Birling Gap, East Sussex ... Thursday 30th September 2010

We had a miserable drive to Birling Gap today as there were resurfacing works on the A22 near Uckfield and the hold-ups were long and frustrating, the journey taking nearly two hours from Redhill in Surrey.
Eventually we pulled in at the car park by the Birling Gap Hotel and headed east towards Belle Tout Wood (also called Horseshoe Plantation).
Not far from the car park there was a group of three Whinchats perched fairly close together on top of the scrub – a good start.


Stonechats were popping up all over the place and I stopped counting at nine birds. The other numerous species was Swallow, with well over 150 birds all heading west along the cliff tops.
As we reached Belle Tout Wood, we noted at least 15 Chiffchaffs feeding on the south-facing edge of the wood and perched on top of the trees was a rather sad and sickly-looking TURTLE DOVE, only the second of this species that I have seen this year, a worrying state of affairs and one has to wonder how much longer it will be before this species becomes lost as a British breeding bird.



We then headed for my favourite spot along this stretch of coast – Shooters Bottom. This scrub filled gully is often full of migrants, but not so today. Three Skylarks flew over and a few more Chiffchaffs were present but that was it. In the distance, across the fields to the north, two RAVENS were being mobbed, their cronking calls alerting us to their presence. A possible Ring Ouzel gave the briefest glimpse as it dived into cover and refused to reappear.

Distant RAVEN

As we headed back towards Belle Tout, just as we ascended the path from Shooters Bottom, a LAPLAND BUNTING flew quite low overhead, calling as it headed towards the cliff edge. A year tick for me.

Looking west across Shooters Bottom

Back at Belle Tout Wood, three Blackcaps were in the nearby scrub, two males and a female, but there was no further sign of the Turtle Dove.
As the tide was rising, I decided to have a short seawatch from the car park but only managed to spot a distant Gannet.
Raptors proved disappointing with just three Kestrels and a female Sparrowhawk, but all in all, it had been worth the visit.
Trying to avoid the delays we had experienced on the trip down, we decided to head back via Lewes and just north of Southease we spotted a Common Buzzard circling over the road.
As we approached Lewes, I was undecided on whether to turn left or right and, as is not uncommon for me, I made the wrong decision and turned right. This brought us back to the A22 just before where we had been held up previously. Fortunately, the traffic control signs were in our favour and we sailed by the road works with no delay, It appears that the men in charge of the traffic control were more concerned with holding up the south-bound traffic which was backed up for about two miles.

Graham & Sue

Reculver and Oare Marshes, North Kent -- Tuesday 28th September 2010

I arrived at Reculver with the intention of seawatching, but the wind had dropped so little was to be seen. A nice surprise though was a Siskin (video clip below).

On seeing three coach loads of schoolchildren arriving, I decided the disturbance was going to be too much so I headed for Oare.

At Oare Marshes reserve, the WHITE RUMPED SANDPIPER initially proved elusive with two different groups of birders claiming to have been watching it at two different locations at the same time.
It eventually materialized on one of the islands near the road - another good tick for the year.

I also had some very good views of Curlew Sandpipers.

With the White-rumped Sandpiper now on my year list it was 'mission accomplished'.


Oare Marshes NR, North Kent --- Monday 27 September 2010

Sue and I set off for Oare mid-morning and had a good trip down the M25, M26 and M20. We had just seen that traffic was at a standstill on the other carriageway as we drove up Detling Hill, as there had been an accident, but what we didn't know was that there had been a very bad accident on our side of the road too, about a mile and a half further on, and we were soon driving at a snail's pace. As we passed the accident it was obvious that whoever was involved must have been very seriously injured, or worse.
Eventually, we arrived at Oare and were welcomed by the spectacle of several hundreds of Golden Plovers and Black-tailed Godwits on the East Flood. Also present were at least 3 Ruffs, c10 Ringed Plovers and 2 Little Egrets. We decided to walk round the seawall but, with the tide being fairly low, we were not expecting to see very much.

GOLDEN PLOVERS in the foreground.
BLACK-TAILED GODWITS in the background.




Around 60 Avocets, 2 Curlew Sandpipers, a few Curlews, 6 Bar-tailed Godwits, around 100 Redshanks, 6 Little Egrets, 3 Grey Plovers and 4 Ringed Plovers were on the mudflats and in Faversham Creek. Sue scanned Horse Sands and spotted a SPOONBILL, which soon flew towards Shellness on Sheppey. We later spoke to a birder who had been seawatching at Reculver and he said that the Spoonbill had flown past there. About 8 seals were hauled out on Horse Sands. The Swale was like a mill pond and there was virtually no wind but still there were quite a few birders seawatching, presumably in the hope that a few of the Gannets, Sabine's Gulls and skuas, that had been seen over the past couple of days, may have remained.

AVOCETS on the mudflats.

More AVOCETS on the East Flood.

CURLEW SANDPIPER in Faversham Creek.

RINGED PLOVERS on the East Flood.

