Friday, 4 January 2013

Crossbills, Woodcock, and Dartford Warblers

Just got back from a great day's birding with Dave. Poor light so not much good for photography but we saw 42 species during the day.

We started by addressing one of my pet hates - "the bird was in its usual tree". I cannot think of anything more annoying when reading through sighting reports. If you don't want to tell me where the bird is, then don't post the report.

I got Dave to point out the "Little Owl in its usual tree at Staple Ash Farm West Dean". I had been up there just before Christmas and wasted a couple of hours searching every tree in the area. For anyone having the same problem the usual tree is pictured below.

It's the dead Larch in the middle. The picture was taken standing on the road at Grid Reference SU841151 looking towards the west. The Little Owls are usually best viewed from down on the road seen in the background.The Owl was present but well hidden amongst the branches and at 1/8sec  ISO800 in the dull early morning light I ended up leaving without even a record shot.

We had a look for Hawfinches further along the road towards Yew Tree Cottage. Got a distant sighting and were hopeful, but even through the scope we could not be sure. Probably Greenfinches so this one did not count.

There was a shoot starting up on the West Dean estate so we decided to move on to Ambersham Common where I had managed to get a picture of a Dartford Warbler on my last visit. All seemed very quiet at first but then we had a flock of Coal Tits through and behind these a brief glimpse of a Dartford Warbler. This was a male and had much bolder colouring than the one I had previously seen.

All the birds had flown into the low sun so we decided to reposition in an attempt to get some photographs. As we arrived under our chosen tree Dave thought he heard Crossbills and this was confirmed by a steady shower of wood and cones from above.

The beak in action

It looked like there were three birds, and fortunately the sun was out, so we had about an hour observing and photographing these before they left the tree and flew off in search of water. We were then able to count a total of seven birds disappearing into the distance.

Finally as we walked around the tree to leave we flushed a Woodcock that must have sat hidden within 10 metres of us for over an hour. A great sighting or a real missed photographic opportunity - I am not sure which.

We then moved on to Lavington Common. Heading east just past Cowdray Park Polo Club we passed a couple of trees with a huge finch flock rolling through them and over the road. It was impossible to count the numbers with all the movement going on but it must have been several hundred. They were mostly Chaffinches but we could also see Goldfinches, Greenfinches, and Brambling in the flock.

 A great sight but our cameras were safely tucked up in the back of the car. There was no obvious reason for them being there. They did not appear to be feeding other than in the trees and they all disappeared in small groups heading in the same direction, south over the adjacent hills.

Lavington was a bit of a let down. We walked around the plantation but nothing was moving, only a couple of wrens heard and a Goldcrest seen in a gorse bush. Burton Mill Pond our next location was also very quiet. No small bird movement and just a few ducks - Mallard, Pochard, and Tufted on the pond.

We finished off with a quick visit to Burpham with distant views of Buzzards and Red Kites. Not many pictures but a great days birding.


  1. Stunning Crossbill shots, shame there are no Treecrepers though.

  2. I'm enjoying the narrative style and the shots (of the Crossbill especially). Keep them coming.