Not just Birds!

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.

How Many Cattle Egrets?!

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.

June Roundup


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!

More New Species for the patch

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.

Are all Mistle Thrushes merely nondescript?

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.

March walks

It was a splendid morning on the 6th after all the rain. At the foot of Windmill Lane a Mistle Thrush was singing, before it flew off towards South View Terrace. Along the railway line a Goldcrest rendered its lovely little song. On the brooks what has become the “usual” flocks of Teal, Wigeon, Pintail and Shoveler, and I spied a couple of Gadwall and a reasonable number of Lapwing. While watching these there was a distant strange but familiar noise coming from the west, the brain was confused but then realisation dawned – a drumming Snipe! There were 2 displaying Buzzards overhead, Grey Herons at their nest, by the millstream a Cetti’s Warbler burst into song, while two Skylarks rose from the grass, one singing beautifully. Meadow Pipit, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting also seen along that stretch, and the call of a displaying Lapwing.

On the Area walk on Monday 9th, we added 7 Tufted Ducks (shows the water is DEEP), and 11 Egyptian Geese, and heard Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests in song.

Wetland Bird Survey

Super area walk and WeBs today with Mike & Lesley.  Gadwall and 200 Lapwing (on Roger F’s patch) Green Sandpiper by the river, Red Kite near Stretham, and on the brooks were Canada & Greylag Geese, Wigeon and Teal in good numbers (100+ of each), Shoveler, Pintail and Snipe, with the addition of 2 newly arrived Shelduck.  We looked across to where we had seen the Lapwing earlier, and a huge flock (600?) were up in the air.  Finally Lesley spotted the Glossy Ibis seen earlier in the week, this time much closer and in good light – smashing!

New Year Bird Race – Just beat the 60!

Though the inefficiency of the scribe made us think we were falling short!

The Fab Four, Nigel, Nige, Will & Val (plus Maya the collie,) met at 7.45 at the Downslink car park to the serenading of a Song Thrush, and headed off by car for Woods Mill, leaving the dog in the car there for a while.  At Woods Mill and Sands Farm we managed to tick off most of the more common species, plus the only Mistle Thrush of the day, which was singing beautifully, a group of 5 Bullfinches, a rather large flock of Stock Doves (c40) in one field at the farm.

After a quick tea/coffee break  we unloaded Maya and set off on our long trek.  Weather still a bit gloomy at this stage, then the wind got up  as we walked along the millstream, though we found Snipe, Skylark and Meadow Pipit along there. We joined the Downslink and headed south to Stretham. Will rested his knees for a while at the bridge and the others nipped down river for a Stonechat. A call from Will heralded a Grey Wagtail which was still sitting near the bridge as we returned; then a Raven flew low over the river.  Always worth going up to the overflow pit, and so it proved as a Green Sandpiper nipped up to show off its white rump!  Back to Stretham, the Downslink, and a squelch into the fields for a view of the ducks, not huge numbers but we got Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail and Gadwall. There must have been 600 or more Lapwing a bit further west.  Sky was a gorgeous blue now, but it was still rather breezy.   Ticked off House Sparrow at South View Terrace and Greenfinches in my garden.  A Coal Tit was seen by Nigel & Will, but not by Nige, and Val was in the kitchen making tea at the time – it didn’t reappear, so didn’t count, as the rules say 3 out of the 4 must see the bird.

We hadn’t seen or heard a Buzzard all morning, which was rather worrying, but started off though the village and back to the Downslink. Wind easing by now and the sky still clear.   Just as we were about to head north, noisy gulls turned out to be mobbing a Red Kite, which was a nice bonus.  A lovely flock of Fieldfares (c30) and Redwings (c70) were feeding on the saturated ground south-east of Betley Bridge. Not until we got well on the way to Partridge Green did we finally get that Buzzard as one flew across by the wet area on the east side.  Dusk was beginning to fall as we wandered back along the river.  AKestrel was hovering, and a Barn Owl obligingly put in a brief appearance for us near Great Betley.  That was probably it we thought as we took the fishermen’s path to Stonepit Lane, but then a Tawny Owl hooted loudly from near the river.  We were slightly deflated as my log book only showed 59 species, and there were moves afoot to bribe the recorder to allow the Coal Tit!  However, a tot up of the species later in the evening, revealed that Jackdaws and Carrion Crows we had seen right at the start weren’t included so the final total was 61.  Definitely one of our better efforts, and without managing Yellowhammer, Goldcrest or – would you credit it – Pheasant!

Photos of Grey Wagtail, assorted ducks in the lovely blue water, and the evening walk back along the river.

When adding together all the species we have seen on our Races,  it comes to 86, quite remarkable really!