Monday 18 March 2024

Where to Watch Birds in Surrey and Sussex

It's been out a month or so now, so I thought it was probably time I posted about mine and Ed's book!

Thanks so much to everyone who has already bought a copy and said nice things about it, it really is so great to know that our two years' of work on it has produced a finished product that is proving so useful and informative to other birders.

Ed and I have both found previous editions of this book (which included Kent) invaluable and still have copies on our respective bookshelves. It's really such an honour to have one out there now with our own names on the cover!

If you haven't got a copy and would like to, it's available from all online booksellers, in some physical bookshops, or direct from Bloomsbury here

Sunday 10 March 2024

In like a lion

1st March

Here we are then, at last - the first day of meterological spring, and it was another wet and squally start to the day. In fact, most of the day really! In the gaps in the (sometimes very heavy and haily) showers I managed to sneak in quick looks at Waltham Brooks, Bignor Park scrape and Amberley. The latter was still holding lots of Dunlin (30 or more), three Ruff and a Great White Egret but there was still no further sign of the Turnstone from earlier in the week. A burst of sunshine just as I was heading home coaxed quite a few raptors into the air including 4-5 each of Red Kite and Buzzard and one of the White-tailed Eagles. Otherwise, rather meagre highlights from earlier in the day were five Tufted Ducks on the lake at Waltham Brooks and a Little Grebe and ~35-40 Siskins at Bignor Park. 
Amberley Wildbrooks
2nd March

A really unpleasant start to the day with wind and heavy rain saw me enjoying an unusually lazy start to the day before heading down to Havant for a morning of family stuff. By the time we got to where we were going, the weather had actually markedly improved and the sun was even breaking through a bit. A text came through from Steve Chalmers informing me of two Black-necked Grebes on the South Brooks at Pulborough. Oh no! Just four months on from the Slavonian Grebe at the end of last year - my previous Pulborough tick - here was another grebe species new for my Pulborough list, and I was 30-odd miles away. Luckily the birds hung around and I was able to enjoy good views (albeit distant) from Hail's View mid-afternoon, with the pair even displaying to one another a few times. It's been a while since I've seen that! Also of note here were a singing Firecrest and a few Siskins in the alders near the viewpoint. It was great to catch up with Steve himself too, who was rightly very pleased with his find - although I must acknowledge Steve Baines who picked up the birds first off, but wasn't able to clinch the ID in the foul weather. I have been there before and know just how frustrating it can be!
Black-necked Grebes
3rd March

A deep frost this morning, meaning it took several minutes of scraping to clear the car windscreen. First stop was the private reservoir over near Petworth which was pretty much the emptiest I have ever seen it -  hosting just five Little Grebes, and singles of Coot and Canada Goose. I didn't stay long and instead decided to dash back over to Pulborough to see if the grebes were still about. En route I went through some pretty dense fog patches and my hopes were not high that the visibility would be much good when I arrived. Pulborough village was surprisingly clear but, sure enough, scanning from by the visitor centre revealed a blanket of fog hugging low over the South Brooks. It gradually lifted enough to reveal no sign of the BNGs, perhaps not surprisingly, although a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were a sure sign of spring, as was the very welcome sound of a Woodlark singing over the heath - the first one I've heard here this year. It was a relief for RSPB warden James too, as he told me recently he was getting anxious that they might not return this year. 

Fast forward to early afternoon and I found myself with another little window of free time. By the now the day had warmed up considerably, with the spells of sunshine helping drive the temperature up into double figures. I had to drop Kate and B off in Bury so decided on a lunchtime session at Amberley, viewing from the south side. No sooner had I arrived than I picked up a ringtail Hen Harrier circling quite close over the southern edge of the flood water. To my amazement, it circled higher and drifted closer, until it wasn't far off directly overhead, before straightening its course and heading purposefully south towards the Downs. Easily my best ever views of the species locally, and possibly anywhere in fact!
Hen Harrier
On the way home I briefly stopped off for a check of the Bignor Park scrape which revealed a pair of Egyptian Geese with five very fluffy young - my first 'FL' breeding code on eBird of the year, always a special moment!
Egyptian Goose family
4th March

Thick fog enveloped the lower levels locally this morning so, after dropping B off at nursery, I decided on a quick jaunt up at The Burgh, which I found to be bathed in glorious sunshine. In fact, despite only being 8.30 in the morning, I actually felt quite overdressed within a few minutes of leaving my car. A couple of Grey Partridges sounded my arrival, while Chaffinches and Yellowhammers jinked and jangled in the hedgerows. It's always good to be back up here. 

