The forecast tells that winter is preparing a final throw of the dice, but already winter flocks in the fields are melting away under the influence of warm and longer sunshine, especially the Skylarks some of which have been singing for the last couple of weeks, today one or two in continuous full song. The larks have become especially apparent as pairs and singletons in those fields which are very grassy but which have fewer arable plants. In the more arable fields there have also been singles and pairs but also larger parties. In any event, the arable wild plants have been growing despite the frosts. Sheep are grazing the easternmost field now.
Reed Buntings were over a hundred last week and remain in good numbers although some appear to have left their wintering ground here. Snipe too are still in the fields though in smaller numbers. Yellowhammers are visiting nesting areas in ditched hedgerows. Rooks have had a marvellous winter here with up to a hundred.
A walk around Scotney yesterday. The grey geese seemed to be moving away out of the cold north wind but the Barnacle flock, now 130 strong, was in residence close to the path. A delightful and vocal small goose happily grazing the close sward. West of the waters the former good grazing seems deserted and ploughed up, and now with shingle extraction continuing and widening nearby. A look over the Kentpen Wall gives a view of the exposed surface geology layering, a complex pattern of alluvial brown earth, greyer silts and bands of flint.
There are some fields of sprouts or kale with an understory of field plants and a look at one section revealed 30 Reed Buntings and five Skylarks. These smaller fallow crops provide more forage, shelter and cover to small seed-eating birds than do some of the extensive weed-free fields of greens. Small parties of Skylarks and occasional Reed buntings were to be found more widely. Other birds included a Green Sandpiper and two Marsh Harriers, one an immature male.
Duck were more in evidence, perhaps some early spring stacking up with Pintail, Teal and Gadwall more evident.
Hastings Harbour in recent winters has been visited by several examples of gulls that could not be firmly identified. These gulls have shown pale plumages and various levels of markings and shapes and sizes corresponding to the white-winged forms of Arctic zones, yet have not been either true Glaucous or Iceland Gulls.
Climatic warming in the Nearctic has meant that the barrier between the Old and New World formed by the icing over of the North-West Passage is lessened in its’ effectiveness as a partition between biogeographic realms. The Audubon Society has modelled the projected effect on the distribution of some of the birds of North America. In the case of the Glaucous-winged Gull of the Pacific it is leading to greater dispersal towards the east and to a change in behaviour. Gene flow between the complex of Larus species is not always well understood as access to breeding colonies is sometimes very difficult. The Glaucous-winged Gull is one of a number of forms which breeds with other closely related species such as the Herring Gull and Glaucous Gull. If climate warming continues there will be a further increase in gene flow from the Eastern Atlantic to the Western.
The Audubon Society have produced maps showing the projected changes in range, linked below;-
Bright, dry but indifferent yesterday with a cold westerly on my back walking from Rye to Lydd via Camber. A lack of cold winter visitors and the stalwarts reduced to their core gatherings, a hundred Barnacles and many more Greylags at Scotney, although a fair number of Wigeon. Flocks of Coots widespread. Starlings and Lapwings, a hundred Golden plovers. Two Buzzards out on the fields where a Peregrine falcon hovered repeatedly above a reedy dike. What was perhaps the same falcon was seen later, dashing over fields in the manner of a hunting Merlin. The plumage showed a mix of blackish and ashy upperparts and along with the behaviour suggested an impression of other than typical for an adult Peregrine.
An Egyptian Goose was at Northpoint and later a flock of seven were among Mute Swans beyond Scotney. In the chill wind some of the fields appeared barren of birdlife, new plough stretching far between straggling hedges. Perhaps the cold and the lateness of my walk meant that finches and buntings were keeping their heads down.
As I neared Lydd in sundown a flock of sheep in a potato-strewn field had gathered on a small mound of concrete rubble, perhaps engaged in a ritual in memory of their more montane relatives. They watched nonchalantly as I reached a new steel gatepost, the sight of which had lifted my spirits, contrary to my usual affectation for country crafts.
A flock of thirty-five Fieldfares in the tree avenue at upper Barley Lane yesterday, the thrushes surprised and flying out eastwards over the field. Had they just arrived from the Continent, or were they on their way back after the easing of the cold spell? Redwings continue to be loyal to their trees, nine haunting a solitary Holly near St Helens today.
A huge flock of Cormorants, 150 or so, passed southwestwards over the town this morning. Cormorants along the Kent and Essex coast are reported to be changing their fishing routines, flock movements and behaviour and this arrival may be associated.
Otherwise a single Hawfinch on the Ridge today where two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were chasing. Robins and Great tits in song.
A dozen species of wild flower noted in blossom recently including Red Dead-Nettle, Chickweed, Groundsel and Common Field Speedwell in the fields and Hogweed, Red Valerian, Bristly Ox-tongue, Smooth Sow Thistle and Nipplewort along waysides and hedges.
Northeasterly and overcast, cold yet dry. Yesterday many Larus gulls were heading north over the town, perhaps changing their roost strategy in order to escape the wind chill.
Today the sea was quiet and cold except an occasional party of Brent Geese which totalled 73 E, also a distant ‘box-shaped’ flock of dabbling duck east, perhaps 40 or more Teal, 1 Common Gull and three Great Black-backs and a few only of Gannets, Common Scoters, Red-throated Divers and Great Crested Grebes.