A Kingfisher also skimmed low over the mudflats and headed onto the reserve. Two Water Rails were heard squealing and 2 Cetti's Warblers were also heard.
A Peregrine flew over near the seawall hide and then circled over the reserve. The only other raptor that we noted was a male Kestrel near the West Flood.
Dunlin were present in good numbers with at least 100 birds on the mudflats and on the reserve.
Along the ditch by the seawall, a single Reed Warbler was seen and a Common Snipe flew over calling loudly. Ten Bearded Tits were also noted with six heard and another four seen.

BEARDED TIT near the car park.

We bumped into a couple of birders who kindly informed us that an Arctic Skua was on The Swale and also told us that the WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER was showing well on the eastern side of the East Flood.
We didn't locate the skua but headed for the group of birders that were along the path by the creek and one kindly put me onto the sandpiper.
Unfortunately, it was asleep and looked just like a Dunlin to me, although its primaries did protrude slightly past its tail and there was some streaking on the flanks. I couldn't see its rump or head pattern but the birder who pointed it out to me said it had been preening before we arrived and its white rump and bold supercilium had been obvious.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER asleep on the East Flood.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER still asleep on the East Flood.

A good bird to tick (as it was a lifer for me) but not one that set my pulse racing.

(My apologies for the extra-dodgy photos.)


East Sussex ... 17th September 2010

We arrived at Birling Gap near Beachy Head at about 6.30 a.m. and set off towards the area known as Shooters Bottom as the sun rose.

Birling Gap at dawn (Graham)

Sunrise over the South Downs (Paul)

Spending a while at Belle Tout Wood, it became apparent that Chiffchaffs were present in large numbers with at least 30 birds on just one side of the wood.

Belle Tout Wood (also known as Horseshoe Plantation) (Graham)

At Belle Tout lighthouse, a Common Buzzard circled overhead mobbed by corvids and, a little further to the east, a RAVEN was ‘cronking’ on the cliff edge and being constantly mobbed by Jackdaws. Also, two Yellow Wagtails flew over calling.

Belle Tout Lighthouse (Graham)

RAVEN (Graham)

Eight Gannets were out over the sea but there was little else on the move. At least two Sparrowhawks and a Kestrel were in the area and six Skylarks passed overhead. At Shooters Bottom, we positioned ourselves on the eastern side of the gully and scanned the scrub. This is a migrant hotspot and always an area that is worth spending some time at. Plenty more Chiffchaffs were present plus a few Blackcaps, 8 Common Whitethroats, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, a Sedge Warbler, one Reed Warbler and, surprisingly, a Cetti’s Warbler was heard singing briefly, not a bird that I have encountered in the area before.
On our way back to Birling Gap, 3 Wheatears and 2 Whinchats were seen and a total of 10 Stonechats were noted in the area. Two Clouded Yellow butterflies were skimming over the grass near Belle Tout Wood.



We then headed along the lane to the west of Birling Gap and on to the area known as Crowlink. Four more Stonechats were seen and along the cliff top, several Great Black-backed Gulls cruised by.
By now, the area was becoming busy with dog-walkers and ramblers so we decided to give the Cuckmere Valley and Hope Gap a try.

STONECHAT male (Paul)


We parked at the Golden Galleon public house and headed along the path on the west side of the Cuckmere Valley. Three Curlews and two Wheatears were present, but not much else.


Crossing a stile, we gave the copse known as Harry’s Bush a scan, as this area often holds a flycatcher or two but no luck today.
Heading on to the top of Hope Gap and to South Hill Barn, we looked for the Lapland Buntings that had been present there for a couple of days. A Sparrowhawk and a Wheatear were the best birds we could find. Apparently one Lapland Bunting had been seen earlier in the morning but not since, so we headed down through the scrub-lined path at Hope Gap, which was devoid of birds – too late in the morning for the birds to be showing. At the cliff edge, we spotted a Whimbrel landing on the shore.

Seven Sisiter cliffs viewed from Hope Gap (Graham)

We walked to the Coastguards Cottages at Cuckmere, and headed back along the river bank. Four Rock Pipits were near the mouth of the river and a Curlew was feeding on the mud. Further along, a Bar-tailed Godwit, a Greenshank, four Wheatears, 6 Little Egrets and a Common Buzzard were seen.


CURLEW (Graham)


Hirundines had been a feature both at Birling Gap and at Cuckmere, with many hundreds (if not a thousand plus) of Swallows and House Martins with lower numbers of Sand Martins.

Back at the car, we decided to head for Arlington Reservoir a few miles inland to see if any waders were present there. On arrival the first birds we noted were several hundred Canada Geese (a dear lady pointing out to me how these birds no longer flew back to Canada these days!).
We headed for the dam where a Wheatear was perched on a fence post and often feeding on passing flies. A Common Sandpiper and a Little Stint were feeding along the shoreline but nothing else of note was present.

