Lammergeier at Beachy Head - October 2020

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Sunday, 3 January 2021

Been tup North over Christmas

December was a month with little or no birding down south due to a two-week self-isolation in order to spend Christmas with Sara's parents. This meant that, from the 5th, I pretty much did nothing. So, after a nice drive to Bishop Middleham, County Durham (where the Bee-eaters bred some years ago) on the 19th, I was in new territory and therefore wasn't too sure what to encounter.

It was amazing to see the difference in avifauna just around the village compared to down south; Tree Sparrows were very common, as were Grey Partridges, and it took only a few days to realise that there were Willow Tits in the area – a species I hadn't seen in the UK since 2012. Goosanders were also common along the rivers and several lakes. I had expected to see lots of Pink-footed Geese, but two were all I could muster in amongst some Canadas. A Snow Bunting was close-by at a small lake and was seen on several days, whilst the hawthorn bushes were covered in hundreds of both Redwing and Fieldfare! A possible Mealy Redpoll was seen, but without a view of the rump I wasn't too inclined to count it. 

A trip into Teesdale one day was superb, with the likes of two female Black Grouse, many Red Grouse and three Dippers being seen, but perhaps the best sighting of my entire time up there, was a superb Otter seen along the river to the north of the city of Durham. 

Otter along the River Wear

Willow Tit near Bishop Middleham

Snow Bunting at Bishop Middleham

Tree Sparrow

Pink-footed Goose

Red Grouse

Black Grouse 

Dipper along the River Tees

Castle Lake, Bishop Middleham

River Wear north of Durham

Durham Cathedral 


River Tees

Our hike up Noon Hill (530m)

View from the top

Noon Hill in the distance

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Back on the Patch 2/12/2020

After a month away, it was brilliant and revitalising to be back on the patch. I started off at Splash Point where I arrived just as it was getting light and immediately found a Black Redstart, which was soon enjoying the heat of my car and wouldn't come out from underneath it... it finally did once the engine had cooled down.

There was no sign of the Purple Sandpiper, so I visited the Upper Cuckmere and found a trio of juvenile White-fronted Geese on the first field north of the A259. However, despite further searches up and beyond Litlington, I couldn't find any further geese, so I headed to Arlington where the Snow Bunting showed admirably; a Black Redstart was also along the dam wall briefly. 

Lastly, the Cuckmere gull roost produced an adult Yellow-legged Gull and an odd hybrid Caspian-type that looked good for a grim German Caspian, until it revealed a pure dark underwing, so I left it! 

Jasper got a long walk afterwards, before I made the drive back to Hampshire.

Black Redstart at Splash Point

White-fronted Geese

Black Redstart at Arlington

Snow Bunting

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Thursley Common 28/11/2020

Another visit to Thursley Common in a matter of weeks was a success as the Rustic Bunting showed for a brief period late morning. It could have given better views, but it's a striking bird and the views I had were just about good enough. Probably the most belated UK tick I've had in years.

Rustic Bunting

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Crag Martin 22/11/2020

After what has been a terrible autumn for self-twitching, I finally broke, and early on Sunday morning I drove over to East Kent for the Crag Martin that had roosted the previous evening. It was only a two hour journey to Kingsdown and I arrived at 5.30am. It didn't get light for another hour, but soon enough I was standing on the beach with 60 or so other socially-distanced souls in the near-darkness, scanning the supposed roosting perch, to which there was no Crag Martin present!

Once it had got lighter, it was thankfully spotted flying about further down the cliffs and promptly did a couple of fly-bys before landing on the cliffs, this time in view and affording decent scope views. After 15-minutes or so of further flights and landing, it took off south and out of sight, not to be seen again that day. 

Afterwards, Ian, Jake and I separately drove north to where the Eastern Yellow Wagtail had been, but after 20 minutes, we got bored and reconvened at Dungeness. All I saw here was a Great White Egret and two Whooper Swans. A check of the pits to the west and into Sussex revealed nothing (the norm nowadays) and so it was to Rye next. The Shore Lark took some finding, mainly as it was distant and particularly fond of feeding amongst the brackish marsh... it was however a beauty and the highlight of my day!

Lastly, I walked to Castle Water, where all I achieved was laying on the bank and nearly nodding off and scanning the scant gull roost that produced limited quality. Anyway, an exhausting day and I was pleased to arrive home two hours later.

Social distancing...sort of

Crag Martin at Kingsdown

Whooper Swans at Denge Marsh

Shore Lark at Rye Harbour

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Ambersham Area 19/11/2020

I started a bit later than planned today; when I eventually got going, I decided to walk the fields, woods, and eventually, the heaths to the east of Midhurst, ending up conveniently at Heyshott and Ambersham Common. As it was a new area between Midhurst and the commons, it was very enjoyable, although the birds were somewhat lacking. 

Six Bullfinches were found along the way, but at a farmer's field near South Ambersham, I watched a small flock of birds fly in and land, which revealed themselves as Woodlarks! Ten birds were present altogether and showed rather well (30 Skylarks were also spread around the same field); four Crossbills also flew over. On Heyshott Common, a small group of Dartford Warblers were present. The light had sadly gone by mid-afternoon, so I called it a day.

Woodlarks at South Ambersham

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Stanley Common 17/11/2020

With the appearance of a few Parrot Crossbills in the UK, I thought it was best to scour through the Crossbill flocks of NW Sussex. Stanley Common was the obvious go-to place and before even putting my wellies on, a flock of eight landed above the car. Throughout the morning, I had counted around 80 individuals, including an impressive flock of over 50! A large flock of Siskins were also present, but only a single Redpoll was noted. 

Nearby to Stanley, I spotted a large Chaffinch flock in-flight when driving, so I quickly pulled over. Being close to a school wasn't ideal, so I didn't stay long and daren't got the camera out, however, when the birds took flight (they were out of sight when feeding) I counted five Bramblings in amongst them (including some spectacular males). With the West Dean flock last week, I wonder if this year will see Sussex getting a big flock. The last big Brambling flocks I saw were at Kithurst Hill and West Dean... good times!

Common Crossbills

A large-billed Common Crossbill, 
though admittedly, it does
look Parrot-like, but I think I'm correct.

Calocera viscosa

The Brambling field

Friday, 13 November 2020

West Dean Woods 13/11/2020

As this afternoon was so pleasant, I decided to drive half an hour down to West Dean Woods, arriving around 1pm. I walked a large circuit and at some point ended up near the South Downs Way. At around 2.30pm, a large flock of Hawfinches flew into the trees above me and continuously fed and flew around for at least another half an hour. I obtained some superb views of them, and at one point, a minimum of six Bramblings flew in too. 

The birds then flew off, but I was certain that I was close to their roost site, as soon after, another flock of seven came into the same area, resulting in no fewer than 34 Hawfinches! 

Hawfinches at West Dean Woods

Brambling at West Dean Woods