The Month in Birds – Parish News, Dec 2011

November is the new April. A lot of wildlife seemed to think so anyway, with many of our resident birds singing away. If you want a taste of summer through this winter, try the Skylark that hasn’t bothered to stop singing since spring – you may still hear him on the Beddingham side of Firle Bostal road, near the school.

The weird mildness didn’t seem to make much of a difference to the departure or arrival of migrants though. Just a few summer birds were recorded, with any Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps later in the month perhaps set to spend the winter. A male Blackcap in the garden of Black Tile House one morning in mid-November looked pretty happy with the berries on offer.

Conditions seem to suit a couple of lingering Firecrests too, which I keep hearing (and occasionally seeing) in gardens between the school and the church. A bit of luck;s required to get a good view, but once you’ve picked up on the call (a three-note, ascending phrase, unlike the Goldcrest’s single repeated note) they’re easier to pin down.

And winter birds streamed in, or through, regardless. On 26 October, a noisy group of around 40 Brent Geese flew over Place Farm in the direction of Southease. These are very much coastal birds, wintering in England having summered in the Arctic, but will sometimes take a shortcut overland as they migrate. These were the first I’d seen over Firle for almost exactly six years – the previous group of around 150 I remember vividly, because they flew over as I was loading a removals van, the day we moved out of our previous house here.

Winter thrushes continued to come in too – several Fieldfares have now settled around the paddocks, joining the local Mistle Thrushes. The Mistles seem to have had a bumper year and have been particularly keen to sing during the mild weather.

One or two Grey Wagtails are still around the village, sometimes mixing with the gathering of Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails (about a dozen of each) in the paddocks. Urban Pied Wagtails were featured in BBC2’s Autumnwatch recently, which showed several hundred roosting in laurel bushes in the middle of Sheffield. I’ve no idea where ours roost – perhaps they join up with those in surrounding villages and roost in similar numbers somewhere?

Over in the Park, a Tawny Owl flew in broad daylight one morning, pursued by several cackling Magpies. This is pretty unusual – in fact, it’s the first time I’ve seen one fly in daylight for 26 years! Easier to see in daylight are the Short-eared Owls that have arrived at Rodmell – five or more of these fantastic birds have been hunting in the late afternoons over the past few weeks, attracting crowds of interested locals. See the page on the birds of Rodmell Brooks for directions.

A Green Sandpiper was also seen and heard flying over the Park on 16 November, with the same or another flushed from the stream several times over the following couple of weeks  – is this ‘our’ bird of last spring, returning to spend the winter on the stream? I hope so. These are one of my favourite birds, great for brightening up a dull winter’s day (most often along Glynde Reach).

Also in the region of the stream, there have been up to six Teal and a Kingfisher, while other waders have included one or two Golden Plovers over the village on 6 Nov (heard only – they have a distinctively eerie, mournful call) and a lone Lapwing on the 17th – an outrider, perhaps, for the impressive hundreds that can be seen either side of the A27 at Beddingham.

This is an updated version of the article published in the December 2011 parish newsletter. 
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