24th August 2016 HOT!

Another day of warm sunny weather accompanied by a moderate easterly air flow, hot by 7am! The favourable conditions produced another quality morning with good overhead passage from the start. I birded (06.15-08.30) around the pub, old trapping area and the strip between there and Shooters Bottom.


The view from behind the pub looking west towards Belle Tout lighthouse.


Wheatear on the pub roof.

Yellow Wagtails were very conspicuous this morning with birds moving east in numbers. 50+ recorded along with my first 2 Grey Wagtails of the season. A further 120+ Yellow Wagtails east over Shooters Bottom just before dusk. 12 Tree Pipit also passed over. Swallows and Sand Martin made up the bulk of 450+ Hirundines around the headland first thing. With House Martin accompanying them in much smaller numbers. 30+ Swift also put in an appearance after a few days absence. Of interest on the ground were 2 Whinchat, a brief appearance of a Pied Flycatcher in the pub garden, 3 Wheatear on the pub roof and 2 Redstart. I flushed a Grasshopper Warbler near the radio tower as I concluded the loop. 65+ Whitethroat, 2 Lesser Whitethroat, 5 Reed Warbler, 1 Blackcap, 1 Garden Warbler and 12 Willow Warbler were scattered about at various sites covered. A showy Nightingale was in Shooters Bottom at dusk.



I’m now off to Falsterbo, Sweden until Monday. Hej då!

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23rd August 2016 Hen Harrier

After a 72hr transatlantic battering, today dawned bright & clear with a easterly breeze. The change in conditions brought an anticipated improvement in the bird situation.


Female Hen Harrier.

I walked the long loop between the pub and Shooters Bottom. Whitethroats were very numerous with somewhere in the region of 70 seen, Willow Warbler numbers are really tailing off now with only 12 Seen. A Grasshopper Warbler flew up from under foot, diving into the cover of the old trapping area. The strip of stunted hawthorns towards Shooters held more Whitethroat and a single Sedge Warbler. Shooters it’s self was busy with Warblers. 6 Reed, 1 Garden, 40 Whitethroat and 2 Redstart. What was assumed to be last weeks Wryneck was busy feeding along the main rides. An adult female Hen Harrier put on a show quartering the meadow around Hodcomb.


Hen Harrier.

Overhead a modest but steady easterly passage of Sand Martin and Swallow had got going by 9am joined by c12 Yellow Wagtail and at least 6 Tree Pipit. 2 Wheatear also flew east.


Wryneck Shooters.

John Cooper found a Melodious Warbler at Birling early on but due to phone coverage problems  which blight the area, I received the news late. I had a quick look but no cigar.

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18th August 2016 Wryneck

The morning was slightly overcast but very still. In contrast to the previous 3/4 days which had been clear with a moderate to brisk E or ENE wind.


Reed Warbler.

For me personally the morning was relatively sedate. My first Marsh Harrier of the autumn came in the shape of a juvenile which headed out to sea over Shooters bottom. 2 Wheatear were on the roof of the pub. Numbers of Yellow Wagtail have been increasing throughout the week with 20 passing over head this morning. The passage of Tree Pipit has also picked up with 3 on the 17th. I think Willow Warblers have peaked, I only saw c18 first thing with another c20 during visits later in the day. In contrast Whitethroats were numerous with a combined total at various sites exceeding 60. I have only encounter small, single figure numbers of Reed and Garden Warblers along with similarly low counts of Lesser Whitethroat. A Wryneck was discovered in Shooters midmorning which I caught up with at about 2pm. With a sprinkling of eastern drift migrants along the east coast it was nice to see Beachy Head get something!


Whilst looking for the Wryneck some 400 hirundines gathered above the headland (70% Swallow 30% Sand Martin) with around 20 Swift accompanying them. I also encountered my first Clouded Yellow’s of the year with 4 seen in the warm, humid sunshine. 3 Whinchat were along the Cornish Farm track at dusk. 4 Turnstone high over on the 15th were note worthy as seeing waders actually on or over the headland is quite hard.


Clouded Yellow.

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12th August 2016


Willow Warbler.

I spent a few hours between 06.30 and 09.00 in the area between the Pub and the old trapping area. The wind was brisk, strengthening from the west but unlike the night before, clear skies had dropped more Willow Warbler in.


Above the “Old trapping area” so called as there used to be ringing at several sites on Beachy Head. Now days it’s limited to the Hollow on the eastern side of the headland. A modest looking collection of wind blown Hawthorns that have hosted a number of great birds over the years.

The mornings birds were standard mid-August fare with the roll call including 1 Tree Pipit over, c40 Willow Warbler, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 20 Whitethroat, 1 Reed Warbler. A passage of around 110+ Swallow went west accompanied by 2/3 Sand Martin. It seems to be a good autumn for Willow Warblers (in the 3 autumns I’ve been here). Nothing compared to historical numbers but then again where is. Grasshopper Warbler seem noticeably absent, having not seen one since the first put in an appearance last month. Cuckoo on the other hand have been pleasingly numerous with both an adult and juvenile seen this week, bringing the collective total to 10 individuals seen this autumn.


