Shearwater, 10 Arctic Skua, 5 Great Skua.
A great looking Dotterel field at Cornish Farm (no Dotterel).
Swallow prospecting nesting opportunities at Cornish Farm.
Pied Wagtail clinging on for dear life in a fierce SW gale on the 1st.
From a birding perspective a frustrating week plagued by a ridiculous leg injury (improving!) and glorious weather conspired to make yet another unrewarding weeks birding. Weather throughout the period virtually cloudless with wind mostly from the ENE often strong with quiet spell towards the end of the week.
Sunset on the 23rd.
Bird wise I detected no perceivable falls or arrivals and considered most birds seen to be those intent on breeding. Some interest over the garden where a surprise Avocet on the 21st attracted the attention of the local Herring Gulls, two flocks of Common Scoter over two nights and regular Whimbrel flocks passing were recorded on the Noc Mig set up.
A couple of evening sea-watches produced small numbers of distant Whimbrel, Bar tailedGodwit, “Commic” Tern, Sandwich Tern, 1 Black throat Diver & 4 Arctic Skua, Kris Gillam had 8 distant Pomarine Skua early on the 26th which were the first to be seen from here this year.
Lack of decent coverage was exaggerated this week when I rendered my right leg inoperable!. I have been unable to cover the distances I had been the previous weeks.
Sunset from Shooters on the 16th.
Weather remained resolutely fine & cloudless throughout the period with mostly strong ENE winds with lighter winds from the south on 15th. Although favourable fall conditions occurred in the early hours of the 18th, when a combination of light NE winds interacted with a front from the south bringing thunder and rain. No real numbers but it brought variety to what has been an abysmal spring thus far. Truly the worst in terms of birding since I started regular watching here in 2014.
Blackcap in Shooters.
Arrival dates below of some incoming migrants (most of which much later then pervious springs) These include a couple of things seen by other obs.
Nightingale 18th April
Lesser Whitethroat 18th April
Sedge Warbler 18th April
Grasshopper Warbler 18th April
Common Redstart 17th April
Whinchat 18th April
House Martin 16th April
Willow Warbler in Belle Tout Wood. I’ve not broken a day total of 10 yet this spring. At this rate it might be late July until I do!
Weather throughout the week was fine with a wind that meandered between the ENE and ESE sectors.
The view towards Birling Gap from Belle Tout.
The exemplary conditions allowed incoming birds to complete nocturnal migration unhindered thus the week was almost devoid of any perceptible arrivals. Away from the headland an interesting mid afternoon interlude came on the 8th as White Stork passed NE over the back garden. The bird was ringed and given it’s distinctive “moult” could be traced as the same individual seen at Dymchurch, Kent two days prior. It was a bird from the introduction program run by Knepp Estate, the purpose of which is totally lost on me. I believe there’s considerable doubt White Stork ever bred in the UK. Currently there seems to be more Storks in the skies above Sussex than commercial aircraft. Further info on the program can be read here.
White Stork. A new species for the Eastbourne garden… kind of! Curlew and Moorhen featured on the Noc Mig set up I’ve been running in the garden at night.
Some familiar migrants reappeared throughout the week, dates of my first below.
Willow Warbler 6th April
Yellow Wagtail 7th April
Whitethroat 9th April
Tree Pipit 10th April
Although grounded migrants were non-existent, there were small but noticeable arrivals of diurnal ones. Meadow Pipit & Swallow arrived in small numbers, 2 Tree Pipit heard and a few Yellow Wagtail passed over spread across all mornings. A small easterly passage of Linnet on the 10th April included a few Goldfinch, 2 Siskin and some real quality, as a smart male Serin flew low through Cow Gap allowing excellent views for a passing passerine, calling as it went. According to the SOS sightings page, Roger Charlwood at Hodcomb had 37 Red Kite throughout the week all east – an incredible number. Two Hoopoe discovered locally raised hopes of an encounter on the headland but unfortunately I had no luck.
Swallow above Shooters Bottom. A pleasant sight and sound.
Singing Chiffchaff in the Hollow, several birds now on territory throughout the headland.
The week was dominated by a cold, strong northerly airflow mostly from the NE before swinging around to the SE and S by the weekend, lifting temperatures significantly. Although this hasn’t yet changed the birding scene on land. Perhaps poor weather endured in regions of the mediterranean have put a temporary hold on continental arrivals.
Foggy morning on the 4th April, Birling Gap.
Most mornings were very light on activity, still small numbers of (what could have been lingering) Firecrest and a small daily turnover of c8 Chiffchaff seemed evident. Although, for these to be the highlights of a long walk to Birling Gap and back to Eastbourne seem meagre given it is early April. Reflective of this springs sluggish progress a lone Wheatear (my first since the 16th March) appeared briefly on the 2nd April. Other then the uplifting sight of a lone Swallow making landfall on the 5th April there were no further signs of migration. I’ve still yet to see or hear my first Willow Warbler of spring!
Wheatear at Birling.
Common Buzzards over the back garden.
Like so many others I’ve been spending (too much) time in the garden staring skywards, mostly hoping for migrating raptors. Seeing little of note other than local Common Buzzards, along with a lone Red Kite.
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.
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.