Today I did the short loop from Canada Barn up to the main north-south path to the south of Rackham Hill then back via the little copse. There were hundreds of gulls down in the valley south of the Dew Pond, mostly Common Gull and Black-headed Gull as far as I could see. Red Kites were, as usual, the most abundant raptor, though a Merlin was a nice bonus dashing through over Canada Barn as I got back to my car. 
A lunchtime walk round the fields near home proved fairly uneventful on the bird front, aside from a few Buzzards getting up in the warm sunshine. There were quite a few invertebrates on the wing though, including a Peacock butterfly. 

5th March

Not much birding today, but a brief look at Woods Mill lake in my lunch break produced a pair of Little Grebes and a Chiffchaff, the latter singing somewhat hesitantly.

6th March

The shift to easterly winds saw the inevitable lingering morning fog rearing its head, which precluded any early morning birding today. I got out at lunch for a walk over to Waltham Brooks, where I found at least two each of Tufted Duck and Little Grebe on the very flooded main lake and Chiffchaffs dotted about all over the place. Viewing from the window at home later on in the afternoon I noted a Raven flying over towards Amberley (strangely my first this month!) and a couple of Sparrowhawks displaying.

7th March

Another foggy start to the day so I decided to try for a quick scoot around up Chantry Hill on my way to Woods Mill, thinking I would discover the summit to be above the fog. Sadly it wasn't to be, and the 20 minutes I had time for up here was a rather wasted little session, although it was nice to glimpse and hear a few Corn Buntings through the murk.
Yellowhammer in the fog
Come lunchtime it had turned into a lovely early spring afternoon so I made sure to get out of the office for a stroll round the Woods Mill reserve which produced a singing Chiffchaff, three Buzzards getting up on the thermals and a female Stonechat along the stream - a first for me here. 
It was still plenty light enough after work for a brief look at the South Brooks from the tea terrace. The amount of flood water had gone up again since the weekend, and the few Lapwings still about were looking rather bewildered where their prospective nest sites had gone. Three Avocets on an island at West Mead were my first locally this year, as was a Redshank flying from one tiny bit of exposed land to another. 
Sunset over a flooded Pulborough Brooks
8th March

A big walk home from Pulborough this morning proved somewhat frustrating, despite the beautiful weather, not least because my planned route was scuppered by impassable flooding meaning I had to walk along the noisy A29 rather more than I'd hoped. Amazingly, within spitting distance of the road I did pick up a couple of singing Firecrests, Chiffchaffs and even a Cetti's Warbler in brambles by the railway line in Hardham. A Redshank was heard but not seen at Widney Brooks. Several Chiffchaffs were singing here and at Waltham Brooks too, it certainly feels as though this species has properly begun to arrive on its breeding grounds in recent days, rather than just dispersing from wintering grounds.

In the afternoon a brief check of Fittleworth Water Meadows revealed a displaying Lapwing, while Bignor Park scrape still held the Egyptian Goose family but not much else. Finally, a check of the flooded meadow near Swan Bridge in Pulborough late afternoon produced my first local Mediterranean Gull of the year - an adult - feeding among 80 or so Black-headed Gulls.
Mediterranean Gull
9th March

An early stroll round the local fields near home didn't produce too much excitement aside from a couple of singing Chiffchaffs, a Kestrel, and a Lesser Black-backed Gull north-east. 

Later in the day I checked out the private reservoir near Petworth in the hope of a bit of wader action but there was similarly nothing much doing, aside from four Gadwall, a pair of Shoveler and a Great Crested Grebe. Again, a Chiffchaff was singing in the bushes nearby, as this species starts to make its presence known at many of my regular spots. A quick look at the scrape at Bignor Park/Hadworth Farm revealed a Green Sandpiper. 

