Harpy Eagle - Guyana - March 2017

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Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Roll on Thailand

The past seven days have been typically quiet, not just for Gulls but everything else. Last Thursday a third-winter Caspian Gull was at Newhaven Harbour west arm but seen in rubbish light, and despite looking near identical to the Cuckmere bird from the 7th December, it wasn't until near darkness when the bird decided to fly revealing absolutely no features.

On Sunday I walked the field below Tideway School, Newhaven where in past winters has seen a good congregation of Buntings and Finches, and today thankfully saw no different, with the following totals seen:

Corn Bunting - 70
Linnet - 50
Skylark - 60
Reed Bunting - 5

Also there were up to 20 Fulmars flying around the cliffs.

A couple of seawatches has also been desperate, with the following seen on Monday in an hour:

Brent Geese - 80
Red-throated Diver - 4
Razorbill - 6
Gannet - 15
Wigeon - 3
Kittiwake - 45

Also on Monday I couldn't find the Crane in the Cuckmere that was seen the day before, though Grey Heron may have been the answer here, and despite a couple of very large groups of Gulls, I could only find an adult Yellow-legged Gull. The Gull roost at Arlington was also pointless.

I'm off to Thailand on Monday for three weeks with Ian & Jake where hopefully daily postings (without photos until I get back) will be able to appear. All the optics are packed so that's it until next week.

a distant third-winter Caspian Gull on Newhaven West Arm

another look at one of these next week will be very much appreciated.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Pak Thale, Thailand in Dec. 2013 along
with Red-necked Stints and Lesser Sand Plovers.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

New Year Bird Race 2018

A few weeks previous, and up until the day had seen myself, Bob Self & Derek Barber plan what turned out to be a heroic day's birding throughout the county of Sussex, and after winning last years bird race, the pressure was on for the 'Splash Pointers' to continue this trend.

On the 9th January, I drew up outside Bob's house at 3am and the three of us were off. First up was a local site to us which we all knew very well, and with torches we easily found our first target, this being a Purple Sandpiper. A Barn Owl was also a good spot, but wasn't our only one of the day. However, despite the good start, things didn't carry on this way with dips on Fulmar, Little Owl, Long-eared Owl and Goosander over the few dark hours ahead. Thankfully we were to clear up on some of these a little later on.

As darkness turned into gloom, we saw ourselves in the Arun valley, and here easily added Tawny Owl, and to our surprise, no less then five Woodcock. A walk around produced plenty of new birds for the day, with the best additions being Firecrest and Mandarin. It had only just got light but we were keen to beat the rush hour traffic and head straight down to Selsey Bill.

With light traffic, we made great time and had twenty minutes to see as many seabirds as possible. Great Northern and Red-throated Divers were ticked off easily, as were Guillemot, Common Scoter, Slavonian Grebe and Gannet, although dipping a passing Sandwich Tern was not very clever. With strict timing controls we were off again to Pagham Harbour where the Red-necked Grebe had thankfully held on for another day, and the long-staying Whimbrel was very welcome. A good range of Waders were found, the best being 44 Avocets, but strangely no Knot in sight. Another key site around the Pagham area brought us more luck and a clean sweep of Waders for the day, with highlights being Jack Snipe, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and a group of  Knot, whilst a first-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull was our only one for the day.

We moved to now several inland sites making the most of the morning, and by the time midday had come, we had smashed 100 species, with the highlights in this intervening period being Brambling, Marsh Tit and various other common woodland species. By this time we knew that luck was on our side for a change, especially when a Sparrowhawk cruised by us, a species rarely seen on bird race days. An inland heath (not giving too much away here) brought us the expected Dartford Warbler and Stonechat, and then we got even luckier at Petworth finding a pair of stunning Goosanders, and the expected flyover Egyptian Geese. 

With 115 species for the day and two hours of light remaining we were dependant on some farmland birds, but the sites were quiet with just Grey Partridge & Raven on offer, and so the decision to quickly descend was well worth it as we caught up with a brief Marsh Harrier and seven roosting Bewick's Swans back in the Arun Valley.

We were reluctant to leave knowing a Hen Harrier could be on the cards, but with now being on 121 and with an hour left of light, we knew we could do better off near the coast, and so headed back to familiar territory where mercifully in the near darkness we found two Fulmars on the cliffs. There was now just one common bird that had eluded us, this being Skylark. Thankfully I knew a likely field, and so with torches at the ready, we went off in search and quickly found two birds. The total now stood at an impressive 123, and could have gone one more if the Black Guillemot had obliged, but by 7pm there was no sign and so we ended the 16 hour day with our heads held high on what was a very exceptional day.

Many thanks to Bob & Derek for a great day, and looking forward to a repeat performance next year.

pair of Goosander at Petworth

The Splash-Pointers

Monday, 8 January 2018

East Sussex sites 8/1/18

I started the day down Splash Point where an hours seawatch was surprisingly productive with the following seen between 07.50 - 08.50:

Red-throated Diver - 33
Common Scoter - 27
Razorbill - 37
Auk sp. - 15
Kittiwake - 8
Gannet - 25
Great Crested Grebe - 10
Brent Geese - 27
Fulmar - 3
Mediterranean Gull - 1
Teal - 22

Then after a quick session at the doctors I ventured over to Pett Levels where a Great White Egret, 7 White-fronted Geese, a Ruff and a couple of Marsh Harriers were found. 

The whole of the Dungeness area was rubbish with just the very showy Caspian Gull on offer. It must have scented the bread in my car as it circled me before landing right next to me. The reserve was quiet and the surrounding gravel pits were also dull. So I was therefore relieved to re-enter Sussex, and at Jury's Gap a Sandwich Tern coasted west, but there was little offshore. Near to Rye I was pleased to find four Tree Sparrows, having only heard them on my way east.

I ended the day yet again at Pevensey where straight away the male Hen Harrier was patrolling the marsh, as was a little later a Short-eared Owl. The Harrier at one point attacked the Owl which ended a good day out and about. 

Bird race tomorrow, roll on 2am!!

sublime first-winter Caspian Gull at Dungeness

Great White Egret at Pett Levels
Tree Sparrow at East Guildford

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Local Stuff 6/1/18

An enjoyable day today scooping up various yearticks local to me. I started at Newhaven Harbour but a bait digger there meant no Gulls, and nothing in the harbour at low tide either. Splash Point only produced an adult Mediterranean Gull and a few Gannets in a short visit. The west side of the Cuckmere is now looking very good with plenty of water about, and this has resulted in many birds hanging around, mainly many small Gulls but today did also produce a Black-tailed Godwit and four Shoveler, whilst the three ever present Barnacle Geese and single Brent Goose remain.

The Black Guillemot was easy to find in Sovereign Harbour, as were two Water Pipits at West Rise Marsh, but typically being very flighty.

Pevensey Levels were next and I started off at Horse Eye Level where I decided to step into a puddle that actually went up to my waist, as well as submerging half of my scope. After ringing out my socks and tipping the water out my boots, I carried on the squelchy walk. A Water Pipit was seen slightly better here, and two Marsh Harriers showed well. Little else here so I drove up to Lookers Cottage and stayed until dusk with Chris Ball where we enjoyed prolonged views of the Hen Harriers, a Short-eared Owl, Great White Egret and a Kingfisher.

Black Guillemot in Sovereign Harbour
Cuckmere 'Brooks'
Pevensey Levels

views over the Austrian Alps yesterday