We were very excited to lead our first Raptor Ramble at The Burgh, near Burpham, on Saturday. The conditions were promising, with overcast conditions making it easy to spot birds of prey and the gentle breeze encouraging them to soar over the downs.
Sightings started happening straight away, with several Red Kites giving spectacular views from our meeting point. We could even hear them calling - a bit like a sailor's whistle! One amazing moment came when two Red Kites engaged in a 'dogfight' above us, with the two birds locking talons and spinning in the air for a moment or two before the bird with the food item gave it up. The other swept in and expertly picked it from the air.
As we started walking towards the dewpond, we enjoyed close views of a hovering Kestrel but were again distracted by more Red Kites, which continued to offer superb views. Further on, a Sparrowhawk flew by and we started to see Buzzards, including a startlingly white bird. Buzzards have hugely variable plumage, with some looking virtually white and others all dark - and everything in between!
Smaller birds weren't ignored, with good spots including Reed Bunting, Linnet, Greenfinch and several Skylarks. In a field being ploughed, the bounty was being enjoyed by several Lapwings and a 'mini-murmuration' of Starlings.
Our first encounter with a Brown Hare came as we turned the last corner towards the dew pond and one ran down the track in front of us, giving everybody a great view of its black-tipped ears and distinctive gait - very different from a Rabbit!
We used our thermal imager to spot anything that was hiding away in the field margins. This helped us to get more prolonged looks at a couple of Brown Hares which we wouldn't have seen otherwise. The thermal imager also helped us spot a covey of Red-legged Partridges, which in turn drew our attention to a smaller group of Grey Partridges further along the edge of the field, providing a rare opportunity to see the two British partridges almost side-by-side.
Once near the dewpond, we staked out a spot to scan the rough grassland so popular with birds of prey. Sightings of Red Kite, Buzzard and Kestrel kept us going until a moment of excitement came when a Merlin dashed through. A shower passed through, not lasting terribly long but probably didn't help our quest to see owls and harriers, which didn't show this time - but everybody was delighted with the variety of raptors and other birds we did see, as well as the memorable encounters with Brown Hares, so we took a steady walk back to the meeting point to end a fun afternoon on the South Downs...