10th March

Today was looking promising. For several days, the promise of north-easterly wind combined with some fairly steady rain from mid-morning looked a bit tasty and I had Little Gull on my mind up until yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately the forecast didn't quite deliver and had changed by this morning. There was still the easterly wind but no rain. After a very quiet WeBS count in Petworth I decided on a proper session at Burton Mill Pond - this always takes a minimum of 80-90 minutes to take in the three ponds and I just don't often have that kind of time lately, certainly not on weekdays. 44 species was the total here this morning, with highlights including a singing Woodlark, at least eight Mandarins (a good count here) and some 120 or more Siskins. In fact, one Alder tree by Black Pond had a minimum of 60 Siskins in it!

Then I checked out Waltham Brooks briefly which held eleven Tufted Ducks and a few dabbling ducks, singing Chiffchaff etc, as well as a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls flying up and down the river. 

Thursday 29 February 2024

Late February

21st February

A pretty foul day, weather-wise, with rain for much of the time, sometimes heavy. I had to drop my car off at the garage in Pulborough first thing so took the opportunity to check out one of my old haunts: Old Place Pond. There haven't been any reports of Goosander here this winter, so I was pleasantly surprised to find two drakes and female chilling on the water. As I watched them, the call of a Kingfisher alerted me to a previously unseen one dashing low across the water, narrowly avoiding a Sparrowhawk which was heading straight for it!

Late afternoon, when the rain finally eased somewhat, I popped in to Waltham Brooks for a brief check of the main lake and scrub. At least a dozen Tufted Ducks and the usual dabblers were on the lake, while some 200 or so Linnets were gathering to roost in the brambles near the road. 

22nd February

Not very much time for birding at all on what was another wet and pretty unpleasant day. A brief look at the South Brooks from the tea terrace at Pulborough before work yielded just seven Tufted Duck of note (though a Water Pipit was reported again later in the day from Winpenny hide).

As I was leaving Woods Mill late afternoon a Firecrest was calling near the car park, while later still back at home a Barn Owl flew over the houses in the dark, calling several times. 

23rd February

Not much birding today owing to the long drive up to visit family in West Yorkshire. A minor ambition for me for this trip was to try and fill in some of the gaps in my eBirding, which included submitting my first ever checklists in Buckinghamshire and Nottinghamshire - both of which were achieved during the drive up today! As we arrived at our destination near Ilkley, the sound of Pink-footed Geese flying overhead in the darkness greeted us as I loaded our bags out of the car. 

24th February

Despite a busy day of family time ahead, I managed to get out early and up on to Burley Moor for a couple of hours this morning. I'm glad I did, as it was by far the best morning of our short stay up north, and the dawn was breathtaking. Last night's Pink-footed Geese were clearly the frontrunners of quite a pronounced movement of the species, with two pretty large flocks (107 and 81) over the moor, flying north-west and north, respectively. Other bits moving overhead included an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull high north and a tight flock of 40 Golden Plover going the same way. Local interest on the moor itself came from the various bubbling Curlews flying about, around 40 Lapwing and, of course, the ubiquitous Red Grouse. 

Pink-footed Geese, Curlew and Red Grouse

25th February

A day largely taken up by driving home, but we did stop off in Nottinghamshire en route, for our first visit to the Notts Wildlife Trust's flagship Attenborough Nature Reserve. It was, ostensibly, a lunch break which incorporated a little bit of birding, but I am keen to come back again. Highlights from today's visit included more Goldeneye than I have seen at one site in several years (at least ten), plus a couple of redhead Goosanders.

26th February

A cold and grey day with a blasting north-easterly - not ideal for a day off! Still, I wasn't about to waste the opportunity to get in a bit of an extended morning birding session, so I headed over to a still very flooded Pulborough Brooks for a walk round. My target bird of the morning was Water Pipit, with one having been showing very well recently. No sooner had I got in to Winpenny hide and lifted my bins than the bird appeared and spent the next ten or fifteen minutes slowly working its way along the waters edge towards me, eventually getting within just a few metres of the hide. Easily my closest and most prolonged views of the species in Britain. Other highlights from the morning included 31 Black-tailed Godwit, 15 Dunlin, seven Tufted Duck and a single Great Crested Grebe (on the North Brooks). 
Water Pipit
Black-tailed Godwits
A brief look at Bignor Park scrape in the afternoon produced a Little Grebe and drake Gadwall, while an evening stakeout at Burton Mill Pond yielded 18 Tufted Duck and a Great Crested Grebe on the water, and seven Little Egrets and four Cattle Egrets flying east/south-east to roost. 

