It was stretching it a bit to make Tuesday the final walk for the Big Bird Bash Weekend, but it proved very enjoyable for myself & Maya, who were joined by Nige, Sue M, Angela T, Lucy and Mary F.

The highlights of Area 9, part 1, from the village to Stretham this morning were a nicely perched Kestrel, 5 Stonechats, about 300 Starlings chattering away in a tree, a young Grey Heron sitting on the old nest with four or five Cormorants in the cormorant tree nearby and the seal coming up with the tide at the bridge.  We turned up river (part 2) when Sue spotted a flash of orange and blue, then lost it, then found it again sitting on a concrete slab near some railings.  We watched it for a long time, it dived into the river and came back to the same spot.  We left it sitting there, then Sue noticed it again flying up river with a fish in its beak.  The overflow pit had a lot of birds flitting about in the reeds, more Stonechats (we reckoned 25-ish total for the morning), Reed Buntings, and at least one Whinchat. A Sparrowhawk dashed across and a yellowish-but-dark-legged Chiffchaff was seen flitting about in willows by the river, so we couldn’t turn it into anything else.

Didn’t get back to the starting point until about 1.30.

We saw 45 species  which didn’t include Long-tailed Tit or House Sparrow!

Not the best weekend to choose for the Bird Bash!  Windy and rather chilly but the walks so far have been brilliant.

Mike kicked off the weekend on Friday evening with a walk round Woods Mill and along the millstream , recording 30 species with a couple of real highlights, the first being half-a-dozen Yellow Wagtails feeding amongst the cattle and gleaming yellow in the evening sun. Another was a Sparrowhawk flying low over the field and landing on a tree so we could get nice scope views. Stonechats always sit up nicely for you and we had the privilege of 4 of them showing themselves off to us. Meadow Pipits kept popping out of the long grass and a single Skylark flew over us as did a couple of linnets.

Nigel C and Paul both led  walks on Saturday morning.  Paul’s was along the Downslink and down river.  They got a several autumn migrants: a Chiffchaff was calling above , a Blackcap was filling up on elderberries and Swallows and House Martins flew overhead. Further up a pair of Goldcrests was a nice find.  A Stonechat was just down from Betley Bridge, but the wind made the going a bit tougher and the birds were now thinner on the ground but they were quickly warmed up  by the best bird of the day when a Hobby dashed over the river.

Nige followed his Area 2 walk, and the team clocked up 31 species which was pretty good especially when the only finches seen were Linnets and the Area 2 reliable Yellowhammers deserted us. Top marks   for getting Treecreeper which is often elusive and a scratchy growling Whitethroat near Furners Lane. Nige was able to sound particularly knowledgeable by pointing out the flap flap glide flight pattern of a very obliging Sparrowhawk! Most unusual Area 2 sighting was of three Grey Herons, all of them flying over at considerable height and speed.

Mike’s second walk on Saturday evening followed the same route. Much the same birds on the reserve but this time added Grey Wagtail as compensation for not seeing the Yellow Wagtails later on, plus a Pied Wagtail flew over to complete the wagtail set. And they added Reed Bunting. However, the best bird which was rather a surprise was a Snipe which suddenly shot up in the air and flew over their heads!

Report from Will’s walk on Sunday to come, and there is still the Area 9 walk on Tuesday.  Many thanks to all who have donated so far to The Haven, Henfield’s wonderful Community Centre

On a river walk on 6th August, Brian L, Lesley M, Mike D and Val enjoyed  a wander round Lancasters nursery, then by the old Adams yard (now Adams Gardens) the flowers (?) on a monkey puzzle tree in a garden were fabulous, and Lesley spotted a low flying Buzzard.

By the river we surmised about none of us having seen the seal which has been around for a couple of months, when all of a sudden, there it was, hauled up on the opposite bank in the sunshine.

Excellent views. Just a single Mute Swan on the river, a flying Mallard, and a Grey Heron in a field at the confluence.  A flock of Long-tailed Tits were calling from willows by the river, a lovely Flowering Rush

was in the river with Banded Demoiselles fluttering nearby, Linnets flew up from the bushes, and we saw a Roe Deer munching away in a field to the right.

On July 23rd there were an amazing 15 Cattle Egrets by the river south of Betley Bridge – doing what they’re supposed to do, feeding in a field with cattle!  Only 2 previous reports of the species in the area, one in 1999 and a second in 2019.

 

Early in the month Nightingales were still singing along the millstream, and  seen in the same area were young Stonechat, Linnet feeding young, and Reed Buntings. Fairly unusual to have Stonechats stying to breed, usually winter visitors.  Some young Lapwings were spotted on the Downslink. Two Kingfishers on the river by New Inn Farm, Sedge (photo) and Reed Warblers by the mill stream.

Swifts were occupying boxes in the High Street and elsewhere, several House Martin nests in the High Street and on the Deer Park & Bishop Park  estates.  White Stork over Furners Lane on the 21st, and a Water Rail seen there too.

On the 26th a pair of Hobbies seen  high in the sky over the levels and at lower altitudes Buzzards, Red Kites and a large mixed flock of gulls including Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Black-headed all feeding on insects.

A Tawny Owl family in the village and probably 2 on the Downslink had all produced young. Two of our local Barn Owl boxes had chicks, which were ringed early in July by a ringer with a Schedule 1 licence.  Also one adult female ringed and a male retrapped – which had been ringed in 2015 as a 2nd year bird, hence 6 years old, very respectable indeed for a Barn Owl!

