Wednesday 24th January saw me, Debbie, Angela and Linda set out on our two hours plus trek to Dungeness. Was it worth battling along the A27? You bet it was! We set ourselves a challenging target of clocking up 40 species in the day but despite this pressure we chilled out with hot drinks and biscuits (well I had one) in the RSPB centre. Well, not totally chilled out as we immediately had some ducks to ID which was hampered a bit by looking into the sun. Nonetheless we spied out Shovelers and a few Teal. While paying for our drinks at reception we learned from the lady that Great Northern and Black Throated Divers had been seen regularly from the Centre and hides along the main stretch of water. Pulses quickening, we decided to visit the hide to the left of the Centre and, with the weather being so good, we were able to stand outside, next to it and scan the water. Amongst Herring Gulls and Cormorants were Tufted Ducks and some diving ducks showing a lot of white at the front. As we got better views, we could see the tell-tale white face patch of Goldeneye which was very exciting. All of a sudden Debbie called out “there’s one” and in the distance we saw a winter plumage Diver. Fantastic. Next problem was Great Northern or Black Throated. Since this question naturally rested on my shoulders I did what any experienced birder would do. I asked somebody else! He wasn’t too sure either but following further viewing and discussion we decided it was Black Throated mainly due to the shape of its head which did not appear to have the steep forehead of the other. I went over to the group and announced the verdict at which point my co-identifier came over and said he wasn’t so sure now!

In the hope that we would see it again later and perhaps closer we put final ID on hold and set off for our walk. Angela was soon hearing Cetti’s Warbler and Linda spotted our lone Oystercatcher of the day. The small pond where in past years a Long-Eared Owl has roosted held a group of Gadwall and at the first viewpoint we added Mallard and Wigeon. It was here that Debbie found the first Marsh Harrier of the day tantalizingly flying over the far-side vegetation constantly dipping out of view. As we continued a Chiffchaff flitted around the waterside vegetation and we picked up calls of Robin, Dunnock and Chaffinch.

At the next hide we were treated to the sculptural sight of Cormorants en masse decorating the branches of dead trees in the water. Even more were crammed onto an islet with a couple of Great Blacked Gulls which looked almost the same size in a different shape sort of way. Our one and only Pochard turned up on this stretch of water  not to mention the huge raft of Coots. We discussed how this species is migratory in winter with some coming as far as from Russia. Who’d have thought that of a Coot?

We marched on to a short stop at the marshy area where there are often Snipe and sometimes other waders. No luck this time as any wading would have been  under water. To compensate we were treated to a large “murmuration” of Lapwings in the distance.  A last hide stop was taken where we have in the past seen Smew. Unlucky this time and, in fact, there were not a huge amount of birds present. We did add Great Crested Grebe and Heron which were the pick of the bunch until a couple of Marsh Harriers gave really good views. On leaving the hide we observed large groups of Grey Lag and Canada Geese amongst which we were pleased to find a small group of Barnacle Geese.

By now lunch was in our minds so we were a bit put out when the direct route back to the Centre was closed due to flooding. At the end of the long march we watched the birds on the feeders while getting food supplies from the car. Blue and Great Tits, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and House Sparrow. On to the picnic site by the first hide where we had seen the Diver. Withing moments Debbie had found a bird. This time it was pretty close and a nailed on Great Northern. We

soon spotted another bird which I am sure was the one we saw first and, although it was quite distant, it was clearly different and thankfully another birder confirmed it was a Black Throated. Wow and double Wow!

Just as everyone thought they could relax after lunch I herded them back to the car and we set off for a sea watch near the nuclear power station. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it. We drove past the Derek Jarman garden and parked near the old lighthouse before making the short trundle to the beach. Not too bitingly cold this trip! Immediately Debbie found two Gannets out amongst the numerous Gulls. Time prevented us really studying the Gulls although we were able to add Black Headed. I found some auks in the water which, after again discussing with a birder, were identified as Guillemot. I subsequently saw on the Dungeness Observatory website that the previous Friday over 3,000 Guillemots passed by and no mention of Razorbills which sort of confirmed our ID.

Before finally setting off for home we dropped into the local nature reserve opposite the RSPB Centre which was very atmospheric with the evening sun beginning to drop over the water. A roosting female Marsh Harrier was doing her toilette and a stunning male did a fly over as we traced our way back to the car.

