Debbie fed the tadpoles and I did my litter round and still got to the Village Hall Car Park before 7.30 to pick up John and Ian for the HBW trip to Iping Common. Wonders never cease. Debbie guided us marvelously round the back roads as Midhurst remains closed to traffic and it took a little over an hour to reach the Reserve.

The weather was supposed to be ok till about 1 o’clock although it was initially a bit fresh. Dressed accordingly we set off with the sound of Robin, Wren and Chiffchaff in our ears and a Buzzard passing overhead. We had done some revision in the car so felt confident of distinguishing Tree Pipit from Woodlark should we be lucky enough to hear them. We had also listed to recordings of Dartford Warbler so preparation had been undertaken.

It was fairly quiet to start with although we could hear a Blackbird and a Song Thrush and a couple of Stonechats sat up on the gorse as they like to do. After a short while the first “spinning plates” song of a Woodlark could be heard at some distance away. We eventually got a brief glimpse of the bird as it flew from cover in a tree. Not long after this we had the opportunity to compare it with the more intricate Tree Pipit song. We heard more of both birds during the morning and had one brilliant view of each species on the only occasion they sat out in full view for a considerable amount of time. We did one or two fly pasts and a couple of parachute displays from the Pipit; one being more sideways than downwards!

A local Great Spotted Woodpecker clearly got fed up with us getting excited by these more unusual birds and flew over our heads to plump down at the base of a birch tree looking colourful if seeming a bit nonplussed as to what it was doing there. Its Green relative yaffled away in the distance.

We climbed upwards from the lower regions of the reserve into more gorsy areas in the hope of finding a Dartford Warbler but had no luck. A lone Rook sailed over our head and a Jay sallied forth low over the ground, probably up to no good. We left the reserve for a short while before re-entering on a path which led to an ancient, bare tree where a couple of years ago we had found a Redstart nest. No Redstart this time but we noticed a small bird speed from a nearby bush onto the trunk. It was a Treecreeper who climbed upwards and disappeared behind a piece of loose bark. It came out again, flew off and returned with nesting material and disappeared again. We watched it building for some time with Ian desperately trying to get a picture with his magic camera which takes pictures even with the button being pressed. Whatever next?

We moved on and before long found another pair of birds who we are pretty sure were building a nest in a tree trunk as one certainly disappeared into a crack in the bark. A pair of Coal Tits were in courtship mode with a male apparently bringing food to an excited looking female who was all aquiver and wing flapping. However it seemed the thought of the lovely food in his beak was giving the male a dilemma as he kept clearing off and not giving it to her.

Anyway, by now food was beckoning to us and we decided to head back to the car for lunch. As we neared the car park I had a flash of memory as to where Val had once found us a Dartford Warbler so we made a slight detour. About 100 yards up a path the gorse became thicker and less leggy so we felt a little confident which was good as John was very keen to find a Dartford. At last we heard one singing loud and clear. But from where? It actually seemed to be coming from a tree. It probably was but it never did show itself. Another invisible one warned us off with its alarm call! We took notice and went back to the car for lunch.

Not feeling ready to go home we decided on a short visit to Burton Mill Pond Reserve hoping the looming clouds did not spell a downpour. We were lucky. On the pond were a couple of dozing Great Crested Grebes and a couple of chugging Coots otherwise it was quiet, if you don’t count the chacking Jackdaws flying in a large group above the trees. We took a stroll in the woods up to the amazing group of ancient chestnut trees and listened to a few woodland birds including a Goldcrest.

After marvelling at the trees we turned back and suddenly a grey shape came tumbling down through the branches of a pathside tree. I thought at first it was a tangled Grey Squirrel until it righted itself and stared at us in surprise with two big black eyes. It was a Tawny Owlet! We moved on quick in case mum was around but Ian did get this great shot of it.

Back at the pond we did a last reccy. A couple of Tufted Ducks had joined the grebes on the water and two Reed Warblers chased each other around with the male no doubt to engrossed with other thoughts to sing for us. Just before leaving we came across this lovely family of Mallards to make a lovely finish to our day.

