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A perfect winter birding trip

On Wednesday I picked up Laura from Oklahoma in Woolwich in good time to arrive in the Ashdown Forest as a perfect day was breaking. Upon our arrival, several Fieldfares and Redwings flew over the car park and we started hearing flocks of Lesser Redpolls and Siskins too. These species feature throughout our walk, with good numbers of thrushes and finches now arrived in the forest for the winter.

Fieldfare in Ashdown Forest. Sussex birding tours with Wildstarts.
There were plenty of Fieldfares at Old Lodge but it took some manoeuvring to photograph them!
Redwing in Ashdown Forest. Sussex birding trips with Wildstarts.
Redwings were in plentiful supply too

Several Goldcrests and Coal Tits were feeding along the path as we started the circuit and we enjoyed fantastic views of Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding, but we only heard Green Woodpecker in the distance. A Brambling called from high in the sky as it passed overhead and a couple of Bullfinches whistled softly by the track before melting away.


Meadow Pipits and Linnets flew over as we turned the corner to begin heading towards the brook. A busy few minutes saw a pair of Marsh Tits pass through, a Mistle Thrush give its 'rattlesnake' call and a Nuthatch feeding the trees, as well as Goldfinches, several Dunnocks and Chaffinches. A Song Thrush flew low over us and another sang in the distance.

Marsh Tit in Ashdown Forest. Sussex birdwatching trips with Wildstarts.
One of a pair of Marsh Tits in the Ashdown Forest

Passing through a clearing we had our best views of Dartford Warbler, one of five, and watched a Treecreeper feeding close-by.


A couple of Stock Doves, including a singing individual, appeared as we reached the Old Lodge bridleway. It was there that a small flock of Chaffinches flew up from the track and a Brambling alighted briefly in the trees with them, but despite a patient wait for its return, it never came back.


Several birds, including Robins, Dunnocks, Coal Tits, Chaffinches and Nuthatch, afforded lovely views as they fed on the ground in this small area. A noisy flock of Lesser Redpolls landed in the trees for a moment or two before we admitted defeat and continued back to the car.


We equipped ourselves with wellington boots for our trek around West Rise Marsh and they certainly came in handy. Things kicked off with a young male Marsh Harrier putting up four Snipe, moments before a Mediterranean Gull flew overhead and a male Kestrel landed in a tree. One of our target birds, Water Pipit, was as skittish as expected, with flight views of two or three nervous birds.

Marsh Harrier over West Rise Marsh. Sussex birding tours with Wildstarts.
A Marsh Harrier patrols West Rise
Snipe at West Rise Marsh. Sussex birding trips with Wildstarts.
These Snipe were nervous about the harrier quartering the marsh

Stonechats were more accommodating, with a couple of pairs showing nicely. Several Cetti's Warblers were vocal and we had the occasional glimpse, while Water Rails were even more elusive but still quite loud. A pair of Bearded Reedlings showed beautifully as they fed in the reeds, a real highlight of the day!

male Bearded Reedling at West Rise Marsh. Sussex birding trips with Wildstarts.
Male Bearded Reedlings are something special..!

A Grey Heron and a Teal flew from a ditch as we neared the lake, and we spotted a Lapwing in one of the fields. Scanning from several points along the shore, we found Great Crested and Little Grebes, several Pochards, Wigeon and Tufted Ducks. Picking through the gulls was rewarded with a first-winter Caspian Gull, and when editing the photographs later a near-adult was in the water close-by.

Caspian Gulls with Herring Gull at West Rise Marsh. South East England bird tours with Wildstarts.
It was satisfying to pick out two Caspian Gulls from the washing birds at West Rise (near-adult second bird from the right and first-winter is the fifth, with Herring Gulls)

We checked the pylons, where pairs of Peregrine Falcons and Ravens were loafing, and had Pied Wagtail and Meadow Pipit flying over.


Three trip birds were added on the drive to Rye: three Buzzards and sightings of Rook and Jackdaw.


Spending the last part of the day at Rye was ideal, with almond latte being a new discovery for me in the Discovery Centre — thanks for the tip Laura! The birds weren't bad either, with the adult Spoonbill swishing its bill through the shallows of the Flat Beach being a standout sighting.

Spoonbill at Rye Harbour. Sussex birding tours with Wildstarts.
The Eurasian Spoonbill soon woke up and went off to feed in the water

A flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and several Pintail were among the wildfowl highlights, alongside a scattering of Shelduck, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and Wigeon.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese at Rye Harbour. London birding tours with Wildstarts.
You can pick out the young Dark-bellied Brent Geese by the white bars on the wings

Grey Plovers were mixed in with Dunlin on one of the shingle islands and many Redshanks were scattered around the shore, along with a total of 13 Little Egrets.


It was impossible to resist scanning through the gulls on the beach east of the river mouth, picking up another first-winter Caspian Gull in the process! A Sanderling dashed around the sand next to it and the other gulls, including Great and Lesser Black-backeds.


As the light was beginning to fade, we checked the beach, picking up a few Turnstones with the Oystercatchers and a distant flock of Curlew in flight, while squadrons of Cormorants flew to roost.


Another scan of the Flat Beach from the opposite side delivered an amazing sighting of a Goosander swimming around with a Red-breasted Merganser! After a while, they flew east together.

Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser at Rye Harbour. London birding tours with Wildstarts.
It was a rare chance to compare Goosander (right) side-by-side with Red-breasted Merganser

The route back featured a Cetti's Warbler and a final addition to the day list in the form of a flock of Greylag Geese overhead.


We finished on 91 species, not bad at all for a relaxed tour of three sites on a short but stunning winter's day!

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