Monday, 12 November 2018

Goring Gap

I didn't bother looking at the sea and just did a circuit of the Gap. Overhead 145 Goldfinches trickled east, including one or two Siskins calling among them. 15 Chaffinches went the same way. A Firecrest was by the pumping station, with another in the northwest corner, along with a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff. 12 Goldcrests were dotted around and an unploughed area attracted 22 Skylarks, six Meadow Pipits and 29 Linnets. 10 Pied Wagtails and 220 Starlings were also feeding in the fields. The Treecreeper announced its presence in The Plantation. Five Mediterranean Gulls were logged, along with an increase to 50 loafing Common Gulls, though few waders were around, with a quick look at the beach and the roost field around high tide revealing just 12 Ringed Plovers, three Dunlin and two Turnstones.

Sunday, 11 November 2018


Another depressingly quiet seawatch from George V Avenue did produce a 2CY Yellow-legged Gull, which made it feel worthwhile. Otherwise, the only birds noted moving offshore during the hour were singles of Mediterranean Gull and Great Crested Grebe.

2CY Yellow-legged Gull

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Goring Gap and Brooklands Pleasure Park

My patching fuel gauge blinking with depleted enthusiasm, I just about managed to get up to the Gap for 07:30, hoping for further activity on the sea. Within half an hour the sole bird recorded moving was a distant eastbound Great Crested Grebe. There were barely even any waders on the beach, a single Grey Plover, a flock of 22 Dunlin, a couple of Turnstones and a Little Egret being the only birds feeding. Quite frankly pissed off at the Gap being reverted to a bird exclusion zone, I moped around The Plantation for a while, where there was a clear arrival of Goldcrests, around 20 in all, their whispy exchanges doing something to brighten my depressed outlook but not enough to inspire a full circuit of the site.

News from Gareth and Paul James at Brooklands Pleasure Park of a Pallas's Warbler made me at once glad for these gents and shamefully bitter that it was not among my Goldcrests. I snapped out of it and drove over there, luckily getting a few nice views along the road to the sewage works there before it went missing. Also present were very good numbers of Goldcrests, two Firecrests, a Chiffchaff, two redpolls and a Grey Wagtail. Mingling with the loose crowd reminded me to appreciate the value of being around other birders - the Gap has been a bit of a lonely vigil this year, myself usually being the only birder present in the mornings, and, sadly, conversation with dog-walkers is just as likely to irk as uplift.

Forgive my tedious moaning but it's good to get it out, for me at least, and I've been taking every opportunity to unload my frustrations to any birder, or even non-birder, who'll listen. There's no escape that this year's patching at Goring Gap has basically been one colossal, miserable disappointment. I've not managed uniform, intense coverage but have put in a reasonable amount of hours across much of the year. Early rewards were Iceland and Caspian Gulls, standard fare in my home area. Spring seawatching had its moments but opportunities were missed and numbers of expected species were generally low, while some (like Black Tern) went entirely unrecorded. As far as grounded migrants went in the spring, I had to resort to twitching the sole representatives of Ring Ouzel and Black Redstart which turned up, missed out on several basic species and realistic hopes (even Redstart). A fly-over Rosy Starling late in the season was my main reward, I'm not sniffing at that but, come on, a fly-over.

I took comfort in the supposition that the autumn was bound to be better, but as the main migration period approached, the intervening seawatching season was dry to the point where I quickly realised it wasn't even worth looking. Now the autumn has come and gone, and the only birds which stand out in my mind are Little Stint, Hen Harrier and another Caspian Gull. Beyond Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts, Whinchats, Wheatears and truly common warblers, grounded migrants were largely non-existant. While unusually high numbers of Pied Flycatchers materialised elsewhere, none was found at the Gap. The visible migration was at times spectacular but featured no oddities. I managed to miss the only Yellow-browed Warbler of the year, two fly-over Short-eared Owls and whatever other (presumably very few) 'decent' birds went through unseen by anyone. Meanwhile, either side of us along the coast at Selsey and at Seaford and Beachy, a steady flow of expected migrants and occasional scarcities has been par for the course. 

I have been at odds to understand why Goring Gap has done quite so pitifully this year - it is not a headland, but should that matter so much given the watchable and, at the face of it, attractive area of migrant habitat on offer amid an otherwise concrete coastline? I've wondered whether Sussex is generally a bit too tucked away in the autumn - badly placed geographically - with headlands at Seaford and Beachy getting away with it by virtue of protruding into the sea towards the east end of the county. However, reasonable results further west don't fit with this rather simplistic explantation. Maybe I'm just a shit birder. Yes, that must be it.

I did not expect birding on this apparently promising stretch of the Sussex coast to be so painfully challenging. I'm sure successful patch birding relies on an open-minded energy and preparedness which I am simply finding impossible to garner at the moment. This pessimism will surely be no help in finding anything good, so perpetuating a cruel cycle!