Nigel, Debbie, John and Ian

John Coit led the group (me) on the HBW walk to the Burgh. Maybe an indifferent weather forecast put people off. If so it was a great shame as we only had one shower and the sun actually made some appearances as the day wore on.

We made the usual stop before the Burgh to scan a chalk cliff at Amberley for the, as ever elusive, Peregrine but fared much better at the spot we parked the car as an obliging Raven sat atop a telegraph pole not too many yards away. We saw about four of these wonderful Corvids with their distinctive diamond shaped tails and powerful flight along with almost constant Red Kites and Buzzards which all make this remote feeling part of the Downs their home. It is amazing how quickly you feel cut off from the humdrum, noisy lower world when you climb up towards the Burgh.

However the first part of the trip is along the river valley where Swallows skimmed the pasture, Rooks cawed among the sheep and lambs, Blackbirds serenaded and Whitethroats sang scritchy-scratchy from the bushes. Along the river itself we were a bit surprised to see a small group of Gadwall among the Mallards and John identified a strange sound as emanating from a Mandarin Duck. In the reeds Reed Warblers chuntered to the accompaniment of Greenfinches and Goldfinches in the adjacent trees. There was no Cetti’s Warbler in the reeds but to our surprise one suddenly belted it out from a patch of scrub.

To reach the dreaded vertical steps up to the higher reaches we passed through some woods where to our great delight we heard the first of three singing Nightingales. One was so close we could only wonder how it eluded showing itself. The lovely Blackcap and Chiffchaff songs had to play second fiddle here I am afraid.

At last the steps. We had only mounted about half a dozen when the rain squall started but while sheltering under overhanging branches a Cuckoo cuckooed pretty close by though, like the Nightingale, it remained unseen.

After a clamber over a fallen tree (done very elegantly) we reached the top of the steps from where there were wonderful views.

Accompanied by overhead raptors and birdsong we walked along to the favoured picnic site for this trip where a Song Thrush sang to us while we munched.

John was fully alert over lunch checking for Grey Partridges but unfortunately, despite his efforts, we were not graced by their presence.

We started the trek back to the car and a Swift flew over and we picked up a couple of Linnets but another expected bird failed to turn up – Yellowhammer. Indeed it was not till near the end we heard and saw Skylarks.

We set off in the car after John had suggested stopping off at Rackham Plantation which I had never been to before. You can see the favoured White Tailed Eagle roost from there.

A stop by the chalk cliff this time provided that elusive Peregrine sitting up nicely on a ledge. We turned off the Storrington Road towards Rackham and then took a left into a wood of mixed evergreen and deciduous trees climbing onto an eminence which looks down over Amberley Brooks and towards RSPB Pulborough. It looked so wild and untouched by Sussex standards. At the top there are tumuli marking the last resting place of ancient people, possibly bird watchers!

With the help of John’s scope we found Grey Heron, Little Egret, three species of geese including Egyptian, a Little Grebe and a smattering of Herring and Black Headed Gulls. While looking at something completely different a dashing raptor went through the scope field of vision. It was a Hobby which we then watched on and off for the rest of the time we were up there. The first time I have seen a Hobby from above and it was really exciting watching it dash around after its tea.

Eventually it was time to go home and say good bye to this stunning view.

Nigel Colgate & John Coit

 

 

The South Downs are a great place to watch for migrating birds so seven of us made an early September trip up to Newtimber. We started our walk from the car park opposite Saddlescombe Farm having first made sure the café was going to be open for sustenance on the way back.

Once we had successfully crossed the road with the full party intact we started to hear and see birds in the bushes and trees on the way up to the open downland. Chiffchaffs announced their presence with their “weet” contact calls, a Blackcap scolded us from some deep recess in a blackthorn and Long Tailed Tits marauded through the branches like pirates in the rigging. We were treated to a Bullfinch briefly showing as well as  Chaffinches and Goldfinches moving around in small groups and ubiquitous Blue Tits with their Great Tit cousins not to mention the loud Wrens skulking in the lower parts of the bushes.

