Monday, 3 June 2013

West Sussex tour

Last week I was in Brighton, on a cat-sitting gig. I'm pleased to report that nothing went wrong, cat-wise, this time, and Mango and Pepper were charming company. Knowing that Shane often comes down this way for birding purposes, I suggested a meet-up and on Friday we had a quite unproductive but enjoyable look around some of the coastal and downland sites. It was a warm and mostly sunny day, though with a cool breeze up on the tops. We kicked off at Woods Mill, headquarters of the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

The reserve is a good place for Beautiful Demoiselles - the little streams that rush through (or trickle through and sometimes dry up at this time of year) seem to suit them. We saw half a dozen individuals, including this male which let us get very close (it turned out to have a damaged eye).

There was a multitude of damselflies around the small dipping pond, including this newly emerged Large Red, and my first Azures of the year.

I wouldn't reckon to see many Orange-tips by the end of May but it's been a VERY slow spring. This female was in fact the only one we saw but she looks in good nick still.

The main lake here, a lovely lily-studded stretch of mellowness, has recently been drained and emptied of its massive fish population, in a bid to make it more generally wildlife-friendly (many of those fish were garden-pond throw-outs). In what little water remained, lots of half-grown tadpoles were swimming about.

Birdwise, there wasn't a lot around here. The reserve is often good for both Turtle Dove and Nightingale, but neither of these two lovely singers were in evidence. The Reed Warblers were still chuntering away and there were occasional interjections from Blackcaps and Whitethroats, but the place is so lushly vegetated that actually seeing any little birds was nigh on impossible.

Next stop, a look at Mill Hill, a local nature reserve in the downs behind Shoreham. As soon as we left the car, it was coats-back-on time, there was a real chill in the breeze up here. The site looks pretty good for downland butterflies, but it was too windy and cold today. I took some pics of the lovely Germander Speedwells that were flowering in profusion.

We went coastwards after this, stopping to examine the Adur Estuary from the large and lovely wooden footbridge (the old Shoreham Tollbridge) that crosses the river just north of the airport. I'd not been here before, and was most impressed by the birding-friendliness of the bridge. Its sides are above head-height so there are no obvious human outlines to scare the birds, but there's a wide 'viewing slot' at the perfect height to look down the muddy estuary. Just a pity there weren't any birds there, really...

There were gulls aplenty, Herring and Great Black-backed, mainly loafing on the sandbanks. This one found a crunchy treat in the shallows. There were also one or two Mallards. Not terribly exciting... but it is that time of year. I can imagine there being plenty to see in a few months' time.

A House Sparrow, by the toll bridge. Not a bird I see that often in my day-to-day life so that's why it's here. There were also lots of fledgling Starlings around, making insane amounts of noise as they chased after their parents, begging for food.

We headed for Widewater Lagoon via the airport track. On the way we stopped to watch a hunting Kestrel, hovering at fairly close range.

It dropped lower and lower in stages, and finally dived grasswards, surfacing shortly afterwards with a vole firmly clasped in both feet.

On to the lagoon. Here, you might see waders, egrets, gulls, even a Kingfisher or two. But today was a tamer affair. These five domestic Mallards were certainly colourful. The one coming in to land was a female, and almost as soon as she hit the water one of the drakes jumped on her back for the duck version of sweet lovemaking.

A pair of Mute Swans with seven cygnets came gliding elegantly down the landward side of the lagoon. The cygnets were already half-grown, this seems to be a pretty safe place for wildfowl babies.

We went on to Shoreham Fort to check out the Wall Lizards. Things were starting to warm up properly now and there were several lizards soaking up the rays.

After that, we rounded off the day with a trip up to Devil's Dyke in the downs, a gloriously picturesque area of rolling green hills and far-reaching views. Sadly the chill breeze was still in evidence and the hoped-for butterflies didn't materialise.

Actually one did eventually materialise - just one though. My first Small Heath of 2013, it even settled for photos, unusual for this hyperactive species. We also saw a Meadow Pipit marching through the grass collecting food for its chicks, and a couple of Skylarks spilled song down from a great height in the blue sky. We'd hoped for a raptor or two up here, but the only things making use of the thermals were Herring Gulls and a guy on (in?) a hanglider.

On the drive back down, though, Shane spotted a big raptor just as we went behind the flank of a hill - coming out of the other side we saw it again and to our joy discovered it was a Red Kite. Shane pulled over and I jumped out to grab a couple of shots of the fast-disappearing bird. Then for a finale we found a Common Buzzard soaring alongside the next stretch of road, but this was moved on by a gull before we could find a spot to stop.


Warren Baker said...

Loads of impressive wildlife there marianne, and some good pics, but my fav has to be the Lizard :-)

Phil said...

I'm with Warren Marianne,really like the Wall Lizard, haven't seen one yet.
Several Orange Tips along the river yesterday and a couple in the garden today.

Graham Canny said...

Glad you guys enjoyed your day, despite the lack of birds. Envious of your Wall Lizard! You're right about the Orange Tips, still plenty of them around up here....

Lou Mary said...

Great shot of the kestrel with its catch! That beautiful demoiselle certainly lives up to its name too! A lovely selection of photos here :)

ShySongbird said...

A very enjoyable account Marianne and some great photos too. Good capture of the Kestrel with prey. Love the one of the duck descending and also the lizard.