Lammergeier at Beachy Head - October 2020

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Monday, 6 January 2020

West Sussex birdrace 5/1/20

Jasper was being annoying during the night, and being unable to get back to sleep, I decided to leave him with Paula and start my big day. At this point it wasn't my plan to try for a big day list as a Bittern on Drayton certainly warranted time and effort, that therefore meant a big list wouldn't be possible. However, upon starting at Arundel WWT (in pure bird race fashion) and scoring some good birds, I was soon in the mood to smash the totals already made thus far by the other groups. Sadly as I was acting solo my totals wouldn't count, though it wasn't clear at this early stage in the day whether or not my total would surpass others.

On my way to Arundel I stopped for some Long-eared Owl action with little success, and therefore I was soon parked at the Black Rabbit awaiting some form of daylight. I stood approx. 300m down the Arun and during the first 45-minutes of 'light' I saw a nice array of species; these included a ringtail Hen Harrier at 07.40, 2 Barnacle Geese, 7 Mandarins (meaning no stop needed at Swanbourne Lake) and a Cetti's Warbler. I had somehow missed a Woodcock that others had seen at the pub and even more so two Barn Owls. The former is a species I see with regularity at this location.

I wasn't too disheartened with the above omissions and carried on my day hurtling towards the Selsey Peninsular. My first quick stop was Sidlesham Ferry adding the expected birds, but more importantly over the ridge and down the channel was a 'Phalaroping' Spotted Redshank. Down to Selsey I swayed clear of the crowd of birders and quickly found three Slavonian Grebes, a Great Northern Diver and passing Red-throated Divers, Razorbills and Gannets. Little else needed here so I then made a brief stop at Church Norton, and with having already seen the grebes I neglected the beach that saved me lots of time. Just the expected waders were found but pleasing enough were a flock of Avocets and a normally hard 'day-list' bird - a Bar-tailed Godwit. Next up I parked along Rookery Lane and took a footpath to where I could distantly view Marsh Farm. The Cattle Egrets were seen and here I saw my only Reed Buntings and Skylarks of the day, though a pack of Yellowhammers were stunning in the morning sunshine. It wasn't even 10am and I had already seen 70+ on!!

A quick jaunt over to Dell Quay had me lucking into a Kingfisher and several Goldeneye, though there was no sign of the Long-tailed Duck. Again I didn't hang around long and ventured just north to Fishbourne where I had better success. Two Water Pipits showed brilliantly for this species and yet more Spotted Redshanks were seen. I always find this site good for Lesser Black-backed Gull and thankfully a pair were present. A clean sweep of easy waders was had with a single Knot and Black-tailed Godwit present, but despite trying I couldn't find a Greenshank, nor could I flush a Jack Snipe. Still, I had added many 'last attempt' birds here before heading inland.

I whizzed through Chichester and was soon on my way to West Dean where a Raven flew over the car. I stopped in the usual spot and quickly found a Hawfinch, with two others seen not so long later. A passing flock was very helpful as it contained a Marsh Tit and a variety of Thrushes. As I was about to leave one of the trickiest birds on a day list sailed through - a Sparrowhawk. Despite being in good Firecrest territory I still hadn't seen one, so I was relieved when I briefly stopped at Droke car park (east of Charlton) and found one there. A passing flock of Bullfinches and a Treecreeper were even more helpful.

Lavington common was rubbish and still needing Grey Wagtail I visited the weir at Burton Mill Pond and one was walking about and showing very well indeed. If I had bothered getting my camera out today it would've made a lovely photo. It was still early afternoon and I was now into three figures, but this of course means you have to now pick your birds. Chiffchaff was easy at Coldwaltham, and yet to see a Snipe I briskly dodged the cows and flushed two Snipe in an area near Greatham Bridge. Viewed from this bridge I finally saw my first Canada Geese of the day as well.

A brief stop at the Rackham viewpoint in case there was any early owl activity (there wasn't) only had me hearing a Nuthatch (I try and see all my birds on a day list), but with time getting on there was still a couple of targets at The Burgh. Despite recent break-ins I risked leaving my car alone and walked to the valley quickly finding a pair of Grey Partridge, and finally my first and only Fieldfare of the day. Yet more Bullfinches were found upon my return to the car. I had tried viewing the valley south of the approach road but low cloud distorted all features. Thankfully it had now cleared and holding my breath (make or break time) I spotted the three distant Bewick's Swans. This now meant I could relax and take in the views and wonderful raptor display over Amberley, once again viewed from the Rackham viewpoint. The commonest bird I had missed was Nuthatch, and so it was with some embarrassment that I had to tape-lure this species into view, but this only took ten seconds. This along with a patrolling Barn Owl over the brooks, I was on a nice round 110 species seen for the day (112 included two heard-only species), and for once ended at a respectable time, despite leaving my home at 04.15.

It was a brilliant day, although missing the likes of Mediterranean Gull, Dartford Warbler, Siskin, Greenshank and Jack Snipe meant it easily could have been more. Still, it's reassuring to think that the winter bird race record made by Bob, Derek and myself in 2018 will be untouched for hopefully some time to come.

Hawfinch at West Dean

Amberley Wildbrooks