Watching out for birds became a bit secondary as our progress became more vertical and breath a bit shorter. Will and I, if we are honest, had paused for air when we saw a small upright bird on the skyline. As our vision became more settled along with our breathing we discovered there were at least half a dozen birds – Wheatears! We all got a good view until a couple of dog walkers sent them flying for cover.

Every now and then twittering little groups of Swallows flying over delighted us but reminded us summer was nearly over. They are such an inspiring little bird and I find them really joyful. Jill who was on the walk may remember one we saw on a birding holiday with Mike Russell in Morocco which was flying a few feet above the ground in the far north of the Sahara having crossed the desert on its way up from South Africa. It seemed at the end of its tether but no doubt perked up to face the rigours of breeding (who knows, maybe in Henfield).

Amazingly we didn’t find any Skylarks but the Meadow Pipits made up for this a bit and are a much prettier bird than we give them credit for providing you can get close enough to get the opportunity to notice that. Yellowhammers are much more obvious and these made a couple of appearances on the higher slopes. Was it Sue or Roger who spotted Spotted Flycatchers at long range. I’m jolly glad they did whoever it was as this is my top favourite bird – feisty or what! Soon after this Val’s ears were attracted by a call way above us height-wise and in my case hearing-wise which turned out to be a Yellow Wagtail. One little bush lined pond was a great attraction for the birds. Whitethroat, Blackcap, Song Thrush, Blackbird and Chiffchaff all showing well.

As we left  to begin our descent we looked up to enjoy a magnificent Red Kite strutting its stuff. It looked so good I think it was the reason we had a no show from Buzzards who maybe felt they couldn’t compete.

The downward trail had both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Kestrel and some Stock Doves which seem to be getting more and more numerous locally. Finally, as we walked past the farm buildings at Saddlescombe, House Martins made themselves known.

Even more finally – hot drinks and cake at the outdoors café. Almost as good as seeing a Spotted Flycatcher.

Saturday did not augur well according to the BBC but the Met Office seemed a bit more hopeful. Bolstered by our mutual optimism 9 of us set out at 7.30 on an overcast and blowy morning. The party was made up of Nigel, Debbie, Will, Elaine, David, John and Diana, Brian and Mike.

First stop is always the RSPB centre at Sidlesham although we were such early birds we arrived before the cafe was open but the loos were a relief. We trundled off to the hide overlooking the Ferry Pool and en route started to find small birds – Blue, Great and LT Tits, singing Robins, Goldfinches, Chaffinches and a Greenfinch plus chirpy House Sparrows. The Ferry Pool hosted Lapwings, Black Tailed Godwits, a Ruff (courtesy of David), Shoveler, Shelduck and Teal and a sharp eyed Mike (despite not being on his balcony) spotted a distant Peregrine. David even saw a Kingfisher. A very good start but we were itching to get to Medmerry before the rain came. We convoyed to the little car park which was delightfully free of cars and set off towards the freshwater ponds and the salty sea. To make up for an unusual shortage of Stonechats, which luckily John and Diana eventually found, we came across an assortment of lovely passerines. Elaine must have got fed up with us saying “There it is. Ah no its gone down again” as we tracked the up and down progress of a Dartford Warbler across the gorse. Meadow Pipits flew over and some landed obligingly on fence posts while bubbling Skylarks were added to our list. A fairly distance mass of small shapes turned out to be Linnets and Debbie’s ears picked out a Cetti’s Warblers unique advertising call.

Raptors were becoming well represented. I found us a Marsh Harrier  and David pointed out  a Sparrowhawk which clearly had a fear of heights as it was quartering a field at speed just a few feet above the ground. Kestrels hovered and Mike saw a Buzzard in the general direction of Portsmouth.

Will found our first Great Spotted Woodpecker to go with the Greenies which were heard yaffling early in the walk. To prove that winter has not yet set in the first of a few groups of Swallows passed over our heads while Brian was passing around the Extra Strong Mints. The “chiswick” call of another flyover bird announced our only Pied Wagtail of the trip.