We all thoroughly enjoyed what turned out to be our 11 hour day  and we exceeded our target – 51 species.

Final species list:-

Mute Swan

Black Throated Diver Gt Black Backed Gull Long Tailed Tit
Grey Lag Goose Little Grebe Herring Gull Great Tit
Canada Goose Great Crested Grebe Guillemot Blue Tit
Barnacle Goose Gannet Wood Pigeon Jackdaw
Mallard Cormorant Feral Pigeon Carrion Crow
Gadwall Grey Heron Meadow Pipit Magpie
Shoveler Marsh Harrier Pied Wagtail Starling
Wigeon Coot Dunnock House Sparrow
Teal Moorhen Robin Chaffinch
Pochard Oystercatcher Blackbird Greenfinch
Tufted Duck Lapwing Chiffchaff Goldfinch
Goldeneye Curlew Cetti’s Warbler Reed Bunting
Great Northern Diver Black Headed Gull Wren  

Wow! We actually got to Farlington Marshes this year after cancellations previously through Covid, rain and sickness. Yipee! I was accompanied by Liz, Ian, Will, Brian and his extra strong mints and new member Tony on a chilly, grey but mainly rain free morning. The run down took about an hour and a quarter and after all that sitting in the cars we wanted to get straight out walking without the usual coffee start. Well, we walked about 1 yard before stopping to watch a group of Brent Geese and a small group of Black Headed Gulls who had been infiltrated by a couple of Common Gulls.

When we eventually set off properly I inadvertently gave the group an adventurous route onto the reserve whereby they had to ascend a steep muddy incline and worm round the end of a fence, avoiding the drop into the sea inlet. A Rock Pipit sat on a post amongst the seaweed obviously having a bit of a laugh at our antics. Everyone passed the assault course test and Brian even pointed out the entrance gate which I had totally missed. Once on terra firma we walked through some exciting damp scrub where Goldfinches, Greenfinches and a lonesome Chaffinch were feeding up in the bushes. A large flock of Lapwings and attendant Starlings passed overhead making a flappy beeline for the pastureland and ponds. This was a rich area for birds so we took our time scanning to see what we could find. Beyond the ponds were yet more Brent Geese and Canada Geese. There were Brents flying over making a lovely, cosy growling call which added to the atmosphere created by the wild calls of Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank. The latter two species were present in large, sleepy flocks which I was quite surprised at in Redshank which I had never before seen in such large groups. Avocets in the first big group we saw had found the water level too much even for their long legs and were gently bobbing up and down as they swam on the spot. Another good sized flock had the sense to find a shallower place. The Curlews were Liz’s favourite bird of the trip and with the scope we were able to get some really close up views. Less easy to spot were three Snipe which are always great to find.

We were happy to see a large number of duck on the open water in the pond areas especially when one large group turned out to be Pintail, probably about 30 altogether. We were equally pleased that Shelduck were there in good numbers along with beautiful Wigeon and Teal and a few splendid looking Mallard in top plumage. A small group of Gadwall skulked near a reedbed along with some Moorhens and Coots. Tony found our first Heron and Brian clocked a small bird zooming on to the top of a spiky plant on the pond bank, a Stonechat.

Will next put me in the firing line as I had the scope. Out in the sea channel was a fast-disappearing islet. The tide was high and getting even higher. Lots of waders were zooming round the islet trying to claim squatters’ rites on the fast-receding shore. Long distance wader IDing is not my forte and I am always mentally wishing Mike Russell was with us in these situations but ………. I managed! Oystercatchers were easy but eventually I found large numbers of Grey Plover and a few Black Tailed Godwits. With Will’s help we worked out the tiny birds were all Dunlin. We had hoped for some Ringed Plovers amongst them but you can’t have everything.

Tiny dots on the seawater all turned out to be Great Crested Grebes no matter how much we tried to make them Great Northern or other species of Diver. The gulls were getting bigger here with both Herring and Great Black Backed passing over. The Brent Geese were ever present and as we scanned inland again we got into two raptors sitting on fence posts. One a Buzzard and the other a smart male Marsh Harrier. Tony had found the latter earlier so it was nice that we all ended up seeing this lovely bird.

