Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wood Warbler, Redstart and...Ashdown Forest Fire!

After reading about the sighting of a rare wood warbler on Ashdown Forest yesterday (and a kind fellow birder who shared its location, thank you, if you're reading this, you know who you are :) ), we decided to try and see it before heading over to Old Lodge Nature Reserve.
When we got there, we couldn't hear the warbler singing but after a while I did hear its call and finally spotted the bird high up in an oak tree. I got a very poor record shot before it flew off after only a few seconds. But hey, we saw it! We did hear it singing briefly a couple of times but weren't able to relocate this little beauty. A lifer! Such a shame they don't breed on Ashdown Forest anymore.

Wood Warbler on Ashdown Forest

We then headed to Old Lodge NR but there wasn't much about apart from a fantastic male redstart, the first we've seen this year.

Male Redstart

We then noticed smoke rising above the trees and thought it might be a fire in someone's garden. Wrong!! The fire seemed to be spreading rapidly... my partner phoned the fire brigade immediately. Luckily, they were already aware of the problem and a few minutes later we heard the sirens approaching. The fire was right next to a car park up the road from Old Lodge and most likely caused by arson or carelessness (barbecue, cigarette...). Very sad...birds are nesting on the Forest, so many small animals live in heather and gorse...I really hope the fire is under control now and no animals were killed in the flames. Apparently 8 fire engines were sent out to put out the fire.

Ashdown Forest Fire

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Couldn't wait so popped down to Pulborough Brooks yesterday afternoon. Sunshine, bird song and the bluebells are out...beautiful!
The first bird that greeted us when we stepped out of the visitor centre was a swallow (I did get a  fantastic shot of one of its wings *lol*) and lots of chirpy house sparrows.
I really couldn't wait to finally see my first whitethroat 2011 (they are my favourite migrant warblers after all!) and I didn't have to wait much longer.
So this pretty little guy is officially my first whitethroat of the year! :)
Common Whitethroat (male)

Many more whitethroats were singing cheerfully around the trail - and how I had missed their grumpy-sounding alarm call! Just love it! :)

I then heard a bird singing in a clump of bramble but couldn't identify it at first. It was a repetitive warbling sound, a bit like a football rattle and I remembered a fellow birder mentioning exactly this to me last year - could it be a lesser whitethroat?? Sure enough, I soon spotted the bird - and indeed it was a lesser - but it flew off before I could take a photo. I'd only ever seen one lesser whitethroat before so this was a lovely surprise!

We'd only been walking for about 5 minutes when I heard the first nightingale (well, my second of the year  - I can hear one singing every night now when I'm in bed!). We listened to it for a while and although we knew which bush it was hiding in, we couldn't spot it...but its song was magical!

 More signs of spring included a male bullfinch feeding a female, chaffinches mating right in front of us and whitethroats collecting nesting material. Here's a rubbish shot of one:

Whitethroat with nesting material

 Walking along 'adder alley', we heard our first cuckoo of the year. Yay!

When I heard the sound of a 'football rattle' again I knew what to look out for! And indeed, a beautiful male lesser whitethroat showed surprisingly well - unfortunately he was backlit so the shots I got are quite poor (but still better than the only shot I managed last year!). Here's one:

No sign of the grashopper warbler that was reported a few days ago but we saw a nightingale flying into cover, a striking male reed bunting, a willow warbler, singing dunnocks and several goldfinches:

A crow alerted us to a bird of prey flying above - it was a peregrine carrying what looked like duckling prey.

More whitethroats, nightingales and blackcaps were singing beautifully when we walked back to the car.

A lovely afternoon's birding in the sunshine!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Got back last night from a week away visiting family in Germany. So while this visit was not about birding, there were some lovely garden birds that I got to watch every day, including a fantastic pair of bullfinches - never had views that close before! Also got myself a couple of books about German birds - should be interesting.

