Monday, 25 April 2011

Seaford and Cuckmere Valley

Yesterday, Rob and I got up early (by Rob-standards) and drove down to Seaford, picking Michele up on the way. It was another scorcher with only a light breeze. We made good time as the traffic was remarkably light, and parked up on the Esplenade.

There was a funfair by the promenade, with attendant gulls and Carrion Crows. While everyone sorted out their bags and stuff I amused myself by photographing the very approachable crows.

Walking up the Head, I was keeping close to the cliff edge and watching the Kittiwakes when Michele called my attention to a small bird grovelling on the grass, which I said was probably a Mipit. It wasn't - it was a Rockit. Mipit = Meadow Pipit and Rockit = Rock Pipit. I do like these silly abbreviations.

 Out by the cliffs, something altogether bigger and more fearsome was heading our way. My camera refused to focus on the fast-moving Peregrine against the sea, much to my frustration. Rob had more luck.

It's a stiff climb up Seaford Head from the Seaford town side. You do one very steep bit, and just as you think you're at the top you see over the summit a second climb ahead, even bigger and steeper than the first. We ascended slowly, stopping to listen to Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and to admire the pink drifts of Thrift.

Michele and I sat at a likely-looking bit of cliff near the summit and watched for further Peregrines. No luck. Rob, meanwhile, wandered off and lay flat on the grass to get some lovely close Meadow Pipit photos.

Spotting something big that was powering inland at a rate of knots, I got the camera on it and saw to my surprise that it was a Red Kite, quite probably newly arrived from the continent. Its trajectory suggested it had flown right over us, unobserved. I shouted to the others but it was too late, the kite was already just a speck in the distance.

After a lengthy semi-doze in the sun we noticed that it was nearly lunchtime and headed down the Head to find food. On the way I photographed this Starling on the semi-ruined building near the bottom of the Head...

... and grabbed a lucky shot of a Fulmar from the cliff edge.

We drove to the Golden Galleon at Exceat for lunch, but could find nowhere to park so went to Litlington Tea Gardens instead. We sat at a shady table by a raucous rookery and ate expensive sandwiches in very pleasant surroundings, while discussing what we would do for the rest of the day.

I'd thought we could walk from Exceat to the sea, but a squillion other people had had the same idea (well, it is a glorious and well-known walk, and it was a lovely Easter Sunday...) and all the car parks were full. We drove back towards Litlington, and on the way found a layby near a footpath to a higher part of the Cuckmere. Perfect!

The first bit of the path went through a small copse, where I photographed this Speckled Wood. Then we came out among pasture and reedy creeks, and up to the river bank. The tide was low, and plenty of lovely gungy-looking mud was on show. Subadult Mute Swans swam in the river itself, and Reed Warblers chuntered away from the reed-lined ditches.

It was a gorgeous walk back down to Exceat, and with the promise of an icecream when we got there, the mood was very cheerful. Michele was happily collecting swan feathers from the river bank (from which she plans to make toys for the two cats she's adopting soon), and Rob and I found the odd thing to photograph, such as this Whitethroat.

At Exceat we purchased icecreams and sat down to enjoy them by a loop of the beautiful oxbow lake that makes this valley so picturesque.

Various birds contrived to amuse us while we relaxed in the shade. First this Grey Heron came creeping around the corner of the spit. We watched it strike at and catch a small crab. Then a peculiar-shaped white dog came running along the spit and startled it into flight.

Rooks, Swallows and gulls flew overhead. This Herring Gull came down for a little paddle.

At the shore right before us, a number of very small fish were swimming about. I thought they would be baby Roach or something, but I'm now inclined to think they were sticklebacks. I am not good at fish (as you can probably tell) - any ID help would be appreciated! (and sorry for the rubbish photo).

We opted not to walk on to the sea, but did nip down the seabound path a short way just to see if the pathside Sand Martin colony was still active (it was, but I failed to get any photos). Then we walked back to Litlington.

One of the Rooks in the pasture was near enough to photograph, and was sporting an enlarged throat pouch - no doubt stuffed with leatherjackets, worms and so on for its chicks.

There was a Little Egret on the river. This was nice to see, as the Cuckmere was where I'd seen my very first Little Egret a couple of decades ago, when they were rare. Before we could get anywhere near this one, it was flushed by a couple walking the other way, and it did a great fly-past for us.

Skylark song had been our soundtrack all day, but on the walk back we finally saw one within lens-reach, feeding in a well-grazed meadow.

Once we reached the car, I asked the others if they minded a short return trip to Seaford. It was by now about 4.30pm, and I figured the light would be much better for photographing Kittiwakes. They agreed, so off we went, and soon were heading back up that steep hill.

I found a good spot and worked hard to photograph the 'kitties' in flight as they wheeled noisily around their cliff-face nests. They are such beautiful gulls, clean, neat and gentle-faced with wonderful translucent primaries against the light and those nifty notched tails.

Many were resting on the sea, while others were coming in to settle at their seaweed nests. This pair were having a particularly joyous reunion.

Rob was on another outcrop, from where he photographed this juvenile Kittiwake with its smart stripy back pattern. I'd seen what was probably the same bird moments before, but had utterly failed to get a shot of it.

Walking back down the Head for the last time, we were suddenly surrounded by House Martins and Swallows - a freshly arrived influx perhaps.

No comments: