Emperor Bird-of-Paradise - Huon Peninsular, Papua New Guinea (July 2019)

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Thursday, 14 November 2019

Seaford Head & Lower Cuckmere 14/11/19

A calm morning followed on from a night of strong southerly winds. There was a small arrival of Crests, with Firecrests equalling the number of Goldcrests present. A surprise encounter when walking down Hope Bottom was a Water Rail that ran across my path. This is only the second Water Rail I've seen on the headland.

As I had time I decided to walk the Lower Cuckmere. I had only got halfway down the western path when a small bird flock stopped me in my tracks. A Warbler that certainly warranted a closer look was flitting around very low down over the ditch and acting suspiciously. I was disappointed in the fact that it wasn't a Dusky Warbler, but also pleased that it was clearly a Siberian Chiffchaff. I enjoyed prolonged views as it fed seemingly unconcerned of my presence, and at times was flitting underneath where I was standing and showing incredibly well. The bird responded very well when I played a short recording of Siberian Chiffchaff. A bog-standard Chiffchaff was also present for a brief time.

Siberian Chiffchaff at Lower Cuckmere

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Newhaven Harbour 13/11/19

After some distant views of the Great Bustard mid-afternoon, I noticed the tide was out and decided to spend the remaining hour of light at Newhaven Harbour. With not much happening I was then surprised to see a Caspian Gull flying in from the east. Its 'hooded' appearance was instantly recognisable from afar and it helpfully landed on the beach confirming my original thoughts. The Gull only stayed for five minutes and nothing else was found up until dark.

1w Caspian Gull

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Lower Cuckmere 7/11/19

A redhead Goosander was among the large numbers of wildfowl in the Lower Cuckmere this morning. It was happily feeding along the channels closest to either of the paths that surround the Cuckmere. There were no yank counterparts of either Wigeon or Teal, and with that not much else of note either.

redhead Goosander at Lower Cuckmere

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Birling Gap - Great Bustard 6/11/19

After a long walk with Jasper around Seaford Head and the Lower Cuckmere, the exciting news of a Great Bustard at Birling Gap was put out on a WhatsApp group. It transpired that Simon and the SOS group had watched the bird fly in from the east and land in the sheep field at Birling. Despite the fact this was most likely going to be one of the Salisbury Plain birds, I was on site within 15-minutes.

The Great Bustard was still present upon my arrival and stayed in the area for another hour before flying off west being harried by a Greater Black-backed Gull. It was bearing a red ring on the left leg with the code '92'. The wings weren't in the best condition that one would hope from a wild bird and therefore I think it's best to assume this bird had been released from a few counties to the west of us.

Turns out this was the case as I received an email from Ruth Manvell who is director of the Great Bustard Group: 'The Great Bustard seen at Birling Gap today is a juvenile female about 5.5 months old from the Wiltshire project. She was released around Salisbury Plain area in mid-August and we last saw her about two weeks ago. She was hatched from an egg imported from Spain back in early May. The females are usually quite shy and nervous. She was released with others but she stayed around until recently and we are not sure where the others are at the moment.' 

juvenile-female Great Bustard
at Birling Gap

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Cuckmere Haven 5/11/19

A very uninspiring morning down the Cuckmere was enlivened by finding a Cattle Egret at the mouth of the river. Initially sat among the saltmarsh, it then flew and landed on the wooden fence joining some Black-headed Gulls. There are currently plenty of Little Egrets feeding along the river as the saltmarsh is flooded and no doubt providing plenty of food. It was no great surprise the Cattle Egret had joined this flock upon my return before taking off for good and flying purposefully north.

Cattle Egret at Cuckmere Haven
Of course my camera was left in the car
as the weather was grim.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Seaford Head & Cuckmere Haven 30/10/19

With today being my last day off from this extended block of days off, I made the most of birding the patch and was rewarded with some great birding.

I started up on Seaford Head but with a stiff ENE breeze there wasn't a great deal happening. An obvious Starling movement was occurring, but other than a few Finches and some Crests I soon moved on and into the Cuckmere. This was a good move as a whole host of interesting birds were found. First up was a small and mobile flock of Barnacle Geese that eventually flew off east. With this cold snap I suspect these Geese were more than likely from the near-continent rather than somewhere dodgy locally. Along the riverbank I was pleased to come across a delightful Snow Bunting that spent the day feeding along the strandline. A superb Merlin then put on a good show (this being a belated year tick) and flew just over my head as it disappeared to the south-west. Last of the quality was when Dad joined me and together we came across a Vagrant Emperor battling against the strong easterly wind. It helpfully landed allowing some photos to be taken before presumably carrying on north upriver where I encountered it again some 30-minutes later. After scanning the enormous Gull flock to the north of the bridge and the smaller flock to the south I came across some presumed Littoralis Rock Pipits around the horse paddocks. On the 'brooks' to the north of the bridge was a Knot mixed in with 18 Dunlin, and 48 Lapwing was also a decent count. A great day out on the patch.