27th February

Not loads of birding today but half an hour at Waltham Brooks before work produced 43 species including seven Tufted Duck on the lake, a couple of Stonechats and lots of Reed Bunting and Cetti's Warbler song. There were noticeably fewer Chiffchaffs around the sewage works than last time I checked there; a sure sign of species redistributing ahead of the breeding season. 
Long-tailed Tit
A lunchtime walk at Woods Mill was pleasant in the sunshine, with highlights being a couple of Reed Buntings along the stream and a Red Kite distantly in flight towards the Downs, the latter a long overdue reserve tick for me!

28th February

Following Pete Hughes' report of a ringtail Hen Harrier flying downriver at Waltham Brooks late yesterday afternoon, I decided to use this as an excuse to drag myself out of bed significantly before dawn, to see if I might by chance see it coming out of local roost this morning. Sloshing through the (very) wet grassland near the railway line to give myself a good viewpoint looking across towards Amberley I inadvertently flushed up a few Snipe and a Woodcock, while Tawny Owls called in the nearby trees and at least three Water Rails squealed around me. A few minutes before I knew I really had to head home a Merlin shot across from Amberley West towards Watersfield; a good omen! Then, just as I had made up my mind it was time to leave, an alarm calling Magpie drew my attention to the Hen Harrier flying low across the reeds by the river bank before gaining height and heading over towards Amberley. Result! My first in the 1km recording area this year and only my second record anywhere this year after one at The Burgh a few weeks back.

After dropping B at nursery I decided to pop my head in at Amberley to see what the water levels were looking like. They had receded a bit since I last looked and there were quite a few Lapwings scattered about on the various shorelines. One of the adult White-tailed Eagles was in one of its favourite trees in the middle of the reserve and, amazingly, I picked up both a Merlin and ringtail Hen Harrier in flight over the island in the centre of the flood - presumably the very same two I had seen at dawn over at Waltham Brooks. Bird of the morning though, was the Turnstone which flew up with a group of Lapwings. A remarkable record, only my third anywhere locally after two records at Pulborough in recent years and a first for Amberley as far as I can make out. Sadly, once I lost sight of it I wasn't able to relocate it, despite trawling through the dozens of Dunlin (at least 35) dotted about the place in little feeding flocks. Interestingly, inland records of Turnstone with large gatherings of Dunlin seem to be a bit of a recurring theme this winter, with similar occurrences in other areas, perhaps most notably at Cowbit Marsh in Lincolnshire, which has seen counts in excess of 480 Dunlin and 27 Turnstones! Sadly, events at Amberley happened all a bit too fast and distant for me to get any photos, but a pair of Firecrests in the bushes near where I parked my car proved rather more obliging!
29th February

A leap day day off work, so of course it was pouring with rain for my planned extended morning birding session. I checked a few local wetland sites, with umbrella in hand, but didn't find too much worth getting a soaking for. It was nice to see the Great Crested Grebe pair back on Burton Mill Pond and displaying, despite the weather, while Chingford Pond held around 30 Tufted Ducks and a Little Egret. A singing Chiffchaff at the Bignor Park scrape was new here for the year, so perhaps a low key sign of migrants beginning to trickle in. 

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Water, water everywhere

 11th February

WeBS day today, so I headed over to Petworth at first light to do my monthly count on the private reservoir there. It was pretty disappointing to be honest, with just ten Coots, 24 Shoveler and a couple of Little Grebes. Two each of Canada Goose and Egyptian Goose which flew over the farmland as I walked to the reservoir didn't even meet the criteria to be added to the count. Otherwise, a few Fieldfares, Redwings and Yellowhammers made up the highlights from a rather paltry total of 30 species.  

A brief check of Burton Mill Pond and Hadworth Farm/Bignor Park scrape on the way home proved a little more rewarding, particularly the latter where a Great White Egret flew in to join two Grey Herons already feeding at the edge of the scrape (spooking the lingering Green Sandpiper in the process!). A new species for me here. A couple of Ravens flew over towards Bignor Park, tumbling and calling.

