Saturday, 8 April 2017

Quiet feeders and spring arrivals

We've been rather blessed with the weather in recent weeks, so much so there is very little activity on the feeders as there seems to be plenty of natural food. Though this isn't good for business, it proves our point that the birds aren't lazy and will always prefer the food that mother nature provides when it is available. It is of course important to keep feeding all year round, however, as any sudden change in the weather can make things very difficult for our garden birds. Last year, for example, was a very poor breeding season for Blue Tits in particular. As they will almost exclusively only have one brood, the timing of the fledging coincided with a couple of weeks of rain, causing a steep decline in the survival rate of young birds. Recent ringing sessions here have highlighted the problem, with roughly 30% of new Blue Tits first year birds, whereas typically this percentage should be around 80%. Hopefully this year will be more successful.

This week has seen a change in the wind direction, bringing in even warmer weather from the south and possibly assisting summer migrants. Our first Swallow sighting of the season came yesterday, with up to 3 birds spotted on numerous occasions through the day. This is just over 2 weeks earlier than last year. I was also told the Cuckoo was heard down on the farm, so a quick stop off after work down Redlands Lane rewarded me with the welcome song of a male bird back for the summer. While down by the river there were plenty of Chiffchaffs singing too, plus our first Blackcap of the year, although I had heard the latter on the 31st March by Johns Cross.

Chiffchaff - 7th April

Outside the shop a pair of Robins have been nest building in the outhouse, the Pied Wagtails are prospecting under the ridge tiles down by the kitchen and the Jackdaws are building in the barn. The Starlings have been inspecting our recently relocated nest box on the side of the shop, though it's perhaps a bit too busy for their liking.

Pied Wagtail
News from the shop front: we have recently taken delivery of the long anticipated Opticron Traveller BGA ED binoculars. You can also read my Opticron Traveller BGA ED review.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

First Spring Arrival Dates 2017

2017 Spring Migrant first arrival dates at Feathers, Salehurst, East Sussex

Swallow: 7th April (2016: 23rd April)

House Martin: 19th April (2016: 4th May)

Swift: 26th April (2016: 28th April)

Chiffchaff: 17th March (2016: 1st April)

Blackcap: 7th April (2016: No early birds)

Whitethroat: 20th April (2016: 14th April)

Cuckoo: 7th April (2016: 13th April)

Spotted Flycatcher: tbc (2016: Only autumn migrants)

Winter roundup and signs of Spring

Weather wise, winter 2016/17 was fairly typical, with mostly average temperatures throughout. The feeders have remained fairly active until just recently as we now move in to the breeding season, with temperatures on the rise (though still mostly average at 10-12°). We have certainly experienced more frosts than in recent winters, though the only snow (although nothing to shout about) arrived in January. Unlike winter 2015/16, the daffodils started emerging just on time and have been in bloom in Feb and March, rather than December!

The biggest disappointment has been the shortage of winter visitors. Apart from redwings and fieldfares, which were in good numbers early on in the winter feeding on the yew trees, we have had little else to shout about. One brambling sighting in november, no redpolls and our first siskins of the year arrived in very late February. There had been 1 male and 1 female siskin until this morning when 2 females were present, though no sign of the male. Hopefully they may stay on and breed this year.

There has been lots of 'flirting' and territorial behaviour, with even some early breeders already on eggs (as per local reports). In the garden at home, a robin is nest building in a coniferous shrub out the front. At feathers there is no evidence of any tits taking up residency in our nest boxes but there may still be time.

With spells of warmer weather in the past couple of weeks, a few butterflies have been spotted here including brimstone, small tortoiseshell and peacock.

In time for summer, I completed a new insect hotel to place on the shop wall next to the lavender. This latest design is 1.2m tall and features a terraced nest box (ideal for roosting in this case), drilled wood for the solitary bees, a lacewing house, butterfly house and other bits and bobs for sheltering insects.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Birding in Ashdown Forest

Last month after our trip to East Grinstead to see Waxwings we headed on to Old Lodge Nature Reserve on our way back. On the day we had good views of crossbills, bullfinches and stonechats, but birding in Ashdown Forest doesn't always come up trumps. It's not really the place to go if you're after a huge species list in a day, but it does throw up some nice rarities every now and then, with a short-toed eagle a few years back one of the most twitched. Being an incredibly vast area, it also provides a great varied habitat for many breeding and wintering species, one of the rarest being the dartford warbler, which can be found here all year round. Like the waxwing, it's a species I had never seen so Allan and I decided another morning's birding was in order.

We arrived at 8.15am to very heavy fog, not an ideal start. With poor visibility, most species were initially heard and not seen. In fact, when a helicopter flew seemingly very low over us we weren't even able to see it! Goldcrest, long-tailed tit, skylark, dunnock, robin, reed bunting and stonechat got us off to a start and it didn't take too long to add a pair of dartford warblers to the list. A joy to see but nearly impossible to photograph in the conditions, so after they seemed to disappear we decided to head on to Old Lodge again. Well, what a stark contrast to our trip just a month before. After half an hour the only things we had seen were robin, song thrush and wren. Fortunately on the way back the weather began to clear and a stonechat sat up nicely for photos, but that was about it. With the sun breaking through however, we decided going back to the old airstrip may be worth it so off we went. The first bird we saw was a woodlark, soon joined by a few others. The dartford warblers (4 in total) showed better in the sunshine, as did countless stonechats, a hovering kestrel, a distant buzzard, reed buntings, goldfinches, siskins and skylarks. All in all it was a very enjoyable morning, and though I didn't get any pictures I was really pleased with, they are at least worth sharing!