Totals for Seaford Head are:

Starling - 570 W
Brambling - 3 E
Firecrest - 2
Goldcrest - 15
Chiffchaff - 2
Barnacle Geese - 8 W then E

Barnacle Geese circling the area

Merlin at Cuckmere Haven

Snow Bunting at Cuckmere Haven

Vagrant Emperor at Cuckmere Haven
I believe there are less than 5 records in Sussex?

Bar-headed Goose

presumed Scandinavian Rock Pipit

Monday, 28 October 2019

Seaford Head 28/10/19

The coldest morning of the autumn was the result from a very clear night. This inevitably led to a mass clear-out of any remaining migrants, but there was a surprise in the form of an inbound Dartford Warbler that moved north up Hope Bottom, presumably carrying on in that direction. Woodpigeons were also an obvious feature, though nothing like the numbers that were counted 50 miles to the west where 10,000+ were flying in a south-westerly direction. Not a great deal else about and with overhead migrants coming to a halt I soon gave up.

Totals for the morning:

Black Redstart - 1
Brambling - 6 E
Woodpigeon - ca. 750 E
Stock Dove - ca. 50 E
Dartford Warbler - 1
Blackcap - 2
Chiffchaff - 1
Redpoll - 5 E
Goldcrest - 15
Fieldfare - 1 N
Firecrest - 1

Dartford Warbler at Hope Bottom

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Seaford Head 27/10/19

A slow walk (Beachy Head marathon completed yesterday) around the headland this morning was fairly quiet. A flock of seven Goldcrests flew over my car as soon as I arrived that obviously lifted spirits, though this eruption of Goldcrest activity didn't materialise any further. The other highlight of the morning were three Black Redstarts scattered about the area.

Totals as follows:

Goldcrest - 27
Black Redstart - 3
Fieldfare - 1 N
Redpoll - 2 W
Woodpigeon - 200 E
Reed Bunting - 2 W

After watching the rugby I walked the cliffs between Peacehaven and Newhaven that produced a smart trio of Black Redstarts just east of Westdean Avenue, this being on the far western extremities of Newhaven.

Yesterday, whilst running the Beachy Head Marathon I saw the Grey Phalarope at the 19th mile. This form of encouragement only lasted a few moments however due to the seven sisters being my next obstacle of the course.

Grey Phalarope at Cuckmere Haven
taken on 24th Oct.

Black Redstart at Seaford Head

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Seaford Head & Crowlink 23/10/19

Today felt good from the off with low cloud and a gentle NE breeze. There had clearly been a mass arrival of Black Redstarts along the Sussex coastline today, and the patch managed to get stuck into the action with two birds at South Hill Barn, including a superb male. Crests had also arrived on mass this morning and several small flocks were seen moving up Hope Bottom and departing north. Again quite a few Finches were moving over, but it was generally slim pickings.

After this Jasper and I walked down to Crowlink and also the valleys to the east finding another Black Redstart, a Wheatear, five Fieldfare and two Siskins over. A good search of Newhaven West Beach and Castle Hill NR failed to produce anything of note.

Totals for Seaford Head are:

Brambling - 7 E
Black Redstart - 2
Goldcrest - 50
Firecrest - 6
Redwing - 15 W
Goldfinch - ca. 200 E
Chiffchaff - 7
Blackcap - 2
Mistle Thrush - 1 N
Siskin - 1 E
Woodpigeon - 200 E

Black Redstart at South Hill Barn

Firecrest in Hope Bottom

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Seaford Head & Shoreham Fort 22/10/19

A beautiful day to be out and about. However the birds weren't too convinced as the bushes all over were very quiet apart from the numerous Robins and Stonechats.

First up was Seaford Head, and a walk with Liam produced a Lapland Bunting that initially flew in from the east and landed in the clump of bushes to the east of South Hill Barn. Before we could glimpse the bird perched, it took flight and flew west. After much circling it dropped into the sheep field, but despite creeping up on it the Bunting again flew off west and this time out of sight. The rest of the circuit was very quiet and we gave up. I did manage to get a poor recording of the call, but it's quiet on the recording so no point attaching on this post.

After dropping Liam off I walked Tide Mills seeing little. Castle Hill NR produced a Firecrest at Shakespeare Hall. After lunch I drove over to Shoreham Fort where the attractive and very obliging Snow Bunting was eventually found and showed well. Finally a walk along the cliffs to Tideway School and back inland found nothing for the effort.