Liz decided to keep moving at this point because it was getting decidedly chilly by the sea. We followed on but got waylaid in an exciting area where raised sand banks had been made in the freshwater scrapes. Here we got really good views of Grey Plover and Dunlin all of which were having a chill out and not scurrying round like they usually do. Amongst the assorted ducks and ubiquitous Brent Geese were a new species, Shovelers. We all decided Liz had made a good choice and set off a bit more rapidly but still found a few additional species on route including Robin, Wren, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

After a welcome picnic in the cars looking over the inlet of the sea we set off for a pit stop at Pagham Harbour in Church Norton. Here the tide was still too high for much wader activity at close quarters but it was lovely down there. The Great Northern Diver and Eider which had been there in the morning had discourteously moved on but we still saw a good lot of birds before leaving for the trip back home. We all agreed it had been a very good day out once again. One abiding memory being those lovely grunting Brent Geese flying around us.

Nigel

Myself, Debbie, Jane and Brian crossed under the Thames at Dartford on a morning of lovely October weather without any hassle and were soon enjoying the first Rainham Marshes experience – coffee and cake. Having satisfied that craving we left the centre and 2 minutes later were surveying wet pools and starting to identify ducks which were more or less out of their eclipse plumage. Mallard, Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler shared the water with Coots, Canada & Grey Lag Geese and for the eagle eyed a couple of Snipe were amongst Lapwing on the bank. We were already hearing Cetti’s Warblers and clocked up around 20 different birds during the day. Rainham obviously agrees with Cetti’s Warblers. We found our first Marsh Harrier early on and this was a superbly marked male which was later joined by at least 2 females who graced us with their presence for a good deal of the trip.

Eventually we had to move on and follow the path between trees and bushes but the sounds of the marshes never left us (especially the geese!) and Debbie picked up the sound of Skylarks with one passing a mere 150 feet over our heads. Robins, Blue and Great Tits seemed to follow us everywhere and an obliging male Chaffinch showed off splendidly in a Willow. The layout of the paths has changed a bit which momentarily totally confused us but once the radar was back up and running we arrived at what Debbie and I always refer to as Stonechat corner. Not only did the Stonechats oblige but a warden let us all look through his scope at a roosting Barn Owl in a box in a far distant tree. Bonus or what!

Next stop was a hide where we started finding our own special birds First up was a Kingfisher which seemed to do a circuit of the wet scrape in front of us before zooming up a reed fringed channel. Some Wigeon and Teal were minding their own business when a large bird dropped down on to one of the muddy islands much to their annoyance. A few tried to discourage it but frankly who can really win an argument with a Raven? I found it quite amusing to see its beak get muddier and muddier as it probed for food. Since we couldn’t totally sustain ourselves on Brian’s Extra Strong Mints we decided to head off towards the next hide for lunch. In any case we were feeling a bit annoyed with ourselves for having mutually agreed we were listening to a Water Rail and then realised it was Teal (any easy mistake when you are a bit over excited!). On the way we searched diligently for diving ducks but the only bird doing any diving was Little Grebe, although of course we all loved them. Cetti’s continued to bombard our ears and the hearers were possibly picking up the ping of Bearded Tits.

The lunch hide was not quite as productive bird wise as usual but we all loved a splendid Black Tailed Godwit who descended onto the water showing brilliantly in the sunshine. Shelduck and Gadwall boosted the duck count and a Kestrel joined the Marsh Harriers over the reeds. We commented on how the Little Egrets we were watching are no longer a mega surprise and we also agreed that a Heron can be a very good looking bird when he tries. Jane told us about a trip she made to France where one evening hundreds of White Storks came into roost in the village she was staying in. They stayed the night on rooftops, church spire and trees but by the morning had gone. Apparently each year they make this stop off on their migration. Come on Knepp Storks you’ve got some catching up to do. We had a brief taste of summer when Brian spotted 2 Swallows skimming over the marsh.

No time for post lunch nap so we trotted along the boardwalk with Skylark, Meadow Pipits and of course Cetti’s for company. A Reed Bunting put in an appearance and then Jane and Debbie started hearing pings again. A bird flew out of the reeds which Brian and I confidently ID’d as a Cetti’s Warbler due to the russet in its tail. Debbie dared to disagree. It reappeared an sat out on a reed mace for us to get a fantastic view – Bearded Tit!

