Monday, 25 April 2011

garden news

News from the garden for this week
I've seen a few good fly-overs, including one garden tick, and seen a lot of new insects with my increased interest in them...

Saturday, 23 April 2011

more on the Iceland Gull

ICE ICE ICE BABY, were there one, two or three Iceland Gulls in Sussex today?

new type of layout

I felt a bit like experimenting. Now, this may completely ruin my blog, but I hardly get any readers anyway so what the hell.

well basically, this new experimental thing involves me making a whole load of blogs and 'lumping' them together into one. Much like Chiffchaffs are lumped into one species, or how some movie recently has been lumped with the burden of Russel Brand (I actually like him, I just needed a metaphor you understand).

These blogs will all from my 'super-blog'. And using a very overly complicated piece of code-cracking nuclear formula written in the DNA of a slug, I reckon I could get one counter that would count hits for all of them despite them being different URL's. But that's all getting too far ahead.

This blog will still have a purpose. This'll be where I spew out links to all my various out-pages with the actual writing and pictures on them. They are the secondary pages, and this blog might just serve as a neat little homepage. Effectively, I think I can try and create a website, using blogger.

if all the technical jargon isn't really your thing, and you don't have a clue what I'm on about, just keep visiting and go with the flow, you'll catch on to whatever I seem to be planning soon enough...

so here's my first bit of spewing out links...

  • on my birds page is (drumroll please)... the effectively titled and incredibly corny 'WHAT AN ICE DAY'. Today I managed to jam a few good birds locally, including Bar-tailed Godwit, Arctic Skua and the piece in my title, a gorgeous ICELAND GULL.

  • I've put on my insect page 'Bedroom Moths'. For a newbie like me almost any moth I see is a 'lifer'. Even one's attracted to the light in my bedroom!

  • and finally on my 'other wildlife' page, I have a 20 second video clip of a Grey Seal from today that was present in the Cuckmere. Imaginatively dubbed 'GREY SEAL IN THE CUCKMERE'

well that's enough for tonight, my tiny number of readers. Hopefully you'll enjoy the new style of presentation, especially once there is some substance to fill it all up with.

all the worst,


Monday, 18 April 2011

the top 10 sussex birding specialities...

with little else to write about, I've gone back to the good old blogging of whatever thoughts cross my brain as I sit here bored...

so what are the 10 best 'speciality' birds to see in Sussex? birds that are easier to see in our little county than elsewhere?

Obviously, many counties will have a lot of specialities. Norfolk, Shetland, Cornwall, Devon. All of them have countless good birds you might go there specifically to see. Sussex isn't so renowned for it's good birds. A very wide variety is possible, but most have far easier locations to see them. It's tough to really justify calling a lot of our birds Sussex specialities, but we have a few of them. Some very good ones too.

These include;

10- European Nightjar
South-east England is the Nightjar's major concentration in this country, and Sussex can certainly boast a good proportion of them. There are two major stongholds, Ashdown Forest and the West Sussex Heaths (Ambersham, Lavington and Iping Commons, etc). The most recent sussex bird report (2009) estimates 34 territories in the former and 34 in the latter. There is also a small concentration around Horsham, of perhaps 5-10 territories, and a handful of territories scattered accross the rest of the county (last year Dad and I found at least two churring males at a site in the Low Weald, and there is another Woodland nearby which has held a few pairs in the past) This overall makes c80 territories in Sussex, one of the healthiest populations of any county in Britain.

9-Cattle Egret
Though numbers in the last two years have been somewhat down, in the few years previously Sussex was arguably the best spot in the country for this species. The Ouse Valley between Piddinhoe and Lewes had records in four consecutive years from 2005-2008, including eight together in 2006 and three in 2008. During 2006-08, 35 were seen in the county, with atleast 47 overall in the noughties. In 2008, 17 were seen! I think this means we in Sussex can make a fairly good claim at the premier county to see Cattle Egrets. However, there has been a decrease recently. just four were seen in 2009, and perhaps just one in 2010.However, I found this 2010 individual, (in the Ouse Valley yet again!) which means this species will remain very close to my heart.