Great White Egret
Green Sandpiper and Great White Egret

12th February

The first clear and frosty morning for a while turned into the most beautiful, sunny, late winter/early spring day. I even managed to work on my laptop in the garden for an hour or so early afternoon!
Two bites of the cherry at Pulborough Brooks (20 minutes or so from by the visitor centre before work and half an hour by the village hall at lunchtime) failed to turn up any sign of the pair of Goldeneye found by a volunteer Rob King yesterday. A real local rarity these days, these represented the first record of the species at Pulborough since the dubious 'are they/aren't they' quartet in October 2021, and before that, well, it was somewhere in the region of 15 years. A nice consolation came in the form of two Great Crested Grebes on the North Brooks (my first anywhere locally this year, incredibly) and a Barn Owl sleepily perched at the entrance of a nest box along the river.
The flood between Pulborough village and the North Brooks
A brief look at a local raptor watchpoint produced a nice displaying pair of Sparrowhawks, a few Buzzards and a couple of Red Kites, but not the hoped-for Goshawk. 

The clear highlight of the day though, came rather out of the blue, when I was putting the bin out at home just after 8pm and heard what I initially took to be a distant dog barking, before realising it was the call of a Brent Goose! I stopped in my tracks and listened in wonder as what sounded like a small-ish flock clearly flew north-east quite high overhead, calling occasionally until the sounded faded away into the distance towards Pulborough. One of those spectacular 'migration in action' moments where one can only pause and ponder the extraordinary journey those birds have ahead of them, after spending the winter on the south coast. Also a rare 'three list' tick in the form of garden, 10km year and 1km year. What a result!      

13th February

A brief look at a very flooded Waltham Brooks before work proved quite productive, with 45 species noted in just over half an hour. The flood water had risen to such an extent as to make circumnavigation of much of the reserve pretty much impossible. As such, and as I was short on time, I checked by the lake first then drove up to Greatham Bridge for another scan before heading on to Woods Mill for work. A Green Sandpiper flying up from near Greatham Bridge was a 1km year tick, as was the heard-only Little Grebe giving its Whimbrel-like call somewhere out on the flood. Four Tufted Ducks and a single Snipe made up the other highlights, although a flock of waders flying north from Amberley towards Pulborough looked interesting, but were too distant to get much on them, especially as they kept disappearing behind trees.  
Long-tailed Tit
14th February

Not much to love about the weather today (see what I did there?), as yesterday afternoon and evening's rain continued into a murky, drizzly and quite windy morning. I had hoped to get up the Downs but, seeing as they were entirely enshrouded in fog, I decided instead to drop in at Pulborough, specifically the Black Wood/Hail's View end, in order to scan the flooded South Brooks. Visibility was poor - so much so that I struggled even to see the far banks of the Arun from the viewpoint. Among the usual dabbling ducks were three Tufted Duck and at least five Coots (my first here this year) while a drake Mandarin flew east across the reserve towards Hollybush Hill.         

15th February

I had the day off today and fortunately it was a beautiful day - in fact, the warmest of the year so far, with the mercury rising to the mid-teens Celsius by lunchtime, coaxing out the always welcome sight of the first male Brimstone of the year, fluttering around the garden. This was followed later on by a Peacock dashing overhead at speed, as is typical for the species. On the birding front, I decided to indulge in a rather lengthier session than has been possible of late, at Pulborough in the morning. 67 species was the final tally from a little over two hours on the reserve, with just the slightest hints of spring poking its head above the parapet. At least two Lesser Black-backed Gulls were about, a species that really is only a February to late summer feature of birding here. The pair of Stonechats between West Mead and Winpenny were looking particularly dapper in their breeding finery, while a Cetti's Warbler sang nearby. Skylarks were rather forlornly singing and displaying over the flood waters on the both the North and South Brooks, while two Chiffchaffs at the Hanger were 'new in' since my last visit here. Other bits of note included four Raven, at least nine Tufted Duck, half a dozen Shelduck, two Great Crested Grebes, and a heard-only Green Sandpiper below the Hanger. Driving home, I noted a Great White Egret on Widney Brooks through the car window. 
In the afternoon I headed over to the private reservoir near Petworth which proved a little livelier than my last visit at the weekend. Highlights in the brisk and curiously warm southerly wind here were a single Great Crested Grebe, three Gadwall, 24 Shoveler and single drake Tufted Duck, with a couple of Yellowhammers singing in the hedgerows nearby. 
16th February

