The forecast for 17th June promised a scorcher so Debbie & I (Nigel) accompanied by Elaine, Roger, Hilary, Jill, Angela and Pauline set off extra early to catch the cool of the morning. Our destination the Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve of Old Lodge on Ashdown Forest. Heathland with small ponds and stands of coniferous trees provides a wonderful habitat for some quite specialised birds. Hearing is very important so I was at a distinct disadvantage but we head some great ears – notably Debbie & Angela. Just as well because, not long after starting our walk, sound alerted them to a small bird which the rest of us were then able to see. An unusually show-offy Dartford Warbler had a look at us from atop some gorse before being joined by another. The second bird was proudly carrying a very large caterpillar so we moved on in case we were too near a nest. We saw a number of these iconic heathland birds during the morning with a number being fairly recently fledged youngsters.
The “ears” were soon directing us to Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Tree Pipit while Stonechat, Robin, Chaffinch, Linnet and Goldfinch were more easy to find for us “visuals”. We homed in on a small bird flitting around a five bar gate which obligingly alighted on a post to identify itself as one of many gorgeous Common Redstarts we came across. Being a Henfield Birdwatch Group we mixed assiduous birding with lovely relaxed conversation which at one point centred on a number of folk saying they hadn’t heard a Cuckoo this year. Cue a resounding “cuckoo” and literally out of the blue we were treated to a three Cuckoo flypast. Not content with that we all heard a strange gurgling call which we eventually agreed was the female bird – a triumphal gurgle on laying an egg??
Those of us (which did not include Debbie & me!) who had remembered to brings drinks made for an inviting pile of logs and sat being refreshed to the accompaniment of a parachuting & singing Tree Pipit. As we started to wend our way back to the car park as the heat of the day built up a distant raptor came scything through the air towards us. A thrilling high speed Hobby on the look out for dragonflies. By the time we found our way back to the cars we had all agreed it had been a splendid morning in a beautiful part of the Sussex countryside. No Woodlarks but you can’t have it all.