We recently took Sam from Texas out on a two-day guided birding tour of Sussex and Hampshire.
Soon after setting out on the trails at Knepp on the first day, we were enjoying views of Great Spotted Woodpecker, Song Thrush and Buzzard.
A couple of Robins revealed themselves, including a juvenile showing us the path.
A couple of showy Treecreepers appeared along a wooded path, with the first Green Woodpecker of the day bursting out from the canopy, followed by views of a couple of Bullfinches, including a juvenile.
Whitethroats, Linnets and Yellowhammers were vocal in the scrub and a Kestrel put in an appearance.
We heard the distinctive purring of Turtle Dove for the second time of the morning as we reached a tree platform. With a bit of scanning, we spotted the bird at the top of an oak tree.
A mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Chiffchaffs moved through the bushes behind us.
We marvelled at the fledgling White Storks on one of the nests and a Red Kite drifted by in the distance.
Pulborough Brooks RSPB was our next port of call. Small birds were largely keeping their heads down, but a friendly Robin provided a close encounter and we were treated to wonderful views of Jay, while Whitethroats sang in the bushes and Chiffchaffs were in full voice too.
Knowing most of the action would be at the North Brooks, we headed to Jupp's Viewpoint. There, diligent scanning picked out a Green Sandpiper (our first of the autumn during Wildstarts tours), two Greenshanks, a Common Sandpiper, 11 Black-tailed Godwits, four Little Ringed Plovers, a couple of Pied Avocets and a scattering of Lapwings.
Several Sand Martins were gathering insects from above the water's surface and we heard Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Treecreeper nearby. Around 20 Teal were also out on the floods.
Moving round to the hides on the west side of the reserve, we picked out a female Marsh Harrier and on the Arun Valley White-tailed Eagles, flying by at the back of the floodplain. By the time we left, we also had a fleeting encounter with a Hobby.
A nearby site delivered much better views of Hobby, as one hawked over the fields, and smashing views of Yellowhammer, which we had only heard at Knepp.
Another early start on the Tuesday had us heading to Farlington Marshes in Hampshire for some extra marsh and coastal species. Our visit coincided with high tide so the main lake was full of waders, including Curlew, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank and Common Sandpiper.
A Common Tern performed a close fly-by along the edge of Langstone Harbour and a Kestrel hovered at the back of the lagoon, while Swifts and Swallows whizzed around beneath it.
Over at the pool by the information hut, the highlight was a nesting pair of Little Grebe, while a female Shoveler with two ducklings was also an endearing sight. After a quick fly-by and a couple of distant juveniles first thing, it was nice to get proper views of a couple of adult Mediterranean Gulls pitching in for a brush-up.
We moved on to the New Forest for woodland and heathland species. We quickly succeeded in picking out a displaying Honey Buzzard over the far tree-line, raising its wings above its body to quiver them in tell-tale fashion.
The heath offered up plenty of Stonechats and Meadow Pipits, as well as another Red Kite. A juvenile Redstart put in a brief appearance. Walking through the woodland was quiet for long spells, only to be broken by finding mixed-species flocks and areas with plenty of activity. We managed to track down a number of Marsh Tits and a couple of Spotted Flycatchers, as well as Siskin, Firecrest, Nuthatch and Treecreeper.
Dropping in to Normandy Lagoon, the wind had picked up but there was enough shelter below the bank to comfortably view the birds. There were plenty of Common Terns feeding young, but only a couple of Little Terns remained. A small number of Black-tailed Godwits were present, offering pretty close views through the fence, and the same was true of Avocets, of which there were several well-grown young.
A couple of Little Egrets were feeding in the shallows and a couple of broods of Shelduck were busy feeding. Heading up on to the bank and trying to keep the scope steady in the wind was rewarded with a distant flock of around 30 Eider and three Turnstones.
Back on the lagoon, one of the Little Terns had taken a serious objection to a Common Tern which was visiting an island to feed young. Perhaps with most of the other Littles gone, this bird was in defensive overdrive?
Re-entering Sussex, we called in to Burton Mill Pond, instantly finding a Kingfisher perched on a post at the back, as well as a Mandarin as a welcome bonus species. Great Crested Grebe was also new for the trip.
Our final destination was heathland nearby, where dry 'churr' calls from the heather betrayed the presence of a couple of Dartford Warblers, one of which stayed put long enough to get nice views through the scope.
Heading over to the plantation on the other side of the road, we had a couple of Siskins flying over and heard several Green Woodpeckers, one of which thankfully perched out in the open, offering our first views of a settled individual this trip. A Buzzard was perched prominently in a tree and we also recorded species such as Stonechat and Goldcrest here.