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Mike's Mergansers Great Day Out

Author Mike Russell

Senior Conservation Advisor

brambling / Dave Kilbey brambling / Dave Kilbey

A day in the sun, with great company, great birds, a never-ending supply of great food, a great way to start the New Year is by taking part in the Sussex Ornithological Society's Annual Bird Race. Masquarading under the name of 'Mike's Mergansers', Jan Jupp, Lesley Milward, Mike English and myself set out on Friday 2nd January to see how many birds we could see or hear in, around and between Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserves.

Arriving at Ferry Pool at Sidlesham, Jan's brilliant sausage and bacon butties set the tone for the cuisine that kept us going throughout the day. Walking from the car park we started to pick off some of the common species, but before we got the viewing point over the Pool, 3 chiffchaffs, the first of many during the day, flitted in front of us and a Cetti's warbler belted out its song from a nearby bush. The Pool had it's usual array of wildfowl, including 2 ruddy shelduck of dubious origin, which nevertheless went down on the list, while in amongst the hordes of Canada geese we managed to pick out a tundra bean goose; now that is a good bird! I had hoped for more wader species here, but we ended up with 4 including a very close-by black-tailed godwit.

Having spent 45 minutes there and with 40 species under our belts, expanding now a bit to accommodate a delicious ham and cheese croissant, it was time to move on so we headed north to West Dean Woods

and in the road just before we got to the reserve, flocks of birds were zipping across in front of us. A number of finches were picking up seeds, mainly chaffinches, but also there was a single goldfinch, the only one we saw all day, but more surprisingly, a couple of brambling. Both redwings and fieldfares were moving through the trees alongside, and by the time we left West Dean all 5 resident thrush species were safely gathered in. Annoyingly missing out on the local little owl and hawfinches, we did get most of our woodland birds we expected here, including often difficult species such as treecreeper and marsh tit. By now Lesley, our raptor queen, had got her eye in and found us a distant red kite and the first of many buzzards. A further 21 species added here.

Next stop Iping Common and fortified by Mike's wife's wonderful home-made chocolate clairs, we set off in search of the great grey shrike, which sadly we didn't get despite the best efforts of a local dog walker who we saw in the distance waving and calling frantically and we dismissed as someone calling her dog. By the time she caught up with us and told us that the shrike has just flown over her and perched nearby, it had disappeared again. Still, a good array of heathland species were ticked off including stonechat, yellowhammer, linnet and more surprisingly reed bunting while a pair of lesser redpolls flew into the trees by the car park, just as we were leaving, with the total now having reached 69.

Onto Burton Pond now, thankfully picking up house sparrow on the way and indulged in a wonderful lunch of Jan's superb home-made quiche, my rough and ready beef sandwiches and Lesley's selection of exotic fruits, well bananas and satsumas anyway. New birds were getting harder now, but without moving from one spot we managed to add 7 new species, including a lovely male sparrowhawk that drifted over our heads in the sun, 3 more ducks, gadwall, pochard and tufted, a grey wagtail flew over our heads and we managed to sort out 2 common gulls amidst the flock of black-headed gulls.

Waltham Brooks now, a lovely place to spend a sunny winter's afternoon, but we were wondering what new birds we might see here. Chiffchaff numbers were in double figures here, but no time to stand and admire them, and we desperately scanned the edges of the pools for snipe but to no avail while all the pintail had gone AWOL. Tantalisingly, Lesley thought she might have seen a harrier, but had disappeared before the rest of us could get on with it, so we had to make do with just 2 new species here, little egret and a pig-like squealing water rail.

By now, the sun was starting to slowly sink in the west, so there was one more stop on the way back to Jan's and only involved a very slight diversion via Burpham! 39 Bewick's swans were a very nice sight, though sadly the 3 black swans weren't allowed, but a single corn bunting, both red-legged and grey partridge and lastly a blob in a field that manifested itself into a short-eared owl was our final bird.

I had anticipated between 75-80 species so 84 in total was a pretty respectable total, nothing really common missed out, a few unexpected species and a couple of frustrating misses. We didn't fall out, probably ate too much and had a good laugh; all in all what you expect in a Bird Race.

Hopefully, we raised a few pounds for conservation and if anyone would like to still like to sponsor us, it is not too late, please contact me at

sparrowhawk / Neil Fletcher sparrowhawk / Neil Fletcher

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