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.