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The RX Birdrace

It was a dark and stormy night, and five members of Slow but Sure [Me, Dave Rowlands, Mike Mullis, Tim Waters and James Tomlinson]assembled on the Clifftop at 0615, expecting something of an endurance test for the annual RX Birdrace, as we do it all on foot. 

Migration has been slow of late, and there was little moving as we set off into the Country Park in windy conditions, but as the weather improved we started to encounter groups of Siskins and Goldfinches heading east, and  a lone Brambling. A Firecrest was near Warren cottage, and we saw several Yellowhammers on our way to Barley Lane fields to make sure of Pheasant.

After the traditional Clifftop breakfast , with small flocks of finches passing the window, we headed through Fairlight to Market Wood, which returned to form after some lean years, with Marsh Tit and Nuthatch nailed. By this time we were walking in pleasant weather, and Pett Level produced the hoped for Cattle Egrets [5], and a late Hobby, Winchelsea Beach 10 Common Scoters. A thorough search of Rye Harbour added Whinchat, Five Great White Egrets and a selection of waders. We were picked up [thanks Linda and Jill] at 5.50 after a thoroughly  enjoyable day's birding: 15.7 miles walked and 103 species seen-which turned out to be the winning score by a hefty margin ! A triumph for walking versus driving , [and for fortitude , medical science,  and the NHS over health problems which affected the team last year]

Finally, we considered the "Birds of Shame "-ones we didn't get:  Greenfinch which is becoming increasingly difficult to find, and Mistle Thrush, which we often miss.



Local winter talks about wildlife


From the Clifftop

Tthe moth trap continues to pull in lots of common brown moths, notably Large Yellow Underwings, with a record count for the garden yesterday of 130, when I caught the first Red-line Quaker of the autumn.

Fewer moths this morning, and, as yesterday, not much bird migration; 17 Reed Buntings west was the best.

Alerted by the raucous calls of Gannets, I scanned the sea close to the clifftop and saw at least 120 actively fishing, and some dark shapes breaking the surface. I sssumed these would be Porpoises, but it was quickly apparent from their much larger size and swept back dorsal fins that they were in fact Dolphins, at least 7 of them charging westwards-I imagine pursuing Mackerel. These are the first Dolphins I've seen in Sussex, I can't say what they were, but White-beaked is a possibility. The Gannets remained for some time, attracting a Great Skua, so a pretty good morning on the clifftop..


The holly (blue) and the ivy

Not the greatest of photos but a fascinating little tableau nontheless. Searching ivy today I came across what I thought were ants predating a caterpillar. However, on looking more closely I realised the ants were not attacking the caterpillar and that said larva was holly blue, a species which I have never seen in this stage before. Many blue butterflies are known to have an association with ants but I hadn't realised that holly blue fell into this category. It seems that the larvae often fall prey to a parasitic wasp which can seriously effect the population and so it produces a chemical which is attractive to ants, the idea being presumably that they keep the wasp at bay.

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From the Clifftop

Despite some unfavouable nights of late, with some very cold early mornings, my Fairlight moth trap is pulling in three figure catches, notably lots of Lunar Underwings [pictured] .These come in a variety of colours, this is a fairly dark one; today's count of 70 is my highest ever, anywhere. Also today The Delicate and two Dark Sword-grass [migrants], and two year additions , Turnip and Flounced Chestnut, raise this year's garden list to 350.

With little bird migrant activity first thing, I looked at the sea for an hour, noting 55 Gannets and an Arctic Skua moving east, and the first Kittiwake for many weeks went west. 

At about 8.30 there was a flurry of  House Martins:400 went rapidly west.