Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Wikia- Sussex bird news

http://sussex-bird-news.wikia.com/wiki/Sussex_Bird_News_Wiki an interesting idea, the brainchild of some friends on Facebook (by the way, anyone on Facebook, join the group 'Brighton and Sussex Birders', it will appear if you type it into the search bar!). It's based on a very similar method used by the London Bird Club (http://londonbirders.wikia.com/wiki/LatestNews), and we feel it might be a good way of spreading news, should it catch on! Anyone can upload sightings, you don't need a Wikia account, and sightings can be uploaded instantaneously.

Thus, it combines the key elements of the Sussex Ornithological Society's sightings board (that anyone can post a sighting to be shared), with that of the major Bird News Services (sightings can be shared instantaneously), and is completely free. I hope it might grow over the years to be a success, and perhaps even a new revolution in information sharing for sussex birders. The possibilities with Wikia are almost endless, (I'm already starting to add site-specific gen, which I hope may develop into a full gazetteer of Sussex over time), and as time goes on, it will expand and improve exponentially, I hope. The key, really, is that we get enough people posting to make it work! I try not to plug things on here, but I'm plugging this, as it's quite a simple idea- take two minutes out of your day to add your sightings to this page!

If anyone has any questions about using Wikia, please feel free to e-mail me at liamd4034@live.co.uk, or join the Facebook group 'Brighton and Sussex Birders', where there will be other knowledgeable people who can help you (plus you get to be part of a great Facebook group of local birders). thanks for reading this!!

In other news, a Barn Owl has been spotted by yours truly the last two days, as I made my way home from college on the train, it's been hunting the fields around Newhaven Tide Mills! best seen quartering over the long grass between the Mill Creek and the Railway Line at dusk. :) 

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Coldwaltham Water Pipit

The Water Pipit had now been reported a few times in Coldwaltham sewage works(infact there was two at one point) so though we'd give it a go! We waited around Half an hour at the entrance gate to the sewage works as ofcourse there is strictly no access. Six Reed Buntings, 4 Grey Wagtails, 5+ Meadow Pipits and 2 Pied Wagtails were all noted but no Water Pipit. As we had moved around a little I heared Grandad say "Water Pipit" Brilliant or so I thought! Before I could find the bird it had moved of with a couple of meadow not to be seen again! Met Owen Mitchell down there who had also waited around half an hour but no luck however he did have a hunting Barn Owl over the brooks but no Shot-eared owl which had been seen a couple of days ago. No matter there always tomorrow if the weather holds up!...

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Sarnie on a Seawatch

7 March 2013;

managed to be down at Splash Point for 06:40, and in two hours saw a decent variety of birds, mostly passing east. However, numbers were low, and at times it was awfully slow. Totals are;

Curlew- 4E
Red-throated diver- 5E, 20+o/s
Razorbill-1W, 20+o/s. almost were in breeding plumage
Guillemot- 1o/s
Auk sp- 10E, all looked like Razorbills rather than Guillemots
Shelduck- 1E, 6W
Gannet- 11E
Ringed Plover- 1E close inshore (presumed local movement), 1 on the beach heard calling twice at c07:05
Mediterranean Gull- 1E at c07:05
SANDWICH TERN- 1E at c07:15, my earliest ever, and the first (I believe!) for Splash this year
Brent Goose- 3E
Common Scoter- 1E
Great Crested Grebe- 3W, together all summer-plumage
Oystercatcher- 1E, 2W
Diver sp- 2E, 3W, 20+o/s

The Black-throated Diver numbers were excellent for early March, and I'm positive there were a fair few others among the divers offshore that I just couldn't clinch. Normally you can only expect numbers like this in late May/early April, but with a fantastic movement of Red-throats at the moment there are a few other divers mixed in. There were also two mystery divers, (possibly Great Northerns), that I'm undecided about. One group of three Black-throated Divers was showing brilliantly quite close inshore as they slowly drifted east. The Sandwich Tern was also great, my first spring migrant and the earliest summer migrant of any I've ever seen in the UK!

Monday, 28 January 2013

that ridiculously showy Bonaparte's Gull whose name shall now be Napoleon!

He's a small, agressive foreigner who's conquered the hearts and minds of the natives. And he eats bread on a boating lake in the middle of Eastbourne! This is Napoleon, and allow me to tell you the story of how we became acquainted.

It begins several days ago, when I discovered school had a staff training day, and I'd have a day off for some birding! I originally planned to patch the Cuckmere, but upon talking to Jake Gearty, we decided to take advantage of the day off by catching a train into some underwatched areas of East Sussex, Horse Eye Level and Combe Haven. Short-eared Owl, Water Pipit, Bittern and Hen Harrier were all targets. It was a good plan, but a spanner came into the works yesterday, when a BONAPARTE'S GULL was reported from Princes Park, Eastbourne! A great find for John and David Cooper, who put so much effort into their gulling that it's about time they found something rarer than the Casps and Yellow-legs!