We stopped off a 2 more hides in 1 of which a Bearded Tit turned up after Brian and I had left but Debbie and I think Jane saw it. Our last extravaganza was in the last hide where a small raptor suddenly flashed across in front of us carrying a vole which it dived into the reeds with. We put Sparrowhawk on our list even though nobody in the hide saw it well enough to be sure and Merlin was getting a mention but I think the former for no better reason than it was more likely. The word went round the hide that the cafe was closing at 3.30 which left us about 30 seconds to get there. Luckily it was just the kitchen that closed and a tired looking but cheerful lady ensured us we were ok for more coffee and cake. I found a half broken pencil and cadged some paper off the reception desk and were able to record our days tally which came to 54 species. A fantastic trip all round.

 

With Nigel C resting at home with his bad back, Angela T armed with a notepad and pen, Nigel P with a pocketful of sweets and Ian bringing his amazing knowledge of butterflies joined me to walk Area 2 this month.

I met the others by the oak trees in Furners Lane by which time they had already seen a robin, crow, wood pigeon and a pied wagtail. Whilst I was on my way to meet them, I saw 2 buzzards being mobbed by crows and a herring gull.

Buzzard
Buzzard – Peter Meares

All quiet and still at the oak trees so we wandered along Furners Lane. In the field to the north we spotted 2 roe deer which soon ran off and joined another 3 in the adjoining field, where we saw a magpie and a blackbird.

It was a dull morning which made it hard to identify birds in flight but we did hear a greater spotted woodpecker and saw a small murmuration of starlings.

Further down the road just before the Bylsborough turning, several birds flew across the road and disappeared into the scrub, we saw them again a bit further on and because of the light we were initially unable to decide if they were redwings or fieldfare. Eventually after watching them for a while, looking online and a lot of discussion we decided they were redwings.

A chaffinch helpfully perched at the top of a tree and a couple of wrens chased each other across the road.

Not a lot to be seen up to Bylsborough, very quiet and still dull. We heard a green woodpecker and saw some goldfinches and bluetits.

Going towards Woodhouse Farm we heard a very vocal pheasant and saw a clattering of jackdaws.

Turning right by the farm the sun started to appear, as did the sound of skylarks. A heron flew over looking very majestic in the light, a kestrel was spotted and a cormorant hurriedly flew past.

The field had been ploughed which made it very difficult to spot the ‘little brown birds’ but we persevered, watching several swoop up and down, trying to locate them with our binoculars in the field and we decided they were linnets.

Linnet

Nothing at the hay barn but one yellowhammer was spotted near the hedge, which had been cut back. We then spotted several house martins above the ploughed field.

When we reached the meadow area before Morley’s we started hearing bull finches. A great tit was spotted and a jay heard. The vegetation around Morley’s pond had been cut back so we thought we might see more but only heard a moorhen.

In the nearby woods we heard a high pitched sound which we couldn’t identify so out came Merlin which immediately registered goldcrest. We weren’t sure and walked a bit further pondering the sound. It kept going like a warning call so we checked the goldcrest’s call online and again after much deliberation decided that there must have been at least one in the massive oak trees.

Along the hedge we heard more bullfinches and managed to spot a couple.

The sky then clouded over and with the cool easterly breeze it turned very quiet again.

We spotted a sparrowhawk before entering the woods near to Wantley and I left the group by the Wantley path.

Just as I left I spotted a collared dove on an aerial and the others saw a red kite on their way back to the car park.

33 species of bird

Two butterflies were seen – red admirals.

Our group of 12 set off for the super Warnham Nature Reserve on a bright and warm Friday morning. We were Nige & Debbie, Janet & Steve, Lorna, Lesley, Diana, Pauline, Jane, Ian, Jill and Audrey. Having met together, Nige ramped up the pressure on everyone by setting a stiff target of 25 species of bird to be identified during the morning. We started off in one big group in the new visitor centre getting some water birds under our belt. Great Crested Grebes were ticked off along with Herring and Black Headed Gull, Moorhen and Cormorant. So far so good. The ducks tried to trick us. The Mallard were ok but a sleepy trio some way out were still wearing their rather tatty and splodgy eclipse plumage so it took us a while to realise they were Tufted Ducks. Debbie’s group moved on first as our second  challenge was to try and get round the reserve in 2 clumps without meeting up with each other (and you thought these walks were stress free affairs!). We knew they had found an attractive little butterfly on the blue daisies in the gorgeous wildflower plot the reserve has created and we had the ace identifier up our sleeve – Ian. He announced we were looking at a splendid Small Copper.

