Friday, 28 March 2014

My first Bullfinch EVER, and other birds at Pulborough and Waltham Brooks

Before I start my blog, I need to remind everyone, I am EASILY pleased. I do not keep a year list, lifer list and I'm not a 'twitcher', but I do get a huge kick out of seeing a bird for the first time.
For me today was all about getting away for a day and hopefully seeing a Great Grey Shrike.
One has been reported at Waltham Brooks for some time now, and inspired by some great pictures on the Sussex Birders Facebook page recently, I happily went there with Susan. Last year I had distant views of one at Thursley Common, so the GGS was not a first time bird for me.
We got away early and missed all the traffic, the weather forecast was not good for the first couple of hours, but we were determined to see the Great Grey Shrike. We drove through one heavy rain shower and arrived just as the rain stopped. It was still quite chilly though and very overcast and as we stood on the bridge, Susan located the Shrike. It was fairly close, but as soon as we both lifted our cameras to take a photo, it dived down, and despite another hour looking we could not re-locate it. We were then momentarily doubtful that we had seen it.
We did however see a beautiful Fox and our first of many Chiffchaffs. We also saw two Red Kites. One soared down low over the water, the other was much higher up.
distant Red Kite
The forecast for the afternoon was dry with sunny intervals (remind me never to believe the BBC Weather website again!), So we decided to pop down to Pulborough Brooks, a RSPB reserve close by and pop back to Waltham in the afternoon. I haven't been to Pulborough for some time, but it's a reserve I should visit more often.
As we walked through the entrance Susan mentioned we might see Bullfinches. 'Pffffft' I scoffed, 'you've got no chance if you're with me'. I am well known amongst my friends for being a 'Bullfinch deterrent'. They've been seen on my patch, but never by me. My friend Sue, gets them regularly on her patch, but whenever I go there with her, they're not to be seen. Last April at Pulborough, people were sighting them on the same day I was there, but not me. There are sites for them all over my local area, yet I have never seen one. So I scoffed at Susans suggestion, and we made our way around the reserve.
There were plenty of little birds to see. The Greenfinch below positively glowed in the dim light.
We were coming close to the Courtyard when Susan called out 'Bullfinch' and to be honest, I really didn't believe her, but she was a few steps ahead of me and could see one clearly in the blossom trees. As I caught up with her, I could then see it. My first ever Bullfinch !! And it was a stunning full plumage male. It was hard to photograph amongst the branches, and I hopped about following its progress down the little avenue (much to the amusement of a couple who stopped to chat to Susan), until I eventually grabbed one half way decent photo. By this time I didn't care that it was a crap picture, I was just so chuffed to have finally seen one.
There were actually two males flitting from tree to tree and eating juicy green buds, but I only managed to photograph the one. So welcome to my first record shot of a male Bullfinch. Phhhhwoooooarrrrr :)
We walked down into the Courtyard from there and saw the devastating damage the winter storms had done. A good 70% of the conifers and fir trees were lying on the floor, broken either a few feet off the ground or completely ripped up from the roots. However, rather than the damage deterring the birds, we could hear plenty of them amongst the broken branches. Goldcrests were particularly vocal and we must have seen (and tried to photograph) at least three or four birds (my poor shot below) before a movement out of the corner of my eye made me swing round and briefly glimpse a Weasel run across the path way. Then it came out again and ran across. I pointed out the area to Susan, and to our delight it ran out again. My camera just didn't focus on it in time, but Susan did manage to capture it, and it was her first ever photo of a Weasel.
 I'll be publishing Susans photo on my next blog post but back to today. So far we then had two 'firsts'. My first sighting and photo of a Bullfinch and Susans first photo of a Weasel.
My very poor photo of a Goldcrest amongst the broken conifer branches
Walking on, we were chatting away when I noticed something on the path way in front of us. Another male Bullfinch !! We crept nearer and after it flew into one of the hedges, I finally got my best view of the day.
With a permanent smile plastered to my face we then made our way to Jupps viewpoint and watched Little Egrets, Shelducks and Wigeons. Behind one of the benches there was a Wren singing loudly. For the second time in two days I was then witness to a Wren building a nest. He would fly nearby and pull up loads of moss before carrying the lot back into a cleverly concealed hole amongst the ivy, right by us. I was too busy watching to grab any photos, but hopefully Susan got some.
We wandered down to Nettleys Hide from there and got the usual views of the resident Roe Deer herd. Susan also saw a Peregrine fly across the marsh but we couldn't locate it afterwards.
Positioning ourselves around the roomy hide, Susan called out 'Snipe', and there, not more than five or six foot away, was a stunning Common Snipe. We watched it for a while with the hide window down, then gently and quietly opened it and got the best views of a Snipe that I have ever had.
What a stunner !! Could the day really get any better ?
It could.
Following the path back, we could hear what we had been clearly hearing the whole time. A very close by Nuthatch. We located it on a tree very viewable from the top path, and it was intent on checking out a bird nesting box. It was definitely in a territorial mood as it not only swooped several times on a Grey Squirrel that got too close, it also chased off another Nuthatch.
It did go inside the box but I didn't manage to capture that, I was too busy being astounded by the sight of ANOTHER male Bullfinch ! And he had a female with him. I wasn't quick enough to photograph the pair, and again we couldn't relocate them afterwards, but I was more than happy.
 Five Bullfinches in just one morning..............sigh :)
So after my dry arid spell of never seeing one of these gorgeous little chubby birds, it turns out they really are like buses. You wait ages for one, then a load turn up together !
By this time, Susan and I were more than ready for a cuppa. We'd been down 'adder alley' but seen no adders (not surprising really, the promised sunshine had not really happened and it was still quite chilly) and were making our way back past West Mead hide when I saw a small bird dart up a tree. 'Treecreeper' I called. 'No its a Nuthatch' called back Susan. And we both looked at each other. In one tree there was a Treecreeper, and two trees away, was a Nuthatch. Happy days.
The Treecreeper isn't a 'bogey bird' of mine, but it is one that though often seen, has always been tricky to photograph, so I was quite pleased that two of the 28 photos I took, actually came out in focus.
At this point I was almost skipping along. I say 'almost' as my shoulder was now 'complaining' along with my knee, back and hip. So no, I wasn't skipping at all, but my happiness was.
All through the morning we had seen great numbers of Rooks. I really love seeing these birds probably because I rarely see them around my patch or anywhere in West London (although I am aware of a large Rookery near RAF Northolt). I can't help but stop and stare when I see a Rook. They're almost primeval in appearance, but have so much character.
At the café, with a lovely much needed coffee and slab of cake (yes, today I 'done' cake), we watched the birds on the feeders. There's a substantial population of House Sparrows at PB, a very much under-estimated bird in my opinion.

