Trip reports

Visit to Seaford Head and Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex on 12 April, 2014

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

This visit to the East Sussex coast began at Splash Point, where cliffs rear abruptly at the eastern end of Seaford promenade. As many as 1000 pairs of Kittiwakes have nested here in recent years, making use of the tiniest of ledges on the sheer chalk faces, also sharing the site with a few Fulmars. By the date of our visit breeding activity for both species was in full swing, making a fine spectacle when viewed from the breakwater. Splash Point is also renowned for its sea-watching potential but, under blue skies, haze limited visibility on this occasion and we had to be satisfied with views of one or two distant Gannets, several newly-arrived Sandwich Terns fishing in the bay, and a pair of departing Brent Geese speeding past to the east. A brief stroll on the grassy slopes behind the cliffs produced few birds but we were intrigued by a profusion of 7-Spot Ladybirds scattered on the short turf - perhaps wind-assisted arrivals from France?

To complete the morning, we moved up onto downland a mile or so to the east of Seaford to check Hope Bottom and adjacent slopes. We were soon rewarded with sightings of Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs in bushy patches, then two or three Wheatears, a party of Linnets and a pair of Rock Pipits on more open ground. Skylarks were singing and several Swallows flew in from the sea. Peering over the cliff edge, we noticed three Curlews feeding on the reef below, but perhaps the most exciting event hereabouts was a pair of Ravens flying low overhead, cronking and performing barrel-rolls as they went. The whole length of Cuckmere Haven up to Exceat Bridge soon came into view, and we were able to identify Shelducks, Shoveler, Grey Heron, Little Egrets and Oystercatchers out on the grazing marshes. Some Avocets were feeding at the scrape behind the beach, close to an egret-like bird which generally remained completely immobile but did eventually remove its bill from under a wing for a few seconds to reveal its identity - as a Spoonbill!

Quite early on in the afternoon, clouds rolled in and the southwesterly wind strengthened considerably. This change in the weather markedly reduced bird activity so that, although Peregrine and Buzzard (our only raptors of the day) were seen and a Willow Warbler was heard during a visit to the banks of the Cuckmere further up-stream at Charleston Reedbed, very little else was encountered there, while a final short diversion to Belle Tout wood brought no avian reward at all! By this stage, however, our day list had reached 56 species, including at least some new "year birds" for every one of our 9 participants - and all of them seen amidst glorious scenery!