Weird bird award goes to the White-backed Vulture that descended on Glynde and Firle from November through till around Christmas time. It seems likely that this bird is ‘Bones’, an escapee from Staffordshire that has been touring the country since August. At the time of writing it seems he was last sighted in Kent, but with a wingspan of around nine feet you’d expect him to be noticed wherever he goes next.
More predictably, there was an influx of typical wintering birds in our area. Lapwings finally made it into decent figures, with a group of perhaps a couple of hundred birds seen frequently erupting into the sky around Beddingham. Winter thrushes too became more noticeable, with small parties of Fieldfares and Redwings around Firle Park and elsewhere, often consorting with roving groups of Starlings. In the mornings, many of our Starlings seem to fly in from the direction of the Ouse – is there a big roost somewhere down there?
A pair of Bullfinches around the allotments in Firle in mid-January was the first I’d seen in the village since the summer. With their old fruit trees and mature hedges, village allotments are a prime habitat for Bullfinches, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the two have declined in tandem over recent years. In any case, the scrubby area at Firle is always worth checking over for other finches, Dunnocks, tits and thrushes.
A Merlin reported near Glyndebourne on New Year’s Day was the only sighting in our area, but others are surely around on the lesser-watched parts of the Downs. A little further afield one or more Hen Harriers were reported from Lewes Brooks, an area that has now become one of their most regular haunts in Sussex. They should remain through February, and are best looked for from the track leading east from Rodmell village, or from the riverbank between Southease and Lewes. Females and immature birds are easily distinguished from Buzzards by the white band just above the tail – which is why they are often referred to as ‘ringtails’. Adult males are unmistakable, pearly grey and white all over.
Seven White-fronted Geese also visited Lewes Brooks on Boxing Day, a brief echo of winters past when a flock would visit Glynde Levels every year. These seven were part of a national influx of wild geese, which saw small parties also turn up at Piddinghoe and in the Cuckmere Valley – it would be nice to think that improvements to the habitat in our river valleys might encourage them to become regular visitors again.