Trip reports

Mid-week Walk at RSPB Pulborough Brooks Wednesday 24 April 2019

Mid-week Walk at RSPB Pulborough Brooks Wednesday 24 April 2019
Common whitethroat and (inset) lesser whitethroat (Steve Williams)

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Pulborough Brooks is an RSPB reserve in West Sussex. It has a wide range of habitats from lowland wet grassland which is part of the Arun Valley floodplain, pools and scrapes which provide feeding areas for wintering wildfowl and nesting areas for wading birds. On higher ground there are wildflower meadows and managed arable fields. These are linked by hedgerows and scrub to woodland areas, all of which are vital for nesting songbirds, small mammals and bats. The main attractions at this time of year are the wide range of warbler species and nightingales.

Whilst waiting in the car park for everyone to arrive we watched a red kite drifting overhead and identified, by their song, a number of common birds which were hidden in the trees. From the reserve building one can view some feeders which were popular with the local sparrows, greenfinch and goldfinch. Feeding on the fallen seeds were linnets and a moorhen chick. As we set off the weather worsened and rain gear was donned by those with the foresight to bring it.

The first part of the reserve is a zigzag path which was, as usual, well populated with song thrush, chiffchaff and blackcap. At the end of the path Ron alerted us to the song of a lesser whitethroat and after a few minutes we all got good views of it. Apart from the song, identification clues are leg colour, lesser whitethroat's are dark grey/black rather than pale brown (often not much help in the field) and the colour of the back and wings. The lesser whitethroat has uniformly grey/brown back without the red/brown wings of the common whitethroat.

The weather improved as we reached one of the spots where nightingales are often seen. We heard a few seconds of song but the bird did not show itself. On our way to the West Mead hide we saw a single swallow, my first of the year, and then had very good views of a pair of tree creepers in a small wooded area which they shared with blackbirds and robins. The weather began to look threatening again so we took shelter in the West Mead hide, which overlooks a pond and some of the wet grassland. On the pond were a selection of geese and ducks including shelduck and gadwall. Flying over the water, feeding on insects, were sand and house martins. Lapwings were displaying and redshank were heard and then seen. The weather improved so we decided to move on. Just as we were about to leave the hide a reed bunting posed on the fence just in front of us.

As we walked, we heard and then saw common whitethroat and now having got our "ears in" we were able to pick out several further lesser whitethroat. As we neared the Winpenny hide we saw three species of tit, blue, great and long tailed and dunnock and from the hide we added little egret and pheasant to our list.
Our route then passed by some of the managed arable fields which contained starlings, rooks and carrion crows. When the path returned to a wooded area we were stopped in our tracks by the unmistakable sound of a nightingale. Our attempts to see the bird were diverted by an enthusiastic thrush which appeared to have learned some of the nightingale's phrases. Eventually some of our party did see the bird.

We stopped at the Hanger view point which overlooks more ponds. There were many more waterfowl here and we added mute swan and shoveler to our list. Hunting, above the grassland, were a buzzard and a kestrel. We also spotted a common sandpiper patrolling the edge of one of the ponds. The main interest, for me, here was the large number of warblers. There were several blackcap and whitethroat and a few lesser whitethroat and chiffchaff.

On our way to the Nettley's hide Hillary spotted the disappearing white rump of a bullfinch. From the hide we saw black-headed, lesser black-backed and herring gulls, grey and pied wagtails and some smallish waders in the distance, which we finally identified as little ringed plover, plus a limping green sandpiper.
Our group split up and the returning groups added greenshank, garden warbler and nuthatch to the list. Those that ventured out in the afternoon added cuckoo and green woodpecker.

Thanks to those who came to Pulborough Brooks. We had a very pleasant and productive walk. My list for the day was 56 and the group list was over 60 species. I now recognise the song of the lesser whitethroat and suspect that I will be more aware of its presence in future. One bird that we did not see or hear was willow warbler, a species we have seen on almost all previous visits. Is it late this year or is there some other explanation for its absence?