Angela and I were able to welcome new member Rikki on the walk this morning – a very dull morning, which made it tricky to see any colour at all on the birds high up in the trees, and the wildfowl were a bit monochrome too!

All the usual stuff along the first part of the walk, plenty of Robins & Wrens, and a couple of Song Thrushes.  Nice to hear 2 Chaffinches in song along the embankment, and further down a Chiffchaff singing.  Wildfowl on the floods was fairly distant, but we found Pintail, Coot, Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon, with a pair of Little Grebes too. Hear a Reed Bunting, but couldn’t find it.  Angela had noticed 7 (?) Little Egrets near the heronry on her way up; only one there when we arrived, though we found more later.  A group of 4 rather bored looking Herons were in one of the fields.  Beyond the heronry were some geese, a handful of Canadas with 11 smart White-fronted (new species for Rikki).

Pretty quiet along the river until a large flock of birds came across and landed in Wyckham Wood, all Wood Pigeons – maybe 500?  In floods on the Henfield side of the river were a group of 4 Gadwall, and we heard a Cetti’s.  Just west of New Inn were some Black-headed Gulls, and another gull making an odd call – turned out to be a Med Gull in flight!  A Pied Wag flew over, and a single Fieldfare called as we walked along the bridleway. On the diversion down towards Buckwish Farm there was a cacophony in the trees – some Goldfinches, and a largish group of Redwings were the culprits, and there was the occasional Redwing song heard!

The Rye Farm pools produced one Chiffchaff and the pair of Grey Wags, but no Water Rail today.

46 species seen or heard, and a rather oddly placed toilet in the grounds of the house at the top of the Rye Farm track.

Too good to stay indoors on the computer all morning, so did a quick recce along the Rye Farm track.  Probably 5 Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest flitting around by the ponds, and a Water Rail feeding nonchalantly at the back.  There were 8 Bewick’s Swans just west of Buckwish, the usual geese and ducks, though only spotted one pair of Gadwall.  There was an unusual Canada/Greylag hybrid, rather a pretty goose, and different from the other hybrids we have seen in recent years.

Val Bentley, 1st February 2024



The hybrid goose



Bewick’s in a flap

Water Rail

Today (25 Jan) 2 Bewick’s north of Rye Farm .

Many of the other suspects,  Chiffchaffs and Grey Wagtail and the Water Rail at the ” mucky pond” , a Red Kite over the village and then over the levels .

Missed the Stonechats where I normally see them , hope they are OK ( 2 pairs near the beacon ok after the cold snap) lots of Fieldfare and Redwing.

(Richard de Souza)

The Bewick’s Swans had moved back to the Eaton’s Farm area (north of New Inn and to the west of the river) on the 21st.  Apparently there were 7 by the Arun a week or so ago, but then that reduced to 2 by the time Roger & Paul found 5 at New Inn on the 17th. Presumably those 2 have now joined the 5 here, so we have the entire Sussex wintering population at the moment – but could only get 3 in the frame!

Astounding numbers of wildfowl out on the floods yesterday for Angela and myself, including approx. 400 Teal, 80 Mallards, 55 Wigeon, 35 Pintails, about 300 apiece of Canada & Greylag Geese, with the added bonus of a pair of Tufted Duck and two of the five Bewick’s Swans. Also up to 1200 Black-headed Gulls, with a few Commons & Herrings and a flock of 80 Lapwings. In the field to the east of the heronry were 5 stalking Little Egrets. Fieldfares and Redwings put in appearances several times, but not in great numbers.
Near Stretham Angela spotted a ring-tail Hen Harrier, while I was looking in the other direction at a Kestrel! Quiet along the river apart from yet more Black-headed Gulls. Several Meadow Pipits were calling, and a single Snipe rose up from the side of the bank. Two Mute Swans on the bank of the overflow pit looked a bit “flat” and we wondered if they were ok, but when we approached they both lifted their heads and eyed us with suspicion!
We finished by diverting down the Rye Farm track to “collect” the Chiffchaffs, a Grey Wagtail, some more Long-tailed Tits and a second Goldcrest, to bring the species total for the morning to 46.
Photos of the Bewick’s are very distant and grainy, but “bodies only” one shows their smaller size (than Mutes) compared with the geese, and more horizontally held tails – Mutes tend to have them at more of an angle.

A very quiet wander around the south-west of the patch.  Very little along the first part of the railway line, other than Wood Pigeons, Wrens and Robins, though we heard a Green Woodpecker yaffle.  Jackdaws were still hanging around the chimney pots of Victoria House.  Pretty muddy along the path west of the railway line, which was bordered by a lot of orange balsam.  Only seen in the past few years, and yet another alien, but according to google, not a threat to other native plants.  Entering the fields we heard quite a few House Martins overhead and further on the dead elms held Yellowhammer, Greenfinch, Goldfinches and Linnets. Ravens cronked from the east. A bird seen in an ash tree looked like a pipit , but didn’t get a good enough look to see if it was a Tree Pipit, though there were Blue Tits and Chiffchaffs in there too.  Angela and I were pretty sure we heard a pair of Bullfinches calling.