Redwings continue at Hollies, feeding avidly at the Cemetery during yesterday’s cold wind. Up to a dozen Redwing were flitting in and out of a Silver Holly in St Leonards Gensing Gardens today.
A grey northeasterly this morning, the wind having finally left the westerly portal after so much rain that has helped to churn the bridleways and even Alexandra park lawns into swamps of pock-marked mud and returned local wetlands to a credible state.
The Barley fields continue to support good numbers of wintering birds, over 80 Skylarks yesterday, more than 70 Reed Buntings and among others many Rooks, at one time 50 Rooks gathered together in flight. The peregrine pair were together overhead and later causing great panic across Ore where I glimpsed the female in fierce pursuit above the rooftops.
Redwings continue to occupy Hollies in the town, over twenty flying out of a Fearon Road garden recently, an area where an old ghyll stream has been retained in back gardens and where some old-established timber continues between the rows of houses.
Today a bus journey to Eastbourne where a Black Guillemot has chosen to winter at the Sovereign harbour. Walking amongst the houses and blocks of flats I was overwhelmed by the scale of development and the winter atmosphere, quite continental with a flavour of Burgher Holland or the Rhine, what the Greeks call Neropolis, town beside water. The social atmosphere was friendly, urbane and unmannered. I wondered what Friedrich Engels would have made of it, he who was a great fan and resident of Eastbourne and whose ashes were scattered from Beachy Head.
After walking all around the harbour I saw two birdwatchers looking intently at something and was obliged to see the Black Guillemot as it sailed about within the harbour gates.
I passed through Princes Park where six male Mallards were putting on a beautiful synchronised courship display on the Lake in the company of a single female. Mute Swans avidly consumed Cornflakes beside a cheerful audience while vessels of the local model boat fraternity plied a ceaseless patrol of the deeper waters.
On 23rd a young male Peregrine was hanging over the Victorian terraces beyond the railway track, drifting and flinching when Herring Gulls came too close, then turning and suddenly dropping in a half-stoop and coming back up from the backs of the roofs. For a long while it repeated these moves, always watching and circling, then with wings half closed powering down with easy speed, once striking at a pigeon in level flight, then taking a spectacular bouncing dive up and down across several roads at chimney-top height or lower.
A pair of adult peregrines have also been over the town at times. Sparrowhawk too hunts in the town, once seen to stoop into a garden after small birds.
Jackdaws appear at first light in bustling, amicable mobs of thirty or more that hug the roofs, keeping below the skyline as they speed towards their daytime feeding lands. In the evening they pass westwards towards roost, yet on the day following an atrocious night of cold wind and rain their evening performance was strangely cancelled. I had prepared to count them as they passed in the evening, but none had appeared by nightfall. Had they decided to change their roost site after that poor weather?
Redwings continue in quiet gardens and street trees and small flocks continue to be a regular sight passing my town window. At Collington recently a Holly beside the station hosted twenty or more of these thrushes, and others were at garden Holly beside Collington Wood. However, the hedges at North’s Seat were quieter yesterday, and it looked as if the berry crop there has been depleted.
Up at the Barley fields Reed Buntings, Yellowhammers, Rooks, Snipe and Skylarks are maintaining good numbers. 60 Meadow Pipits also, and other wintering birds include Grey Wagtail, Mistle Thrush and Song Thrushes.
Yesterday occasional small flocks of Redwings were passing in a northeasterly direction over the house, seeming to come from Alexandra Park and heading towards Ore Valley. I wondered if they were birds returning northwards after the recent thaw. It would be a sensible strategy for them to remain as far north as possible through the winter, making the most efficient use of food resources and saving the southernmost supplies for any deepening of the winter later on. There are certainly quite a few ornamental Hollies in the town that are festooned with fruits.
With regard to the Ore Valley I should look to see if the old mature Hawthorns there are being visited by winter thrushes.
Today on the Barley fields and good numbers of birds, certainly an increase in Song Thrushes in the field edges. However, there were also several small flocks of Fieldfares which passed through westwards, the birds appearing quite tired. Fieldfare rarely comes into Hastings in winter unless there has been snow or they have sensed that snow is on the way.
Among the field birds Skylarks and Reed Buntings in very good numbers, fifty or so of each noted today. Snipe have increased with 33 in one of the fields.
A walk in Alexandra park today. At 11.30 and a white hoar frost and ice in shaded places and a cold northerly wind in a bright sky. A dozen Redwings could be seen flitting through the crowns of Oaks and other trees at the town end, again it became apparent that the centre of acivity was several tall Hollies along the upper verge. Walking further up did not produce any other concentrations, although a brilliantly sunlit Firecrest in a glade stole the show. I decided to go up through Old Roar, what is known as Silverhill Park with large gardens and what in the 1970s was farmland with some luxuriant hedges and wetland habitat as well as fields. The footpaths remain between the new housing developments, small ghyll features have been retained and fenced off with natural wooden posts and rails. As well as the garden trees and shrubs of the older large houses there are still mature oaks along footways and roadsides. Small areas of woodland also survive here and there. The network of quieter roads with the complement of footpaths means that an interesting walk can be devised.
At one of the pathside features, a wooded clay ponded gully fenced off beside bramble hedging and garden backs I heard a striking call that made me wait some while. It sounded like an ‘eastern’ Chiffchaff. But no sighting and after a few minutes I felt I had to press on. The path there is beside Barrow Rise at TQ803121.
Returning home a dozen Redwings flew over the house and 2 Buzzards flew NW together, presumably to roost.