Author Michael Blencowe
It was a busy weekend for the Sussex Wildlife Trust over in Lewes. On Saturday evening I organised a talk at the Linklater Pavilion. Phil Everitt of the Sussex Peregrine Study Group gave 40 people a fascinating hour-long account of the history of peregrines in Sussex. He even did an encore – ten minutes about the Lewes ravens!
Next day – with the sun shining! - we started off with two events watching our local peregrine nest with the expert assistance of Phil Everitt and his comrade Jason Ede. Over 60 people attended the two walks and we had great views – and plenty of information – on our local birds. The female falcon stayed mostly on the nest but the male was active; at one point performing an amazing stoop in order to prove his credentials to another passing male. But there were some domestic disputes in the peregrine family. The male returned with a dead starling and we watched as he plucked the bird on the cliff face. Some of the younger observers seemed to particularly enjoy watching this bit. The male was soon hungrily munching away - largely ignoring the female’s pleas for a few bits of fresh starling. It was too much for her and she left the nest and started giving her partner a hard time - screeching at him as she pursued him around the cliff. Incredible stuff!
A rather unusual sight was a fulmar - an ocean going bird which nests on cliffs around the coast - prospecting the cliff face in Lewes. Inland sightings of fulmar are rare although they have been a few historic records of birds eyeing up the Lewes cliffs before. The rather foul defence behaviour of fulmars gave me an excuse to tell a rather horrific projectile vomiting story to the crowds – twice. I’m not sure they were too impressed.
In the afternoon – with the sun still shining - I took a group of 25 people on a hike over the Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Southerham nature reserve. Our target was the one of the UK's rarest orchids - the burnt orchid. On the way through Southerham we watched wheatears, ravens, linnets and found some freshly emerged butterflies; small coppers and dingy skippers. In the valley bottom I briefed the team in how to find this purple and white flower.
“Just think of blackberries and cream’’
I had been told by an 81 year old lady the previous evening, and, with this in mind, we were soon all scouring the grazed downland for the rare plant. The numbers of orchids here varies each year – would 2012 be a good year? After ten minutes there was a delighted shout - Jeffrey had found one and we soon located many more – there were loads of orchids emerging from the downland turf. And what a stunning little orchid it is! Could I smell blackberries and cream? Or was I just imagining it?