Cuckmere Valley, East Sussex .... 28th September 2011

Our intention was to visit Arlington Reservoir again but, on arrival, we failed to find a parking space either in the official car park or on the road opposite the entrance.

There seemed to be an amazing number of elderly people there, some being even older than us, all intent on making the most of the hot and sunny weather. We drove around for a while before returning to the car park but there were still no spaces available.

Rather than waste the day, we headed for the Cuckmere Valley, between Seaford and Beachy Head, and parked on the western side of the valley by the Golden Galleon pub. This side of the valley is much quieter than the eastern side and normally produces a few good birds (and the parking is free too!).

It was immediately obvious that many hirundines were present and I estimated that at least 150 House Martins and 300 Swallows were in the area.
Heading along the track towards the sea, Sue pointed out some birds flitting down from the bushes and catching insects on the path - fours Whinchats.

A little further on, I could hear two Greenshanks calling but failed to spot them but, whilst scanning the grazing marsh, I picked out a Wheatear and a Whimbrel. Also out on the grass were 27 Curlews and an amazing count of 32 Little Egrets.

I also picked out a wader that I was initially unable to identify. My gut feeling was that it was a Wood Sandpiper as it had a very prominent supercilium but, after it headed for a ditch and gave better views, it was apparent that it was just a Common Sandpiper.

In the bushes along the path there were about a dozen Chiffchaffs, a couple of Willow Warblers and a Common Whitethroat, but not much else.

The number of Meadow Pipits in the area must have been well over 200 birds, they were everywhere.

Eventually we reached the Coastguards Cottages by the beach and went in search of a bench to sit and have a coffee.

As we headed up the cliff, we found that there was a film shoot in progress and as we walked past, we noticed Hugh Dennis of 'Mock the Week' and 'Outnumbered' there.

We found a bench a little further on and sat and ate our sandwiches and downed our coffee whilst scanning the sea. An hour's seawatch produced two Common Terns - but nothing else!

As we headed back, the film crew had packed up and were all sitting on the grass and Sue had me in stiches when she said that Hugh Dennis had smiled at her. It seemed to be the highlight of the day for her. I now dread watching him on the TV as I know that, every time his face appears, Sue is going to remind me that he smiled at her!

We returned by the same route and noted that the Whimbrel was still present and a couple of Oystercatchers were out on the grazing marsh with the two elusive Greenshanks now on show.

Most of the hirundines had now disappeared but Sue picked out what may have been the cause - a distant Peregrine flying east.

A Kingfisher flew along a ditch at a rate of knots and that was the last notable bird of the day.

Graham & Sue

Arlington Reservoir, East Sussex ... 25th September 2011

On arrival at the reservoir, we were surprised at how low the water level was and it looked very promising for a few waders.

As it turned out we found none but we hadn't been there long before a PEREGRINE flew across the reservoir and attempted, unsuccessfully, to take a Black-headed Gull. Three Common Buzzards, a Sparrowhawk and two Kestrels made up the rest of the raptor tally during our visit.

Canada Geese were present in large numbers with at least 400 at the dam end. A few oddities were amongst them including a Bar-headed Goose and three strange hybrids that we could only guess as to what their parentage was. Three Greylag Geese and 4 Gadwall made up the rest of the barely notable wildfowl.

We headed across the field to the footbridge over the River Cuckmere and found two WHINCHATS together on a bush.

One feature of today's visit was the number of Swallows - at least 300 passed through over the reservoir and many more, probably another 100+, were skimming low over the surrounding fields, but just one House Martin was noted.

About fifteen Meadow Pipits flew from the rank grass by the river and four Siskins flew over calling.

The Long Man of Wilmington in the distance.

We headed back round the reservoir and the best bird of the day for us was also the last notable bird seen.
Sue had just remarked how she was disappointed that no terns had been present.
I scanned the reservoir one last time and picked out a tern low over the water, short bill, very clean upper wings with no darker primary wedges and very dainty, bouncy flight, if you see what I mean? Definitely an adult ARCTIC TERN. It was picking food items from the water's surface in marsh tern fashion.
It was only present for a few minutes before gaining height and heading off to the south. Not a bad way to end the day.

(Other notables were a Clouded Yellow, which refused to settle, and two Small Copper butterflies.)

Graham & Sue

Fungi at Old Lodge NR, Ashdown Forest, East Sussex ... 22nd September 2011

What was meant to be a birding trip turned into a fungi foray.

Negative news of the Long-toed Stint at nearby Weirwood Reservoir today, so Sue and I decided not to bother to join the throng there. Twitching isn't our thing anyway and, as rare as that stint may be, looking at a tiny wader at such huge range didn't really appeal to us.

Our old favourite, Old Lodge Nature Reserve should be far more peaceful - and so it was - too damned peaceful!

Six Stonechats, two Common Redstarts, six-plus Chiffchaffs, six Great Spotted Woodpeckers and several small flocks of Siskins overhead were seen on our way round the reserve. A Raven, a Woodlark and two Nuthatches were all heard but, best of all, Sue had six Common Crossbills over the car park on our return to the car. I missed them as I was photographing a fungus at the time! That's life!


Six Fallow Deer ran across the path in front of us, too quick for a photo though.

The heather on the reserve was in flower adding superb splashes of colour, although it is probably just past its best now.

The number of species of fungi seen was quite amazing and it will take me days to try and identify them all but below are a few photos.

Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria

Grey-spotted Amanita Amanita Excelsa

Amanita rubescens var. rubescens


Tawny Grisette
Amanita fulva


Sulphur Tuft
Hypholoma fasciculare

Bay Bolete
Boletus badius

Russula nitida

Yet another Grey-spotted Amanita Amanita excelsa

Lactarius sp.