While working birdnews shifts I've been well aware that similar frustrations have been widespread among patch birders across the country. Hopefully next year will be better, but I'm not counting on it and I've a sinking feeling that - while there may be moments where things kick into life - an increasingly arduous bird-finding experience will serve as but one symptom of a choking planet. There's something to brighten your day.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Goring and West Worthing

A 90-minute seawatch from George V Avenue this morning largely felt quiet but was rewarded firstly by a distant Little Gull moving east, then by a Red-necked Grebe heading in the same direction. Two Teal, two Common Scoters, nine Great Crested Grebes, three Red-throated Divers, a Mediterranean Gull, over 100 Gannets and a few Guillemots and Razorbills were offshore. A couple of Meadow Pipits flew up from the beach and a migrating flock of 20 Goldfinches flew east.

A Meadow Pipit flew over the garden when I set out this morning and I heard a few Redwings after dark over Worthing last night, including over the garden. This morning a Curlew flew along the beach opposite Marine Gardens.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Cissbury Ring

A lovely morning's ringing on the Ring with Val featured some nice catches, such as a Firecrest, two Bullfinches and several Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests. A Brambling, two Lesser Redpolls, two Reed Buntings, six Siskins, three Yellowhammers, 19 Greylags, a Little Egret, a Treecreeper, eight Pied Wagtails, five Redwings, two Meadow Pipits and four Skylarks were among the other birds noted during the visit.

1CY male Firecrest

1CY female Bullfinch

adult male Chaffinch

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Goring Gap and The Burgh

A brief visit with special guests Paul G and Jazz mid-/late morning produced three Red-throated Divers, two Great Crested Grebes, three Dark-bellied Brent Geese, a Kittiwake, 26 Gannets, 16 Common Gulls, 30 Razorbills/Guillemots (mostly the former), three Mediterranean Gulls, 17 Skylarks, a Little Egret, two Grey Plovers, 20 Oystercatchers and uncounted Dunlin, Turnstone and Ringed Plover.

With seabird movement dying down but the breeze still offputting we decided to check out The Burgh for a couple of hours, where highlights included a fleeting flight view of a group of around 10 Grey Partidges, as well as six Red Kites, 10 Buzzards, four Kestrels, a Reed Bunting, 30 Linnets, three Meadow Pipits and 25 Stock Doves.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Canons Farm and Worthing

A casual stroll around Canons with Geoff - more for a catch-up than anything (the farm felt decidedly uninspiring), produced 15 Meadow Pipits, 40 Linnets, two Yellowhammers, a Pied Wagtail, a Common Gull, 10 Fieldfares, 16 Redwings, six Skylarks and a Treecreeper among other expected species.

In Worthing later, a Grey Wagtail and a Pied Wagtail flew over the shops.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Beddington Farmlands

November began with me back at one of my 'home patches' in the hope of connecting with the Richard's Pipit found by Pinpoint earlier in the week. Christian, Roy W and I scoured the mound to no avail though working machinery in the area favoured by the bird might not have helped our cause. Dejected, I ended up scanning through the gulls on the North Lake before we had to bid an exit, turning up two nice first-winter Caspian Gulls. Other highlights during the visit included a Cetti's Warbler, a Stonechat, three Snipe, eight Meadow Pipits, three Skylarks, a Buzzard and two Reed Buntings.

1CY Caspian Gull

second 1CY Caspian Gull

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

West Worthing and Belmont

No real birding today but noteworthy observations at home in West Worthing and at my parents' in Belmont, with a Siskin over mine as I got into my car in the morning then four Redwings over the Surrey gaff later on, with a Song Thrush around the car park.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Goring Gap and Ashdown Forest

It was a fairly lively morning for movement though I had to leave at 09:00. Waders moving included eight Lapwings in-off the sea (a group of six and two singles), a Golden Plover east and a Snipe west. Wildfowl were represented by 11 Wigeon, four Teal, six Common Scoters, three Red-breasted Mergansers and 38 Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Passerines moving overhead were mainly finches, with two Bramblings, six redpolls, a few Chaffinches, 78 Siskins, 343 Goldfinches and 84 Linnets. Others included two Reed Buntings, 20 Meadow Pipits and five Pied Wagtails. 60 Cormorants included a flock of around 45 and singles of Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Little Egret were logged.

A visit to the Gill's Lap area of the Ashdown Forest made for a pleasant few hours between mid-morning and early afternoon, distant views of the Great Grey Shrike eventually being upgraded to unforgettable close-range views of the hunting bird after a game of patience. Two Bramblings and four Crossbills flew over, while a Dartford Warbler, a Raven, 12 Fieldfares, two redpolls, three Siskins and two Reed Buntings provided further interest.

Great Grey Shrike in the Ashdown Forest