8-Slavonian Grebe
In most of the county, a very scarce spring migrant and winter visitor. But around the Selsey peninsula, there is a remarkable concentration. Upwards of 50 can be seen, on of the highest concentrations in the country. A good reason I think to include it here!

7-Cetti's Warbler
Being on the South Coast, Sussex will obviously have a stronghold of this scarce species. In areas around Rye, Pett and Chichester, there are very strong populations. There is also a healthy number present in the Ouse, with a few in the other river valleys and marshes.
With two hard winters, the species population has crashed, but small numbers are still present in the Ouse, Rye Bay and at Thorney Island (Chichester). If these populations hang on, they could be vital for retaining this species population in the British Isles.

6-Corn Bunting
The flock wintering in the Ouse Valley south of Lewes must be one of the biggest in the country. In 2009, the peak was apparently 160, and I saw at least 250 in Jan 2008. The last two years have seen a slight decline, with a peak of 73 in 2010/11.
There is also a healthy breeding popluation. 5-10 pairs breed on the downs above Seaford, with other populations on various areas all around the South Downs, and on the coastal plains around Rye and Chichester probably amounting to 100-200 pairs atleast, potentially a very important population nationally.

5-Mediterranean Gull
the 100+ pairs in the Rye area (90+ at Rye Harbour and 10-20 at Pett Level) are one of the largest populations in the country. In 2009, a remarkable 312 were seen on the Downs near Funtington in July, presumably post-breeding dispersal. Several hundred are also seen in the spring passing up the channel from Sussex seawatching hotspots.

I would estimate about 200 pairs breed in Sussex every year. Go into almost any woodland in the weald and you are guranteed to hear the song, between mid-April and early June. In Abbot's Wood, a local hotspot, at least nine males were in song last year. about 10 males can be found on Pulborough Brooks RSPB, and in a survey of the Henfield area in 2009, at least 29 were heard singing! Among all the counties in Southern England, it is fair to say Sussex has one of the most widespread distributions of this delightful songster.

3-Dark-bellied Brent Goose
5-15,000 winter every year in Chichester and Pagham Harbours, moving between these two sites and others in the Solent. This is not only the second largest population in the UK for this race, holding up to 10% of the total, but also an internationally important wintering site for the Dark-bellied Brent, holding upwards of 1% of the entire population.
This huge flock can also act like a magnet for other rare branta geese. a Red-breasted Goose first appeared at Chciehster Harbour in 2007, re-appearing in 2008 and 2009. One was also seen with Brent Geese at Pagham in the winters of 1985/86 and 86/87. Black Brant has been an annual winter visitor to the two harbour for atleast 15 years now, with hybird young also appearing, proving the bird has travelled with our Brents and bred in the high arctic. Pale-bellied Brent, a very scarce bird in Sussex, is also annual in these flocks.
At seawatching sites further east (especially Splash Point) several thousand are seen each spring passing up-channel, many presumably from their wintering area further west in the county.

2-Black-legged Kittiwake
the several hundred pairs breeding at Splash Point (Seaford) are the largest colony for miles around. In fact the largest colony all along the coast going east until you meet Bempton Cliffs, and going west until you find the Isle of Portland. They are a mini-oasis on the South-east coast. While scattered pairs breed elsewhere on cliffs, this colony is one of the most important in the country.

1-Pomarine Skua
The Shetland Isles tend to get the most attention as an area to see these beautiful birds on spring passage. But with South-east winds, the sussex coast can get hundreds, mostly in Late-April/Early May. Splash Point, once again, is the best area to see them, though they can be seen all down the coast, especially at known seawatching vantage points like Selsey Bill, Worthing and Brighton Marina.
The best year on record was 2008, when an exceptional 325 were seen at Splash Point during the spring, and a minimum of 369 overall in the county. This included 154 over the three days from 4-6 May at Splash Point.
Perhaps the reason Pomarine Skuas are so well celebrated at Splash Point may even tie in with number two in my list. Like all Skua's they are prone to a bit of mobbing, and the Kittiwake colony here is like an all you can eat buffet! Sometimes brilliant views can be obtained as they chase Kittiwakes this way and that just offshore, trying to get them to regurgitate views. And what better opportunity is there to admire how truly beautiful they are! The tail-spoons, the creamy brest, the elegant, falcon like flight and the stocky appearance, making them look like figher jets zipping over the sea. There is only one word to describe the Pomarine Skua. Bird porn! And the fact we get them in such huge numbers here makes them a worthy number one on this list!