10 Painted Lady were floating about mainly in the sheltered areas, a marked increase in numbers this morning.


Another of this mornings Willow’s feeding low to the ground.

The 11th August was fairly poor for migrant numbers, that also coincided with a cloudy night. Seems clear skies are actually very good here for dropping birds in. The 10th however saw a Wood Warbler (JC) spend a few minutes in the old trapping area and whilst looking for that I had a brief encounter with my first Redstart of the autumn.



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9th August 2016 Pied Flycatcher

The wind, still a bit strong, switched NW over night with a cool front passing through. There were a few birds about including the appearance of a few seasonal firsts.


The autumns first Pied Flycatcher.

I mainly covered the Hollow and Cow Gap with Bob. Good numbers of Willow Warbler (40+), a single Blackcap, 3 Reed Warbler, 25 odd Whitethroat, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Chiffchaff. 3 Nightingale were in the net runs where a Spotted Flycatcher put in a brief appearance. Both a Hobby and Sparrowhawk (I only see Sparrowhawk here spring and autumn) passed over the Hollow and an adult Cuckoo was in Cow Gap gully with a single Wheatear on the beach. Small numbers of Sand Martin and Swallow past east as did a single Swift. I also made a quick dash to catch up with a Pied Flycatcher John Cooper discovered in the old trapping area, the autumns first.


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5th August 2016 Cetti’s Warbler

Bright clear night and morning, lighter SW wind than previous 48hrs.

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Willow Warbler.

The proceeding night had brought clear skies and a lull in the SW gale that had dominated the previous 48hrs. This allowed some nocturnal movement of birds with a fair bit of activity first thing. I covered the Hollow & Cow Gap.

30+ Willow Warbler, 8 Whitethroat (numbers seem well down), 3/4 Reed Warbler, 7 Swift and c15 Sand Martin headed west, a Nightingale was whistling/croaking from the net runs and a single Yellow Wagtail went over. In terms of scarcity the Cetti’s Warbler (which sang and showed briefly) was probably the most notable. It’s about the 20th Beachy Head record and the first for some years. Thanks to Bob for helping me out on that one.

At 15.50pm, whilst at home, the Herring Gulls went crazy outside & with bins in hand, I stepped out into the garden to see a very smart and very barred, male Honey Buzzard heading north in fast active flight. Too fast for the camera but a nice addition to the garden list! Thanks again to the gulls. Last Autumn I did see HB’s hit the coast at the headland and head north, back inland as if deciding conditions weren’t favourable for a sea crossing. I wonder if this bird had done the same.


Another of todays Willow Warbler.


Robert Edgar’s photo of the Cetti’s Warbler. Taken whilst being processed on the 30th July. It had previously been ringed in the Cuckmere Valley.

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Herring’s versus Yellow leg’s

I thought I’d put a few comparison shots up from Princes Park. I went down again today, the weather being not much use for anything else. Beachy Head is shrouded in low cloud whilst being battered by a gale force wind. Weather better suited for late October!

I look at gulls a lot, but still I’m frequently baffled & fooled by the variety that occurs within a single species. Variation amongst the larger gulls, both in plumage and size often leads to me seeking a second opinion on a tricky bird. Below a few “side by side” shots of juvenile Herring and Yellow-legged Gulls. It would have been nice to include Lesser black-backed Gull but they’re not a common species here. The comments made below are only relevant to juvenile birds.

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Yellow legged Gull


Herring Gull.

The above shots demonstrate nicely how plain winged YLG’s should appear. Herring Gulls have broad fringed and deeply notched wing coverts and tertials. The YLG’s tertials are essentially plain with minimal fringing limited to the tip. Not extending along the length of the whole tertial feathers. On average YLG’s tend to be whiter on the body, (although this is quite a pale Herring Gull!) often looking white bellied in flight when viewed from below. The classic, longer legged look of YLG is nicely shown off. This YLG is quite demure, probably a female. See the post here for a bigger, male type YLG from July.

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Herring Gull

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Yellow legged Gull.

YLG’s in flight should have a striking quality. Compared with the Herring above, it gives you a good idea how different they should appear, when presented with a classic individual. Key features are the tail pattern and the lack of an extensive pale window in the inner primaries. I also find the synchronicity of tone between the tail band, secondaries and outer primaries a good visual key when dealing with a bird in flight. The above bird also demonstrates how solid the spread wing looks when compared the heavily notched feathers on the Herring. Reminiscent of juvenile Lesser black-backed Gull but they would show an even more concolorous, wholly dark upper wing with virtually no pale in the inner primaries.


Yellow legged Gull


Herring Gull.

Two juveniles on the water, similar comments would apply here to the two standing birds. A nice demonstration of how contrasty YLG’s are over Herring Gulls. We should start to see the first new mantle feathers coming through on the YLG’s any day now, being ahead of the Herring Gulls by 3/4 weeks. You can see that older age (being born earlier in the year further south in Europe) in the worn feather edges on the YLG, compared to the brand new feather edging of the younger Herring Gull.

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