Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Friday 31 December 2021

A Review of 2021

It's been a rather rubbish year in general, with little time for local (Sussex) birding, very few foreign trips, hardly any twitching, and the biggest of all, the death of my dear Mum. 

Thankfully, the year was saved in the latter few months with two trips to Spain (both leading for Naturetrek), some decent finds both in the UK and in Fuerteventura and a short twitch from County Durham for the amazing Belted Kingfisher in Lancashire! Also, seeing over 5000 Razorbills in an hour past Splash Point a week before Christmas was also rather epic.

My best finds for this year were in short supply, but did comprise the following:

  • Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll on Shetland
  • Little Bunting in Sussex
  • Leach's Petrel in Sussex
  • Wryneck at Tide Mills (the start of an invasion)
  • the stunning Honey-buzzard at Beachy Head simultaneously found with Laurence
Other excellent highlights from the year in Sussex were the White-throated Sparrow at Barcombe, a few Pomarine Skuas and an incredible passage of Common/Arctic Terns past Splash Point, the insane re-find of the Northern Mockingbird at Pulborough and thorough investigation to find the whereabouts of the Monkey Orchid near Arundel!

Away from Sussex, Shetland provided much enjoyment, with a spring visit producing the goods with a Snowy Owl, an adult Long-tailed Skua, two Rose-coloured Starlings and the amazing Storm-petrel experience on Mousa. Finding my last UK dragonfly species (the Azure Hawker) with Dad in Highland was epic, as was the encounter of a Golden Eagle we had in the Findhorn Valley. A number of butterflies and other orchids were also seen.

One of the most adrenaline-fueled moments was being within touching distance of a Red Helleborine in the Chilterns... absolutely epic stuff.

Anyway, the following pictures make-up my stand-out moments of 2021:

Northern Mockingbird... mega re-find!

White-throated Sparrow - thorough investigation work meant
I could enjoy this yank mega all to myself the day after its discovery!

Snowy Owl on Unst - watching this beast with Dave Cooper
late in the evening was class!

Monkey Orchid - Tracking down where this single specimen grew 
was most rewarding when I set eyes on it.

This delightful Fox family in Peacehaven brought much joy

Red Helleborine - the rarest orchid in the UK

Black-browed Albatross

Clifden Nonpareil - finding this at work and
unbeknown to its size was awesome

Azure Hawker - my last UK Odonata species to see

Northern Emerald - probably my best dragonfly photo!

Photographing Common Dolphins on the 
Scilly pelagics was just as much fun as 
watching all of the seabirds.

Little Bunting - an amazing inland find at Iping Common

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Lower Cuckmere - 21st December 2021

A long while since my last visit, and today I only had a short time before having to head back for work, but this was still plenty of time to find three Caspian Gulls in the gull flock. There were also quite a few each of Yellow-legged Gull and argentatus Herring Gull too, but I didn't have time to hang around and count.

Two first-winter Caspian Gulls at Lower Cuckmere

Saturday 11 December 2021

Little Bunting at Iping Common - 11th December 2021

It's been a relatively hectic few months with guiding for Naturetrek, and now with my feet firmly on the ground for a few weeks, this has enabled me a fraction more time to go birding. Of course, I remain loyal to Sussex and so I had planned a short circuit for this morning around the north-west of the county.

I started at Stanley Common but this was exceptionally quiet with just a handful of Brambling being the only noteworthy species. A short drive away near to Milland, a short walk produced a decent view of a male Goshawk and five male Crossbills.

I was going to give up on the day, but with Iping Common just over the hill it seemed silly not to give it a quick visit, especially as I had Great Grey Shrike on the brain. Sadly none of these, but entering the common, I soon mulled over how similar the habitat appeared to that at Thursley Common, and quickly, the thought of finding a rare bunting entered my mind. Literally seconds later, whilst looking at a Reed Bunting atop a Birch Tree, a smaller bunting popped up next to it showing off bright, chestnut-coloured cheeks (Orange-cheeked Waxbill like ;-)). Being at a distance and without a scope or camera, it wasn't easy viewing but the obvious dark flecking on the breast was enough for me. Thankfully though, and to clinch the identification without seeing the black border to the ear coverts, the Little Bunting flew and started calling... BOOM!

