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...

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