A brief check of the very flooded scrape at Bignor Park/Hadworth Farm first thing produced just a Little Grebe and a pair of Teal of note. As the morning was brightening and warming up, I headed to woodland near Fittleworth after this for a bit of a wander round. The air was ringing with birdsong, including at least two Marsh Tit and a couple of drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers. A very welcome year tick came in the form of a noisy group of ten Crossbills which flew east high overhead. This wasn't the only sign of movement, as I also noted flocks of Woodpigeons flying purposefully north-east - some 250 or so at least, with the biggest group being ~100. Three Lesser Redpolls briefly dropped into a birch near me before flying off.
Lesser Redpolls
A brief lunchtime walk round the local farmland produced a welcome sign of early spring movement in the form of a smart male Stonechat on a fenceline where I've rarely seen one before. In fact, this represented just my third record of the species in the local farmland eBird hotspot since we moved here 18 months ago!

17th February

Not much birding today, although a walk with B in the morning did produce a singing Firecrest just up the road from home, while a check of the local farmland late morning revealed yesterday's Stonechat to be still present, plus a Lesser Black-backed Gull drifting north; another sure sign of the changing seasons! 

18th February

Rain all night and into this morning didn't inspire much confidence in a productive session, but I headed out at first light regardless to check a few lesser-watched local wetland sites. First up, the Bignor Park scrape which didn't hold any surprises, a croaking Raven being probably the best. Next, a check of the flooded Rother at Fittleworth where I found 14 Little Egrets in the fields near the sewage works, a singing Chiffchaff at the works, and a Coot on the nearby floods. Next up I headed over to Petworth for a look at the private reservoir there, where I was surprised to find the female Long-tailed Duck had returned after over a month's absence. She was very active following a group of Tufted Ducks around the place and even displaying a bit. Also present here were five Gadwall, four Mute Swans, 18 Shoveler and five Little Grebes.

Long-tailed Duck and friends
Burton Mill Pond next where I was pleased to see a Great Crested Grebe back on territory - my first record of the species here this year. Other bits of note were Kingfisher, Water Rail, Grey Wagtail and a single drake Pochard among 15 Tufted Ducks. That was about it for birding effort today although a couple of casual local walks later in the day produced another Lesser Black-backed Gull drifting north over Watersfield plus some good raptor action including a pair of Red Kites displaying over Alban Head. 
Great Crested Grebe
19th February

An early walk from home out to Waltham Brooks produced a few bits. At Waltham Brooks there were at least 27 Tufted Ducks on the main lake, while singles of Great White Egret and Marsh Harrier flew north/upriver. A few Snipe were flushed from marshy areas while a single female Stonechat was in the scrub near the railway crossing. Lots of birdsong around including Chiffchaff, Cetti's Warbler and Blackbird.

Mid-morning I headed down to Worthing to join a Sussex Wildlife Trust beach clean, where I finally encountered my first Great Black-backed Gulls of the year plus a few Turnstones on the beach near the pier. I took my lunch break at Goring Gap just up the road where I found at least half a dozen Mediterranean Gulls (also my first of the year) dotted about among the hundreds of roosting Common Gulls, while wader interest on the beach here came in the form of at least 55 Turnstones, eight Sanderling, at least 30 Oystercatchers and half a dozen or so Dunlin. 
Common and Mediterranean Gulls
20th February

After dropping B at nursery this morning I decided on a quick look at Amberley Wildbrooks from near Rackham Mill. The flood waters had receded a fair bit since my last visit and the landscape was clearly attracting some interest from waders and gulls, with at least 4 Dunlin and 2 Black-tailed Godwits among the displaying Lapwings, and some 200 gulls gathered at the water's edge right over near the castle - mostly Black-headed Gull and Common Gull. Two Red Kites were drifting about, periodically flushing the rather small numbers of ducks, and one of the White-tailed Eagles was in one of the trees right out in the middle.
Very distant White-tailed Eagle
At lunchtime I headed out for a quick look at the private reservoir near Petworth which produced surprisingly little - just nine Shoveler, five Little Grebes and a Grey Wagtail of note, although a Red-legged Partridge flushed from a track nearby was my first here since early December.