After a couple of circles overhead, the bunting flew off but I knew it'd be back, so I went and grabbed the scope (I left the camera with three flat batteries!) and returned to the same spot. After wandering and checking every bunting, the Little came back into view and showed well for ten minutes allowing some more video and photos to be taken. I then called it a day and returned home, but delighted with finding a scarcity so far away from the coast, with the added highlights today of a Goshawk, Crossbills, Brambings and Dartford Warblers.

Little Buntings in Sussex have been somewhat frequent in recent years, with three this year and two last year, but this is still a pleasing 'find tick' and very unexpected.

Little Bunting at Iping Common

Sunday 7 November 2021

West Sussex: 7th November 2021

Having led a tour in Northern Spain last week and being generally knackered since returning early Friday morning, I was more than keen to have a chilled out day touring a few sites in western West Sussex, starting first at East Head, West Wittering. This was my first bit of birding in the county since 02 Oct when the Leach's past.

Despite beating the dog walkers to the north end of East Head, frustratingly I couldn't find the buntings, nor little else, though a Firecrest was in the pines by the car park and seven Sanderlings were great to see along the shoreline. Next, I drove to the end of Ellanore Lane and scoped the two fantastic Velvet Scoters in the harbour there. Three Common Scoters, a Razorbill and 13 Bar-tailed Godwits were also present. 

Next was Sidlesham where I soon found a flock of 24 Cattle Egrets. I couldn't be bothered to wander further south so I drove up to West Dean Woods where I spent an enjoyable 90-minutes, easily finding Hawfinches, three Bramblings and other commoner species. One Hawfinch showed very well through the scope as it perched atop a conifer... some of the best views I've had in Sussex and I could even make out its pale iris. 

Last up was Heyshott Common, but all I could find were three obliging Dartford Warblers, with the 'psshing' technique working very well. 

Cattle Egrets at Sidlesham

Two Velvet Scoters at Chichester Harbour

Dartford Warbler at Heyshott Common

Firecrest at West Wittering

Mediterranean Gull at West Wittering

Hawfinch at West Dean Woods

Saturday 16 October 2021

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll at Dale of Walls, Shetland – 15th October 2021

The past nine days, I've been leading a Naturetrek group on Shetland... undoubtedly my favourite place in the entire UK. It was generally a quiet week for scarcities turning up, but thankfully some had lingered from previous weeks and we managed a respectable list of decent birds, including the following:

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll - 2 (one on Unst; one on Mainland)
King Eider - 1 
Woodchat Shrike - 1 juv
American Golden Plover - 1 juv
Bluethroat - 1
White-billed Diver - 1
Ring-necked Duck - 1 
Great White Egret - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 2
Yellow-browed Warbler - only 1 !!
Glaucous Gull - 1 juv
Shore Lark - 5
Snow Bunting - 3

The 'trip' for me was saved until our last day, and really, our last few hours when at Dale of Walls (where I saw a Lanceolated Warbler back in 2015) in West Mainland, I was walking the burn and trapesing through the iris beds and rank vegetation when I heard a Redpoll calling. I turned to notice a finch flying towards me, although above the horizon I couldn't make out any features... that was until it went below the horizon, then boom!!

Immediately obvious was the striking white rump, and combined with the rather chunky impression, this had to be a Hornemann's? It then landed on a stone wall parallel with the burn, which is when it became obvious, and I turned to my group and yelled out "Arctic Redpoll on the wall" and hoped they picked it out. I fired off a number of photos, both settled and in flight, whilst trying to direct my group onto the bird. Thankfully, some saw it, but in the process of turning and general panic, we all lost the bird and presumably it had flown off down the burn. Despite walking up and down the stone wall and adjacent areas, we frustratingly couldn't find it. Thankfully the images obtained look sufficient enough for me to claim this as a Hornemann's, and importantly, a self-found BB rarity.

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll at Dale of Walls
Showing off a suite of characters, including the broad base to the bill,
buffy wash to upper breast and face, extensive white rump,
slight flank streaking and reminiscence of a small Bullfinch.