Totals for Seaford Head with numbers collated by Liam:

Jackdaw - 110 E
Woodpigeon - 130 E
Stock Dove - 20 E
Lapland Bunting - 1 W 07.34 - 07.40
Chiffchaff - 5
Goldcrest - 15
Song Thrush - 22
Redwing - 7 W
Mistle Thrush - 1 W
Skylark - 12 W
Lesser Redpoll - 1 E
Brambling - 1 E
Yellowhammer - 1 E
Reed Bunting - 6 W

Brambling over Hope Bottom

Snow Bunting at Shoreham Fort

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Seaford Head & Cuckmere Haven 20/10/19

An enjoyable morning with plenty of birds flying over and a respectable number of grounded passerines in the bushes. Today there was an increase in Ouzel action with three birds present in Hope Bottom. Overhead, highlights consisted of a Yellowhammer and lots of Reed Buntings, and my first Redpolls of the autumn were cooperative enough to land instead of bombing over like all the other Finches. Jackdaws and Stock Doves dominated very early on but thankfully the Jackdaws subsided in numbers which meant I could hear everything else flying over.

I suppose the highlight was a pale Ficedula Flycatcher that on initial impressions appeared fairly consistent with a Collared Flycatcher, and judging by all the feedback online, Collared Flycatcher was a worthy shout at the time of observation.

Whilst I was walking along the top edge of Hope Bottom, I was honestly thinking to myself how I hadn't seen a Pied Flycatcher this year. At this very moment, I noticed a Ficedula fly past me and land on the barbed wire fence directly in front of me. The rear half of the bird was obscured by a fence post, though it had already given off the impression of being a paler bird then one might expect from your bog-standard autumn Pied Flycatcher. Trying to shuffle to my right only made the bird fly off, but to my delight it gave a strong hint of a pale rump patch. The Flycatcher had only flown maybe 50 yards onto a row of bushes, again partially hidden, but showed off a distinct amount of white on the primaries. Despite a few photos taken, it wasn't until the bird flew on top of a semi-distant hawthorn where I managed to fire off an array of photos. These photos could be critical in working out the bird's identification. Frustratingly a low flying flock of Meadow Pipits either scared or attracted the Flycatcher, and it flew off NW towards South Hill Barn in company with the Pipits. This was my last sighting of the bird despite searching all likely areas.

Some of the features including the hint of a pale collar, paler rump seen well in flight and plenty of white in the primaries led me to believe that this was probably a female-type Collared Flycatcher. Understandably at this time I aired caution on the matter due to this being a less-than straightforward identification and the fact the bird had seemingly buggered off. I had sent a couple of people some boc shots of the bird. With mixed reactions as a result, I felt compelled to stay safe and put the bird out as a Pied Flycatcher among the list of other birds I had seen this morning.

Doubts in my mind were then re-generated as a message from Allan Conlin arrived, basically stating I should re-consider my initial tweet, and throughout the day all of the feedback received was positive to the bird being a female-type Collared Flycatcher. Many thanks Allan for all your help today! It is of course worth mentioning that these female Ficedula Flycatchers are extremely tricky to identify, and reaching a conclusion on the true identity of this bird may never be reached.

Despite the bird having flown off, there is some distance between Seaford Head and the first set of houses and gardens to the north, and therefore the bird could well be in the area with the car park bushes or the eastern edge of the golf course being the likely sites to re-find this monster bird, that if accepted, will be the second record for Sussex.

After Seaford Head, I had a great time in the Cuckmere photographing the confiding Grey Phalarope.

Totals for the morning:

Yellowhammer - 1 E
Reed Bunting - 25 W
Stock Dove - ca. 750 E&W
Woodpigeon - ca. 200 E
Ring Ouzel - 3
Chiffchaff - 20
Goldcrest - 10
Lesser Redpoll - 2 W
Siskin - 5 E
Brambling - 3 W
Collared Flycatcher - 1 probable 08.49-08.51
Marsh Harrier - 1 W
Grey Wagtail - 3 W

Ring Ouzel in Hope Bottom

probable (fem-type) Collared Flycatcher
This very striking capture of the bird shows the quite obvious paler area on the nape forming the hint of a collar. The thick edges to the tertials is clearly apparent, as are the thick white bases to the primaries.

probable (fem-type) Collared Flycatcher
This image mercifully portrays one of my original fields notes - the paler rump patch. The extensive white edges to the tertials again obvious here.

The above two images are the same, but zoomed in on the lower image to emphasise the extensive bases to the primaries.
probable (fem-type) Collared Flycatcher
Another image emphasising the pale collar. The pattern of the pale area is what I would expect in a male Collared Flycatcher as it expands towards the centre of the nape.....if only it was an adult male.

Pied Flycatcher on Seaford Head 
in August 2013.

Lesser Redpoll at South Hill Barn

Grey Phalarope at Cuckmere Haven