Thursday, 29 October 2020

Autumn's arrival

There are many signs of Autumn arriving, some more obvious than others, and for me the most significant is a change in the birds and their behaviour. Often around September, after an exhausting breeding season and a subsequent moult into nice new feathers, some species which may have been largely absent in gardens during the summer will return in search of food. Large mixed tit flocks, often interspersed with goldcrests, treecreepers and chiffchaffs, descend on gardens as their natural food supply dwindles. Long-tailed tits will come in search of suet, while the coal and marsh tits favour black sunflowers or sunflower hearts to cache away for the winter. Nuthatches will do the same, and you may notice more regular visits than at other times of year, as they busily collect seeds to cram in to any nook or cranny they can find.

Long-tailed tit



Coal tit


Marsh tit

Squirrels and jays are both famous for their 'caching' behaviour, with the latter believed to be the reason for the wide distribution of oak trees in the UK.

October is normally the time when large charms of goldfinches appear in gardens, particularly in the south east, frantically feeding before some head further south to spend the winter. At Feathers we've had a charm of about 20-30 birds regularly visiting the feeders for the sunflower hearts.

Of course, Autumn is also the time for summer migrants departing and winter migrants arriving. We're still seeing the odd one or two house martins and swallows even now, while the first redwings and fieldfares we first spotted a couple of weeks ago.

Redwing showing how it got its name

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Species number 100 (and 101)

 Back in May 2018 we added our 99th bird to our species list at Feathers as a pair of mediterranean gulls flew over. It took nearly two years to add the 100th and it wasn't one either of us had anticipated - shelduck. Our species list isn't just seen from the shop, but also includes species seen on the farm, so we've had a few rather unusual additions over the years: greenshank, kingfisher and snipe to name a few. The pair of shelduck were down on one of the farm's flooded fields and I spotted them while delivering to a customer's house down the lane.

Shortly after the shelduck, we started hearing reports of a white stork on the farm, but finding the time to go for a walk wasn't easy as I was running the shop by myself during April and May, taking phone orders and delivering locally. I had thought the opportunity was missed, until a customer reported seeing it in late May, and with another delivery to do in the area, I took a brief walk to find the bird exactly where it had been reported. This bird was originally from the white stork project based at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex, who were already aware of its whereabouts. Unfortunately, 'our' bird met an untimely demise just a few days later as it was found dead with an apparent injury to it's neck, which we believe may have been inflicted by a dog as the location was just off a public footpath. None-the-less, the white stork became our 101st species on our list and leaves us wondering... what's next?


This spring/summer has certainly been different to anything we've ever experienced before with Covid-19 impacting the whole country. For the shop, it meant closing our doors for over 2 months but continuing to run the business with local deliveries. Watching and recording birds was put on hold, and even when we were able to reopen our doors in June, we found it difficult to find the time to take photos as demand for garden bird supplies and binoculars was as high as it had ever been before. Fortunately, with the feeders just a few metres away from the shop, we didn't miss everything that was going on. It seems to have been a good breeding year for many garden birds; our feeders were extremely busy in June and July, yet have slowed down significantly (as expected) in the last couple of weeks. The swifts (which have now departed) seemed to number 4 pairs and we think bred well, while the resident kestrels only managed to raise one chick, but hopefully that bodes well for its survival.

Nuthatch family
Nuthatch family

Juvenile (left) and male great spotted woodpecker


Juv kestrel (11/07/20)

As I write this, a pair of ravens are cronking away outside the shop, and a quick look finds them sitting at the top of one of the redwood trees in the churchyard.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Spring Migration 2020 first arrival dates

2020 Spring Migrant first arrival dates at Feathers, Salehurst, East Sussex

Swallow: n/a (2019: 10th April)

House Martin: n/a (2019: 10th May)

Swift: 28th April (2019: 11th May)

Chiffchaff: 31st March (2019: 1st April)

Blackcap: 31st March (2019: 13th April)

Whitethroat: n/a (2019: 19th April)

Cuckoo: 9th April (2019: 20th April)
Summer update: I'll no longer be recording the first arrivals of swallows and house martins, as both species have gone from regular breeding species to merely passage migrants. We have seen both species here this year flying over, but it's rather upsetting to know that neither now call this place home. The whitethroat is also a bit tricky as it's seen and heard down by the river rother, so we can't record it's first arrival date accurately. 

Saturday, 15 February 2020


The title is an exaggeration of the truth... it's a treecreeper on a wall. In years gone by, at around this time of year, we have seen treecreepers on the old stone walls around the farm and in the last few weeks, one has been spending a lot of time in and around the nature area outside the shop. It has been quite a treat to not only have something out of the ordinary (in an otherwise boring winter), but it seems to be far from concerned about us being there and taking photos.

