Sometimes you go out looking for a particular bird and you see it. Today I went looking for Whinchats, a good bet along the escarpment at this time of year.

I failed.

But I stumbled across something much rarer, for Firle, and was reminded that as much as getting to know the seasons and local routines, often the satisfaction of watching a patch lies in the unexpected.

It was a blustery morning, with largely blue skies, and I’d mistimed my exit from the house to coincide with a party of ramblers. The dog and I walked up to Place Farm in their company, and then stopped in the gateway to the largest of the arable fields that lies between the escarpment and the village.

This is, reliably, a field devoid of bird interest. But given that Honey Buzzards have been reported in Firle and Berwick over the last couple of days, I made myself scan across the area in case of something low-flying and juicy.

There was a single gull, flapping casually over the stubble, and I almost didn’t linger on it at all – there are plenty of Herring and Black-headed Gulls passing through at the moment. But this had thick black bands across its wings, contrasting with grey upperwings and pure white parts behind. For a moment my head did its usual routine when faced with a lone juvenile Kittiwake – “why is that not a Sabine’s Gull?” – but then sense took over. I watched it for perhaps a minute and a half, before it disappeared over Firle Bostal towards Littledene and Beddingham.

That’s a first for my list in Firle, and one of very few local records of seabirds. Not only are we a good few miles from the coast, but there’s no large body of water to attract anything that has blown off the sea – they’re more likely to find themselves in the Ouse valley or at Arlington Reservoir. The last was a Fulmar, seen three years ago.

Behind the Kittiwake, there was a kettle of ten large raptors, probably all Common Buzzards which had dispersed by the time I thought to look at them more closely.

A few minutes later, up on the escarpment, a Crossbill flew NE, over the plantation. It sounded very close, but I couldn’t actually see it at all. That’s my first of 2012 in Firle, after three records here last year.

After that the walk was pretty quiet, with very few migrants in evidence – just a few Willow Warblers.

But a patch tick always gets you thinking – what’s next? 125 and counting.


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