 

As we moved on we heard Robin, Blackbird and Chiffchaff in the woods and on arriving at the first bird feeding station we watched Great and Blue Tits competing with no less than 4 Magpies for possession of the feeders. A couple of non descript birds were chilling out in a tree and turned out to be a pair from a latish Greenfinch brood.

A Nuthatch made a quick raid but was not seen again. Maybe one look at us lot was enough! Even this far from the water we were beginning to see some nice damselflies and dragonflies. These included Migrant Hawker, Red Darter and Blue Damselfly (thank you Ian). Next stop was by the lake where we were quietly enjoying the grebes and ducks when the sky erupted with 2  skeins of Canada Geese wheeling in to join the small band of Grey Lag Geese. This is always a stunning spectacle even if the geese are as common as Canadas. They certainly livened up the water.

Doing his best in a smaller pond was a large frog who we all agreed was lucky not to be living in France where his legs would possibly have made a substantial starter. Not so the froglet Lesley found for the other group which was apparently tiny. It was at this point we met a man who had seen a weasel but we felt this was a bit too tenuous to be added to our sightings list.

With no end of Great Crested Grebes popping up and down like mini submarines practicing manoeuvres we were pleased to spy their tiny cousin the Little Grebe or Dabchick quietly minding its own business close to the reeds.

We left it to its own devices and sauntered in to the big bird feeding hide where a number of species were sporadically feeding. It was interesting to watch a rather bemused Chiffchaff coming in and out to the feeders with Blue Tits but clearly not knowing what he had to do to get food. He should have stayed with the Blackcap we had seen gorging on elderberries a little earlier. While we were doing some comfy birding in the hide Debbie’s group were venturing further along the woodland walk and finding Wrens, Dunnocks, a Goldcrest and a Treecreeper. Good work from that lot! We finished of in the last hide where often you can see Herons at their heronry. We were unlucky there but did see Little Egrets and the ever graceful Mute Swans.

We set off back to the centre for some much anticipated coffee and pastries and as we approached the buildings I was lucky enough to see a Kingfisher belt along about a foot above the water. We dashed into the hide but  were unable to locate it. Happily all of Debbie’s group saw it and that was particularly great for Diana as it was her first ever and she had come hoping she would see one. Our last sighting before coffee was this lovely Speckled Wood which Ian found for us. Thanks to Ian for all the photos.

We had a good chat over coffee and congratulated ourselves on the 2 groups not seeing hide or hair of each other on the way round. Additionally, everyone was allowed to go home because we not only achieved our target but overhauled it ……. a magnificent 32 species!

 

 

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.

 

 

Henfield Birdwatch Butterfly Walk Mill Hill NNR Friday 4th August 2023

A group of 8 of us (Ian, Nigel, Maggie, Hazel, Mary, Hilary, Val and Angela set off from Henfield in 2 cars for the Mill Hill Butterfly Walk. Ruth joined us a little later.

As Nigel’s car came to a stop at the Mill Hill main car park near the top of the reserve we recorded our first 2 butterfly species on the Buddleia Bush conveniently growing in front of our chosen parking spot. A rather weather-beaten Painted Lady and a Red Admiral. A good start. It was not long before we added a few more species, Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers, which were everywhere even when the sun went behind the clouds, Rather better sightings were a Dark Green Fritillary and a Wall Brown.

Some people were lucky enough to see a Hornet Mimic Hoverfly

As we waited for the sun to appear from behind some clouds we had a short walk along the access friendly woodland nature trail provided on the reserve. We spent the rest of our time enjoying the magnificent flower rich meadows which cover the hillside at this site. Altogether we managed to find 13 butterfly and 5 moth species as well as brushing up on our plant identification skills and of course birds were not neglected (see report below). We were lucky with the weather considering recent forecasts but were probably a week or two early for the hoped for Adonis Blue.

