Thursday 20 February 2014

Lil' ampton revisited 19th February 2014

Myself and Terry took advantage of the current lull in the stormy weather and headed for the south coast. Our mission was to go to Littlehampton in West Sussex and see the long staying juvenile Kumlien's Gull and a second winter Glaucous Gull that had replaced the adult that I saw on my previous visit a couple of weeks ago.

In rush hour traffic we idled along in tailbacks and quietly contemplated the rear of many and varied a vehicle around Heathrow Airport but once clear of the notorious M25 we were back on track and traversed without further delay the rural cross country southwards routes through Surrey and Sussex, arriving in a grey and slightly damp Littlehampton just on 9am.

The day got off to a good start with us finding a free parking spot and in no time we were on the east pier scoping the gulls that were standing a fair way off on the tideline of the east beach to our left. No luck. Others were trying their luck from the west side of the river mouth. My phone rang.  A travel company calling back about my enquiry concerning a proposed trip to Equador. As I commenced giving them details simultaneously a huge roar emanated from the landward end of the pier as some pile driving machinery got into full swing. Much shouting and arm waving ensued, gulls forgotten as I tried to communicate my needs with the travel company and in the end we both started laughing. Eventually I managed to give them the details and requirements and just as I finished the call silence descended on the pier. Such is life.

I returned to the scope. A small  and friendly birdwatching lady of a certain age appeared. 

"Any sign of the gull?" She enquired.  

"Sorry but no" we replied. She wandered off.

Back to scoping the gulls. Please no more interruptions. A Mediterranean Gull yodelled as it descended onto the beach, ghostly white in the sealight but with a fully black head and scarlet bill. Such a beautiful bird and thankfully in these depressing times for wildlife increasing in numbers. The pile driver shattered the peace and my nerves once more. 

"Come on Terry. I can't take much more of this racket. No point in staying up here. The tide's coming in so if we go and stand by the first groyne over on the beach the gulls will come in with the tide and from my previous experience the gulls will come pretty close and there will be plenty of photo opportunities".

We descended onto the deserted beach and took up position by the groyne. 

Littlehampton East Beach with groynes
I scoped a group of large gulls on the still distant tideline. The third bird from the left was huge and pale and was the second winter Glaucous Gull, looking incredibly white in amongst the crowd of drab brown juvenile Herring Gulls.  

"It's the Glaucous Terry! Quick, look through my scope and then you can get it in yours"

The Glaucous would be a lifer for Terry. Terry looked and Terry saw. Mission now 50% accomplished! The Glaucous flew closer to us along the advancing tideline. They always look so menacing, even outdoing a Greater Black backed Gull on that score

I called to the lady from the pier who was now walking off down the promenade. She came down onto the beach and joined us. "Not the Kumlien's but there is a Glaucous Gull over there if you would like a look?

"Yes please." she said. I lowered my scope for her.

She related to us that her Swarovski scope had recently broken and been sent for repair so she only had bins. 
"Feel free to use my scope while we go and try and get closer to the Glaucous for photos". 


We took some photos of the Glaucous but as it turned out we could just as well have waited as the gulls  came closer and closer, feeding at the edge of the incoming tide and subsequently we got very close and personal with the Glaucous who showed little concern about our presence. It wandered around picking at bits and pieces on the sand and in the seaweed.

We got chatting to the small lady and found out she lived in Glasgow although she was originally from Sussex and was down here house sitting for a friend. My daughter is at Glasgow University and we chuckled about the recent news that the students had voted Edward Snowden - he of whistle blowing fame - as their new Rector. She also did a WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count on the River Clyde as did I at West Wittering in Sussex until this year, so we compared notes and experiences and somehow the conversation got on to Jack Snipes and how hard they are to record on a count. We asked each other why we liked Jack Snipe so much. I recounted the tale of how, when I had just started dating my now wife of more than 25 years, she expressed over a cocktail or two how much she would like to see a Jack Snipe after listening to my smooth talking description of their plumage shot with purple and green. It must have been quite a few cocktails as a couple of days later I drove the love of my life in my immaculate white TR6 sports car, she looking very glamorous and wearing a fur coat in case it was cold, to Hersham Sewage Farm where I strung up a net across one of the settling beds and by some miracle caught a Jack Snipe. Suitably impressed the result was she agreed to go out with me on a second date (not to the sewage farm) and the rest as they say is history. Style or what?

Anyway back to the beach and the present. Our new friend wandered off down the beach in search of the Kumlien's. I suggested she remain with us as it was bound to show up but she went off anyway. Five minutes later scoping the brown juvenile gulls I came across the Kumlien's, right in front of us. By now the lady was too far away to call out to so we just got on with taking the gull's photo from every conceivable angle.

