Seven of us (Nige, Debbie, Sandra, Ian, Jill, Sue and Angela) ascended Newtimber after a 7.30 start from Henfield. As outgoing migrants was one reason for going I was mightily relieved when we clocked up 3 Spotted Flycatchers almost as soon as we started. One tried to kid us he was a Tree Pipit but the scope confirmed his real identity. Blackcaps showed when they felt like it and one tried a little singing, possibly to compete with a trilling Wren. We decided that us 7 birders were equivalent to 1 Mike Russell so we thought not much would escape us. On top of that we had Ian’s expertise on anything entomological (he’s good on insects and butterflies as well!) plus Debbie’s flower ID app which she diligently applied. She was determined to find the downland specialty of Round Headed Rampion and, lo and behold , perseverance paid off.
Round Headed Rampion Meadow Pipit
This was found on a south facing slope which also had small trees and bushes dotted around with a thick hedge along the bottom. Elder, blackberries, sloes and hawthorn berries abounded and the birds were there feeding up but the little blighters certainly knew how to find cover quickly. Small flocks of Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits were a bit more obliging and at one point the Goldfinches numbered about 40. Whitethroats flitted around but, unlike the recce visit Debbie and I made 2 days before there were none of the smartly plumaged Lesser Whitethroats (although I reckon the pale bird Sue saw could have been one). Good numbers of Swallows and House Martins passed overhead and we wished them well on their journey south which they will soon be starting.
As the sun came out so did some Butterflies. We summoned Ian and soon found Meadow Browns, Small Heaths and lovely Common Blues on the vetches and knapweeds. Luckily Ian is totally fearless so he was happy to catch a Common Blue so we could look at the underside of its wings at close quarters before it was released.
Common Blue Underside of Common Blue
Whilst searching for Butterflies we came across two other interesting insects. Grasshoppers abounded and one posed beautifully for Sandra to photograph. The other was a bug which causes its host plant to produce a home for it inside a wonderful gall which has a name that I am afraid I have totally forgotten.
A Grasshopper Gall
We decided to move further up the hill and immediately 2 Kestrels were spotted hunting over open ground and taking the odd rest in the trees. Almost simultaneously more small birds were moving around and Sue spotted the bright red tail we were hoping for. In a very small area we saw at least 10 Redstarts which was amazing. We got some of them in the scope which was great as they kept moving off as soon as Jill located them so she got good views eventually. Angela’s ears picked up their call which was quite similar to the Chiffchaffs and solitary Willow Warbler we had heard and seen. Yellowhammers became more prevalent and a bird on a distant dead tree was likely to be another but eventually I decided to “scope” it. Thanks goodness! It was the first of 2 Whinchats. Another brace of birds showed well and hung around to enable us to take in how gorgeous Linnets are. Larger birds were taking advantage of the increasing thermals including Herring Gulls and Buzzards plus somewhere was a cronking Raven who preferred to stay invisible. We put up one Skylark who was happily doing his super little burbling call before an enraged Meadow Pipit chased it off which was something I have never seen before.
One of the many Redstarts on a stump Us looking at him
Eventually we headed downhill for the grand finale which I always love on this walk – coffee and cakes from the caravan cafe! Sue did the bird list which came to 29 species. The only missing migrant from mine and Debbie’s recce walk was Wheatear. We all thoroughly enjoyed our morning.
Thanks to Sandra, Sue and Ian for the photos.