However there were plenty of fresh Common Blue and Brown Argus to keep us occupied looking and the views alone from this hilltop site made this an enjoyable outing.

                                                                           

Butterfly list

Large White, Small White, Brown Argus, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Peacock, Dark Green Fritillary, Wall Brown, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown,, Small Heath

Moth list

Silver Y (2), Cinnabar (larva), Dusky Sallow (2), Common Carpet, Burnet Moth.

Bird list

Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Linnet, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Blackbird, Swallow, Magpie, Crow, Jackdaw, Woodpigeon, Herring Gull, Buzzard.

Ian Woiwod

A perennial problem for pre-arranged butterfly walks is the weather. So, it no surprise when rain and wind led to the cancellation of the butterfly walk scheduled for 14th July. The weather forecast for a week later looked more promising for another try and so it proved when four of us (Moira, Mary, Nigel and myself) arrived at the Summer Down Carpark (TQ269111) on Devil’s Dyke Road.

Immediately on leaving the carpark we started seeing butterflies, Meadow Browns and Small/Essex Skippers in abundance but also good numbers of Marbled Whites and Gatekeepers before we were pleased to catch up with one of the chalk downland specialities, the Dark Green Fritillary. Several of these were busy nectaring allowing good views and opportunities for photography.

Some amusement was caused by my unsuccessful attempts at catching the Small/Essex Skippers to see if I could show the main way of separating the two common species by examining the underside of their antennae. As expected, there were plenty of Red Admirals as this year seems to be The Year of the Red Admiral. It is not clear yet how many of these are locally produced but many are thought to be the result of a large influx from the continent.

Altogether we recorded 16 butterfly species, the most interesting being a Small Blue, a  Wall Brown and a stunning Painted Lady. The last two species spotted by eagle-eyed Nigel. The count of blue butterflies was disappointing but a couple of freshly emerged Common Blues were nice to see.

Apart from the butterflies we recorded 3 species of moths. The day-flying Six-spot and Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnets together with their yellow cocoons. The third moth species being an interesting record of a large female Ghost Moth in the process of being eaten by well-marked black and white spider (my photo does not do it justice.)

Altogether an interesting morning of butterfly watching in ideal weather conditions.

Common Blue                                                  Dark Green Fritillary                                           Gatekeeper

Ghost Moth being eaten by spider!                       Painted Lady

Ian Woiwod

A quick look at the table set out below shows that this year provided our lowest total of birds seen since we started the Big Bird Bash in 2019.

BIG BIRD BASH TOTALS

2019

2020 2021 2022

2023

62 Cancelled 69 69

61

However this is only part of the story. A total of 33 different people took part in the walks and Hazel Haylock made a mammoth effort and completed all five. Wow that took some doing! Our youngest bird spotter was 10 years old and we won’t go into who was the oldest other than to say they would have been a lot older than 10. One of our HBW targets is to attract local people to get out and enjoy nature so I think we achieved that.

Another objective of the Big Bird Bash is to raise money for a local worthy cause. This has also been achieved as we  have raised a good amount for The Haven so thanks to everyone who sponsored the event. Your generosity will help The Haven continue its wonderful work in our community. There will be a presentation of a cheque at the end of July when the final amount is known.

Of the 61 bird species seen 23 were, like Hazel, seen on all 5 walks. Our summer migrant songsters Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Whitethroat were among those with Nightingale making an appearance on 3 which is superb after they have travelled so far up from Africa to be with us. The same can be said of the other long distance migrants who put on a show such as Cuckoo, Reed Warbler, Swallow, Swift and House Martin. Other notable birds were Red Kite, Lapwing, Barn Owl, Peregrine, Raven, Grey Wagtail, Bullfinch, Skylark and Yellowhammer. However we shouldn’t forget all the lovely more common birds that are such an indicator of the health of the environment.  How dull our gardens would be without Robin, Blue Tit, House Sparrow, Wren, Great Tit, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and for some lucky people in Lower Station Road Reed Buntings. All these showed well on the Bird Bash. I would also like to praise two other sometimes less loved birds who made all 5 walks – Wood Pigeon & Herring Gull.

Nigel Colgate

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.