The scrape at Bignor Park/Hadworth Farm proved to be similarly lacklustre in terms of water birds, with just a single Little Grebe worthy of mention here. 

Saturday 10 February 2024

Early February

1st February

A beautifully sunny day for the most part, it felt almost spring-like by lunchtime at Woods Mill with Buzzards getting high on the thermals and a Sparrowhawk displaying. Before work I briefly stopped off for a scan of Amberley Wildbrooks from the southern side which produced a nice little selection of waders: a single Ruff, at least six Dunlin, ~220 Black-tailed Godwits (at least - they were unusually very spread out rather than in a single tight flock) plus the usual hundreds of Lapwing (800 at the very least but probably more than a thousand). There were also three Shelduck on the north side and one of the White-tailed Eagles about too. 

True happiness at this time of year comes from those first bright days when it's still just about light as I finish work, and today was certainly the best one yet. A Firecrest was calling as I left Woods Mill and there was still enough light left when I neared home to stop for a dusk vigil by the lake at Waltham Brooks which produced four Tufted Ducks and at least three squealing Water Rails. 

Sunset at Waltham Brooks
2nd February

Continuing the theme of the slightly longer days, this morning I manage to squeeze in an hour or so of birding before work. Heading out on foot from home I pitched up on the river bank for a bit of a scan from Thorndale Bridge out towards Amberley. I quickly picked up the pair of White-tailed Eagles perched together at some serious distance on the north side of Amberley. My neighbour happened to walk past a few minutes later and he was delighted when I showed him the eagles through my scope, and we talked a little about hopeful conservation success stories. A nice way to start the day! There were plenty of swans flying about over Amberley, mostly Mute Swans from what I could see, including a group of seven which flew upriver. One group of three adult swans flew south off the wildbrooks which I only had in view for a matter of seconds but I suspect they may have been Bewick's. Other bits of note this morning included my first singing Reed Bunting of the year. 

Around lunchtime I headed out again for a bit, first to check the Hadworth Farm scrape which held absolutely no waterbirds at all for the first time in weeks, partly owing to reduced water levels but also as a tractor had evidently been through not long before and flailed all the hedges. I did wonder if a Green Sandpiper wasn't skulking about out there somewhere and, sure enough, Mark McManus reported one there an hour or so later. As I didn't stay here long I popped up towards Fittleworth to scan a likely area of woodland in the hope of some raptor action in the surprisingly pleasant sunshine. Just two Red Kites in half an hour today but I will be back again; it's wonderful to think we are into the season of displaying Goshawks. 

Skywatching, dreaming of Goshawks...
3rd February

A family walk at Burton Mill Pond this morning produced a few goodies including my first Woodlark of the year, singing over the vineyard. There were good numbers of thrushes and finches around, including at least 200 each of Fieldfare and Siskin, the latter making an incredible sound in the Alders near the road. Every tree seemed to be dripping with them! Duck numbers were way down since my last proper circuit here, with unusually no Pochard at all and only around 25 Tufted Duck in total. On the other hand, a lone drake Wigeon on Chingford Pond was my first record of the species here (on either pond) since December 2022! Egrets were represented by four Little Egret and two Great White Egret at Chingford Pond. Other bits of note were my first singing Firecrest of the year, and a group of seven Snipe which flew west over Newpiece Moor.

Great White Egret
4th February

An early start this morning for a couple of hours' session at Pulborough Brooks. Lucky I arrived when I did and not a couple of minutes later as, if I had, I would have missed the eight Bewick's Swans which were on the Mid Brooks but flew south just after I scanned from behind the visitor centre. Luckily I managed to get just enough on them to confirm the ID as they flew (they were later seen back down at Burpham Water Meadows). There were eight at Henfield Levels a couple of days ago, so they have clearly decided to return to the Arun Valley for a bit. They're proving to be very mobile this winter! Other highlights from Pulborough this morning included 14 Shelduck, 12 Black-tailed Godwit, 16 Dunlin and five Ruff, plus the usual Peregrine in its favourite willow at the Hanger. 