This obviously became our main target, we realised Horse Eye from a train would not be doable, and planned to connect with this early on, check Shinewater for Bittern and Bearded Tit, and then get the train to Combe Haven. So, up I was at 7, on the 07:58 train to Lewes, where I met Jake and changed for a train to Eastbourne. We eventually arrived on site at about 09:30, but there was no sign of the bird! Roger and Liz Charlwood were on site, and suggested the bird may not come in until high tide. All I saw were Black-headed GullsHerring Gulls and Coots!
for a bridge camera, I quite liked this Coot photo

in Eastbourne- a well-named cafe!

Swans are scary creatures!
We checked the beach for the Boney's, and had a brief seawatch in which we recorded 2 Red-throated Divers and 3 Razorbill W, 2 Great Crested Grebes o/s, 200 Wigeon flying out to roost on the sea and 6 Ringed Plover on the beach. We now decided to crack on to Shinewater. What felt likes hours later, having traversed the busiest road and scummiest estates in Eastbourne, we were there! Now, if you've never walked round Shinewater before in the winter, here's my advice... Don't! it was muddy, depressing and almost impassable with boots in some places, and I slipped and got my entire side muddy, to which Jake snickered like a child. And for a long time it seemed the birds wouldn't even be worth it! There were about 300 Wigeon, 200 Shoveler, 150 Teal, 100 Gadwall, 200 Tufted Duck and 2 Pochard on the lake, while a Chiffchaff was heard from a small patch of reeds, and we saw about 30 Snipe around the margins. I was mighty relieved when our risk paid off though, as Jake did rather well to spot a distant BITTERN flying over the reedbeds on the opposite side of the lake! It was only on view for about 10 seconds, but this was the first Bittern I had seen in about two years and made the day!
a typical Shinewater path!

dog vs Mute Swan at Shinewater. Dog doesn't win!

I hardly got a great view, but you could see the classic, elongated shape, with neck and legs dangling out to give a slightly distended profile, enhanced by the pot-belliedness of the bird. The beautiful patterning was also visible even rom this range, subtle, reedy brown with thick black streaks running down the back, wings and belly.
leucistic female Mallard, she should really get together with the altogether more striking leucy male at the Ouse Estuary!

Of course, the day was still young, and Jake's birdnet twitter rang through not too long after this. The Boney's was back at Princes Park! We had planned to catch a train to St Leonards, and check out Combe Haven, but as this was a lifer for Jake it took priority. and what a good decision that was!

my own photographic attempts

fleshy legs!!! 

We had to cross the scum-filled, post apocalyptic nightmare that is Hampden Park to get to the nearest station, and it was a half hour walk from Eastbourne station back to Princes Park, by which point I was both starving and exhausted from about 10 miles of walking! But we could see the Bonaparte's Gull being fed from the other side of the lake, and upon getting there plonked down to eat, rest and lounge about enjoying a great, great bird! The views were often distant at this point, but it could often be tempted a  bit closer in, much to the delight of the surrounding throng. 

superior photography with Jake's DSLR
It was a pleasure to see various locals, including Dick Gilmore, Chris Lowmass (who I haven't seen in at least two years, nice to meet you again!), Ron Knight and Les Bird. I even managed to bump into Dad, who had dropped in on his way back from work! 

I (rather selflessly may I add!), sacrificed a succulent ham sandwich for the sake of the gulls, but it was worth it, with the Boney's coming in, swooping down for a bit of bread and giving some fantastic, almost point-blank views! However, after each raid it tended to fly into the middle of the lake to devour its quarry, perhaps sensible given the bullying tendencies of its black-headed cousins and it's respective size in comparison. This seemed to satisfy a lot of the others, who rather sensibly left, having obtained truly fantastic views of a truly fantastic bird! We waited around though, as George Kinnard and Luke Dray had only just arrived!

The gull was currently in the centre of the lake, giving reasonable views through the scope, but not as good as we had obtained previously. Wanting to put on a show for two other young birders who had travelled all the way from Chichester, we sent Luke on a scouting mission to get some bread. We expected him to bring back a little roll, we didn't think he'd come back with a whole loaf! 
excellent flight shot by Jake, showing the diagnostic underwing pattern

As it turned out, the loaf proved very useful, bringing all the gulls in! We now got the very best views yet of the Bonaparte's Gull, as it sat on the water no more than 5 metres away, and could fly up onto the bank at a distance of no more than two metres occasionally, hovering above the throng of Black-heads and occasionally swooping down to steal a piece from under their noses! Small and plucky is how I'd describe Napoleons charisma, but his tactics worked well and I can only imagine he felt gorged! 

A competition soon emerged- could anyone feed the Bonaparte's Gull out of their hand? I managed to get a swan to eat out of mine (and nab my finger too, they'e not gentle with food!), and we gave ourselves endless entertainment watching Black-headed Gulls swoop to catch pieces of bread in mid-air, showing truly remarkable agility and reflexes. Our game was so close to working! we had several flybys of less than a metre, by both the Bonaparte's and surrounding Black-headed Gulls, but none wanted to bite the hand that feeds them! 

