The biggest surprise of the year so far arrived on 14th March, in the form of a Glaucous Gull circling over Firle village centre. This is an Arctic bird, bigger than a Herring Gull and with all-white wing tips. A few dozen spend the winter in the UK, mainly in Scotland and Ireland, and Sussex records just a handful each year, almost always on the coast. Inland records are very rare and usually associated with large flocks of other gulls, near water – so this lone bird, in Firle, is a bit of a mystery.
After circling round for a few minutes it appeared to drop into paddocks just north of the village. Perhaps it had been roosting with gulls at Arlington Reservoir, and spotted a good feeding opportunity as it flew over on its way West. Whatever its origin, this could well be the only one seen locally for a very long time – and it’s a reminder that anything can turn up.
Less surprising but just as welcome was a Firecrest a week earlier, feeding along the Old Coach Road near Beanstalk Cottages. Along with the much commoner Goldcrest, these are Europe’s smallest birds (they even make a Wren look chunky). They are exquisitely coloured, with black and white stripes around their eyes, bronze flashes on their ‘shoulders’ and of course a fiery crest on the very top of their head. This one was feeding in loose assocation with Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, and was seen at the same time as many other Firecrests in the south east.
‘Summer’ warblers started singing early in March, although the first ones were probably overwintering birds, encouraged to reveal their identities by the warm weather. There was a Blackcap singing near The Ram from 8th March, and Chiffchaffs singing in lots of places from around 12th.
April is when the dawn chorus gets much busier. The first Nightingales should arrive, as well as the first Garden Warblers, Cuckoos and Turtle Doves. The stands of reed along Glynde Reach should fill with the loud repetitive song of Reed Warblers, and perhaps the similar, scratchy sounds of Sedge Warblers too.
As House Martins and Swallows arrive in numbers, so too should Hobbies – Glynde and Beddingham Levels perhaps being a good place to look out for them. This is a great month to explore the escarpment of the Downs too, as all our resident birds are very active – Yellowhammers, Stonechats, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits are all noisy, joined now by Linnets and Whitethroats. Migration is in full swing, so it’s another month when something unusual from southern latitudes – perhaps a White Stork, a Cattle Egret or a Black Kite – could turn up locally.