Friday 14 December 2018

Early Winter Bird Survey - North West Zone 12/12/18

This morning was the start of a real cold snap here in Sussex, which always seems to tie in with our North West Zone bird survey transect. Tom F. and I set off along the northern side of the airfield fence a little after sunrise, giving the birds some time to get moving and active. Tom commented right away that this was a spookily quiet morning...

A group of Meadow Pipits are typically the first birds we come across, bouncing along the airfield fence. A Robin and several Dunnocks called sporadically, hidden away along the banks of the River Mole. Our first red-status species was a Song Thrush, giving it's subtle 'tseep' alarm call as it fled, nipping down into the river bank vegetation.

Down on the floodplain it truly felt bone-achingly cold. The reed beds seemed devoid of life, then a fiesty Wren struck up an alarm call as it faced us off from the top of a reed. Finally, a Reed Bunting called, although only faintly and with no replies forthcoming. It really felt like the birds hadn't got out of bed yet.

Further along the floodplain, we caught the distant calls of Water Rails. These secretive birds seem to be more vocal in winter, and their call is highly weird. If you happen to be standing right next to one when it sounds off, it's pretty alarming!

Over to the scrub west of Brockley Wood, a few Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits were foraging together on the woodland edge. A sole Green Woodpecker headed off calling and a group of Wood Pigeon broke from the trees. Over in woodlands, a distant Nuthatch called.

This sheltered patch of grassland is one of my favourite spots in summer, dense in long herbaceous vegetation and absolutely humming with invertebrates. In winter however this tends to be the favourite patch of another highly-secretive and red-status bird; the Woodcock. We flushed one from the low scrub; its low, whirring flight really does give the appearance of a giant bat. 

Poking our heads into the north of Brockley Wood, we were hoping for some Redwing activity, however the flocks were conspicuously absent from the site this morning. The collective alarm calls of  Blackbird, Magpie and Wren indicated the presence of an avian predator, likely a perched-up Tawny Owl or Sparrowhawk. Whatever it was then moved off, as the alarm calls rapidly followed it through the wood.

Our final section of grassland along the River Mole turned up two Common Snipe, which had been well hidden in the rushes. One put on an amazing display, flying a wide loop over the environment bund and then skimming low past us at about waist-height. This whole transect was again peculiarly quite, and surprisingly one of the most numerous birds was Bullfinch; we counted a total of 6.

At the very end of the transect we had a buzz of excitement in the form of a perched Sparrowhawk, apparently causing upset with the resident Ring-necked Parakeets. It casually took off over the trees, leaving in its wake a string of songbird alarm calls.

Final species count = 34

Common name
Turdus merula
Blue Tit
Cyanistes caeruleus
Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Buteo buteo
Carrion Crow
Corvus corone
Fringilla coelebs
Coal Tit
Periparus ater
Prunella modularis
Regulus regulus
Carduelis carduelis
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Dendrocopos major
Great Tit
Parus major
Green Woodpecker
Picus viridis
Grey Heron
Ardea cinerea
Corvus monedula
Garrulus glandarius
Long-tailed Tit
Aegithalos caudatus
Pica pica
Anas platyrhynchos
Meadow Pipit
Anthus pratensis
Gallinula chloropus
Sitta europaea
Reed Bunting
Emberiza schoeniclus
Ring-necked Parakeet
Psittacula krameri
Erithacus rubecula
Spinus spinus
Gallinago gallinago
Song Thrush
Turdus philomelos
Accipiter nisus
Certhia familiaris
Water Rail
Rallus aquaticus
Scolopax rusticola
Columba palumbus
Troglodytes troglodytes

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