A poor hour of seawatching in very windy conditions was then followed by a walk in the Cuckmere where the only bird of note was a single Jack Snipe. I didn't venture onto the west side despite a good looking Gull roost.
Splash Point 07.20-08.20 SW 5 (all birds flying east)
Brent Geese - 135
Auk - 2
Gannet - 3
Great Crested Grebe - 5 (no birds settled)
Common Scoter - 19
Mediterranean Gull - 1
Red-throated Diver - 1
Dunlin - 1 west
A very productive seawatch for the first few hours with the highlight being nearly 4000 Guillemots and a Velvet Scoter. However when the sun came out it all came to a halt which was a perfect time to head down the Cuckmere. The same bits still on offer that included the Twite which showed superbly for ten minutes. With the weather again turning for the worse I headed back down to Splash for another seawatch which again was productive, and provided my first Little Gulls of the year.
It's not everyday in Sussex when watching some displaying Goshawks you then hear a drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker a little way away that then performs superbly for up to an hour. Completely unexpected, but by far my best view ever.
male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - the female was seen first but she soon departed
Year-listing duties carried on today in the far west where a pair of Snow Buntings had taken a liking to the north end of East Head, West Wittering. These were easy enough to see, as was the Black Redstart along the 'Medmerry Cliff', and at West Dean Woods a couple of Hawfinches were seen straight away but I couldn't locate any Finch flocks up towards Moncton. Heavy snow brought proceedings to an end which fell nicely for me to go home and watch the rugby, and yes the rugby was by far the highlight of the day.
Snow Bunting at East Head - it's been a good few years since I've been here, and what I wasn't expecting was a £3 charge to enter the car park. However, I soon sorted this issue by following a van in so close that the barrier couldn't get down between us. Problem solved!!
Having been very frustrated by the presence of a Twite on Sunday afternoon and dipping that evening, then again trying on Tuesday for a few hours without success and having to work all day yesterday I thought my chances of re-finding the bird were poor. However, this morning I was going to give it one last chance as the exact co-ordinates had been released by the original finder. Arriving at the spot along the west river bank I started to walk the patch of short vegetation when I suddenly noticed just in front of me on a small twig the Twite. I was amazed it was still here and also showing so well. I quickly took some photos and climbed back onto the river bank as not too disturb it and released the news. A fantastic bird and a long overdue Sussex tick.
Also of interest, the juvenile Glaucous Gull found on the 12th January and not seen subsequently made a re-appearance when it was found chilling out by the meanders.
Including these, the highlights from this morning were:
Twite - 1
White-fronted Geese - 22 (flock of 21 plus 1 with Canadas)
Cackling Geese - 4 Glaucous Gull - 1 juv
Water Rail - 2
2002 was the last documented record of a Twite in the Cuckmere when a pair were seen in early October.
Twite - a Sussex tick on the patch was very welcome. After being away for the 2005 Peacehaven bird and 2010 Selsey birds, I thought my luck may have run out, so mightily pleased to see this.
the returning juvenile Glaucous Gull. The pale area on the mantle instantly recognisable
Whilst searching for the Twite on Tuesday, there were 2 Gadwall on the meanders, and 44 Golden Plover flew over.
two Gadwall on the meanders - a good record here
Golden Plover over the Cuckmere - twice in two weeks now a large flock of Golden Plover have flown over. With few known roosting sites nearby I wonder where they had come from or going to.
A damp start but the weather improved by mid-morning. An early seawatch was pointless despite Selsey getting a good passage of birds, and despite predicting a Puffin for Splash Point today, it seems Selsey beat us to it. Afterwards I walked the east side of the Cuckmere where all the Geese were present, a Water Rail on the scrape and a couple of Mediterranean Gulls were also among the Common Gulls. Very few large Gulls on the western side, no doubt due to the low tide and calm conditions.
for once in its life this Cackling is taller then the other Geese around it
Of the back three birds, the left bird is Cackling showing no white on the forehead (all four Cacklings show no white on the forehead), little or no contrast between the flanks and breast and much smaller bill then the hybrid Geese situated to the right.
fairly easy to pick out in flight with the Cackling Geese (two right hand birds) showing much darker upperwing coverts, and again no shap demarcation between the breast and flanks.
Cackling Geese three in from the right, and the far right bird
much better views of the Cackling Geese and also the hybrid Geese today, that are almost certainly from Dutch origin.
21 White-fronted Geese at Cuckmere Haven - these arrived late morning high from the north and went out to sea disappearing behind the cliffs, however they soon turned around and settled on the east side.
After this I went and saw some displaying Goshawks........nice!!
a Sussex Goshawk - despite the 80% cloud cover and slightly breezier conditions then I was hoping, the slight bit of sunshine was enough for these beauties to get in the air and start displaying. Fantastic scope views obtained. (Please don't ask me for site details)
Whilst scanning the Gulls late morning having only seen a second-winter Yellow-legged Gull, I scanned the fields and picked out the 9 Barnacle Geese, and next to them were 9 more Geese. Being very tired from being up early it took me a few seconds to realise what was going on (I'm still lost), although it was soon clear there were a couple of small Canada Geese. Taken back by this, I moved closer to the 'transatlantic vagrants' and identified four Cackling Geese and 5 presumed Cackling x Barnacle Geese hybrids. I watched the birds for a while feeding and flying around having been spooked by something that evaded me and landing again. I released the exciting news and in no time the twitch had begun with Bob Self arriving ahead of no one else.
Certainly an interesting group of Geese, having no idea where they had come from, but I certainly don't recall having heard of these 9 birds before. I think four birds are slightly better then one so who knows what the outcome of these will be, and with certain dross getting through the BBRC without hesitation then these should breeze through. Either or, they were smart little birds to watch.
Not that it matters, but these birds had arrived to the Cuckmere at some point early on today, and were also all fully-winged etc.
Totals are: Cackling Geese (form minima) - 4
presumed Cackling x Barnacle Geese - 9
Barnacle Geese - 9 Golden Plover - 100 flew south
Yellow-legged Gull - 1 2w
Cackling Goose head on showing its very dark breast and incredibly small size
Cackling Goose left and hybrid right
hybrid left, 2 Barnacles and a Cackling Goose - its difficult to ascertain the size differences on the uneven ground but in flights the Cackling were certainly the smallest, but differentiating the hybrids and the barnacles in size was a different story.
not being a Canada Goose expert, I initially thought the birds were Richardson's (B.hutchinsii hutchinsii) having seen this form on the Outer Hebs and in Norfolk, but further research etc makes them the rarer Cackling Goose of the sub-species minima (B.h.minima)