In the shop, we have been making a few changes since the start of the year, with the addition of a new store room making more space in the shop which we'll no doubt eventually fill with more optics. Our reshuffle has made the room feel more spacious, and our 'comfy corner' is perhaps a little too comfortable now...

The best binocular selection in Sussex

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Beautiful barn owl

If you're wondering why I haven't posted anything on here since September, it's mostly down to this winter's frankly miserable weather. Yesterday, last night and this morning were just about as bad as it's been, so when the rain stopped and the sun came out this afternoon, it was a more-than-welcome change. I guess the local barn owl must be a bit more fed up than me, as they find it nearly impossible to hunt in the rain, so with a break in the weather this afternoon it came out early to hunt. Lynn, who lives in the farm house, popped into the shop to tell me she had seen it down by the old chicken coop, adding it had completely ignored her while she was working. So I took my chance, fully expecting it to have disappeared already or would at least take flight when it saw me, but fortunately I crept up in just the right place where I was slightly hidden behind a patch of brambles, and I managed to get some nice photos. Eventually it took off to search somewhere else and I wandered back up to the shop happy as larry.

Hopefully we'll have some more dry, bright weather so the barn owls will be able to feed and I will be able to get outside with the camera a bit more!

Rare birds have been hard to come by this winter, with the usual thrushes around, but no winter visiting finches on the feeders yet. We spotted a red kite briefly early on in January, at least one kestrel has been taking interest in the usual nesting spot in the church tower, but the resident buzzards have been quiet (again probably because of the weather).

It's the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch near the end of the month. We'll be taking part as usual, so let's hope for something interesting!

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Summer sightings

It's been a fairly average summer, both weather wise and bird wise. There has been very little of note, but it does seem to have been a successful breeding season for many garden birds. Once again blue tits have been the most abundant, but we've been hearing reports of house sparrows, goldfinches and great spotted woodpeckers aplenty too.

Juv great spotted woodpecker 07/06/19
A pair of kestrels nesting in the church again this year, raising 3 or 4 young. Occasionally a hobby caused a stir, harassing the youngsters but soon seen off by the adults.

Hobby 04/07/19
The swifts, which also nest in the church, seemed to have another successful year, with a highest count of 16.

Swift 12/07/19
Green woodpeckers have been busy this summer, the farmhouse lawn the most common place to find them but one juvenile took a liking to sitting on the old wall.

Juv green woodpecker 13/07/19
Both male and female sparrowhawks have been swooping through, with an unfortunate sparrow falling victim to the male on one occasion.

Male sparrowhawk 19/07/19
Male sparrowhawk with sparrow prey 19/07/19
Buzzards had been oddly quiet early in the summer, but with the arrival of some finer weather later in August, sightings became more regular.

Buzzard 23/08/19
August was dominated by blue tits on the feeders, with species such as blackbird and great spotted woodpecker becoming notably absent as they found more natural food. By later in the month the long-tailed tits arrived back after a summer hiatus, and a few chiffchaffs starting appearing, feeding up before their long migration south.

Long-tailed tit 30/08/19
Chiffchaff 29/08/19

We are still waiting for our 100th species, having been on 99 now since spring last year. Bring it on!

Friday, 31 May 2019

Where are all the hirundines?

This year there seems to be a real shortage of swallows, house martins and swifts across the county (and maybe Country?). Here at Feathers we used to have dozens of pairs of house martins nesting between the old vicarage and the farm house, whereas now we are lucky if we see any at all. Swallows have bred on the farm in years gone by, but again we now only see them occasionally. Fortunately, the swifts that call the church home still seem to be stable, with about 8 birds back again this year. Other birders in the area and plenty of customers have noted the lack of hirundines this year and it would be interesting to know whether this has been a trend for the whole of the UK.

Swift at Feathers, 25/05/19

On a more positive note, we have had a firecrest present for at least a month now. Throughout the day I can hear it singing somewhere just over the road. For the most part, owing to their protected status (Schedule 1 species), we haven't been even trying to look for it, but just knowing it is here and potentially breeding is great news for us. However, we were afforded wonderful, albeit very brief, views of it earlier in the month.

Firecrest at Feathers, 02/05/19

It seems to have been favourable weather for the breeding season, if anything perhaps a bit too dry! Hopefully it will mean great success for many species. So far we have seen young starlings (although the boxes weren't used this year), sparrows, great tits and blue tits. No doubt the blackbirds, robins and dunnocks have fledged but we haven't been introduced by the parents yet. The great spotted woodpecker parents have almost been a fixture for the last couple of weeks, taking food away but back within minutes. Perhaps there is more than one pair. No sign of the juveniles yet but I hope it won't be long.

Male great spotted woodpecker

Juvenile and adult starling
Adult and juvenile blue tit