What has this spring been like! Hot, muggy, you'd think you were in the Mediterranean, and I'm sure the birds did too!
With the appearance of a mobile but long staying Short-toed Eagle, multiple breeding pairs of Black-winged Stilt and now we hear of successfully fledged Bee-Eaters, it has been a summer to remember, whether you take that as a good or a bad thing.
Needless to say though, with a 3rd for Britain now touring much of the south coast, and one as highly impressive as a stunningly pale Short-toed Eagle, it wasn't too hard a decision to take up an offer and head down with a car full of the Next Generation Birders!
After a quick check of Sheepwash before catching my train, I then met up with Espen in Birmingham New street, before catching out next train out to Rugby for our base for a few hours, at Matt, our drivers house.
I have been on a twitch with both of these guys a few times previous and I have never missed a bird, so optimism was high (Baikal Teal, Ivory Gull). With our train having being cancelled, we arrived in Rugby fairly late on, and following a few preparation tasks, we chose to stay up and drink coffee rather than suffer the horrible feeling of grogginess you get after only a hour or so sleep.
But, in the early hours, we started on our way down, and the miles passed...
Our final stop before heading for the current location of the Eagle in Ashdown forest was to pick up Josie from her house, which rather remarkably gave us our first bird of the day as we could hear a NIGHTJAR churring from the road outside the house!
With that bonus, we continued on, and before long the sun started to rise, illuminating the sky in red and purple.
It was a increasingly long and nervous wait as we pulled off the main roads and turned into small, overgrown forested road as we arrived near Ashdown, and then a large area heathland appeared from behind the tree's and the Gills Lap carpark appeared in view.
We set up our scopes and camera gear and waited....
A TURTLE DOVE purred from the opposite side of the road, one of the species I had hoped to catch up with on this 'southern' expedition, and following some fairly regular calling, 2 Turtles then flew up the road giving stunning views as they flew past with one in pursuit of the other. My only Turtle Doves this summer!
With the bird obviously not roosting in the open as it had done on a couple of occasions, we chose to have a look around, where we were entertained by a number of Tree Pipits, Garden Warbler, Stonechats and a colony of Heath spotted Orchid. All nice stuff, but upon returning to the crowd we only grew more anxious, there were now a large number of cars and birders present.
With it just starting to warm up, with a few of the suns rays beaming down on the heath, a shout from behind us had multiple people scanning onto a huge bird of prey which had just appeared over the ridge of tree's. Bright white, massive, but very distant, but no doubting this was the 2nd summer SHORT-TOED EAGLE!
A mass exodus of the car park followed as all the twitchers moved down the road to the opposite end of the heath, and soon enough, still distantly, the Eagle could be seen perched up on the tops of a few tree's!
A Woodlark on a tree next to us was almost ignored, but soon after the eagle took flight and flew along the heath, giving much better views, showing what a truly stunning bird it was!
It dropped onto multiple treetops, where a few digi-scoped images were possible, despite the distance.
The bird hunted back and forth over the heath, dropping down out of sight and at one time came up with a Snake, and proceeded to eat it on the wing!
Me and Espen lost the others, so we decided to move our viewpoint back towards the carpark as the bird was flying that way, but unfortunately, after a brief hovering session at closer range, the bird then moved to the other side of the heath where we watched it distantly in our scopes.
Having been watching the bird for nearing 3 hours, we agreed to head off to our next location, to a newly formed RSPB reserve where a pair of Black-winged Stilt had raised 3 chicks.
Even in its very early stages, you can see this reserve has huge potential, with the ever present Avocet's being on most of the pools, and Little Egrets dotted around. We moved our way onto the shingle beach, where numerous Sandwich, Little and a single Common Tern were flying. 6 Mediterranean Gull were also moving back and forth before an altogether bigger bird flew over as a rather impressive RAF C-130 Hercules flew over the reserve and out to sea!
We continued along, and a party of Lesser black backed Gulls flew low over and area of dense sedge and weedy grass, and in doing so, up flew a strikingly black and white bird as one of the adult BLACK-WINGED STILTS flew up to mob them, and it was soon joined by its mate as they chased off these unwanted visitors, proving beyond doubt that they were still caring for chicks in that dense foliage! We just couldn't see them.
Elated at this brief, but very good flight display we waked up to a estuary mouth a little further up, which gave us a nice wader showing, with Little ringed, Ringed and Grey Plover all being present, alongside Lapwing, Dunlin, Turnstones, Redshank and a single Bar-tailed Godwit! We were also treated to some outstanding Little Tern flypasts here as they flew within 30ft of us as they headed back out to sea!
Away from Avian highlights, 4 Clouded Yellow butterflies were seen, including one which flew out to sea, but non of which landed for a photo.
We returned back to where we saw the Stilts, and enjoyed a few further brief views on the deck and in flight but with us all starting to tire, we decided to head somewhere where we could sit down and get some rest, so we dropped in Pagham Harbour.
Birdwise it was all a little 'samey', but also present here were a number of Little Terns, Sandwich Terns and again a single Common Tern, all of which were appreciated as they flew across the waves of the sea.
With us all now fairly birded out, and with a still long drive back ahead of us, we decided to head back, after what was a great, but very tiring day.
Note to self- Always go to sleep before you go on a twitch, even if just for a short time!