The lady eventually returned and we had the pleasure of showing her the Kumlien's, and so it was that we spent  the next happy forty five minutes or so watching and photographing two excellent gulls. More people, curious as to what we were looking at joined us on the beach. We explained what was going on and lowered our scopes again so they could look through them. We showed them what all the excitement was about and explained where the gulls had come from and why they were rare here. It is really gratifying to share these pleasurable experiences with other interested folk and in the end there was a small crowd looking at the gulls. A man and his daughter started to kick around a football on the beach, the gulls lazily flew to a little way offshore. Our time by the groyne was up now as the gulls would not come back to the shoreline and the tide was coming in fast. The Glaucous Gull left the beach and flew right to the very far end of the west pier and loafed there with other large gulls.

Littlehampton West Pier with feeding gulls on the tide race and the Glaucous
Gull at the far end of the pier along with many Herring Gulls
The Kumlien's joined some Black-headed Gulls feeding on who knows what brought to the surface,  by the upwelling from the conflict of the swollen river flowing into the sea and meeting the incoming tide race. The Kumlien's  was just a few metres off the end of the east pier so we went back to the end of the pier with the pile driver thankfully now silent and watched it from there. It seemed to have abandoned its gentle demeanour and was now getting more and more aggressive, mixing it with any Herring Gull that had the temerity to encroach on its feeding area and occasionally trying to mug the Black headed Gulls also feeding at the river outflow. Terry got some good images of it from here with his new camera.

c Terry Sherlock 
c Terry Sherlock
"Breakfast Terry?

"Why not". 

We left the pier and adjourned to a restaurant with a somewhat nautical theme just off the promenade. Walking through the restaurant I was surprised to see that it was fronting an amusement arcade.

It was half term. Loads of kids. Mums looking for something to keep the little horrors amused. A cacophony of electronic noises issued from the arcade. I resisted the exhortation to overload on cholesterol.

However it was the 'Full English' for our Terry but a more restrained scrambled eggs with mushrooms for me and very nice they were too. Suitably revived we dodged the dog turds on the path back to the car and headed for West Wittering which for twenty five years was my WeBS count sector in Chichester Harbour. "There are loads of Brent Geese there Terry" I promised. We arrived thirty minutes later and not a goose was to be seen. Strange, as it was coming up to high tide and traditionally they should be feeding on the fields. The mystery was solved and my total loss of credibility avoided when we found them all on Snowhill Marsh at the back of the fields. We walked round to the marsh. 

I said to Terry "What's the betting the minute we get to the marsh they will adjourn to the fields.

And sure enough they did. We scoped the marsh anyway and found two Spotted Redshanks, frosty of face and so much paler than the many Common Redshanks present. A Greenshank, all innocent elegance and showing white and grey against the dark mud banks paraded at the far side of the marsh. So it was worth the effort.

We returned to the fields where from force of habit I counted the geese. Sorry but it is almost instinctive now after twenty five years!  Two thousand Dark bellied Brent Geese were feeding close to the fence. It was like meeting up with old friends again. I watched as they fed, packed into close formation and all the while keeping up a low gutteral growl of communication. Random black necks, just like periscopes, shot up from the feeding throng to check for danger. I scanned through the geese but there was nothing exciting like a Black Brant present. Half term meant lots of mums with kids here too and inevitably two kids accompanied by a mum with a dog arrived, throwing sticks in the direction of the geese. The result was predictable and with a mighty roar of wings and much calling the entire flock rose and wheeled over the fields. A really impressive spectacle.

Now in the early afternoon we headed to Beeding Brooks to try and see a Short eared Owl. After a brief erroneous excursion into, as we learned from a humourless lady, a private trailer park, we found a footpath overlooking the brooks which predictably were widely flooded with water from the River Adur. The whole place was inundated as far as you could see. No sign of any owl but hundreds upon hundreds of wildfowl, mainly Wigeon and Shoveler and with close to two hundred Pintail present. Then Terry found a Short eared Owl flying along over a very distant reedy ditch. It pitched down before I could see it but then I found it perched on the bank. Three Magpies, scolding and flirting their tails chivvied it off and it flew further. Distant but unmistakeable in flight.

So our day ended as we got progressively chilled in the wind and dusk came calling.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting and well written as usual, but disappointingly you haven't upset anyone recently particularly as its on your favourite area of insult the south coast. (only kidding)
    I'm away to Glos. this Friday to get the RF Bluetail I expect it to be an unmitigated disaster with the bird departing the country just before I arrive or being eaten by a cat or sparrowhawk as I get about 100 yards from it.
    The Oxon Feather.