After staying local as instructed at the start of the year, it was finally time to venture further afield. As passionate as I am about local birding, it was nice to look forward to a change of scenery. So it was off to Old Lodge in Ashdown Forest, a regular late April/early May haunt for me but due to the pandemic this was my first visit there since 2019.
It rarely disappoints there and today was no exception. Crossbill, Tree Pipit, Lesser Redpolls and lots of singing Willow Warblers (the latter now just a migratory species in Henfield unfortunately) were all noted. It wasn’t until we headed out of the reserve that we saw Redstarts, seeing two pairs in the end, including amazing views of one of the males. We were also surprised to see a flock of Fieldfares and Redwings in one of the horse paddocks, perhaps an indication of how cold it’s been of late. Walking up the slope from Old Lodge Bottom to Lodge car park then gave us great views of a male Dartford Warbler on a gorse bush.
After that excitement it was off to Weir Wood Reservoir, and again we weren’t disappointed. Amongst the Common Terns was an Arctic Tern, a Sand Martin fed over the water, a Greenshank patrolled one of the exposed banks and a pair of Marsh Tits were on the feeders by the car park.
To round things off lunch was taken from the chippy in Forest Row, a fitting end to a splendid morning’s birdwatching.
Whilst on the school drop-off this morning I was pleasantly surprised to hear a Coal Tit singing from a conifer tree in Staples Barn. It then popped up onto an exposed branch to carry on belting out its tune. Lovely.
With April well underway and it being a beautiful sunny morning I was confident of a good morning’s birding, and just for once I was proved right. Heading up to Betley Bridge from Bishop Park there was plenty of activity to be seen and heard, and it was nice to hear my first Blackcaps of the year. The river from Betley to New Inn was strangely quiet, and today I decided to carry on down river to the Overflow Pit. A wise move as here there was a Little Egret, a Green Sandpiper and more impressively a pair of Garganey! Probably two of the four that had been seen earlier in the month, but did this mean they are staying here to breed?
Carrying on to the Mill Stream another Green Sandpiper popped up, and further along I had my, and I believe Henfield’s, first Whitethroat of the year. Nightingale and Cetti’s Warbler were also heard singing but inevitably not seen.
It’s time for April’s Wetland Bird Survey, and with dry weather for quite a while it probably meant little, or more likely no, flood water so it would be interesting to see what was about. Time was tight for me, but Roger joined me again as we did our usual route, heading to Frogshole, then up river to just before Betley. As suspected, there wasn’t much to trouble the notebook, and the only birds we noted were small numbers of Mallards, Mute Swans and Greylag and Canada Geese. By the time we got to north of the confluence my time was up, so I left Roger to it. He told me on the way round that he never used to bother doing the surveys from April through to September; I can see why.
STOP PRESS: Roger has informed me this evening that after I left him he managed to flush 6 Snipe and a…. Jack Snipe! Typical. But well done to Roger!
With a new month I’d thought I’d partake of another session of Rye Watching, so with scope set up I hoped to get some migrants passing through. A lone Swallow heading north was my dubious reward, and with the floodwater gone there wasn’t much to see out on the Levels either. There was however a Lapwing looking smart in its breeding plumage, two Bullfinches raced past and vanished into a bush, and a Linnet was in full song behind me on the Railway line. I think I’ll be giving the Rye Watching a break until the autumn now!
Noted my first Swallow of the year on the very last day of March, perched on an overhead power line at Catslands Farm, Woodmancote. So not strictly a Henfield sighting but close enough to be worthy of note. Anyway, as Val once said to me, the borders of our patch are we want them to be if it suits!
After a couple of weeks with scant chance for any birding, it was nice to be joined by Tom for a saunter around the local patch, doing a circular up to Betley, down the river to New Inn and back along Hollands Lane. It still felt like the calm before the storm, as we’re still awaiting the influx of spring migrants, and the only evidence that the breeding season is about to get underway were 5 singing Chiffchaffs. Indeed, a mixed flock of about 50 Redwings and Fieldfares at Betley Bridge illustrated that winter isn’t that far behind us. Also worthy of note was good views of a Buzzard by West End Lane that had a striking rufous tail.
After taking over the wetland bird survey for the West End area from Roger French, I was delighted to be joined by him for the March survey. It was a bright day but a biting north-westerly wind made it chilly in exposed areas, and we started with a bit of long-distance scanning from West End Lane across to floods west of the river. From there we somehow managed to pick out a male Mandarin, the first one for Henfield this year. The floods by Buckwish Farm held handfuls of ducks and a Little Egret. Walking up the river added a few birds here and there, but down from Betley Bridge we counted just over 200 Geese, with 63 Canada and 144 Greylag. They also boasted a Black Swan and the Bar-headed Goose amongst their number, clearly escapees from somewhere or the other. Also present here were 5 Lapwing. At various points we risked life and limb to wade through flooded fields to see what we could flush, and with 29 Snipe flying up as we approached it illustrates just how many of this species are lurking unseen in the meadows alongside the river. It was also at this point that I discovered that I now have a hole in one of my Wellington boots. From a non-wetland bird perspective highlights were several singing Skylarks, both mine and a Roger’s first singing Chiffchaff of the year, and 3 Lesser Redpolls alongside the river west of Great Betley Farm.
With time again tight it was a return to my newly patented Rye Levels watching. I plotted up at the same spot as on the 21st Feb visit, set the scope up and began scanning. A lack of rain over the previous two weeks meant that the floods had dramatically receded, and consequently so had the numbers of wildfowl on the Levels. Total counts were: Mute Swan 3, Greylag Goose 3, Mallard 8, Wigeon 70, Teal 20, Pintail 4, Shoveler 2, Black-headed Gull 10 and Common Gull 1.
It was time to carry out the Area 4 first winter survey this weekend, or I’d be running the risk of the ire of Mr Nigel Colgate. Starting out in thick fog was not ideal for counting every bird present in my patch, but the sun soon appeared and it turned out quite pleasant in the end. Nothing too out of the ordinary noted, but highlights included finally seeing my first Green Woodpecker of the year (why do I always take so long to get this species on my year list?), a Little Egret by the tank track and two Goldcrests in a fir tree where West End and Lawyers Lanes meet, providing decent views .