SOS Outing to Old Lodge

On Sunday I joined the Sussex Ornithological Society on a walk around Old Lodge, a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve in Ashdown Forest. My aim was to hear a Cuckoo for the first time as I worry that we might not be able to hear that characteristic sound for much longer.

The first good bird of the day was a Common Whitethroat flitting about a willow. I don’t see very many and this was only my second of the year, followed by my third half way through the walk.

Suddenly, I heard a faint two note call way off in the distance. A Cuckoo already! Despite the fact that there was a pair on the reserve that were seen yesterday, I wasn’t expecting to hear one so soon! It called the whole time while we were at the top of the hill near the car park, just loud enough for me to hear it but too quiet for my dad unfortunately.

A little further along the path we had great views of a Woodlark. It was singing while performing its parachuting display. It was quite close and gave good views through my binoculars. This is the first time I’ve heard a Woodlark’s amazing song as well as seen its display.

There were a few dead trees along the fence line to our right where we first saw a Redpoll and then had good views of a beautiful Stonechat. Just behind the dead trees were a few tall pines where I saw my first Tree Pipit of the year. It was singing its heart out and giving its display flight like the Woodlark. It flew up and floated in the air before parachuting down to an Oak tree. While we were watching the Pipit a Kestrel and 2 Swallows flew behind the trees.

Not long afterwards a familiar song arose from the sky above us. It was another bird that performs display flights – the Skylark! I remember hearing them a lot when I was on holiday in Northumberland, they would display over the cottage where we were staying. This one didn’t stay for long however, and soon departed  west.

The path turned right and we were heading down the hill through some thin woodland between the reserve and what looked like private land. There were lots of bluebells on either side of the path and the fresh oak leaves were amazing! We soon came across a pond where we stopped to try and find some Redstarts. A Willow Warbler started to sing in a small tree beside the pond and it wasn’t very mobile like most of the Phylloscopus warblers that I see. A Long-tailed Tit looked like it was collecting nesting material, probably for a second brood as Long-tailed Tits are one of the first birds to start nest building in spring. There was also a young Robin nearby and two Goldfinches were chasing each other around a Birch tree.

After that things got quiet bird-wise. We continued on our walk and only when we were climbing the hill again did things get a bit more exciting. There was a lone male Siskin feeding in a pine, exposed at times. There were also many more stunning Stonechats including a female in a perfect, well lit position on some dead bracken. A great photo opportunity for someone with the right sort of camera.

The terrain started to flatten out again and we were nearing the end of the walk, yet we had not yet seen a Redstart. I have only ever seen Redstarts once before, when I spotted a family at a different location at Ashdown Forest. I also wanted a better view of the gorgeous males.

We came to an old Oak tree along a straight ride with dense pines on either side. There was a bleached stump behind the tree where I spotted a small brown Robin-sized bird flit up and perch motionless on top. I called ‘Redstart‘ and soon everyone was watching the bird. It perched on the stump for quite a while, often turning its back and showing its rump. However, it was only a female and not nearly as pretty as a male Redstart.

We had circled back to the car park by eleven-thirty without seeing much bar a singing Chiffchaff and a trio of Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Having not seen any Crossbills during the morning some of us decided to head back to a spot not far from the car park where a flock of up to 20 had been seen during the last few days. None were seen, but we did see this:


Unfortunately the photo doesn’t do justice to this fab male Redstart…

Total number of birds I managed to see: 33


The Cold Doesn’t Matter!

DSCN0405On Friday I received news from Alastair Gray through the Sussex Ornithological Society’s sighting page that a Great Northern Diver had been spotted on Weir Wood Reservoir, a patch tick for him. It was late in the evening so I couldn’t do anything about it just then, but on Saturday morning I persuaded my mum to drive me there.

Our first stop was the West end, where most of the bird action usually is. We arrived first but soon other birders had come to have a look too. Unfortunately after some hopeless 45 minutes scanning the water with our scopes, we decided that it wasn’t here. It was a tense 3/4 of an hour: every Cormorant (there are lots of them) gave us false hope. The only birds of note were a dozen Gadwall, and a Marsh Tit on the feeders.

I was about to give up when I heard the other birders suggesting going to the East end, which is even more exposed. I followed them and we faced a chilly uphill walk to the bank of the reservoir near the sailing club. The wind was so bad that the water mimicked the sea off Brighton Pier on a bad day! Again we scanned the water but nothing was to be seen, we were losing hope once more. However, someone spotted the diver, far off. Too far off for my telescope to even see! Thankfully one of the other birders showed it to me before he left. It wasn’t  a very impressive view of an otherwise majestic bird, but it made the trip worthwhile.

Great Northern Divers, also known as the Great Northern Loon or Common Loon in North America, is a member of the genus Gavia, the symbol of Minnesota; the provincial  bird of Ontario; and foreign exchange dealers’ name for the Canadian dollar: the Loony because it appears on the country’s notes. The birds are related to grebes and are very powerful swimmers. They breed in Great Britain but usually only in the north, they winter further south but are mainly coastal in winter. That makes this bird at Weir W0od Reservoir, a very inland site, a very special bird.


One Pure White Long Neck

I have been checking the Sussex Ornithological Society’s website morning and evening, waiting for a rare bird to turn up (which it shall, with it being the autumn passage season) and finally one turns up not too far away from us. It was a Great White Egret, a bird that I regularly see in Africa, though have never seen in the UK before. The only problem was that the sighting appeared on a Monday, a school day, so I had to persevere a whole week of worrying whether it was still going to be there.

On Saturday morning it looked good, there was no reports of it having left on Friday (though none to suggest it was still there) and we set out just past 8 am. When we had nearly arrived I looked anxiously out of the car window to try to spot it early on, but in vain. I did get a mild shock when I misjudged the distance between me and a Lesser Black-Backed Gull, however apart from that there was no sign of it so far.

To my surprise there were only two people at the car park next to the hide, they seemed to have arrived much earlier to try to snatch a glimpse of this elegant bird. Our visit started out with a bit of horrible luck, as the Great White Egret had just flown away and rounded a bend only a few minutes before we arrived. This meant we had time to look at all of the other birds that were visible from the hide: a pair of Mandarin, Cormorants, several Green Sandpipers, a possible Common Sandpiper, Snipe, Lapwing, Mallard, Little Egret, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese and Grey Herons. While we were watching a trio of Green Sandpipers on the far bank we all received a pleasant surprise, the Great White Egret had flown silently on broad wings underneath the view of the scope! It landed half-visible to the left of the hide behind an overhanging shrub and I hastily took a few pictures. It seemed these weren’t needed, as the Great White Egret regularly flew right in front of the hide and along the far shore! Once I even took a photo of it flying behind a Kingfisher perched on a post, which I only realised when I arrived back home!

Spot the Kingfisher!

Spot the Kingfisher!

Egret flyby (cropped)

Egret flyby (cropped)