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 .
With only a couple of hours to spare today, I thought I’d take the bike down the Railway Line and undertake a bit of “Rye Levels watching”. It’s a bit like seawatching, although I actually stand a chance of recognising what I’m looking at with the inland version. So setting up the telescope (at TQ196147, for those who collect such information) and planning not to move for the duration, I had a good scan of the floods by Rye Farm for an hour and a half and noted the following: Wigeon 230, Teal 205, Pintail 20, Shoveler 60, Lapwing 500, Black–headed Gull 100 and Common Gull 20. Geese were strangely thin on the ground, with just 6 Greylags and a final count of 40 Canada Goose. A nice bonus was a Little Egret that flew up from a ditch, giving me year tick number 66.
Nothing says romance like a bird survey, so a WeBS survey on Valentine’s Day was a welcome distraction. The cold and overcast weather didn’t help to enhance proceedings but with plenty of floodwater on the fields by the river there were still lots of waterbirds to be seen. The floods south of Buckwish Farm did indeed hold good numbers, but unfortunately these were rather distant, even with the scope. Eventually Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal and Mallard were picked out in various numbers, along with a few Lapwing. Heading up the river added more Teal, these were numerous in the meadows east of the river between New Inn Farm and the tank track, and there was an overall count of 123 of this species. The waterbirds thinned out as I continued up river, but in the ditches south-west of Chates were more Shovelers and my first Gadwall of the year. They marked the final birds of the WeBS survey, but further interest was found in a Barn Owl hunting near Betley and a flock of circa 1,000 Starlings to the west of the river. The latter had been noted by Val a few days previously, and gave an impressive sight as they took to the skies.
After last week’s trip south, it was back to my usual patch in Area 4 for a morning walk up to Betley and back down the river to West End Lane. Mercifully there was no shooting this time, and with the fields still flooded there was some wildfowl around. Mainly Canada Geese, but amongst them was a lone Shelduck. A Barn Owl gave great views as it hunted south of Betley, and in the same area a singing Skylark was a reminder that spring is not that far away (although it does feel like it at the moment!). In the same vein there were two pairs of Stonechats along the river with the males in summer plumage, also looking dapper were several male Reed Buntings in their breeding finery. On a lawn alongside West End Lane a pair of Mistle Thrushes were feeding, these were regulars last year so will hopefully be nesting again. A total of 38 species recorded, although despite hearing several Green Woodpeckers I’m still to see one in 2021!
Tom and myself took a jaunt south into Area 9 (socially distanced, of course), hoping to get a good look at the large number of birds on the floods by Rye Farm. Arriving at the wooden gate it didn’t disappoint, with hundreds of wildfowl etc in front of us….. and then the shooting began. Within minutes the floods were deserted and that was that. We did manage to see Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and Pintail, and Canada and Greylag Geese before they went up, but exact counts were impossible.
Having taken over from Roger French on the Area 4 patch, this morning was my first solo Wetland Bird Survey (or WeBS for short). Luckily some recent rain had flooded some of the fields either side of the river between New Inn Farm and Betley Bridge, plus the patch to the south-west of Rye Farm had plenty of surface water. This gave me a chance to actually record something! And there was indeed a bit about. Final figures were:
Mute Swan 19, Egyptian Goose 1, Shoveler 8, Wigeon 76, Mallard 16, Teal 35, Lapwing 1, Snipe 2, Black-headed Gull 71, Common Gull 31, Herring Gull 8.
Also of note, but outside of the WeBS remit, were 4 Skylarks west of Chates, with one in full song. That was a bit unexpected on a January morning!
The species list for September is now available, please click on the link below. Thanks to all those who contributed their records during the month!
Kingfisher photo taken by Val Bentley
A Great White Egret just west of Chates this morning, heading north. Gave great views as it flew past. Other highlights were a Kingfisher flying up river and a Treecreeper in West End Lane. Much rain recently has meant some of the fields by the river have now started to flood drawing in good numbers of wildfowl and Black-headed Gulls, plus a few Lapwing. A reminder that winter isn’t too at away, but a lone Swallow heading west showes that autumn migration ain’t quite over just yet!