Monday, 25 November 2019

Red(head) Letter Day!

It's got to that time of year where patch birding is a weekend-only affair once again, and even then the low light levels can be problematic until the middle of the day.

After a pretty quiet visit to the Brooks on Saturday morning I didn't have particularly high hopes as I arrived at the reserve early on Sunday.

I headed straight to West Mead and after half an hour or so was thinking about moving on when regulars Mike Jerome and Richard Cobden arrived. We chatted for a bit and scanned the usual selection of ducks on show. Suddenly a small duck dropped out of the sky onto the pool, just behind one of the islands, and I immediately realised it was a redhead Smew! A patch tick for me and seemingly the first site record for many years - possibly even this century, although Gary Trew has a recollection of one on the North Brooks a few years back, so perhaps not.
The only record shot I managed to get

Luckily, Mike's effort was a lot better than mine!

Either way it was a great sight to see, a hard bird to find in Sussex and my first anywhere in the UK for almost four years. After a few minutes it flew - I was putting the news out at the time so missed it but luckily Richard saw it flying towards the North Brooks, so I headed to the Hanger. Sure enough, I found the bird on one of the smaller pools near Jupp's View before it flew over to one of the largest pools. It seemed fairly settled and even looked like it was heading off to explore the marginal vegetation at one point but at around 09:20 it flew again, this time gaining height before it disappeared behind the trees to the east, never to be seen again.

Other highlights from the morning were four Ruff at West Mead, at least 25 Golden Plover over (3 over West Mead/25 over the Hanger/others heard), and the ringtail Hen Harrier putting on a great show hunting below the Hanger.

The Smew takes me to 143 on my Pulborough year list, so beating last year's 149 is now looking decidedly unlikely. Sunday morning is a classic example of the kind of wonderful surprises patch birding can produce though, so never say never!