Well not really if you like birds and especially rare gulls. I made a third trip to Littlehampton in West Sussex to see the Kumlien's and Glaucous Gulls still residing there, lured by Andy and Mark who had never seen either and the fact I was not doing the driving but would accompany them in Andy's new car. It made sense, as I know Sussex well and having been to Littlehampton twice already knew precisely what to do and where to go when we got there
I had worked out a plan that if all went well at Littlehampton we could then go on to see some other good birds along various parts of the Sussex coast, known to me from when I lived there in what seems a lifetime ago.
Meeting at Andy's in Oxford we drove the short distance to collect Mark and headed off down the A34. We were very lucky as unknown to us the A34 had been closed earlier one junction back from where we joined it due to a crash allegedly caused by the police attempting to collect a dead Badger from the road! Sadly a lorry driver died in the resulting crash. Judging by the number of dead badgers left lying around our county roads one wonders why on earth the police were trying to remove this particular dead badger in the first place.
Arriving in a grey but dry Littlehampton at around 9.30 we followed the same routine as I had done twice before, parking free of charge in a nearby road and walking the short distance to the seafront. It was only on getting to the seafront that we realised how strong the wind actually was. It was almost gale force from the southwest so, as before, we sought sanctuary in a shelter and set up our scopes. The tide had only just turned so the gulls were some way off but within thirty seconds Andy had located the Glaucous Gull and he had his lifer as did Mark. I then found the Kumlien's Gull not too far away and now we had seen both gulls within a few minutes of arriving.
I could see a beachcomber already very close to the Glaucous which true to form was totally unphased by the near proximity of a human being and was sat on the breakwater by the river outflow surrounded by Turnstones, busily feeding. I walked out to the beachcomber who was getting ever closer to the Glaucous. I did not want him to flush it and asked him if he would mind backing off while Mark took some photos. Frankly I was expecting some argument but instead found myself talking to a very co-operative, nice man who was most interested in the gull and it's origins. We chatted whilst Mark got on with recording the moment then the Glaucous decided to leisurely fly off over the river and out of sight onto the west beach
By now Andy had joined us on the wet beach as had Neil, an acquaintance from Sussex. We turned our concentration towards the Kumlien's which by now was almost opposite us but still distant on the tideline. Battered by the wind blowing hard and straight into our faces it was not easy looking at it so we retreated back to the shelter. Sanctuary. Thankfully the annnoying birder had departed. Some passers by, as they always do, stopped to chat about the gulls and their minor celebrity. We passed a few minutes in friendly banter and scoped the gulls on the beach which in addition to the Glaucous and Kumlien's included no less than one hundred and six Mediterranean Gulls, stood stoically facing the wind and easily outnumbering the Black headed Gulls. I found a lone Kittiwake amongst the throng. Grey Plover, Turnstones, a few Sanderlings and a single Common Redshank fed along the beach or by the restraining wall at the river outflow .
As the tide slowly came in the gulls gradually came closer following the tide's edge as it advanced up the beach. We walked out again so Mark and Andy could try to take some photos. On the beach the wind whipped around us, sudden gusts pushing at us and trying to topple telescopes. Eyes watered, fingertips numbed.
The Kumlien's Gull flew around with a cockle in its beak which it was attempting to smash and eat every time it landed. It was regularly harried by other gulls and each time would take off just as Andy and Mike got ready to take its photo. Most frustrating. Andy turned around from the wind and sea and there was the Glaucous Gull right behind us stood on the shingle by the river wall. "Bloody hell, it's really close".
The sea sodden mutt ran off and the Glaucous descended back onto the wall. Why do people do this? She could see what we were doing and what we were looking at. There is miles of beach she could utilise. So why? Totally fearless the gull stood there. We moved closer and closer with no response from the gull. It just carried on seemingly ignoring us. The wind buffeted it and even with its great size it struggled to perch on the wall, using its wings to balance.
The Kumlien's right on cue arrived to perch close beside it. Amazing, the two desired gulls were by far the nearest to us and together. Who could ask for more? Even I, sated with two trips worth of these gulls already, got out the camera. They were so close. Too much to resist. We all took far too many images but enjoyed ourselves immensely.
Eventually we were satisfied and walked up the beach, through the funfare tat and back to the car. With time in hand our next birding experience was to be at Shoreham where we hoped to see the other second winter Glaucous Gull frequenting the Southwick Canal but unfortunately the gates to the quay were locked so access was denied. Never mind, Andy and Mark had already seen their Glaucous so it was not too disappointing. A slow drive eastwards through Brighton and Hove, up along Telscombe Cliffs, through Rottingdean, Newhaven and finally Seaford found us descending into the Cuckmere Valley and the Seven Sisters Country Park.
The attraction here was a Eurasian Spoonbill and three Greater White-fronted Geese. To see them necessitated a walk along the west side of the River Cuckmere. At first the track was dry and firm but progressively became muddier and more waterlogged until at one point we were wading in our walking boots. Not to be deterred however we forged on regardless of the mud and water. Still no sign of the Spoonbill Various white blobs out in the fields resolved themselves into Little Egrets, Mute Swans and paper bags. We were well down the track now heading for the mouth of the river. Some Canada Geese were feeding on the grassy fields and three partially hidden brown geese materialised into the three whitefronts. Good, as now at least we had seen something to compensate for the mud that encased our boots and trouser bottoms. We came to a gate, beyond which the track became a swamp and impassable without wellingtons.
|The Seven Sisters Country Park with large flock of gulls sheltering in the field|
|The water filled channel with Little Egrets and Spoonbill in far distance|
The trials and tribulations of our periodic submersion of feet in liquid mud became worthwhile. We had seen our two targets and so returned whence we had come, meeting other intrepid walkers heading out for a muddy and wet reunion with mother earth.
|The oh so muddy and waterlogged path on west side of the River Ouse|
|Newhaven West Pier and lighthouse viewed from the East Pier|
Today I feared the worst as I thought the birds would feel far too exposed in the wind but should have realised that Purple Sandpipers are made of sterner stuff. Walking along the pier and halfway out the distinctive twittering of a Purple Sandpiper came to me.
|Newhaven East Pier looking inland|
There must have been ten in all, possibly more, sheltering from the ferocious wind behind blocks of concrete
A good day and now even the sun was shining as if in a blessing