Walked both sides of the Cuckmere this morning in very nice conditions. Not as much seen as last week but still just enough to keep me interested. Far fewer Gulls around than yesterday but at least one different Yellow-legged Gull in the flock.
An afternoon walk down both sides of the Cuckmere was rather quiet. The east side held probably two Short-eared Owls. Never seen a winter population here before so it would be good if they prolonged their stay.
An assemblage of Gulls on the west side sent me that side where I quickly came across this bird photographed below that I strongly believe is a third-winter Caspian Gull. I've no previous experience with this age group but it certainly stood out which is key, and other features mentioned below are also pro Caspian. Any comments very welcome.
The bill stood out more than anything being a dull yellow/green tinged colour with a dark sub-terminal band spreading on both mandibles.
Long sloping forehead, all white head appearing pear shaped. All black eye. Longish gape line.
A thick set neck, bulging chest. Pale pink legs though not very long.
Proportionally smaller than the Black-backed, so possibly a female.
Small but obvious white tips to primaries. Frustratingly no white visible on P10, but browsing pics on the Internet show birds with or without this feature in November birds. Though I never got to an angle where the bird was side on, this image portrays the bird as being very long-winged.
The neck was very 'snake' like being dis-jointed. Mantle faintly darker than nearby argenteus.
The greater coverts appeared faintly brown but more advanced then I expected. Although not entirely obvious, I did notice dark flecks on the hindneck. The bill and lores appeared long.
A superb early morning walk down the Cuckmere this morning with Paula was enlivened by finding a splendid Great White Egret that was sat on the west side in the field below Harry's Bush just before 8.30am, when around 9.45am it flew over to the scrape and showed well where it was sat among Little Egrets. The Short-eared Owl was also still about. Couldn't have asked for better conditions this morning, just a shame a Little Auk wasn't lurking somewhere.
Final totals include:
Great White Egret - 1 adult (my 2nd patch record, and 2nd this year!!)
Short-eared Owl - 1
Red-throated Diver - 1 flew west close inshore
Redshank - 20
Dunlin - 3
Lesser Redpoll - 3 feeding by the scrape Water Rail - 1h
Brent Geese - 40
Kingfisher - 2
Great White Egret re-located itself to the scrape (the slight yellowish tinge to the tibia I assume makes it an adult)
after originally being found on the west side viewed from the east riverbank
still a good site record despite them being seen regularly in the far east of the county
Brent Geese along the main river - 40 is a good count but no doubt birds are stopping off here before continuing further west
A tough day to be out with a very cold north-westerly wind and a small flurry of snow, The Great Northern Diver showed well this morning. Afterwards checked Newhaven Harbour but nothing found in the Gull flock on low tide. Splash Point afterwards was like seawatching in the Arctic but some noteworthy species were logged. A brief visit to Piddinghoe Pond after unsurprisingly didn't produce anything of note.
Splash Point totals between 11.15-12.30 produced:
Common Scoter - 2 Common Snipe - 2 flew west
Guillemot - 2
Mediterranean Gull - 1 adult west Golden Plover - 2 flew in off and over the town centre
Brent Geese - 4W
Gannet - 4W
Great Northern Diver on Southwick Canal
2 Golden Plover flying in off at Splash Point - it was good to see the cold weather displacing a few species today. These Golden Plovers were my first on a seawatch here, but also the two Common Snipe were firsts.
After checking the Gulls in Newhaven Harbour and finding nothing I spent the next few hours in the Cuckmere. Very few Gulls and wildfowl but the highlight was a hunting Short-eared Owl. Nice to be birding and not getting blown over!!
Short-eared Owl - 1 showing well and landing every so often but the camera was left in the car for this one
This day really stood out to me as one of my best birding
days abroad. Target species came after one another in completely sparse
countryside in extreme heat and completely off the beaten track for small
Before I left for South Africa, my main focus was the Larks, and my main targets were Red, Barlow's and the one what this post is all about, Sclater's Lark, known for its elusiveness being very mobile and scarce in South Africa, known only from the Northern Cape, but is also found in southern Namibia.
The day started off to the east of Brandvlei where I had
stayed the night. The population of Brandvlei is around three hundred people
and is split by a horizontal track. On the southern half of the track the
locals are very poor who live mostly in huts made out of very poor materials,
whereas on the northern side of the track, people (mainly whites) live in very
nice houses with semi-decent cars on their driveways. All very strange, but
needless to say I stayed in the northern section.
the southern section of Brandvlei
I set off from my accommodation just after first light.
Driving out into bushmanland was simply stunning. Complete silence was yielded by
a spectacular sunrise. Namaqua Warblers
and Black-chested Prinias were
calling from every small bush, whilst small flocks of Namaqua Sandgrouse flew overhead in all directions. Having looked
up pictures of the habitat where best to look for my main target bird (Sclater’s
Lark), I spent a couple of hours walking this habitat but to no avail. A Karoo Korhaan flew past but by the far
the highlight was a gorgeous Bat-eared
Fox by the roadside, one of my most wanted mammals of the trip. A couple of
stops at some dams (or small wells in my eyes) still failed to produce any
Larks. However, a flock of small birds quickly passing through alerted my
attention, and were the tiny Scaly-feathered
Finch, which turned out to be my only sighting of the trip of this very
mobile and nomadic species.
the favoured habitat of the Sclater's Lark
a surprise encounter - a Bat-eared Fox
I continued to head further east and further away from civilisation
along a dirt track roughly thirty miles east of Brandvlei. The scenery was
stunning and birds encountered along here were simply awesome. Having struggled
the day before, today I encountered small flocks of Black-eared Sparrowlarks and managed to see a bird on the deck. Rufous-eared Warblers were common as were
Spike-heeled Larks and eventually Greater Kestrels were seen. More
walking on ideal habitat for the Larks yet again failed to produce any, and
with temperatures soaring my optimism was starting to run low.