Reed bunting



Song thrush (Old Lodge)

Stonechat (Old Lodge)

2 hours later...


Dartford warbler

Dartford warbler

Pair of dartford warblers

Pair of dartford warblers



Thursday, 19 January 2017

Waxwings.... finally!

Neither Allan or I have ever seen Waxwings before. That's not to say we haven't tried, but it's safe to say they've been (especially for Allan) our 'bogey bird'. So with early signs of this winter being a waxwing winter, we have been keeping watch on the SOS sightings page to see when they'd show up in Sussex. On Sunday it was reported there were 33 on an industrial estate in East Grinstead, which is about an hour's drive from here, and with Monday being our day off we decided it was worth a trip in the morning. Arriving shortly after 9am in the pouring rain, there were no other birders around yet so had to find them ourselves. Fortunately it didn't take much more than a minute to spot them sitting at the top of a tree not far from where we parked!

Shortly after grabbing a couple of pictures, them flew off deeper in to the estate, so we followed the direction they went and quickly found them again, sitting in a tree adjacent to a whole border full of rosehips - bingo! Luckily there was a bike shelter in the perfect location where we could watch them move from the tree to the rose bushes and back without getting soaking wet standing in the rain. We spent about an hour in their company overall, a magical birding experience for the both of us.

At about 10.15am they flew off and we decided to head off to Old Lodge Nature Reserve as it was on our way back home. An hour's walk around the reserve also came up trumps, with nice views of Stonechats, Meadow Pipits, Goldcrests, Bullfinches and best of all a pair of Crossbills.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Winter Weather

Yesterday's horrendous rain turned to heavy snow at around 6.30pm as the temperature dropped, leaving a fair dusting greeting us this morning. This is the first snow of the winter, which has been mostly above average temperatures with a few short cold snaps. Off the back of a mild autumn and coupled with an abundance of natural food, feeder activity has been a bit short so far this season, with sales of food slightly below winter 2015.

We've had one brief visit from a Brambling so far (11th November) and a few Siskin flyovers but none stopping yet. Good numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings were present late in 2016 feeding on the yew trees, but after the food was gone they mostly moved on, though flocks can be seen most days flying over. A Grey Wagtail was regular from late October through to December, joining the resident Pied Wagtails, and a Red-legged Partridge was an unexpected visitor to the nature area on the 24th November.

After October's Buzzard sighting, our first 'perched' photos from Feathers, I was hugely surprised to find one sitting on the fence post in the Nature Area as I entered the hide one morning in December. The grubby windows seemed to help hide me, enough to at least manage a few photos and a video before it flew down to the ground behind. I managed to stay hidden as I crept around the hide for a few clearer pictures before it took off.

The colder weather which arrived at the turn of the year seems to have increased the activity on the feeders significantly, especially with today's brief flurry of snow and 2°C temperature! A pair of Marsh Tits have turned up, quite a rare visitor for us, and are now taking beakfuls of sunflower hearts to store away. Flocks of Long-tailed Tits regularly pass through and Coal Tits are here most of the time too. Charms of Goldfinches, a few Greenfinches, plenty of Chaffinches, Robins, Dunnocks, Blackbirds, House Sparrows, Nuthatch & Great Spotted Woodpecker sum up the other regulars.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Birding at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Castle Water @ Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is quietly tucked away on the south coast and 'as the crow flies' is not far away from the RSPB's Dungeness Nature Reserve. Both attract many birds and visitors alike throughout the year, but for me Rye is less of a drive and hits that spot in my soul, where I find myself completely relaxing and tuning in to the wildlife around me. I'm not a twitcher by any means, I wouldn't even describe myself as a good birdwatcher. I don't particularly know what I'm looking at when sitting in one of the hides overlooking Ternery Pool or Flat Beach, but simply being there with little else other than the sight and sounds of birds is my cup of tea. That's not to say I'm not relatively clued up of course; I know the difference between a Redshank and a Ringed Plover, I just can't tell a Dunlin from a Sanderling unless I've got a good view and a good book.

Three things I normally have with me are warm clothes (it can get cold and windy!), my binoculars and my camera. Late last year I changed from a Panasonic Lumix FZ200 to a Canon SX50HS. The image quality on the Lumix is, in my opinion, superior to the Canons, but at a place like Rye it's handy to have the extra zoom that the Canon offers. The big advantage any 'bridge' camera over a DSLR and telephoto lens is the fact they are considerably lighter, something I appreciate as I like to walk quite a lot. This is another thing I love about Rye Harbour NR, it's a huge place so if you want you can easily spend hours walking, especially if you visit Castle Water hide, but equally it's ideal for a short walk too. Recently I have done both, I always enjoy my time here and often come away with a good picture or two. Here are my best efforts from the past month or so:

Flat Beach
Green Woodpecker
Golden Plover

Camber Castle
Camber Castle at sunset
Mute Swan
Little Egret
Flat Beach with Denny Hide in the background
The reserve is supported by Sussex Wildlife Trust as well as 'The Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve'.