South Downs Guided Bird Walk

I was invited to come along to this by David, founder member of South Downs Wildlife. I was slightly late getting to Cissbury ring near Worthing but quickly caught up with the group, and we headed on up the chalk track to the Ring itself to see if we could spot any resident or migrating species. Ring Ouzels were on the potential sightings list so I was looking forward to seeing my first one. I’ve not done guided birdwatching before so it was amazing to have the team there to identify the calls and barely-discernible movement in the shrubbery – way beyond my skills and I have been watching birds for a very long time!

A cool, cloudy autumn day meant a lot of the birds were silhouettes, but it was beautiful to be up on the Downs:

We saw lots of Goldfinches, a few Linnets, and a surprising number of Robins considering how territorial they are, so concluded that they were probably birds that had recently migrated here. As I have mentioned in a previous post about “resident” birds, although we may see the same species all year round, they are rarely the same individuals, especially out of the breeding season. In my logbooks I have used the terms resident and visitor which is not wholly accurate as many species move around to find food.

A handful of House Martins and a Swallow were swooping over the slopes; although not uncommon to still see them this late in the year, they will be among the last to leave.

After a few Blackbird-based false starts, a Ring Ouzel was spotted in a far oak. The length of the wings and general streamlined shape compared to the more sedentary Blackbird are good features to look for if the white crescent across the chest is not visible. A Mistle Thrush sat in a large yew tree guarding the berries, but we saw Starlings flying purposefully overhead in a southerly direction, as well as Redwings flying in to the Ring to feed. A tiny Goldcrest was spotted in the scrub, gold crest clearly visible despite the diminutive size and low light, and a group of more tiny birds, Long-tailed Tits, were picking morsels off the twigs as they moved along the vegetation. Other birds were heard but not seen, including Reed Bunting, a Great Spotted and a Green Woodpecker, and a Wren. Another bunting, a Yellowhammer, showed nicely in the leafless trees, and a Song Thrush crossed over from one laden hawthorn to another.

Carrion Crows, Jackdaws, and Magpies were the corvid contingent, but sadly no Ravens to be seen.

On our way back to the start we saw lots of Meadow Pipits – pretty birds with tawny, ochre and umber streaks as they flitted up from the ground with the Goldfinches. En route to the car park we saw out only raptor: a Kestrel.

As we said goodbye, a pair of Skylarks indulged in a bit of aerial jostling immediately overhead, feet dangling and wings fluttering in characteristic fashion.

Here are some sketches, the back page of my logbook, and my Ring Ouzel illustration:

ticklist 23/10/21
  1. Linnet
  2. Wren
  3. Mistle Thrush
  4. House Martin
  5. Barn Swallow
  6. Stock Dove
  7. Robin
  8. Wood Pigeon
  9. Yellowhammer
  10. Jackdaw
  11. Carrion Crow
  12. Magpie
  13. Chaffinch
  14. Great Tit
  15. Long-tailed Tit
  16. Kestrel
  17. Herring Gull
  18. Stonechat
  19. Goldcrest
  20. Ring Ouzel
  21. Starling
  22. Redwing
  23. Goldfinch
  24. Blackbird
  25. Meadow Pipit
  26. Skylark

With many thanks to David, Ingrid, and Nick for their knowledge and expertise. I can thoroughly recommend the group and it’s a great way to learn new ways of distinguishing the different species, and fascinating to hear the natural history and ecology of the birds as well as the identification. I am looking forward to the next one!

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