Lammergeier at Beachy Head - October 2020

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Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Day 8 of 12 - Medmerry RSPB 21/10/2020

Last night, the exciting news of a potential Stejneger's Stonechat found by Peter Alfrey filtered its way to me (thanks Josh Jones for the initial shout). 

Although the forecast for this morning was far from ideal, I arrived at the car park at first light with full hope of a sighting. I'd meant to have brought along with me a few pots to store any faecal matter for DNA analysis - currently the BBRC only accepts records of Stejneger's where DNA has been retrieved - therefore, I knew it could be a long and wet day.

Around 9.30am, accompanied by Richard Fairbank, I spotted the Siberian mega on a semi-distant hedge and we enjoyed prolonged views as it fed in a flycatcher manner. It's dark peachy rump was immediately obvious, as was the white throat, pale wing panel and generally paler peachy underparts. Although Peter had obtained some images the previous evening, I was keen to get some better shots and soon approached the bird within maybe 15-20 metres and managed to get some respectable shots. I quickly retreated and watched the bird from a distance in the field to the SW of the main car park, where it stayed for the majority of the day.

With rain persisting, we went back to the cars to dry out, which became a theme of the day to be honest, and by the end, my camera, bins and scope were all hopeless in their function! Anyway, after an eight hour vigil, Lee Evans and Ian Wells saw the bird drop one. I quickly got directed to the spot, found the faecal matter, and placed it in a pot that Jake had lent me. Job done... I drove home and the sample shall be posted tomorrow bound for Aberdeen University where hopefully it won't be a Goldfinch!





potential Stejneger's Stonechat
at Medmerry RSPB

The most important poop I've owned

Monday, 19 October 2020

Day 6 of 12 - Rye Harbour 19/10/2020

A day of guiding at Rye Harbour meant searching for migrants was few and far between, though I squeezed in a quick look at Fairlight where little was seen. 

Before Rye, I quickly looked at Pett Levels and was delighted to pick out the two adult White-fronted Geese in the distance beyond the pools.

Highlights for the day included a Merlin, Great White Egret, a Yellow-legged Gull and two Caspian Gulls. The gulls were around Castle Water, some on the main body of water and on the fields at Camber... I couldn't stay too long with the gulls as clients don't get much of a kick out of them the same way I do!


adult Caspian Gull at Castle Water


Sunday, 18 October 2020

Day 5 of 12 - Beachy Head & Roedean School 18/10/2020

 Another morning at Beachy Head was thankfully a shorter version than yesterday as I'm rather exhausted. Again though, it felt good and with seemingly just Laurence and myself working the area, the chance of a self-find lifted spirits somewhat.

I started at Birling and Belle Tout, then drove up to the hotel and walked down to Cow Gap, Whitbread Hollow and some of the rides above before calling it a day. There were very few finches moving due to the lighter winds.

Totals as follows:

Chiffchaff - 15
Dartford Warbler - 2
Goldcrest - ca. 40
Firecrest - 2
Redwing - 2
Blackcap - 4
Crossbill - 1 E 

Afterwards, I twitched the Pallas's Warbler at Roedean School found by Jamie Wilkinson in the morning. It performed rather well and a nice Siberian double with the Yellow-browed yesterday. A quick look at a few locations on my return proved fruitless.




Pallas's Warbler at Roedean School


Saturday, 17 October 2020

Day 4 of 12 - Beachy Head 17/10/2020

I decided to hit Beachy Head hard today and cover as much of the area as my legs and enthusiasm could take. This turned out to be a good move as it was an extremely enjoyable session with plenty of interesting birds flying overhead, and seemingly, fairly busy in the bushes too!  

I started at Birling Gap walking up to the pines before covering the Belle Tout area (excluding the wood) where the highlight was a Lapland Bunting flying west over the gulley and two Dartford Warblers in the gorse here. A Black Redstart was also at Birling Gap. I drove up to the hotel and walked straight down into Cow Gap via Icky Ridge and into Whitbread Hollow. Bob and Paul were ringing and had trapped a Mealy Redpoll earlier on! Throughout this walk I had seen five Ring Ouzels, three Firecrests and another Dartford Warbler, but overhead was where the interest really was as a Crossbill and amazingly, three Bearded Tits flew over!

I then parked up at Shooters Bottom and half-heartedly searched for the blythi Lesser Whitethroat with limited success, although another Dartford Warbler and a flyover Woodlark were good to see. I then walked up to Long Wood, back through Cornish Farm, rough field and into Belle Tout Wood, where finally, I found a Yellow-browed Warbler on the eastern edge of the wood. It was only present for a mere 30 seconds before vanishing. I walked back to Shooters and briefly checked Harry's Bush on my way back where other than more Goldcrests, little was seen. 

Totals for Beachy are as follows:

Goldcrest - ca. 50
Firecrest - 5 (2 Birling, 1 Cow Gap, 2 Whitbread)
Redpoll - ca. 40 E
Lapland Bunting - 1 W 08.15 (Belle Tout Gulley)
Dartford Warbler - 4 (2 Belle Tout, 1 Whitbread, 1 Shooters)
Chiffchaff - 25
Grey Wagtail - 1 E
Common Scoter - 5 offshore (Cow Gap)
Bearded Tit - 3 E (Whitbread)
Crossbill - 1 E
Fieldfare - 4
Ring Ouzel - 6 (4 Cow Gap, 1 Whitbread, 1 Shooters)
Stock Dove - 25 E
Woodlark - 1 W
Black Redstart - 1
Yellow-browed Warbler - 1 (Belle Tout Wood)

There were lots of Swallows and House Martins, plus a few thousand Starlings at Birling first thing. Linnets, Siskins and alba Wagtails were also conspicuous overhead!