I'm looking forward to seeing some spring migrants this week that have returned in the meantime, such as whitethroats and nightingales. But guess what - I have already heard my first nightingale, within hours of getting home - lying in bed at about 3 am I could just about hear one singing in the distance. :)

One of the nightingales I was lucky enough to watch last year

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

At last - wheatears!

A few days ago we decided to go to Pagham again - still hoping to find a wheatear. With more and more sightings all over the country (and indeed at the exact places we have been visiting) it was actually hard to believe we still hadn't seen our first Oenanthe oenanthe of the year!

We first stopped off at Pagham Spit - there were a few lovely linnets and the pair of ringed plovers was still in front of the hide, along with a few turnstones but nothing much else around. Any wheatears anywhere? Nope.

Ringed plovers (female left/male right)

So on to Church Norton! On the way up to the beach, we had a chat with a nice couple who had also spent the morning birding. Had they seen anything good? Not really, just the usual waders and a few warblers (sounds good to me though!). Any wheatears? Oh, yes, they saw quite a few a couple of hours earlier, around the visitor centre at Sidlesham. Right...ok then, maybe pop over there later (but what were the chances of the wheatears still being there...whenever we arrive somewhere, they've moved on!). So we decided to check out Church Norton first, as planned.

Male linnet

Lots of linnets around again, singing from the gorse bushes and also quite a few greenfinches. There appear to be more in West Sussex this year than ever before which is great! I'm actually just looking at one on one of my bird feeders as I type this, happily munching away on sunflower seeds! A male in breeding plumage...stunning! So we walked up to the beach, scanning the shingle and shoreline for birds but the tide wasn't out yet so not many waders around.

Back on the path, I all of a sudden noticed movement on the ground, between two gorse bushes. I really had to stop myself from shouting out loud: a wheatear!! And: a MALE wheatear at that, exactly what I had wanted to see the most (the wheatears we saw last autumn were all females so I really wanted to see a male as well)! The bird was on the shingle, busily feeding on insects. It wouldn't let us come close so we just took some record shots and watched it for a while. We soon realised that there were at least one other male and a female, also busy feeding. Fantastic! Finally. :)

Male wheatear We soon left them to feed in peace. Walking towards the severals, we heard a Cetti's warbler singing and willow warblers & chiffchaffs were busy hunting insects.

Willow warbler Chiffchaff While taking photos of these beautiful little warblers, we heard the Cetti's again and were amazed to actually see it flying into a tree right in front of us! Not a bird you get to see very often! I managed to get a couple of shots - not perfect ones, as the warbler was trying to hide behind a twig but I'm still chuffed to bits that we saw it and got a photo or two to prove it - definitely better than my previous record shot. :)

Male Cetti's warbler Two mute swans were flying over only to return a few minutes later and eventually landing on the beach. I have to say that it was a rather unusual sight! A swan on the beach!

Other birds of note were five sand martins in off the sea, redshanks and oystercatchers. I was actually sure that the first hirundine I saw flying above us was a swallow (or possibly a house martin) but it disappeared too quickly; the distant shot I did get of another bird following the first one shows a sand martin.

Do swallows ever travel together with sand martins? Or would house martin be more likely? Anyway, lovely to see any hirundines!

When we arrived at Sidlesham later, there were no wheatears there at all - so just as well we'd spotted our own on the beach! :) Two beautiful male linnets posed for us - quite unusual really, they tend to be so shy.

Male linnets (if you look closely you can see they are two different individuals!)

A smart looking blackbird

A wonderful day's birding indeed! :)

An afternoon visit to Pulborough Brooks a couple of days later produced our first (definite!) house martin of the year, a swallow, a wren collecting nesting material and lots of singing chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap. Swallow House martin One of a pair of robins catching flies - there are probably some chicks waiting for dinner somewhere! Busy wren

Male blackcap singing

I was hoping to see my favourite migrant warbler, the whitethroat - two were reported a few days ago and also the first nightingale. Very early! We didn't see (or hear) either so I shall look forward to our next visit there! :)