Thursday 21 December 2017


When we first noticed a trend on the Sussex Ornithology Society's recent sightings page of hawfinches being spotted all over the county in November, it didn't cross our minds that they would arrive here. But arrive they did, on the 9th December, with 5 birds feeding in the yew tree over the road, bringing our total species count at Feathers to 97. Little did we know they'd still be here after nearly 2 weeks, still the 5 of them feeding with greenfinches. A very special bird and a great tick for our list.

Saturday 25 November 2017

First of the winter frosts

We've had a few cold starts and maybe a touch of frost earlier this month, but this morning's hard frost was the first of the winter. Generally it's been warmer than average over the past few weeks but with a cold front moving in now, I'd expect the birds to really start picking up on the feeders. Numbers of goldfinches have dropped since last month's blog post as expected, with many heading further south for the winter. Coal tits are still plentiful however, more so than great tits but not as many as blue tits. The marsh tit is popping in regularly and long-tailed tits are beginning to visit more frequently.

At the start of the month we had a surprise in the form of a little owl roosting in the oak tree in the car park. It stayed for a couple of days and is probably still in the area, having heard it occasionally since around the church. When roosting, they are very difficult to locate unless they move or call. Fortunately it was doing both as it was getting some grief from the smaller birds, but once it had settled down it was very difficult to find once you took your eyes off it!

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Last out and first in

Although the number of breeding house martins has dropped here over the years, there were plenty of visitors up until mid October. Then, only a few days after the last hirundine had departed, the first of the redwings arrived - the characteristic 'seep' unmistakable as it flew over. I had heard and seen a few flocks on Ashdown Forest just a few days earlier so knew they were around in Sussex. During the same excursion, I became familiar with the flight call of meadow pipits, which were in good numbers at Old Lodge Nature Reserve. The next morning at work after getting out of the car, the first thing I heard was the same call before spotting a small flock flying around. Since then, I have heard and seen them on numerous occasions, so I can only imagine there are a few more around here in the Autumn. The addition of meadow pipit brought our species list at Feathers up to 95.

Probably the most notable change this month has been the increase in the number of coal tits. Their behaviour of caching food makes it hard to count, as they are 'in and out' in a matter of seconds, but the most we have counted at once up to now is 6. This is fairly unusual for coal tits in the south east, and the increase has been noticed by many customers too. Subsequently, sales of black sunflowers in the shop have increased exponentially. Sunflower hearts and niger seed are also selling fast thanks to the huge number of goldfinches around at the minute. Goldfinches are a resident species but many spend the winter in France or Spain, so October sees a huge movement of birds heading south, but feeding up in the south east before crossing the channel.

Coal tit
Blackcap (female)

Friday 6 October 2017

Spotlight On: Goldcrest

The main attractions of Autumn migration tend to be Geese and Thrushes as thousands make their way in to Britain from the north. There are, however, thousands of other small birds which flock to our shores to spend the winter. Many of these, like Robins, Coal Tits and Goldcrests, are also resident breeding species, so tend to go unnoticed. In fact, it's really thanks to ringing that we now know Goldcrests migrate to the UK from as far away as Russia but more commonly Scandinavia.

October is a great time of year to look and listen out for these diminutive birds, as not only does the population get a boost from European migrants, but also as the temperatures drop and nights grow longer, Goldcrests will need to spend more of their time searching for food. Couple these factors with the falling leaves, it's easier to find Goldcrests now than during the summer months. Photographing them, however, is an entirely different prospect! As Europe's smallest bird (alongside its rarer cousin, the Firecrest), they don't exactly fill the frame unless they're close, and their constant movements in search of food doesn't give you much time to get a photo.

None-the-less - I implore you to get out searching, as simply watching these birds is a real treat. Here at Feathers they can be found on a daily basis, often in one of the trees in the car park. If you're setting out in search of Goldcrests, try your local woodland or country park. Their high pitch call will often alert you to their presence before you see them, so try to learn that first!

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Summer roundup

June's fine, warm weather seemed to be the best of the summer as it made way to cooler temperatures and plenty of rain throughout the school holidays. Apart from the odd day, the feeders in our new 'nature area' outside the shop have remained busy throughout the season. The bulk of the birds using the feeders have been Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Collared Doves, House Sparrows, Robins, Dunnocks, Chaffinches and Goldfinches. We do see Greenfinches occasionally, although of course their numbers have declined dramatically over the past 12 years thanks to Tricho. The Great Spotted Woodpecker family have mostly disappeared, going back to natural food which is most abundant for them at this time of year, as is also the case for Blackbirds and Starlings. Nuthatches visit fairly regularly but are always in and out in a flash.

