Debbie, Frankie and I arrived at a bright but chilly and windy Ashdown Forest just after 8.30 and set off without partaking of second breakfast much to the dismay of one member of the group.
The wind didn’t do us any favours but Debbie and Frankie soon started to pick up bird song of which I was oblivious to quite a lot. The early Goldcrest singing at some dizzy height in a fir tree was well beyond my scope of hearing as was the far away Willow Warbler Debbie tuned into. I did hear the Dartford Warbler singing which surprised me until we all agreed that actually it was a rather garbled Whitethroat, one of many we heard. Chaffinches were also quite numerous as was the amiable Chiffchaff which we were able to spy in the canopy on a couple of occasions.
As it warmed up a Blackcap got into its rhythm as did the odd Blackbird and the usual array of Wrens which exploded into song. We decided to break the morning into two parts so that we could return to the car for coffee instead of lugging flasks around. A good move as it turned out because we had the opportunity to doggedly wait under a tree trying to ID a perishing little brown bird adept at hiding behind branches. Eventually it flew onto the ground very obligingly to reveal itself as a female Redstart.
After our coffee and the un-named persons second breakfast we set out for an area I predicted would have some Redstarts. Frankie once said to me that she liked my walks because I always said what we might see but we never did. Another form of subliminal birding!! Thankfully this didn’t prove the case today as we saw a good number of Redstarts including some stunning males.
Wildlife Trusts photo
I started to scout the sky for raptors as it was warming up and hopefully producing some good thermals. First to take advantage were two Mallards which gave a surprise flypast! Eventually we found some Crow harassed Buzzards and a rather long distance hovering Kestrel.
At last, shortly after hearing both Song and Mistle Thrush, we began to tune in to the smashing little song of the Tree Pipit. We got sight of one or two and on our way back later we were nearly decapitated by a couple chasing each other round at top speed. They had total disregard for us in their nuptial bliss.
Wood Pigeons glided around showing off their display skills and were maybe a little put out by an invasion of five or six Stock Doves in one area. Swifts also zoomed overhead and when we stopped for a break near a horse paddock Frankie saw a House Martin flitting around. The horses in their paddock had attracted some Konic ponies the other side of the fence which was rather nice. Another non-birding highlight was a male Sand Lizard scuttling off in a vivid green flash.
We didn’t find a Dartford Warbler and indeed a regular visitor we met said he had not seen one all year and wondered if the cold winter snap had been a disaster for them. We hope not. However let’s be pleased with what we did eventually find – a Woodlark so loud and clear even I heard it perfectly.
Lunch was very welcome and we decided to extend the trip with a walk on Malling Down a Sussex Wildlife Trust site just outside Lewes. It was a steep climb up on an increasingly warm afternoon. We enjoyed trying to identify some of the wild flowers included Pyramidal Orchids. There were more Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Wrens plus two more species for the day in Herring Gull and a majestic Red Kite. Being on the Downs is always a special experience especially with such breath-taking views.
Eventually the legs had had enough and we headed for home after a great day out.