Anticipation mounted as we neared the freshwater ponds that clearly held a good number of birds. Lots of geese – Canada, Egyptian which we had seen flying over near the car park and apparently huge numbers of Grey Lag which I somehow failed to see. Its the pressure of being leader. I did however redeem myself by finding three Snipe and there was also a hat-trick of gorgeously elegant Greenshanks. Later Mike got one in the scope which filled its circle of vision and showed its full good looks. A good variety of ducks were on show but with dark clouds looming to the west we decided it was time for a quick dash to the beach before our picnic. Wow – so glad we did! On the massive chunks of rock deposited on the top of the beach as a bit of a sea wall was a feisty looking Wheatear drinking from a puddle and generally looking magnificent. Obviously a bit of a problem getting away with a south west wind whooshing in from the sea. This wind also brought a short but very sharp cold squall which sent us scurrying inland.

Civilised picnic under cover at the RSPB Centre and then a scoot down to Church Norton for a wader fest providing the tide was not too far in. As you can see there was plenty to look at. Waders galore with Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Knot, Grey Plover, one lone overflying Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Curlew, Redshank, Black Tailed Godwit and Oystercatcher. Varied gulls, two species of tern, Little Egrets, Grey Heron and ducks, Great Crested Grebe and even an early Brent Goose. Not to mention the Cormorants that were lined up like posts (Debbie)  or possibly posts that were lined up like Cormorants (thank you John).

To finish off we went to the Dead Sea. Well David said he thought it looked dead but it was in fact he who found the Gannets which were so far out some of us thought they were the floaters in our eyes! We also had groups of Dunlin mixed with Ringed Plover and whizzing flocks of Turnstone zooming past. Eventually we had to go although Mike was going to stay on a bit, maybe he is still looking for that Black Browed Albatross?

As a postscript I should add that we mustered up 81 species which could have increased on the way home as we saw a Red Kite and a Pheasant but in honour of Val and the Bird Race we decided “rules is rules” and stuck to the number seen on the actual trip.

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.

 

After 2 years of cancellations due to Covid or bad weather we at last managed to take part in John Coit’s long awaited  walk in the South Downs to The Burgh in the amazingly remote (and  sometimes bleak) area just above Amberley Chalk Pits. After being lulled into a false sense of an easy stroll by the early meander through fields and woods near the River Arun we were catapulted upwards by a steep series of 200 steps into a world far removed from  people and villages. Slogging ever skywards with John and I were Louise, Val and Libby M.

The easy stages were full of  birdsong that we were used to at our usual altitude. We were serenaded briefly by a Cuckoo and many of us thrilled to see our first Swallows of the year. Much of the background music was provided by  Blackcaps, Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs accompanied by the ubiquitous Wren, Robin and Blackbird. Song Thrushes were singing and we were given a bonus when we found a Mistle Thrush standing pale and upright, a statelier figure than its cousin. By the river Reed Warblers and Cetti’s Warblers competed and Louise found us a Cormorant with it’s arms outstretched! Among the commoner brethren were Linnets, Long Tailed Tits,  Goldcrest, Little Egret and Jay. Just one Lapwing “pee-witted” somewhere but I’m not sure any of us actually saw it. We did all, however, hear and see the Spitfire which John had obviously organised to do a flyover. That was almost the last thing before the merciless ascent of the steps.

Having spluttered are way towards the heavens we were rewarded by being in a seemingly different world. No traffic noise, visible civilisation or people. The realm of the raptors. At least 4 Red Kites wowed us with their flying and zooming down to ground level for food. Buzzards were magnificent with their soaring and gliding. Ravens live here and gave us a view as did both species of Partridge although Louise and I missed the Grey Partridge. This was for a good reason as were enraptured by singing Skylarks at the time. Herring and Black Headed Gulls were enhanced by a Lesser Black Backed Gull and a large group of Stock Doves were feeding on an arable field. Last bird of the day in the heights was a Pied Wagtail kindly strutting its stuff at Canada Barn. We amassed 51 species in all.

Libby found lots of wild flowers for us and Val was in good Butterfly finding form so we all learned things we didn’t know before which is always an added bonus in life! All in all a wonderful day.