Yellow-browed Warbler

Firecrest

Starlings


Ring Ouzels



Bearded Tits - my first ever high-flyers






Thursday, 15 October 2020

Day 2 of 12 - 15/10/2020

It felt great from the off today as a moderate and cold northerly wind prompted lots of overhead migration. 

Finches were on the move from the off, especially Redpolls, that by the end of the session I had counted 173 birds flying east (this falling a long way short of the 374 from three or four years ago)! Most surprising however, was when counting a flock of Redpolls overhead, I noticed a small snipe flying high and north above them and to my delight, it was a Jack Snipe (my first record on the headland). Remarkably, another Jack Snipe flew in front of Nick Pope and myself halfway down Hope Bottom.

A Siberian Chiffchaff in Harry's Bush was a surprise, though this wasn't the sibe (or wherever it had originated from) I was hoping for, hence the underwhelming feeling towards it. 

Highlights for Seaford Head as follows:

Redpoll - 173 E
Redwing - 9 N
Fieldfare - 2 N
Brambling - 4 E
Yellowhammer - 1 E
Ring Ouzel - 1
Blackcap - 4
Chiffchaff - 10
Siberian Chiffchaff - 1

Afterwards, I drove up to Beachy Head and walked Francis Bottom, Cow Gap to Holywell and back finding no fewer than 15 Ring Ouzels, a Woodlark and Brambling over, and just as I was leaving, the Lammergeier, which put on a superb display for over an hour before climbing to a considerable height and heading out to sea. It soon returned but repeated this act when I was over at Crowlink and seemingly never returned!

A circuit of Crowlink, Went Hill and anywhere else holding a reasonable patch of scrub was covered, though nothing was found. Lastly, Cuckmere Haven also produced nothing of any real interest.

Jack Snipe over Seaford Head

Ring Ouzel at Hope Bottom


Siberian Chiffchaff

Woodlark


Ring Ouzel


The Lammergeier closing in
on the English Channel



Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Lammergeier 14/10/2020

Not a bad first day to my 12-day period of leave! After looking at the Grey Phalarope for no more than a minute at Widewater Lagoon, I opted to visit Crowlink to initiate my searching for rare birds... which proved to be a critical move. 

Crowlink was fairly poor with just a Firecrest of note and the valleys to the east didn't produce much either. That was until, when at Sardine Valley, I looked north and noticed a humongous raptor hitting the skyline. Although it was side on and at my level, the length of the tail was a dead giveaway, and once it had changed its angle a couple of times, it was clearly the Lammergeier! Being so low, it quickly dipped out of sight, therefore, I quickly turned to my phone to release the exciting news. With no signal and knowing many would come to see it (despite its credentials which I am very much aware of), I charged up to the top of Went Hill (passing two bemused Chinese tourists) and managed to get some form of signal, releasing news immediately.

A frantic LP phoned me as he was above Belle Tout, which is when I re-found the Lammer sat in a field near to East Dean. It stayed here for a further 30 minutes until a farmer decided to drive right up to it and of course flushing the bird during the process. From here on in, the Lammergeier was seen in flight throughout the afternoon, predominantly from High and Over car park where it was later seen to roost within the Friston complex. 

In what has been a horrific past few weeks when, at times, I've considered hanging up my bins, this was the boost I so needed. Now, where's that Sussex bluetail!

My initial view of the Lammergeier




Alongside a Buzzard!!




Friday, 2 October 2020

Splash Point, Cuckmere & Crowlink 2/10/20

For the past few days, I had been eyeing up today as a potential day for a decent seawatch, however, it didn't live up to expectations. Thankfully, on the approaching high tide and in the space of 30 minutes, two Sooty Shearwaters flew past. The first was very distant, lingering and performing exceptionally high arcs before gradually drifted west; the second was a superb sight as it flew east relatively close inshore! 

Splash Point totals 07.00-11.00:

Sooty Shearwater - 2
Wigeon - 17 E
Shoveler - 2 E
Common Scoter - 3 E
Red-breasted Merganser - 1 offshore
Brent Geese - 2 E & 7 W
Gannet - ca. 50

Afterwards, I went to Harry's Bush where no warblers were present, however, the large gull assemblage in the Cuckmere held two Caspian Gulls. Crowlink was up next and the Sisters east to 'Sardine Valley', finding a Whitethroat, Wheatear, Merlin and a Hobby. Finally, Cuckmere Haven and up and beyond Foxhole Farm produced a single Ring Ouzel, whilst a Brent Goose was also on the scrape.

Two Caspian Gulls (both centre)

Two Caspian Gulls...I might have got
a bit too close!

Crowlink in the distance

'Sardine Valley' on the left





Thursday, 1 October 2020

Seaford Head & Cuckmere Haven 1/10/20

Very little to report between posts. Five Redwings flew over Alton two days ago, as always, signalling their arrival with their lovely high-pitched calls. 

This morning before work, I quickly went around Seaford Head but found fairly little: a Firecrest, three Reed Buntings and a few Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs was all I could muster. After work, I went down the Cuckmere where the usual waders were present, including a Bar-tailed Godwit. I couldn't find the reported Choughs, but a Short-eared Owl just east of Haven Brow showed very well as it circled me.

Fingers crossed for the coming days.

Firecrest

Short-eared Owl

The encroaching rain that 
deposited some of its contents on me.