The first target was a black guillemot which has taken up winter residence in Sovereign Harbour in Eastbourne. These are birds you normally associate with rugged cliffs or edgy working harbours in the far north of Scotland. Occasionally though one decides to glam it up a bit down south and this one had certainly gone all out for luxury. For a few weeks now it has been living in the very upmarket harbour at Eastbourne, surrounded by expensive yachts, even more expensive apartments and waterside brasseries!
The traffic was good and I got to the harbour just after dawn. No one was around apart from a few dog walkers. I walked up and down the assembled boats for about 15 minutes without seeing anything apart from a few cormorants. Eventually I spotted a smaller bird fishing near one of the yachts.
This was the black guillemot. For most of the winter it has been in a juvenile spotty grey plumage but it is now starting to get into its breeding finery, with a bold white wing bar.
My second stop was only 10 minutes drive away, a small wetland, marshy area on the outskirts of Eastbourne. A bluethroat had been spotted there a couple of weeks back. All the info on the web said two things though. One, you absolutely needed wellingtons to get to see it. Two, it was very shy bird and a long wait could ensue. Well, on the first bit they were not wrong. It was only about a 15 minute walk to the designated area of the reed bed but you were up to your ankles in mud most of the way! When I got there two other birders were already there. One was a very rare sight at twitches - a woman and not only that under 40 years old! She was relatively new to birding but lived locally and so had taken a day off to twitch the bluethroat. The three of us staked out what we thought was the right area and waited.
About 11 one of our group called out "its showing, edge of the reeds". By the time we turned round though it had gone back in! Only the one bloke saw it, but at least it was there. By 12 our numbers had swollen to about a dozen and we had spread out a bit to cover other bits of the marsh. Some came and went and the crowd thinned a bit. The original bloke had cleared off but the female birder was sticking it out. I tried down the side of the marsh and got a bit excited by a couple of stonechats but saw nothing like the bluethroat. With me about 100 yards way I saw the group all move together and point their bins at one patch. I scarpered down but got the same message. One bloke had seen it and then it disappeared again. I was starting to get a bit depressed now but I was determined to keep positive and to stick it out. I stood with the group and we all chatted about exploits past!
Finally, at about 1.40, so almost 5 hours after I got there it decided to play ball. It hopped almost out into the open on the right of the photo above. It only stayed out though for I guess two minutes, not helped by two guys rushing round to get a better view and spooking it back in. Still, we all had a good enough to see the eye-stripe and the colouration on its throat to make it a definite view.
I stuck it out till about 2.30 but it hadn't shown again so I called it day and headed off.
The journey home was a nightmare. First the M23 was closed so I kept going down the coast and looped up to Guildford. Then they closed the A3 for a fuel spillage so I had to keep going sideways to pick up the M3. By the time I got to the M25 it was a car park. It took me just under two hours to get there and almost 4 hours to get back!! Still, a good day and at least it wasn't raining. Year list back under way but I still have a lot of catching up to do if I'm to beat last years total.