all photos are my own. Just in case you're wondering why they are so bad...

Saturday, 16 April 2011

light-hearted all taxa listing in great company

Going out with the Sussex Wildlife Trust today was a great deal of fun. As part of the Youth Council I get to do some pretty awesome stuff. Today was a 'Bioblitz' day in Stanmer Park, where we attempted to record as many species as possible in a little area members of the Youth Rangers (a different part of the wildlife trust altogether), manage for wildlife. It was a great day, and hopefully a predecessor to doing something like this on a larger scale for members of the public. Thanks to Renzo Spano, Dave Barker, Daniel Meads and everyone else for making it so enjoyable.

Our target, not knowing wuite what to expect, was 50 species, including all taxa. we surpassed that easily and we weren't even trying very hard! However, I learn a lot from the people there, and it was good fun being able to have a go at identifying some tricky species I wouldn't have attempted otherwise. I also probably showed off my smart-arse knowledge of birds a little bit too much!

Plant-wise, I managed to, after quite a lot of detective work, identify one of the plants as Cotton Thistle. Now I know what it is, I'm sure I'll be seeing it everywhere I go! We also saw about 20 other plant species overall, without too much effort on our behalf.

The pond was full of wonders, including Frog and Toad Tadpoles, the larvae of a Broad-bodied Chaser, Whirlygig Beetles, Smooth Newts, a Damselfly Nymph and perhaps, best of all, a Smooth Newt Tadpole. I was rather surprised as I have only ever seen Newtlets before, never a newt in this early stage of metamorphis. Though this is probably more through lack of looking than anything else!

Around the pond were a few Large Red Damselflies, and butterflies included Orange-tip, Small and Large Whites and Small Tortoiseshell. I saw Buff-tailed and Red-rumped Bumble-bees, and, after a great amount of effort, caught one of the smaller bees too. In the book this was shown as Andrena Haemorrhoa, it didn't give it's english name. I had to wait until I got home to find out it is also called the EARLY MINING BEE. I'm not sure why that is in capitals as they are pretty common, but it was the first time I have ever identified one of these smaller bees on my own and I'm rather proud! I also managed to photograph and identify a Common Carpet-moth.

Birdwise there wasn't too much to see. Willow warbler and Jay were the best birds, while Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest were all heard, we saw the resident Sparrowhawk and Kestrel and had some nice views of Long-tailed Tit. But the birds weren't really that important. The best thing was learning a lot about other wildlife, from some very knowledgeable people, and having a great laught at the same time. Thanks again to Renzo for organizing this and to everyone who came along and made it such fun.

Large Red Damselfly

Common Carpet-moth

Early Mining-Bee

Smooth Newt tadpole. Told apart by the feathery gills (which you can just see)
and the rounded tail.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

a warbler quartet, and corn buntings abounding

It was a dull, dreary and uninspiring day today, but with hard graft, a bit of luck and a willingness to exercise enough birds were seeen to make the four-mile round walk worthwhile...

I walked up through Seaford to Blatchington Golf Course. Almost the first bird I saw was a good one, a Peregrine that drifted over the house. We see them regularly but they are always a great sight to see from your own garden. Along Firle Road, a small amount more birdlife was noted, including singing Chiffchaff and Blackcap and a calling Goldcrest.
However, these Spanish Bluebells aren't such a welcome sight. They are distinguished from our own by their stalk, which is straight (English bluebells have a curved stalk which causes the flowers to droop). Due to Spanish bluebells having dominant genes over English ones, any cross-pollination effectively wipes out the genes of our own bluebells, meaning that, in areas where the two occur side-by-side, Spanish Bluebells are slowly but surely takin over.
Plenty of resident birds were singing in Seaford, along with the two migrant warblers. I heard all the ususal suspects, including quite a lot of Blackbirds and Robins. However, insects were very hard to come by with the cold temperatures and lack of sun. A few Buff-tailed Bumblebees were as good as it got, I didn't see a single Butterfly the entire walk!