In the wetter bits of the field we found quite a few plants, including bistort, silverweed and one I’d never noticed before.  Hazel identified it later as Gypsywort and found out that it “can be used to treat slightly overactive thyroid and nervous heart conditions. Juice yields a dark dye once used by gypsies to tan their skin”.

Also noted were Purple Loosestrife in several places and Flowering Rush in the overflow pit.

The stroll along the river gave us a young Heron, sitting rather incongruously on a fence post.  We noted that Sharon’s fields now have some scrapes dug out, the most northerly one was holding water, and something flew up from there, but too quick for us to id it.  Several Swallows were flying around overhead, and a Great Spot was hiding in a dead tree – only seen when it flew off.

Just Angela and I continued with the dogleg down to Rye Farm.  By the bridge there were some impressive looking sloes, and in bushes near the interpretation board there was lots of activity, probably mostly Chiffies and Blue Tits.  We looked at the ponds by the trackside, which are difficult to see now, but a bird flew along with the undulating flight of a Grey Wagtail.  A Holly Blue butterfly was seen on the way back to the start.

Only 31 species today – many heard but not seen.

One seen in a conservatory gutter in the village on Wednesday (16th) – not their usual habitat!  Nigel C thinks he disturbed it from his neighbour’s garden when he went out to do his early morning litter pick, and it rested for an hour or so nearby.  On migration back to Africa (the Nightjar, not Nige).

Having initially thought there would only be half a dozen of us on the walk, the final number turned out to be 17!  16 of us met at the Downslink car park and we met up with Roger F by Lashmars.  Thought it would take too long to get 17 of us over the stile on the intended route, so we trotted along the fishermen’s path to the river.  We had seen a roe deer dashing along by a hedge along Stonepit Lane, and saw another by the river.  Hazel gave us some background information on the monastery we could see from Stonepit Lane, and then some legends about Chanctonbury Ring.

Not too much to be seen along the river, though we heard a couple of Tawny Owls calling, but for the 2nd year in a row (and only the 3rd time ever since we started doing these walks) no Barn Owl appeared, even though we know there was a brood at Great Betley.  A new (temporary?) stile had appeared near the weir , presumably to stop the cattle getting out of the field, but it was a bit wobbly.  It hadn’t been there on Thursday.  Also a surprise were two substantial metal kissing gates installed along the riverbank – permanent or temporary because of the cattle?

At Betley Bridge we stopped for a while and Roger’s bat detector picked up Common Pipistrelles, and Hazel told the group more about glowworms and the Perseid meteor shower.  The sky was much cloudier than the forecast had suggested which looked like bad news for Perseids, but fingers crossed for glowworms.  Heading south, we picked up the first one, shining brightly by the side of the track, then another 4, all on the west side, and all pretty impressive, shining bright green in the darkness.

The sky had cleared slightly when we arrived by the seat where there is a more open view, with some stars visible.  A couple of smaller meteors were seen by some, then an extremely bright one shot across to the south, bringing gasps of astonishment from all except Frankie – she was slightly further ahead and her view was obscured by a large bush. There’s always next year, Frankie!

Took the usual “summer” route along the railway, then under the arch and through the fields.  As we stood near the arch Dave spotted a Treecreeper – always good to see one of these! On the narrow path there was a lot of orange balsam, seems more prolific this year, and in the field near the railway line, lots of purple loosestrife.  From the fields we could see some Herons and a Little Egret, and there was a family of House Sparrows.  A little further on we heard something quite unusual for this walk – a Tawny Owl!  Also got nice views of a singing male Linnet, and we heard  Reed Buntings, Reed Warblers and Whitethroats, then a Greenfinch.  In fact we heard Greenfinches at several points along the walk.  A Kestrel was perched on one of the shooting blinds.

Back on the railway line we  heard a group of Long-tailed Tits, and were delighted to see one of the Egret nests had three gangly youngsters in it!  Poor photo, but they did look cute.

One of the other nests had at least one youngster and the third probably did too, but it was tucked a long way into the tree.  Along the river, were several Skylarks, a singing Meadow Pipit (quite unusual here) and at the overflow pit a Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler singing at the same time, giving us a good opportunity to note the difference in songs.

A Moorhen called from Sam’s pond, and a lovely family group of Swallows were flying around as we went up the track past Leeches, then we finally added Robin to the day’s list when a juvenile was hopping around on the path in front of us.  However, we did fail to get Mute Swan and Mallard!

Butterflies seen were Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Large, Small & Marbled Whites, Comma & Red Admiral, and there was also a Broad Bodied Chaser.