There were also numerous Great Tits, Blue Tits, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Fan-tailed Doves, a solo Coal Tit, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, Robins and even a pair of Rooks.
After our coffee and cake, we headed back to Waltham Brooks. The weather sadly had not cleared as promised. It was overcast and drizzly, but after searching the area again we eventually re-found the Great Grey a great distance.

The pale blob off centre, to the right, is an actual male Great Grey Shrike........honestly.....
We watched the bird for a good couple of hours. It was never still for long, always flying up and almost 'dancing' in the air catching insects (we think). A couple of other birders joined us on the bridge and it was easier to keep track of the GGS with more eyes, yet it still eluded us on occasions and popped up much further away.
So no great close up views like some of the lucky Sussex Birders Facebook members have got recently, but it was lovely to watch him flitting around. We also think we may have spotted its 'larder' Shrikes are also known as the Butcher Bird, and often store their food, whether it be a frog or Bumble Bee, on a thorn within a shrub. None of my photos came out clear enough, but he definitely spent quite a while within a certain shrubby tree 'positioning' things.
And to polish off my day out, we had a Kestrel, one of my favourite birds, perched nearby.
So my final thoughts on todays long-winded blog..............I GOT MY FIRST BULLFINCH !!!! Woooooooooohoooooooooo


  1. I love bullfinches too, and this blog! Great fun Wendy

  2. Fantastic blog entry. What a day you had. Your first bullfinch too! Congrats. I consider myself a 'bullfinch deterrent', but hope that changes soon :-)