Arlington Reservoir (Graham)



One feature of today’s trip was the number of friendly people we encountered – irritatingly friendly. I cannot remember just how many had asked us what we looking for or what we had seen. I do not normally mind this, but when you are trying to locate a warbler you have just seen moving nearby in the scrub and then a passing walker stops and loudly asks what you are looking at, it can be a bit annoying. That aside, it was a very enjoyable day and, although we found no rarities or added anything to our year lists, there had been plenty of birds to look at.

Paul and Graham

Dungeness. Kent ... 14th September 2010

Dungeness was the place to be today, although a planned mammoth seawatch first thing didn't materialise. Although the wind was blowing a gale and the sea was really choppy, there was not much passage. It also kept the passerines under cover. But I did manage to add 5 year ticks - Common Scoter, Glossy Ibis, Hoopoe, Lapland Bunting and Arctic Skua.

Arriving at the 'Patch' in front of the power station at 6.15 a.m and seawatching until 9.30 a.m.,
I noted the following: 10 Gannets, 16 Black Terns, 4 Common Scoters flying east, 1 Fulmar, a Wheatear and 12 Common Terns.

I then headed for Dengemarsh where, between 9.45 a.m and 10.15 a.m., where I added
a flock of 12+ GLOSSY IBISES, partially hidden in reeds (other observers had counted 18 individuals) and a GREAT WHITE EGRET.

I then headed back to the beach and to the fishing boats where, between 11 a.m and 1 p.m., I added a HOOPOE and 2 LAPLAND BUNTINGS (possibly up to 5 birds were present though). Fifteen Great Crested Grebes were on the sea.

I then went back to the 'Patch' from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and added 3 Arctic Skuas (an adult and two juveniles), the Black Terns had increased to 18 birds and an adult winter-plumaged Little Gull and 3 Gannets were also present.

A walk around the Observatory from 3 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. produced one Black Redstart.

On to the RSPB reserve and at 4 p.m. a PIED FLYCATCHER showed in bushes by the toilet block in the car park.

Weather conditions made birding difficult today, but the results made it well worth the effort.

Apologies for the shaky videos - all taken in very windy conditions.


More from RSPB Cliffe & RSPB Elmley ... 9th September 2010

LITTLE STINT 9th September 2010, RSPB Elmley Marshes, Kent (Paul)

GREY PLOVER 9th September 2010, RSPB Elmley Marshes, Kent (Paul)

SPOTTED REDSHANK 9th September 2010, RSPB Elmley Marshes, Kent (Paul)

CURLEW SANDPIPER 9th September 2010, RSPB Elmley Marshes, Kent (Paul)

WHEATEAR 9th September 2010, RSPB Elmley Marshes, Kent (Paul)

LAPWING 9th September 2010, RSPB Elmley (Paul)

Cliffe Pools and Elmley, Kent ... Thursday 9th September 2010

We arrived at the RSPB reserve at Cliffe Pools just before 6 a.m. but we were not expecting to find much in the way of waders as the tide was low.

Sunrise over RSPB Cliffe Pools.

As we made our way towards Flamingo Pool, 28 Little Egrets flew over in small flocks and a Cetti’s Warbler called from the bushes by the path. Scanning the pool to our left, I noticed a BLACK-NECKED GREBE amongst the many Little Grebes and Coots.


On arrival at Flamingo Pool, there was an obvious lack of birds, with just 2 Avocets, a Black-tailed Godwit and a few Little Egrets present, so we headed on to the river. Along the foreshore, 3 YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS were present and a couple of Ringed Plovers flew through – little else though.



Deciding that we would be better off spending the rest of the day at Elmley, we headed back towards the car. The Black-necked Grebe was still present and quite a large number of waders had appeared on the same pool. Around 60 Redshanks and a Spotted Redshank were roosting, with an Oystercatcher and a Common Sandpiper also present and a fly-through Greenshank.



Amazingly, it took us almost an hour to drive from Cliffe to Elmley (a lot longer than it had taken us to travel from Surrey to Cliffe) and we arrived at 10.45 a.m., still a good time to arrive though as high tide was at 2 p.m.
The list of birds seen was fairly good with raptors much in evidence: 2 Peregrines, 2 Hobby, 1 (possibly 2) Merlin, 4 Common Buzzards, a Sparrowhawk, 2 Kestrels and 3 Marsh Harriers.

MERLIN (Graham)

Waders were plentiful, with around 40 Curlews, 2 Green Sandpipers, a Curlew Sandpiper, 8 Little Stints, a Spotted Redshank, 15+ Dunlin, 3 Ruff, 70+ Avocets, 200+ Lapwings, 10 Black-tailed Godwits, 25+ Ringed Plovers, a Turnstone, 5 Grey Plovers and 12 Common Snipe.




RUFF (Graham)


A single Common Tern was along the seawall and passerines included around 30 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Wheatears, 2 Whinchats, a Sedge Warbler, a Reed Warbler and numerous Meadow Pipits.




Threatening sky before sunset.

(VIDEO) Black-necked Grebe, Little Egret, Little Stint, Merlin, Wheatear & Spotted Redshank (Graham)

We left Elmley at about 7 p.m.

Paul and Graham