What a year. I doubt many will look back upon 2020 fondly. The cruel impositions of restricted movement and to a degree, apprehension and uncertainty laid a heavy burden upon most of us. I was perhaps more fortunate than some living so close to my local patch. The headland had an above average year in terms of scarcities although frustratingly many were seen fleetingly and by their finders only. This year saw no pen to paper for BBRC descriptions. That said probably the most famous bird of year did pay us a visit during the autumn. Sadly another year passed where I didn’t see a Turtle Dove on the headland, although I’m aware of a single autumn record (RHC). Thanks to all who shared news throughout the year, finds and photos accredited where applicable.
January & February
The beginning of this period was wet with associated Atlantic depressions and a colder settled spell in the later part of January. February was unsettled with a brief quite spell in the last few days. My birding was mostly centred around other local spots, sparse highlights being Hawfinches at Penhurst and Bearded Tit at West Rise. Unfortunately I saw no Short eared Owls out on Pevensey Levels this winter. The period ended with at least 4 Chiffchaff being seen on the headland on the last day of February, which was particularly early.
March and April.
Despite the onset of a national lockdown, the weather was glorious and settled for much of the period completely sedating the birding on the land. March starting with a very small arrival of Chiffchaff, the first Firecrests on the 9th and Stonechat numbers notably on the rise too.
A proper spring day on the 16th March with the arrival of 3 Wheatear, a sprinkling of Goldcrest, Firecrest, Chiffchaff and 18 Common Buzzard soared above. Although the star birds were a pair of Common Crane (LP, JFC) which spent 20 minutes circling town and slowly heading west.
On the 18th March a 2cy Iceland Gull (LP) was amongst 1500 gulls following the plough in the set aside field at Birling Gap.
A party of 4 Spoonbill (LP) went east on the 25th March along with White Wagtails and Black Redstart on the ground. As we moved into April the continuing fine weather meant it slowly became one of the worst springs for common migrant falls anyone here could remember. For example I didn’t see a single Ring Ouzel during spring.
My first Swallow came on the 5th April followed by Willow Warblers on the 6th April (I failed to surpass a day total of 10 at any point this spring) A male Serin (LP) was a nice surprise on the 10th April. Other familiar faces followed with the only decent fall occurring on the 18th April which added variety but not quantity, it included Whinchat, Nightingale and Grasshopper Warbler. The sea was largely neglected by me with KG’s 8 Pomarine Skua on the 26th April being the best I heard of.
May & June.
The period started bright and blustery with a better birding spell on the 8th May when a Black Kite (AW, RHC) spent over 4 hours roaming the headland. Both recent records have occurred amongst the eastbound spring passage of Red Kites.
A typically brief Bee-eater (KG, RHC) was seen at two locations early on the 9th. May. A Cuckoo in song for a few days around the 26th May was my only encounter with them throughout the whole year. The 30th May saw a curious record of 3 mobile Serin (JP, ME, JE, IB) seen at various sites on the headland. The 16th June saw the discovery of a Blyth’s Reed Warbler (LP) singing from a small clump of Blackthorn at Belle Tout. A major county rarity and one of only a few south coast records this spring. It was very vocal at first, becoming quieter later showing only on occasion.
An adult Rose coloured Startling (CB) briefly above Belle Tout wood on the 20th June added some gaudy quality to what wasn’t a bad spring in terms of scarcities despite the lack of common migrants. June ended with the first signs of southbound migration, a handful of Sand Martin and two Nightingale on the 26th June.
July & August.
The slow trickle of early migrants continued into July with a surprise Serin (RHC) on the 7th July. The first Redstart of the autumn appeared on the 21st July, first Wheatear on the 22nd July & the first Pied Flycatcher on the 29th July along with 63 Willow Warbler which was my best day count of the autumn. Juvenile Yellow legged Gulls began to appear along the beaches of Eastbourne and occasionally over the headland. Heading into August the numbers and variety of migrant passerines increased with a Melodious Warbler (JFC) being a notable highlight on the 10th August along with the first group of Crossbill of the autumn (their best autumn since I moved here in 2013) also a Hen Harrier past through.
The 21st August was the first hint of hirundines moving in numbers. The latter part of August is often a great period for birding here but alas the weather intervened again bringing northerly winds and the coolest summer bank holiday on record. Unusually no Honey Buzzard were recorded during that period. Although the 31st August saw a decent flurry of birds 8+ Pied Flycatcher, first Merlin of the autumn, 3 Short eared Owls and a Wood Warbler (RHC)
September and October
The first of at least 3 White Stork appeared on the 3rd Sept, Siskin were particularly apparent this autumn along of occasional small flocks of Crossbill.
A Wryneck appeared on the 12th Sept (TC) lingering for 2 days.
2 Osprey flew south on the 14th Sept with large numbers of House Martin moving around midmonth with my last Swift seen on the 15th Sept. An Ortolan Bunting (LP) put in the briefest of appearances on the 16th Sept. A Common Rosefinch (DB) was in Shooters Bottom on the 29th Sept, I also saw my first Ring Ouzel of the autumn on that date. The first of 3 Yellow-browed Warbler (LP) was below Belle Tout on the 3rd Oct. Nice to see after a complete blank in 2019.
The 5th Oct saw two Lapland Bunting (BC) spend a few days around the apex of the headland. Dartford Warblers began the annual winter residency with birds found above Birling Gap on the 11th Oct and a Spoonbill flew over (SL). At least 12+ Ring Ouzel were present on the 14th Oct. Huge news followed later on the 14th Oct when ME discovered the departing Lammergeier at Went Hill which went on the grace the headland with it’s majesty for 24hrs before departing south out to sea on the 15th. After spending almost 4 months in the country it was quite a piece of serendipity it chose to depart from our corner of the UK.
A blythi type Lesser Whitethroat was in Shooters Bottom on the 17th Oct (present since the 10th) whilst ME had 3 flyover Bearded Tit (a much prized species here) and another Lapland Bunting.
A Little Bunting (RF) was seen briefly in Shooters Bottom on the 19th Oct . The month ended fittingly with a Pallas’s Warbler (RHC) seen briefly on the 31st Oct.
November and December
The month started well with Bob Edgar and co. trapping a Dusky Warbler on the 5th Nov.
Decent finch numbers continued into the early part of the month. At least 120+ Goldcrest, c1000 Goldfinch, 1 Woodlark and my last 2 Swallow on the 7th Nov. Things began to cool off a little toward the later part on the month with a regular singing Dartford Warbler above Birling often being the only highlight. December was typically very quite with little of note seen.