The beach from Dale of Walls, with Foula in the distance

The bottom of the burn

Saturday 2 October 2021

Cow Gap, Beachy Head - 2nd October 2021

An excellent seawatch was had at Cow Gap, Beachy Head today between 8am and 3pm. It was great to see Chris Ball who joined my for four hours.

Without doubt the highlight were two Leach's Petrels! This mega county rarity was of course in the back of my mind for today, but I didn't hold out too much hope of seeing one, yet alone two. The first was picked up briefly by Chris, before showing off for over five minutes as it slowly battled its way westwards. Then, once Chris had left and safely securing two county ticks in a morning, another Leach's flew through, this time much closer but also much quicker!

Other notable highlights included:

Sooty Shearwater - 4
Balearic Shearwater - 17
Manx Shearwater - 3
Arctic Skua - 5
Bonxie - 3
Razorbill - ca. 150
Sandwich Tern - ca. 50
Fulmar - 1

With the winds diminishing from today, I wonder how many more years it will be before the next opportunity for a Leach's presents itself?! Perhaps the last 'live' bird was back in 2012 which flew past Selsey... though I know some moribund individuals have been found since inland.

Me living the dream...

Cow Gap in the distance

Wednesday 8 September 2021

Naturetrek HQ

It's been a rather excellent week at work for wildlife sightings. On Tuesday morning, I visited the moth trap which I had set-up the previous evening, and I was delighted to see an absolute monster on the wall. The moth in question was the rare Clifden Nonpareil, or Blue Underwing.

That evening, a colleague of mine, Tom Mabbett, then went and found a Wryneck along the driveway, and much to my relief, the bird was still present this morning. Add to this a local Little Owl and a couple of Whinchats, a Redstart and flyover Yellow Wagtails, I can hardly complain about where I work.


Clifden Nonpareil


Thursday 2 September 2021

Cuckmere Haven - 02/09/2021

An excellent 90-minutes in the Cuckmere this evening where one of the Wrynecks showed semi-respectably for this species. The scrape was a hive of activity too with a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper mixed amongst the flock of 43 Dunlins; five Greenshanks, a Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit were also present, whilst on the walk down from the car park, ten Whinchats were also counted! 

You can't beat the Cuckmere... in Sussex!



Curlew Sandpiper

Saturday 28 August 2021

Seaford Head & Tide Mills 28/08/2021

My first visit to Seaford Head this autumn was relatively OK, though nothing extravagant was encountered on a lengthy circuit. Afterwards I went down the Cuckmere and saw two of the four Little Stints along the river.

Personal totals for Seaford Head:

Whinchat - 5
Yellow Wagtail - ca. 100
Whitethroat - 30
Willow Warbler - 15
Reed Warbler - 4
Lesser Whitethroat - 7
Pied Flycatcher - 1
Garden Warbler - 1
Spotted Flycatcher - 1
Wheatear - 5
Chiffchaff - 4
Tree Pipit - 2

Late this afternoon I visited Tide Mills in the hope of finding a Wryneck, and for once, the hope came to light with an elusive individual found in the bushes along Mill Creek. A Whinchat was also present along with a number of other common migrants.

Wryneck at Tide Mills (click to enlarge)

Little Stints at Cuckmere Haven

Friday 27 August 2021

Beachy Head & Cuckmere Haven 27/08/2021

My first time in Sussex this August, which is entirely unprecedented for me, but there we have it in my new(ish) life.

This morning I led a Naturetrek group at Beachy Head, starting at Birling and going as far east as the Old Trapping Area. It was fairly slow for passerine migration, with single figures of Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Whinchat, Wheatear, both Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, and lastly, Garden Warbler. However, by far the highlight was a sublime Honey Buzzard which was spotted (simultaneously by Laurence too) at Belle Tout Wood. It didn't hang around and soon departed off east.

During the afternoon of working from Dads, a Spotted Flycatcher and Redstart were in the garden, and this evening a walk down the Cuckmere found the juvenile Little Stint amongst a large number of Dunlin, as well as a Whinchat.

