Hailsham and Pevensey Levels in the rain

A relentlessly drizzly day. But with more time than usual to play with, I thought I’d see what I could find within walking distance of home.

Setting off from home just before midday I walked across town (plenty of House Sparrows) to Marshfoot Lane, and from there dropped down into the mud.

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Looking back up Marshfoot Lane. Theme for the day: mud

The temperature and still-short days generally qualify this time of year as ‘winter’, but the Celts’ notion that the beginning of February is the stirring of spring in the belly (Imbolc) is borne out by the birds. A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed unseen towards Horsebridge, and a Chaffinch sang falteringly along the lane.

Out into the flatlands, the rain meant many raptors were sitting it out – Sparrowhawk and Kestrel sharing the same gate, the first of two soggy Buzzards. The main lot of geese (Canada, Greylags, an all-white farmyard special) were feeding on the piles of dredged mud and reeds from Snapsons Drove. But their two Russian White-fronted counterparts were not far away, feeding separately down towards White Dyke.

After a couple of teasing glimpses, the Great White Egret walked out of the ditches just south of Lookers Cottage, at the same time as around 700 Lapwings crossed the sky towards Herstmonceux and a cream-cap Marsh Harrier floated by. I couldn’t find the 2nd cal-year Hen Harrier today, although Chris B saw it the previous day, in kinder conditions.

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A lot of smart new gates have been installed across Horse Eye. 

Next the road down to White Dyke. The hounds were out on the East side of the road, flushing a number of thrushes (mainly Song Thrushes) and a Brown Hare as they went. Later I encountered a Fox surveying the pasture on the other side of the road, looking unruffled.

Down Level looked promising, with swathes of standing water, but it was empty of birds. In fact, I saw only two or three pairs of Mallard the whole way, and not a single Teal or Wigeon.

Along the track near Mappins, a few pipits feeding in the tussocky grasses almost certainly included a Water Pipit, but I didn’t get onto it for long enough to be sure. The last of seven Stonechats was encountered nearby, and the third Common Snipe.

I then took the extraordinary gloopy track that skirts the Western edge of the Levels, from White Dyke Farm up to Little Marshfoot Lane. You could easily lose a welly, and possibly the will to live, along this stretch. It produced little more, except a large flock of Fieldfare (150+).

Walking back into town I swung by the Common Pond just as the light was fading, and lucked onto the Kingfisher, Goldcrest and Chiffchaff.  Five hours,

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No definite Water Pipits today, but plenty of Pied Wagtails around the pennywort. 

49 species: Great White Egret 1, European White-fronted Goose 2, Marsh Harrier 1 fem/imm, Kingfisher 1, Cetti’s Warbler 3, Chiffchaff 1, Stonechat 7, Little Egret 3+, Lapwing c700, Mallard 4-6, Coot 1, Moorhen 1, Canada Goose c80, Greylag, c30, Fieldfare 200+, Redwing, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Cormorant c35, Grey Heron, Starling, House Sparrow, Collared Dove, Woodpigeon, Jay 2, Magpie, Rook, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Kestrel 3, Sparrowhawk 1, Common Buzzard 2, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Mute Swan, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Reed Bunting,

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May – October 2016

I walked the escarpment in Firle this afternoon with Paul S, and we didn’t find a single summer migrant. That means it’s truly late autumn, and past time to blog my first six months in Hailsham.

Highlights have included a few surprise records in town (Red Kite, HobbyPeregrine, Yellow Wagtail), and getting familiar with White Dyke & Down Level, the patch of Pevensey Levels just to the south-west of Hailsham. Just a handful of visits there since May have yielded birds including: Marsh HarrierRuff, Greenshank, Jack Snipe, Hobby (including a gathering of 14+ in May), Yellow Wagtail, Red Kite, Cuckoo, Whinchat.  

Meanwhile, I’ve been biking the Cuckoo Trail between Hailsham and Polegate, bookending days at work. Encounters have included Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Bullfinch, Willow Warblers, Reed Warbler, Siskin Ravens. 

In roughly chronological order, this is how the late spring, summer and early autumn went.

Less well known that Abbot’s Wood, Milton Hide just to the North has some good displays of bluebell, and birdsong.

The byways around Horse Eye and Down Levels are hard to navigate on foot in places, let alone in a vehicle.

Red Kites (and Hobbys) featured heavily in May.

It’s sad that Nightingales can’t be heard along the likely-looking hedgerows of the Cuckoo Trail. But the numbers just to the west of Hailsham are encouraging.

June

I’ve never before seen a young family of Cetti’s Warblers being fed, as there were at White Dyke.

July

Good to find Hobbys in woodland near Hailsham.

August

Marsh Tits are thinly spread in our area of Sussex, but present at Park Wood, just North of Hailsham.

September

A couple of circuits of Arlington Reservoir, on successive weekends.

October

This autumn has seen record numbers of Yellow-browed Warblers arrive in the UK. None (yet) for me, despite my own poor vocal impressions along the Cuckoo Trail and elsewhere.

Highlight of the autumn for me – not a very rare bird, but my first Jack Snipe for around 7 years was seen on Down Level, amongst many Common Snipe.

With summer migrants running thin, and November almost here, surely the owls , merlins and hen harriers are not far behind.

Early May Bank Holiday weekend

A few short outings over the weekend, with and without family, yielded a few birds.

On Saturday, there was a Cuckoo calling, briefly, at White Dyke, along with a Yellow Wagtail or two, 4+ Sedge, 3+ Reed and 2 Cetti’s Warblers.

On Sunday morning, a Grey Wagtail livened up a walk across the Diplocks industrial estate – late migrant, or local summering bird? Nearby on South Road, an interesting high-pitched call from a yew could have been the same as a bird the previous day by the Cuckoo Trail – Firecrest?

A Sunday afternoon walk in Abbot’s Wood among the wood anemones and bluebells also brought 2-3 Nightingales, away from the ‘hotspot’ block near the Old Oak. A single Willow Warbler near the lake.

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This morning in the drizzle, another visit to White Dyke produced a Greenshank, calling from the direction of Down Level, at least 20 Swifts, and my first few House Martins of the year.

Finally, an unexpected bonus at Hailsham cricket ground this afternoon, with a Hobby coming through low over the houses.

Adding to this the Lesser Whitethroats, Common Whitethroat and Bullfinch heard while commuting the Cuckoo Trail to Polegate earlier in the week, and it’s a reminder of the way every day brings something new at this time of year.