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)
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.
STONECHAT & WHINCHAT (Graham)
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)
GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS (Graham)
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.
ROCK PIPIT (Paul)
BAR-TAILED GODWIT (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)
LITTLE STINT (Paul)
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