Collared Dove and Robin. Unfortunately the light was pretty bad for
 The first bird I saw on Blatchington Golf Course was a showy male Blackcap in the blackthorn clump by the entrance. Walking accross the rest of the Golf Course there were plenty more singing Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. Exploring the golf course fairly thoroughly, I saw and heard 14 of the former and 13 of the latter. Among them where two Willow Warblers(identified by their wing-flicking habits), and I heard, just once, the scolding alarm call of a Whitethroat. A Jay was a good sighting for the time of year, and I heard two separate Green Woodpeckers. However, other wildlife of note was once again very restricted, to just a handful of Buff-tailed and Red-rumped Bumblebees respectively.

Chiffchaff, with a bit of digital retouching to disguise how awful the lighting was
From here, I had a look around Greenway Bottom. In total on the downs here, I saw 13 Chiffchaff, 8 Blackcap, 6 Whitethroat and 5 Willow Warbler. There was also a pair of Bullfinches and a Buzzard, and in the long grass all around I could hear the impossibly thin squeaks of small Voles, Shrews and the like going about their business...
However, the stars were undoubtedly the Corn Buntings. A declining downland bird, Greenway Bottom is now the only reliable area I know to see them breeding locally. There was just one singing male, but a flock of 20 individuals were present too, though difficult to pin down. I'm hoping some of these may also be tempted to stay put and breed.

To top it off, I saw another flock of 15 Corn Buntings in the stubble on Cradle Hill. At least one male also held territory around here last year, so I'm hopeful this might be another area they could breed in. That made 36 in total, a very good total for such a scarce bird, and definitely one of the strongest local populations. With sightings of this and Bullfinch, another scarce and declining farmland bird, plus my first returning Whitethroats of the year, this was a fairly good walk all in all.

In the end, I amassed totals of 27 Chiffchaff, 23 Blackcap and seven each of Whitethroat and Willow Warbler, along with 36 Corn Bunting, 2 Bullfinch and a Jay. 
record shot of a singing male Corn Bunting, this was also digitally enhanced when I got home

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

the toadlet that time forgot

awwww, isn't he a cutie?
Toadlets are pretty standard fare in our garden. They start out as spawn about March-time, then they become tadpoles in  April, and in May/June they start to grow legs and eventually become toadlets, eventually becoming adult Toads. So in May and June, these toadlets are pretty standard fare. However, when you see one in MARCH, you know something weird is going on!...

These photos were taken on March 28th. I was checking under the tiles in our back garden, feeling pretty smug about having Slow Worms under them and getting some pretty awesome photos of them. Under one I also found an adult Toad. Fairly normal, they like to heat up under the tiles too. But then, checking the next one, I was rather surprised to find this very small toad!...

I can only assume it was a late-developer, and that it hadn't yet developed fully when the time came to hibernate. This idea would be supported by the fact that last year, for whatever reason, a lot of the tadpoles didn't develop at all, and stayed in the pond. They didn't last very long once winter arrived though. So this Toadlet was a lucky survivor, just developed enough that it wasn't forced to stay in the water with it's siblings when the inevitable cold arrived...

But what will happen to it now? I'm assuming it will still be able to cary on it's metamorphosis and become an adult Toad. Assuming it survives. Slow Worms and Grass Snakes are a lot more active at this time of year than in June as they are breeding themselves. And I'm sure they would find a Toadlet most scrumptious...

I suppose the one good thing is that, unlike Frogs, Toads don't mature until they are three or four years old. So if this little guy does survive, he'll at least have time to catch up with his buddies.