Peregrine and Jackdaws
Bewick's Swans (a long way away by this point!)
A check of the private reservoir near Petworth yielded a pair of Pintail among 87 Shoveler, while the surrounding farmland was ringing with the sound of Skylarks singing (as was the case at Pulborough, actually - clearly today was the day for them!)

Finally, the scrape at Hadworth Farm/Bignor Park held a single Green Sandpiper. 

5th February

I dropped in at The Burgh this morning as I was passing. It was a windy start to the day with a blanket of murk and drizzle in the air, but I still enjoyed a peaceful hour walking the loop from Canada Barn. The highlight was a ringtail Hen Harrier quartering the fields north of the Dew Pond, with other raptors seen including 35 Red Kites, a couple of Buzzards and a pair of Sparrowhawks. There was lots of Skylark song around, despite the wind, and little groups of Grey Partridge around seemingly every corner.

Looking south from The Burgh
A lunchtime walk around the local farmland near home passed without much event, aside from a few Wigeon in flight over Waltham Brooks and two Coal Tits having a bit of a sing-off on our road. We've had a run of grey, windy days recently; it definitely feels like the next bright, sunny day we have will feel that bit more spring-like and we can start thinking about Goshawks and Lesser Spots again...

6th February

Another blustery and at times wet morning saw me heading out on foot towards the river and up to Waltham Brooks. A Kingfisher briefly perched by the outflow on the near bank at Thorndale Bridge was my first in the 1km from home recording area this year while a Great White Egret was glimpsed in flight distantly over Amberley Wildbrooks. Up at Waltham Brooks the highlights were five Tufted Duck and the usual selection of dabblers on the main lake, at least seven Snipe flushed from the marshy grassland bits and plenty of Chiffchaffs in full song at the sewage works. 

A brief lunchtime check of the scrape at Hadworth Farm produced a lonely Grey Heron but nothing else. Sadly this site doesn't seem to hold much water for very long and this combined with the thawing out of other more high quality wetland sites has led to this being largely shunned by local wildfowl and waders for the time being. Roll on spring wader passage!

The clear highlight of the day came later afternoon when, glancing up from my desk upstairs at home, I caught sight of a Merlin dashing quite low over the rooftops, jinking to and fro like a large hirundine before dropping down at speed towards Amberley. My second sighting of the species from home already this year and my best 'from the bedroom window' views yet. Just too quick for a photo unfortunately, especially as I was halfway through voice noting Ed at the time!

7th February

Birding time was rather limited today but I did at least manage to get out for a lunchtime walk at Woods Mill where highlights included a vocal Marsh Tit, and seven Canada Geese (5 and 2) which flew over, remarkably my first here! As I was leaving late afternoon a Firecrest was calling by the car park.

Marsh Tit
8th February

Next to no birding today aside from a quick look at Waltham Brooks in passing, in the pouring rain, where I found three Tufted Duck on the main lake and half a dozen Redwings in the scrub by the road.

9th February

 Another day with only limited birding time saw me do a quick check of a couple of local water bodies in my lunch break. The scrape at Hadworth Farm/Bignor Park held the lingering Green Sandpiper plus eight Gadwall, while Burton Mill Pond produced three drake Pochard, 14 Tufted Duck, a flyover Raven and at least two Red Kites and seven Buzzards circling about. I'm still waiting for the return of the regular breeding Great Crested Grebes here, with the species still implausibly absent from my 2024 local year list as we approach the seventh week of the year!

Green Sandpiper
10th February

I had a great time at the Sussex Recorders Seminar in Haywards Heath during the day, it was really nice to see so many familiar faces and some really excellent talks! There was enough daylight when I got home for a pootle over to Waltham Brooks, and the cloud even broke to give a beautiful sunset. Highlights of the 40 species in an hour here included some 150 Linnets in to roost, 15 Tufted Duck on the lake (including a female with a particular strong white blaze which made me double take), at least 15 Snipe, three Water Rail, a pair of Stonechat, and a pair of Pintail which flew high north - the latter two species perhaps indicators of some early movement. I've not seen Stonechat here for a while and the Pintail didn't look like they were just moving upriver, they seemed to be setting off on quite a journey... Perhaps just wishful thinking, but the seasons are turning!
Pintails high over Waltham Brooks
Tufted Ducks (rather Scaup-y female back left)