Sussex purple patch

Sussex is a great county to see birds in, but not usually at the top of twitchers’ minds. Norfolk, Cornwall and the further flung islands tend to command that status.

But the last week has seen some impressive finds between Lewes and Eastbourne. Between last Wednesday and Friday, an Alpine Swift decided to roost on County Hall, Lewes, providing many birders (me included) with their first encounter with this species in the UK. The vast majority of records are brief overhead jobs – a stationary bird is really welcome (although, just to be picky, I would have liked to have seen it fly around just a little bit).

What seems likely to have been the same Black Stork seen in the Cuckmere Valley a couple of weeks ago made a another appearance at Willingdon Level, kindly flying over a commuting birder’s car.

And close to our patch, a Black Kite was reported over woodland at Ringmer last week too. This is, surely, going to be a record year for these birds – dozens seem to have been seen in the UK already this spring.

But despite all the aforementioned stuff, Beachy Head stole the honours, with a River Warbler on Friday afternoon – a first for Sussex and indeed for the south coast of England. Some Sussex birders reportedly dropped everything (like EVERYTHING) to get to Beachy for this bird, which gave itself up only by singing (like a Grasshopper Warbler) and showing occasionally in flight, in the thick scrub of Whitbread Hollow. The next morning it was gone.

With Melodious Warbler, Rose-coloured Starling, Red-rumped Swallow and Bee-eater also seen there in recent days, it’s been a pretty extraordinary run.

But it’s likely to be the River Warbler that people talk about for years to come.

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4 thoughts on “Sussex purple patch

  1. Just enjoying the daily antics of my ancient almost-PET blackbird male feeding his demanding 3 fluffy juniors all of whom are bigger than him (this is his 3rd yr raising his family in my garden and he now harrasses me for food!) when I was transfixed by an amazing bird who landed at the edge of my lawn beside the shrubs. He seemed more bold than nervous. He flew into the low branches of a holly and stayed visible for a few minutes – I rushed to get a camera but he had gone. Since then I have trawled the internet since to no avail, inc. local sightings, photos, and this bird is certainly not within my standard encyclopaedia. He was almost like an owl in his markings, brown, buff and significantly barred across the chest and throat, stripy & barred wings, a dumpy duck type shape, size of a largel pigeon, but a duckish bird head; his head did not seem significantly hawk-like and his head seemed too large for a hawk. I was too far to see his beak. He was softly black capped and the black extended down his back. From his back neck to halfway down his back was a striking significant red stripe abou 1″ wide and 4″ long.
    ANYONE ANY IDEAS? My 1st reaction was “large woodpecker” – COULD THIS POSSIBLY BE A RARE woodpecker cos he does not fit in with the distinctive British ones and there are supposed to be only two in the UK. Or are there any huge red shrikes? Really would love to know – also if anyone else has seen this one? I am near heathland north of Lewes.

  2. Sounds very intriguing, I read through your account a few times before absorbing the “near heathland” comment – I wonder if this could have been a nightjar? They are very odd-looking birds: the owl-like markings, oversize head and black marking extending down the neck fit. The red stripe doesn’t sound quite right, but they can have some very warm colouration on them.

    They’re also classic heathland birds, which occasionally turn up in gardens, although usually on spring or autumn passage. I presume they still breed at Chailey Common, and certainly there are plenty on Ashdown Forest.

    Have a look at the picture here – anything like this?

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