Thursday, 15 April 2021

That White throated Sparrow-Again! 14th April 2021

It would have been remiss of me to pass up the offer of being driven to see a very rare bird, a White throated Sparrow. This explained why I boarded Mark's Land Rover Discovery at 5am on an Oxfordshire morning to travel for two hours, for the third time, to Barcombe in East Sussex. A village I was now coming to know very well! 

Mark and myself had dipped seeing the sparrow on our trip to Barcombe last Friday and Mark, never having seen a White throated Sparrow, was very keen to rectify this. I was happy to accompany him, safe in the knowledge of having seen it well when I went with Peter last Sunday and had fabulous views of the bird.

We arrived at just after seven, in an awakening Barcombe. It was cold but sunny as we walked down past the frost covered playing field to a now well known grass bank below the allotments, where we could stand and focus our attention on a picnic table that is scattered with seed to attract the sparrow into the open.

It was a refreshing change to see that there were only half a dozen birders present today. Last Sunday it was approaching fifty. As we arrived the birders present waved to us, excitedly pointing to the sparrow singing in a small sapling. It was as simple and quick as that for Mark to get his lifer.No waiting, no anxiety.It was done in an instant and we could both relax.The sparrow sang virtually constantly for the first hour, moving around as it sang in the bushes and trees that ran along the bottom of the bank, occasionally visiting the picnic table to nibble seed.

There is not much more that I can add about my experiences with the sparrow as I think I have covered it all in my previous two posts.We watched as it passed back and fore in front of us, sometimes highly visible and, at other times, its hidden presence could only be pinned down by its singing in bush or tree. It did occasionally sing from relatively high in a tree but was more often to be found singing near or on the ground. It allowed us to approach closely, showing little alarm and was confident enough to hold its own with the local resident birds. It was noticeable how the aggressive Robins, usually never backward in chasing off a strange bird, left it well alone. Maybe they had witnessed the sparrow seeing off a pair of Great Tits earlier, chasing one at high speed round and round through the branches of a tree.

That's all I am going to say for now about this remarkably obliging bird. Who would have thought it would happen this way and so many people would get such great enjoyment from its prolonged stay.

Here are some very nice pictures of the White throated Sparrow. Even if I say so myself! 

White throated Sparrow

Mark and myself spent a happy three hours with the sparrow and leaving a donation in the bucket provided, it was decided to go to the nearby coast to try and see some seabirds. I could have remained all day with the sparrow at Barcombe but Mark is a novice birder and the obsessions of such as myself are a strange and undiscovered world to him.Best to leave it that way.

Mark being comparatively new to birding means that for him many species of bird are still not on his radar. Purple Sandpipers are a species he has never seen. 'Come with me Mark, I know just the place.'  That place was Newhaven, not many miles from Barcombe, and where I spent more hours than is healthy seawatching, when I lived in Sussex. The East pier at Newhaven is a well known place to find the sandpipers roosting at high tide,  perching precariously just above the sea on the mollusc and weed infested concrete struts that support the pier. We might have left it a little late though as the sandpipers leave in April for Scandinavia where they breed.

I was getting more than a little concerned as we walked the pier, looking over and finding nothing underneath and was mightily relieved when I found two, now in virtual summer plumage and Mark had another lifer for his birding list. 

We had a fish and chip lunch and although the wind conditions were all wrong for seabird migration a Little Tern and a pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls provided ample excitement.The tern was flying back and fore along the edge of the shingle beach and providing us with close and extended views of its compact and delicate form. A true delight and one of my favourite birds to see.

With lunch over I took another chance and suggested to Mark that rather than head for Oxfordshire via the M23, we head for home via Sidlesham in West Sussex, where there had been reports of a Spotted Redshank coming into summer plumage.This would be a good bird to see if we could find it and it was on our way home.Well sort of!

The drive to Sidlesham along the coast, on the A27, is  never enjoyable and is usually the opposite with an endless frustration of traffic lights, roundabouts, roadworks, congested roads and everything else that assails one these days when you travel by road. After what seemed an age we finally drew up by Sidlesham Ferry Pool and with relief abandoned the 4x4 and got down to some birding.

We checked all over the ferry pool but could find no sign of the Spotted Redshank. No matter, for we were entertained by a flock of over sixty Black tailed Godwits, waiting out the high tide on the ferry pool, the majority asleep, but others preening or half heartedly probing the muddy margins. These birds will soon be heading for Iceland to breed and then will return once more to Britain to spend another winter. The majority had shed their dull grey and buff winter plumage and were transformed into bright  orange from head to belly, with barred flanks and upperparts a jigsaw complication of black and orangy buff markings. Truly beautiful and supremely elegant with the refined athleticism that is granted to those with elongated legs and bill.They are a satisfyingly sizeable bird, a bit smaller than a Curlew and markedly slimmer.

The godwits were chilling out as they awaited the tide to ebb and allow them to probe the ooze of exposed mud for food.They will need to feed as much as possible to give them the strength and stamina to accomplish the long and taxing flight to Iceland.

A number of waders such as Sanderling, Knot, Curlew Sandpiper and Bar tailed Godwit adopt a summer plumage of orange or red of varying shades, the patterning variable but with the same basic colouring, transforming them from the grey dullness of winter plumage into exotic creatures that take the breath away with their unadulterated beauty.The Black tailed Godwit is pre-eminent in this regard.

Black tailed Godwit

But where was the Spotted Redshank? It had been reported today and of course we should have checked exactly where but in our tiredness we neglected to do so. Rectifying this oversight we discovered we were looking in the wrong place and needed to check the channel that wound into the harbour on the other side of the road. We duly did but as the tide was high there was hardly a wader to be seen. We walked both sides of the channel and eventually it was Mark who found the Spotted Redshank, half hidden, roosting on the edge of a small island of grass in mid channel. The bird was a little distant for photography but we did what we could to record our moment of discovery. It was later joined by the godwits, that had woken up on the ferry pool and were now flying in, to resume feeding as the tide was now ebbing fast. The Spotted Redshank showed little inclination to join the godwits  now vigorously probing the mud below the receding waters and, after a bout of preening, went to sleep.

Spotted Redshank

Talking of which, this is what we would do if we did not make tracks for home.By the time we got back it would be a fifteen hour day for both of us but we were hardly about to complain.This had been a very good day despite our differing outlooks on birding and the respective enjoyment it can bring.

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