A shame the Red-footed Falcon was just over the boundary in Upper Beeding!

Lockdown birding means that our resident expert, Mike, is spending more time exercising locally instead of leading exotic birding trips!  He and Lesley found a probable Caspian Gull on the 7th April and a Great White Egret on April 22nd.

And one member was really lucky to have a Hoopoe turn up on her lawn on the 29th.

In addition, the young herons are getting a big large for their nests,

and we are delighted that good numbers of Nightingales have been singing, and House Martins and Swifts have returned to the village in early May.

by Will Green

Over the last ten or so years many of us cognoscenti have lamented the disappearance of the common Mistle Thrush. However, a few incredulous critics were sceptical of me that on a winters morning I saw a flock of twenty-five in the parkland adjoining Woodmancote Church. Reply?  He can’t tell the difference between them and Fieldfares. Just ignore him! Nevertheless, I have birding kudos and they could be on the way back!

Although they are more impressive in stature than the Song Thrush, they are less than impressive in the singing department! Its song let’s be kind, is a something or nothing. Although its song travels long distances, very few lines are melodic. The overall pattern can be rambling with nowhere to go!

From my house which is about a quarter of a mile from Henfield Common, at certain times of the year a bird can be clearly heard. In early spring just after dawn, Mistles can continuously sing from the tops of trees to around midmorning.

They seem to have large territories and move frequently from tree to tree; I suppose to defend their territories. They find a prominent lofty perch to carry on the same monotonous song and keep other males at bay and of course to impress an easily impressed female! to On one occasion, I was walking my dog from the Common, cross country towards Bilsborough, which is roughly three-quarters of a mile away. Fortuitously or otherwise, a singing bird decided to take a similar course and I was able to hear him singing from various trees throughout the journey. We only lost touch on the track towards Blackstone village, when possibly he decided to return to base on the Common!

On the other hand, you can rely on the Song Thrush to stick to a more parochial territory. His singing empire may vary from one close tree to another, even when he tries to pull rank on one of its next-door neighbours. The Song Thrush with his impressive song the next day could be almost in the same spot, even after an unsuccessful altercation!

Mistles usually rove around their indeterminate territories. I’m not sure whether it’s because there are fewer of them and have license to roam. In my neck of the wood where they sing, I know of one bird that calls out from Woodmancote Place, another outside Libby Serpis’s next to the Common and one at Barrow Hill. Three territories cover over a distance of a mile and a half.

This morning a Mistle Thrush sang in my garden mid-distance between Libby’s and Woodmancote Place. Take your bets of where his territory is!

Before I disappear up a proverbial and morph into a birding nerd, I admit I find it interesting to pry into how the birds I see conduct their lives, however mundane! Although we occasionally succumb to coronaries from finding rare birds, we should also be inquisitive about ordinary events.

To support Mistle Thrushes, they are not always boring. Their song can be less than engaging and they are not the best lookers, but occasionally they try to live dangerously! If you see a bird’s nest that is precariously swaying about on a bough in strong winds in the middle of February. It might be a Mistle Thrush.

“Don’t you always seem to know, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone”, so sang Joni Mitchell way back 50 years ago, gosh that dates me!

Well, there’s a possibility that we’ll all be singing that refrain in a few years if the Mayfield proposed development goes ahead. A few days ago, four of us took a walk around part of the land identified by the developers as ripe to put 7,000 houses on. Anyone walking around this area and think it could be ‘improved’ by a housing estate just staggers me. We were there to do a bird survey and we recorded a great variety of birds, a number of which were on the red and amber listed species of serious conservation because of decline on the breeding populations. These include kestrel, cuckoo, skylark, reed bunting, house sparrow and starling.

Perhaps the most staggering of sites included in the plan is the floodplain south of the Rive Adur. Here the river was full of dragon and damselflies, such as banded damselflies, red-eyed damselflies, hairy dragonflies and scarce chaser dragonflies. The reed-lined banks provided breeding sites for many reed warblers and we saw a female reed bunting carrying nesting material. A muddy bay was full of baby fish, the sign of a very healthy river. One of the proposals for the river is to enhance it! How this is supposed to be done is yet unknow, it is unbelievable in this day and age that building on a floodplain is even considered as an option, has nothing been learned from the problem’s houses built on floodplains in the past?

There are so many reasons why this development should not be considered. In terms of the environment, the whole issue of global climate change and the drastic loss of biodiversity across the planet has been highlighted by the United Nations in the last few months and, at last, there is the understanding the effect of these two issues will have on our planet is critical. Therefore, any decisions of the scale that this development proposes must be at the forefront of their considerations. So, it is imperative that a comprehensive independent biological survey of the whole area must be undertaken with full resources being given to do this.

There is a huge opposition to this proposal, led by LAMBS, who have already gone through the process when the original application was submitted to Mid-Sussex District Council who rejected it outright, and now Henfield Parish Council. Mayfield are now looking at re-submission of a plan, this time all within the Horsham District, undoubtedly hoping for a more favourable outcome.

Horsham District Council are under enormous pressure to meet the housing quota imposed on them by the Government. The original application was rejected by Mid-Sussex District Council on appeal to the Inspector, who would only re-consider the application should a second runway at Gatwick Airport be approved. To put a new town on an important Wealden landscape full of hedgerows, small copses, meadows and wetlands that host an increasingly rich variety of wildlife is inconceivable, let alone allowing people to access this area through a great network of footpaths.

It can only be hoped that Horsham DC take the same approach and reject this outrageous proposal.