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.
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