Graham & Sue

Holmethorpe SPs ... 14th September 2011

Arriving at 6.30 a.m., I made my way to Mercers West Pit. A quick scan produced little more than 5 Shovelers and 4 Teal - disappointing. On to Spynes Mere where there was a Common Sandpiper, 11 Egyptian Geese and a couple of Grey Herons - still nothing to get excited about.

I then followed the cycle path across Mercers Farm, where a Little Owl was perched on a hedge and then on to the horse paddocks to look for Yellow Wagtails - none present!

A short walk to the Aqua Sports centre at Mercers Lake and time for a cuppa. Paul appeared from the car park and I said that I doubted we would see much this morning as the weather seemed too settled. We sat and watched as a Kingfisher skimmed over the surface of the lake before we headed back towards Spynes Mere and Mercers West Pit. A Sparrowhawk put in a brief appearance and the Common Sandpiper was still on Spynes with a second bird seen at Mercers West. Still pretty quiet though.

We headed back round Spynes Mere and as we reached the southern side, I said to Paul that we should head for a ploughed area of Mercers Farm, just to the south, as I fancied a Whinchat might just turn up along the hedge that crosses the field. Although I don't think the field has been sown, we kept to the edge to avoid any trampling. A quick scan and to my surprise Paul was on to a Whinchat perched on a fence wire.

Local birder Ian Kehl had seen one at Water Colour Lagoons on the 11th September, but this was a local year tick for Paul and myself.


It was a pretty mobile bird and we lost sight of it for a while so we tried to get nearer and found it further along the hedge. It then flew out over the rape crop and perched up allowing us to get a few heat-hazed shots.

A few minutes later I thought I was onto a second chat when I saw another small head with and obvious eye-stripe pop up near the Whinchat - no, not a chat - a Sedge Warbler, not exactly a common sight these days at Holmethorpe. Things were looking up.

The Whinchat then became very mobile again and disappeared into the distance across the rape crop and we failed to subsequently relocate it. The rape field is probably holding a lot of good birds but it is difficult area to view well.

We headed back to Mercers Lake but the Aqua Sports centre was already pretty busy with loads of people present so we decided to see if the Dunlin was still at the Water Colour lagoons.

Sure enough, it was still in the same area that it has been since Sunday and still along the bank close to the path that intersects the two lagoons.


For some reason, probably the lighting conditions, it looked paler-plumaged than yesterday but we are fairly sure that it was the same bird.

So, not such a bad morning's birding after all.

Graham & Paul

Holmethorpe Sand Pits ... Tuesday 13th September 2011

On Sunday, Tom Cahalane discovered a small wader at Water Colour Lagoon 1 at Holmethorpe Sand Pits.

Water Colour Lagoon 1 may stir up visions of crystal clear blue water, white sandy beaches, coral reefs and gently swaying palm trees but nothing could be further from the truth. On one side there is a view of the Water Colour housing development and, on the other side, the view of a landfill site. It does attract the occasional decent wader though.

This wader turned out to be a Dunlin, nice to see but a annual visitor that has already turned up at Holmethorpe on a few occasions this year.

So what is so special about this particular bird? Well, how often can you watch a wader from ten feet away?

This bird is right by a fairly busy path that divides Water Colour Lagoon 1 from Lagoon 2. A path used by almost every dog-walker and jogger in the area. This little wader ignores every yapping dog and panting jogger that passes.

First found on Sunday, the bird is still present today (Tuesday) in exactly the same spot that it was first seen. It is feeding well, finding plenty of worms near the water’s edge and appears to be in good health. I cannot remember seeing such a confiding wader at the pits before.

Ageing the bird has presented a few problems, but it does seem to show faintly the whitish V-markings on the mantle and messy streaking on the breast and upper flanks of a juvenile, whilst there are grey feathers in the mantle and wings that suggests a juvenile moulting into first-winter plumage.

Below are a few of photos that have been taken of the Dunlin since Sunday.




Non-birders have all the luck! ....

This post has nothing to do with birding in the south-east, but it does show how anything can turn up anywhere, no matter where you live.

On Saturday afternoon, I had a phone call from my 'non-birding' eldest daughter who lives in Llandovery in mid-Wales, a fair way inland from the coast.

She told me she had a strange looking bird nestling under a hedge in her back garden, it was "quite large with a pointy beak, dark grey and white plumage and with webbed feet - what is it, Dad? It has been there all day?"

I had my suspicions but I asked her to take a photo and email it to me, and here it is -

Here in land-locked Surrey, what I would give to get Manx Shearwater on my garden list, in fact, what I would give to get one on my county list!

She later rang me to say that the RSPCA were picking the bird up this morning and would take it to the coast for release after checking it over. My daughter was advised to put the bird in a cardboard box and keep it in their shed overnight.

Unfortunately, my four year-old granddaughter has taken a shine to this bird, so tears are expected when the RSPCA arrive.

The chances are that it originated from Skomer and I have read that many of the Manx Shearwaters that were preparing to head off for their wintering areas off South America had been caught up in a storm off Skomer on the 6th September and had been blown inland, with many being found in mainland Wales, causing a major rescue effort by the RSPCA. Most of these birds are said to be juveniles. Let's hope they make it after their ordeal.


Sunday 11th September.
a.m.: A lady from the RSPCA arrived at my daughter's house to collect the Manxie.
She said they have already picked up 300 of them. They were intending to release them all tomorrow at Minehead but, as the remnants of Hurricane Katia were due to hit the Welsh coast tomorrow, and they feared the shearwaters would just get blown off course again, they are now aiming to release them all a week tomorrow.
My daughter said the bird had been making one hell of a racket at about 4 a.m. this morning and she had expected the neighbours had been wondering what she had trapped in her shed!