Blue Tit
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Non-feeder visitors include daily Goldcrests & Chiffchaffs, with Swallows and House Martins overhead. The Swifts departed some time in August without so much as a goodbye. Our first Spotted Flycatcher sighting of the year came on the last day of August down by the cow sheds where the Chiffchaffs have been so active. Unfortunately the bird didn't stay long!

Spotted Flycatcher, 31/08/17
A week later on the 9th September, in the very same spot, came our 95th addition to our species list. Once again the Chiffchaffs were actively searching for insects when another warbler arrived, sat and had a quick preen before flying off. The visit lasted no more than 10 seconds but fortunately I managed to get a few photographs to confirm its ID as a Reed Warbler.

Reed Warbler, 09/09/17

Last week saw our first sighting of a Treecreeper in a while. I recognised the call immediately and managed to find the bird on the Oak Tree in the car park. My photos aren't particularly good but it was nice to see none-the-less!

Treecreeper, 15/09/17
Most likely the same pair of Grey Wagtails which successfully raised a brood here in May/June have been back recently too, joining the Pied Wagtails.

Pied Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Finally, this afternoon I have seen a pair of Marsh Tits back for the first time since February. I had gone out after hearing the Treecreeper again, and while looking for it in the oak tree I spotted the Marsh Tit at the feeder. They were going for Black Sunflowers, presumably caching them for the winter.

Marsh Tit, 19/09/17

Shop News:

At the start of September we became a Premier Dealer for Zeiss binoculars. This addition to our range furthers our reputation as the best place in the county for trying out optics, and gives customers an opportunity to compare two alpha brands in Swarovski and Zeiss. We now have around 60 pairs of binoculars in stock so the cabinets are looking pretty grand!

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Breeding success

It's very hard to tell this early on how successful this breeding season may have been, but indications are it's been a good one. Though only one of our 10 nest boxes has been occupied (the Starling box), it seems there are plenty of other nest sites available. Once again, the Church has provided a home for a pair of Kestrels (who have raised a brood of four) as well as a good few families of Swifts.

The Pied Wagtails are a yearly nester and though we don't know where they settled this year, we have recently seen a few fledglings being fed by mum and dad. A new nesting bird for us here is the Grey Wagtails. With the river Rother close by, it's likely they have bred there in recent years, but this May they began nest building under the eaves of the workshop by the kitchen, about 50 yards from the shop door.

Also very close by were a pair of Robins and a pair of Blackbirds, who both chose the storage room to nest. A safe choice as both nests saw young fledge successfully. We've seen baby Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinches and Goldfinches on the feeders, along with of course they 20/30 young Starlings, but the highlight so far has to be our Great Spotted Woodpeckers. The male first brought his two youngsters to the feeders in early June and spent much of his time between the suet balls and peanuts, breaking them up in to bite size pieces to feed to the fledglings. On the 7th, one of the babies flew in the shop window with quite a thump - fortunately no injuries sustained apart from one hell of a headache, as it took a couple of hours under my care before flying off. The day after it was back with its sibling and dad, being fed again, but didn't leave when they did. It was only then did I believe it was the same bird as it allowed me to come very close. Our very friendly woodpecker promptly became a tourist attraction, with customers coming to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience of getting face to face with a wild GSW. We were cautious to not let it become to familiar with human contact and the good news is we have seen what we can only assume to be the same two juveniles back with its parents, now feeding independently.

These past few days have been unbelievably hot, with temperatures above 30°C, so the feeders have been particularly quiet. From mid May until now, however, activity was very high, particularly the suet balls which were going down twice a day. The heat is due to drop now so we may see the feeders pick up again this week.

Unfortunately in late April/early May we made the difficult decision to close the hide and nature area. With the adjacent oast house falling down, it posed a genuine health and safety risk for visitors. Within the space of a few days we had created a mini nature area outside the shop, with comfortable seating space providing a perfect spot for customers to sit and watch or photograph the birds in comfort with refreshments on hand. This small area has turned out to be a bigger success than we expected, and though it's not as established as our old area, many species are already using it happily and we hope many more will join us soon!

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: 31st August (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