With such incredible views, for at least two hours, I managed to get a quite extensive set of notes about the bird! These include;

  • a black bill, shorter and thinner than that of the surrounding Black-heads, giving it a far more delicate expression. The bill was also sharper than those of the black-heads, tapering to a fine point and not looking remotely hooked.
  • a square-ish shaped black patch on the ear coverts, different to the slightly arched, more rectangular pattern of a black-headed gull. It also had very little in the way of dark markings around the eyes
  • slightly greyish wash to the nape, only visible from close range or through the scope, contrasting with whiter colour to breast, flanks and face
  • darker mantle than the surrounding Black-headed Gulls, approaching a Common Gull. 
  • white on the underside of the primaries, where you would find a darker grey on a black-head and almost black on a Little Gull
  • an extensive white flash on the outer primaries visible in flight, with clean black wingtips to all the primaries. when perched, this manifests as a black wingtip and a slightly less noticeable white flash. 
  • orangey-pink, almost salmon-coloured legs, very distinctive in flight! 
  • a buoyant, tern like flight similar to a little gull
  • when perched, it was very noticably smaller and longer-winged than the surrounding black-heads, with a smaller head and far cuter expression. 
  • in flight, it was much more delicate than the Black-headed Gulls, being more easily blown back by a strong gust of wind, and with less powerful wingbeats. 
  • when seen on the deck, it had a short-legged, deep-breasted, long winged and small headed appearance that reminded me of a kittiwake
even the feet look smaller, and more dainty!

Eventually Luke and George had to leave, and Jake and I waited it out for Peter Denyer, who was rushing over after work. We tried feebly to attract the gull closer in, as it had now given up and flown back into the middle of the lake, its appetite presumably sated. We managed to briefly coax it closer, but it then flew off right to the western side of the little lake! We were terrified for a moment that it would leave for good, presumably to roost on the sea, and were relieved when it dropped down and, not 30 seconds later, Peter walked across from the road, standing on the lakeside to practically 10 metres from where it had put down! 

We strolled over to join Peter on the lakeside, and, with just four slices of our loaf left, coaxed the gull off the water a few times so that yet another happy camper could leave with brilliant views! Not quite as amazing as mine, Jakes, Lukes and Georges from earlier, which does trump any views of a rarity, and probably any bird, that I have ever managed, but they were still pretty darn good, and Peter seemed delighted! He very kindly offered us a lift home, saving me the £1.20 bus fare, and the gull flew off to the far side, where a women was feeding the swans, presumably wanting one last feed before it retired for the night. I have a feeling this bird, should it stick around and show like this all the time, will prove incredibly popular!

ad for the record, myself and Peter agree this bird should be called Napoleon. Therefore it would make us very happy if everyone adopted this moniker for him/her!
I think this says it all- I try to photograph a Mute Swan and it's photobombed by a Bonaparte's Gull!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Cuckmere 27 January

Before I start this post, don't get me wrong, I love my patch! It's just sometimes it has the ability to irk, irritate and infuriate in equal measures, and today was one of those days. It's being confined to my 'Room 101', and it is my fondest desire that I never speak of it again after this day...

small amount of flooding
It began badly, when my alarm woke me up at seven, only for my pre-conscious self to decide sleep was more important. Probably a wise move, but by the time I woke of my own will at nine I was kicking myself! It was then half-past ten by the time I made it to Cuckmere Haven, by which time I'd realised I had the scope, but had left the tripod at home! Walking down the footpath opposite the A259, my spirits were lifted a little bit by the sight of a large gull roost in the third field north of exceat!
'SO... F*@#!£G... BRIGHT!

My first port of call was these fields. In the first two were about 400 Canada Geese, 100 Wigeon, 40 Curlew, 50 Rook and 11 Shelduck, but nothing out of the ordinary. 30 Teal flew over heading south. The riverbank path was, as usual, a mudbath, it was like walking through treacle! I was almost at the third field, where god knows how I would have even checked the gulls without a tripod, when, to my enormous chagrin, they were put up! Most flew off south to the west side of the Cuckmere, were I could have scanned them if I wanted to, but this day was already frustrating me. I did a brief survey of the 400 or so gulls as they flew over, most were Great Black-backs, with a decent number of Lesser Black-backs and a few Herrings, and probably a Yellow-leg or Casp mixed in somewhere! Three Lesser Black-backs dropped closer into one of the fields, where I picked out that at least one of them was an intermedius.
intermedius (left) and graelsii (right). you'll have to take my word for it!

The one good thing about this area was that it was at least in the lee of the wind, protected by the downs! The same couldn't be said once I walked down the riverbank the the southern side of the A259, where the SW wind was relentless and miserable! to compound matters, the sun was now almost at it's peak, and I was being forced by the bank to walk south-east, facing directly into it. The path was also a mud-bath, and there really weren't many birds around at all! 15 Pintail on the Meanders with about 200 Wigeon were a good count, but I couldn't find the hoped for Gadwall, Tufted Duck or Pochard (all potential patch yearticks when I'm trying to do a big year for the Cuckmere!)
3 Pintail (drakes) and 3 Wigeon (2 drakes 1 duck)- light was dodgy and they were fairly distant
so I went home, feeling dejected, and having seen very little with my hour! May the birding gods bless anyone reading this with substantially better luck!