Honey Buzzard over Belle Tout

Little Stint

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Isles of Scilly: 16th – 24th August 2021

It was back in October when I initially booked the Scilly Pelagics for Jake, Ian and myself as we knew there wouldn't be any foreign travel for us before this time. Ian and Jake arrived before me on the Saturday, and I departed before they did, but still, over the course of eight days we had conjured up some decent birds and myriad sightings of dolphins and Bluefin Tuna. 

Monday 16th August

On the Scillonian Crossing over, I had decent views of Common and Bottlenose Dolphins and some Harbour Porpoise, but the birding was slow with only a single Balearic Shearwater of note. Once docked, there wasn't a great deal to do and a local walk around the Garrison saw many Autumns Lady's Tresses. 

Common Dolphin off Cornwall -
dolphin photography happened to be the theme of the pelagics

Autumns Lady's Tresses

Tuesday 17th August

Today we went over to Tresco and saw the Lesser Yellowlegs and Wood Sandpiper. The island was generally quiet with just the odd Willow Warbler seen, whilst other waders included a few Common Sandpipers, a Ruff and lots of Greenshank. A Red Squirrel was also seen. 

Wednesday 18th August

Today, I went solo and did a large circuit around St. Mary's. I found very little though and instead fell asleep on the north of the island. The only odd bits and bobs seen today included a couple of Wheatears, Willow Warblers and the common stuff.

Thursday 19th August

This evening, Ian and I did the evening pelagic, leaving Jake at home. The decision to join the pelagic was rather late as there hadn't been a great deal seen from the weekend, however, as we were on the island, it would've been silly not to have joined. 

The pelagic turned out to be excellent, with several Wilson's Storm Petrels and a Great Shearwater amongst the commoner stuff. An Octopus was also a good catch from the fisherman and was safely put back; several Pollock were also caught.

Wilson's Storm Petrels

Great Shearwater

Wilson's Storm Petrel


Friday to Monday

Over these four days, we had another four pelagics on the M.V. Sapphire. On the first evening, we headed north off St. Martins (the same as last night) where again we scored some Wilson's Storm Petrels

Yellow-legged Gull

Wilson's Storm Petrel

Manx Shearwater

On the Saturday, we headed south, where after some unproductive chumming sessions (only luring in a passing Great Shearwater), we started steaming towards some 'feeds' off in the distance, attracting several pods of Common Dolphins along the way with some showing exceptionally well. We also managed to find some Sooty Shearwaters in the large rafts of Manx Shearwaters, but it was generally quiet for species diversity.


Sooty Shearwater


Common Dolphins

Great Shearwater

Sunday was an excellent pelagic with countless highlights throughout the day, basing ourselves north of St. Martins to Seven Stones. We encountered many Tuna 'feeds' throughout the day which of course had hundreds of birds around them: Manx Shearwaters outnumbered, but there were also some Balearic Shearwaters and a few Sooty Shearwaters too, but by far the highlight was a stonking adult Sabine's Gull which followed us back towards St. Martins and doing a couple of neat fly-pasts. 

Bluefin Tuna (and a Sooty Shearwater)

Arctic Skua

By-the-wind Sailor

Sabine's Gull

Balearic Shearwater

Monday was sadly my last pelagic, and being in the evening, it gave me the day to go birding and also swimming at Porthcressa. I walked the Garrison and Peninis Head before breakfast, finding only a Pied Flycatcher for my troubles, but it felt great and it was lovely to be actively birding again.

After a superb swim in the sea finding both Crystal and Blue Jellyfish, I, for the last time, boarded the Sapphire and again we headed out to the north of St. Martins. A Minke Whale was seen along the way and the number of birds chasing the Tuna feeds was brilliant and comprised of at least three Great Shearwaters, over thirty Sooty Shearwaters, a Balearic Shearwater and of course thousands of Manx Shearwaters. A Wilson's Storm Petrel followed the boat for a short period, and just before one of the best sunsets I've seen, an adult Sabine's Gull was viewed high up. Certainly an exceptional ending to the run of five pelagics!

Great Skua

Yellow-legged Gull

Manx & a Sooty Shearwater

Common Dolphins

Wilson's Storm Petrel

Sooty Shearwater

Bluefin Tuna

Balearic Shearwater

Manx Shearwater

Great Shearwater