Greater Kestrel 30 miles east of Brandvlei
Back in Brandvlei, I filled up with fuel and water and
continued north on the R27 towards Kakamas, my place to stay for the evening.
The ‘Where to watch birds in Southern Africa’ now came in useful as it pointed
to a trio of dams no more than two miles apart roughly 30km south of Kenhardt.
I arrived here around midday with temperatures now above 40 degrees Celsius. At
the time I felt there was no chance but no doubt during the heat of the day
birds will have to drink, and these dams were the only chance to get some.
At the first dam, there was not much to show other than tens
of Lark Like Buntings and the odd Sabota Lark. The only thing to keep me
interested was the huge Sociable Weaver
nest on one of the wooden poles, and it seemed to roughly be an equivalent size
to my car. Southern Pale-chanting
Goshawks were also plentiful. Having seen no Larks resembling anything
rare, I continued onto the other two dams further up the road, but brief stops
only produced a Layard’s Tit-babbler
and more Sabota Larks. I returned
back to the original dam with more determination but after another hour of
suffering in the extreme heat, there was still no sign of any Sclater’s Larks.
Admitting defeat, I headed north but promised to stop once more at the two dams
before heading north towards Kakamas.
one of the dams along the R27
The first dam again only produced the same species, but
arriving at the second dam (Booysem Dam) and my last chance of seeing my target
Larks, there seemed to be lots of activity. Walking over as briskly as I could
crunching the dusty earth, a small flock of Larks came in and landed right in
front of me. I knew they were different but they appeared small, pale and held
a small crest. These were not Sclater’s, but instead were the very nomadic and
difficult to see Stark’s Lark. I was
completely overwhelmed and jumped with joy, however I was still 20m away from
the dam, and a look through the bins revealed two birds sat in the shade by the
water. Due to the shade it was difficult to see any detail so I took some
photos just in case they flew. As I approached closer, I could now see the dark
‘teardrop’ and short tail. I could not believe it, these were Sclater’s Larks!!! I grabbed more
pictures before they took flight and headed out of view into the distance. All
that time in the heat had been worth it. I was stunned and felt incredibly
lucky, so much so my jumping around commenced yet again (nearly treading on a
dosile Sabota Lark in the process),
and back in the car it all got a bit too much. The realisation of my achievement,
in the middle of the Northern Cape thousands of miles from home certainly made me feel a bit emotional. An unforgettable moment.
Sclater's Lark at Booysen Dam - note the dark teardrop on the rear bird
The luck carried on all the way to Kakamas with birds such
as African Red-eyed Bulbul, Orange River White Eyes and Black-chested Snake
Eagle being seen, as well as a host of other top quality birds. The Northern
Cape in all its glory. The only downside was not getting the Red Lark earlier
in the day, but this was soon resolved in the Koa Dunes a couple of days later.
This day ended perfectly with an amazing steak dinner at the
Vergelegen Country Guesthouse, me seemingly being very out of place in my dirty
shirt and shorts.
Braved the weather this morning and was surprised to count 10 Purple Sandpipers on the east pier. A look at the Gulls this morning on a rising tide in the harbour didn't produce anything special.....will maybe have another look this afternoon.
The previous few days looking at Gulls in the Cuckmere hasn't produced anything either.
Very quiet on the Head as expected this morning with an hours totals of:
Goldcrest - 7
Reed Bunting - 1
Redpoll - 6
Goldfinch - a few hundred moved east
Gull numbers in the Lower Cuckmere appeared very low so I decided to head home.
An afternoon visit to Newhaven Harbour produced a very smart first-winter Caspian Gull on the western breakwater though annoyingly it never came close resulting in some very ropey photos. I watched it for over an hour as it preened, slept and flew to the lower ledge.
(Having been very pleased to have found this Caspo, it was frustrating to find out it had been found a couple of hours earlier. Still, can't find them all!)
No sign of the Snow Bunting this morning, but not surprising since it was last reported at the weekend. Obviously due to the weather there was very little about, although Harry's Bush held a few Goldcrest. The only bird of note was an adult Mediterranean Gull in with a small flock of Black-headed Gulls by Chyncton Farm.
In the Lower Cuckmere, the Gull flock held another adult Mediterranean Gull, an adult argentatus Herring Gull, and a very small, frosty, and very long-winged 1w Lesser Black-backed Gull which appeared very Caspian Gull like, when in flight showed a complete white upper-tail with a dark tail band, possibly suggesting a Baltic-type bird, but annoyingly the bird took flight almost straight away allowing no photos to be taken.
adult Med. Gull by the approach road to Seaford Head