After the rubbbish summer, we deserved something. And that came this weekend, with a bout of spectacular early autumn weather that had the good grace to include birds in it.
The good stuff started on Saturday morning when Paul Stevens came running over to say that he had a probable Honey Buzzard over his garden. Unfortunately, the various raptors circling over Firle village were too far for a definite ID by this stage, but certainly one or two of them kept their wings flat (not a moment of ‘shallow-V’). The likelihood was further boosted later when we heard there had been a Honey reported going North over Seaford fifteen or twenty minutes before ‘ours’. Paul also had a couple of Hobbies, some Yellow Wags and thousands of hirundines.
A picnic outing to Hope Gap that lunchtime wasn’t bird-focused, but turned up a Whimbrel or few offshore. There were also a few warblers in the scrub, enough to start planning an early morning trip for the next day. Back in the Firle that afternoon, several Yellow Wagtails flew over the garden and the remarkable streams of martins and Swallows continued.
Early next morning I decided to go to Arlington, but the level crossing at Berwick was closed, so I diverted to the lower Cuckmere instead. Almost immediately upon stepping out of the car at the Golden Galleon, the birds were jumping out of the bushes in front of me.
Within a few minutes I had seen Lesser Whitethroats, Whinchats, Reed Warblers and Yellow Wagtails, all up close. The previous day’s Wryneck on the Vanguard Way failed to show itself, but it didn’t matter – there was so much else going on. A Kingfisher, a Snipe. Hirundines, Yellow Wags and Meadow Pipits were a constant presence in the air, with a couple of Grey Wagtails and a few Siskins too. It was busy all the way down to the Coastguard cottages, where a couple of Wheatears skimmed the beach. Back up the river bank it was relatively quiet, but another look on the western path produced more warblers Blackcaps and Willow Warblers too, and now Skylarks coming over and a big gathering of hirundines on the wires overlooking the Golden Galleon.
By the time Paul had joined me, a lot of birds had concentrated in a small area, just south of the Galleon. We just stood there and watched a single bush as it shook with birds – four or more Whinchats, three Lesser Whitethroats, a Garden Warbler and a Whitethroat, with Meadow Pipits teeming on the adjacent turf, and the air full of House and Sand Martins, as Yellow Wags and Siskins continued to move through. I could happily have sat there for the rest of the day.
However, after several hours of carrying a one-year-old on my back it was time to refuel, so we headed off. Later on that day, a walk to Alciston along the Old Coach Road saw a massive gathering of hirundines at Tilton, among which were two Hobbies low over our heads, and then on the return trip perhaps the closest Wheatear I have seen – an immaculate, strongly-marked bird just a couple of feet away, in front of us on the path, and close enough for the whole family to see every detail.
Even though I managed to dip on the scarcer stuff, it didn’t matter. I didn’t even flinch when Paul told me of the Ospreys he’d seen at Arlington later on that day (having bemoaned only that morning that he had no luck with them there).
It’s just so good to experience a fall of birds and visible migration, especially when it coincides with great weather (so often it’s the opposite). Roll on next weekend, I’m sure there’s a lagging Honey Buzzard for me yet.