Lesser Florican - August 2023

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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

Thursday 17 October 2019

Seaford Head 17/10/19

Well, for the first time in what feels like an eternity the wind had finally eased for a short time, though only during the first few hours. This is the time of year I really enjoy as there is plenty more visible migration going on, this being very noticeable today with a Short-eared Owl and a Marsh Harrier moving west. Plenty of Finches were also on the move. Grounded migrants consisted of many Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps that are still occupying Hope Bottom, with a single Ring Ouzel also present here.

With the wind getting up it was game over for the day, but it looks as if next week might be the time when the Sibes finally start to appear.

Totals for the morning:

Chiffchaff - 40
Blackcap - 15
Ring Ouzel - 1
Short-eared Owl - 1 W
Marsh Harrier - 1 W
Golden Plover - 1 E
Brambling - 4 W
Reed Bunting - 10 W
Skylark - 25 W
Redwing - 1 W

Plenty of Finches moved east but weren't counted.

Short-eared Owl

Marsh Harrier

Saturday 12 October 2019

Seaford Head 12/10/19

A brief visit onto the headland this morning was somewhat of a disappointment, this being the first calm morning in what feels like ages. However, it was nice to finally catch up with my first Ring Ouzel of the autumn. Otherwise just very small numbers of expected migrants for the time of year.

Totals are as follows:

Chiffchaff - 10
Ring Ouzel - 1
Blackcap - 8
Goldcrest - 8
Golden Plover - 1E
Wheatear - 1

Golden Plover


Friday 11 October 2019

Splash Point 11/10/19

So far October has been beyond awful. Incessant westerly winds have dashed any hopes of finding anything from the east, with the winds being too strong for any birds to be found anyhow, and the only American mega to occur in Sussex for however many years was as lively as well, this October (so far).

This day I had been keeping a close eye on the weather all week as the winds were forecast at gusting over 50mph. With a more southerly direction, today was the day for some seabird action to potentially happen. Although a quiet seawatch there was at last some quality with the two main highlights being a Grey Phalarope and a Sooty Shearwater. The former was spotted early on during the watch as it flew east along the beach struggling to head back west. This allowed a fairly lengthy view of the bird, and once I got it through the scope it happily landed on the sea just by Splash Point. This Phalarope was surprisingly my first at Splash Point. The latter was my first in many years, and as it tracked westwards it every so often turned around, again allowing for a prolonged view. Other than this just the standard species seen during an October watch.

Totals between 08.00-10.00 Wind SSW 6:

Common Scoter - 5
Grey Phalarope - 1 E at 08.12
Auk sp. - 50E & 20W
Dunlin - 1W
Ringed Plover - 1W
Sooty Shearwater - 1 W at 09.30

A walk with Jasper down the Cuckmere after in horrific conditions produced no Phalaropes, but two Sandwich Terns were a slight surprise.

Other visits to the patch this week have produced absolutely nothing of note, with a Black-tailed Godwit amongst the Curlew being seen.

A few seconds too late
for the Phalarope


Black-tailed Godwit with Curlew

Sandwich Tern at Cuckmere Haven

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Yellow-billed Cuckoo 2/10/19

Today I received the quite unbelievable news that a recently deceased Yellow-billed Cuckoo had been picked up only some 100m inland from Splash Point. Robert Lawson, who was given the corpse this morning from a lady along the same road, very kindly invited me round this afternoon to view and photograph the Cuckoo.

The bird was in relatively good condition (bar the obvious), but no doubt the cause of death was down to exhaustion or starvation. Still, it was fantastic to see this North American vagrant, I just hope the next one is alive and well.

This is only the third ever record of this species in Sussex, the first being found dead in Eastbourne in 1952, the second being found dead at Middleton-on-Sea in 1960, so it was certainly overdue.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is going to be handed over to the Natural History Museum at Tring.

dead Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Seaford