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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Birds. Cuckmere Haven. 10.09.21.

After searching for Sea Aster Bees on Friday (click here t read about the Sea Asters I found) I had a look around for birds. I walked down the east river-side path, and back up the path next to the oxbow lakes (the geography of the valley is discussed later in this post)

There were quite a few Goldfinches mostly juveniles, flying in small flocks.

and a few Herring Gulls

and a flock of around 20 Canada Geese flew in noisily; many Canada Geese overwinter at Cuckmere Haven

As usual there were many Black-Headed Gulls; who outnumbered Herring Gull (as is typical of rural coastal locations in Sussex, unlike urban seaside areas where Herring Gulls outnumber Black-Headed Gulls

Here is a solitary Little Egret; but there were a large number (20 plus) assembled together in a heronry (in tress, with 3 Herons), at the South East of the estuary.

A Carrion Crow on the beach; there were numerous Carrion Crows in the estuary, as usual, either singly or in "murders" (flocks)

Next to sheep, to the west if the Vanguard Path. there were many Wagtails - I think they were Grey Wagtails; but the distance they were away made them hard to identify,

I saw ca. 40 Swallows, foraging for insects; presumably foraging for insects to build up calories for the migration flight back to Africa

There was a small flock of Pied Wagtails fling around the river banks, as there often is.

and a few Little Grebes (Dabchicks) in the oxbow lakes of the Haven

On the west river bank path I saw this Wheatear; Wheatears are very common across Sussex at the moment, especially at coastal areas; they are passage migrants in September/ October, foraging for food on their way back to Africa for the winter from their summer nesting grounds.

All wheatears spend winter in tropical Africa, then head north in spring. Our race arrives in the UK during March – sometimes as early as late February.

Males are first to arrive. Look out for them around the coast at this time, before they move to their inland breeding sites. By mid-May the female has usually laid 4-7 eggs in a rough nest on the ground but early first clutches can be laid before the end of April. The young are independent after about 30 days. Two broods are usual but sometimes a third is raised.

The other race, known as the Greenland wheatear, arrives a little later in April. It is in a hurry to reach its breeding sites on the other side of the Atlantic, so doesn’t stay for long. It heads northwest across the sea, via Iceland, until it reaches the Arctic tundra of Greenland and northern Canada. By June, it has started to breed there.

By August, most of our breeding wheatears are heading back south. But Greenland wheatears only leave their breeding grounds in August, so reach us in September – and sometimes even in October. Some bypass the UK entirely. They use strong winds to make a 30-hour, non-stop flight of 2,400 km (1,500 miles), directly from Greenland to southern Europe.

All wheatears cross the Mediterranean to Africa via Spain. They migrate by night, relying on their fat reserves for energy. Many make a refuelling stopover in North Africa. Greenland wheatears, which fly furthest, put on more fat before leaving and spend longer at stopovers. Wheatears spend winter in a broad belt across central Africa – from Senegal to Kenya – where they set up feeding territories in bare, stony areas. Wheatear Migration | Migratory Birds - The RSPB

Canada Geese and Black-Headed Gulls in the dusk

A Little Egret having a scratch, in one of the Oxbow lakes

This Kestrel appeared over the Downs from the East, being mobbed by a Carrion Crow

But the Kestrel turned the tables and started chasing the Crow

A crepuscular Grey Heron

And a little flock of Goldfinches

And a pair of mute swans at the top of one of the Oxbow Lakes

An oxbow lake starts out as a curve, or meander, in a river. A lake forms as the river finds a different, shorter, course. The meander becomes an oxbow lake along the side of the river. Oxbow lakes usually form in flat, low-lying plains close to where the river empties into another body of water. oxbow lake | National Geographic Society

The old Cuckmere River as an oxbow lake © Marathon :: Geograph Britain and Ireland: the River Cuckmere is in its plain stage and is near to completing its journey to the sea. The slow movement of water in the meanders of the former water course allowed alluvium to be deposited on the flood plain. Particularly in the winter months, the river regularly flooded and thereby made this part of the flood plain unsuitable for farming. Partly to speed up the river flow and reduce flooding, an artificial cut was made from Exceat to the river mouth at Cuckmere Haven ... the River Cuckmere exists as both the former, natural river with a number of meanders and the active river in the form of a straight edged cut dating back to 1847.

Eastward view from the bank of the... © Andrew Diack :: Geograph Britain and Ireland: the River Cuckmere exists as both the former, natural river with a number of meanders and the active river in the form of a straight edged cut dating back to 1847.

[In 2020] The land of the Seven Sisters Country Park ... East Sussex County Council’s lead ... approved the final terms of the plan to transfer ownership of the Country Park to the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA). ...

While the SDNPA’s plan has attractive features such an improved visitor centre, improved habitat for aquatic birds, access paths and jobs, it will also result in a major land use change through the expansion of wetland at the expense of grazing land for livestock. The land use debate has revolved around two opposing visions of how the land is best used and for whom. While the view that the lower estuary, as in TV5198, be allowed to return to wetland has clearly found official favour, the question can still be asked as to whether that is the best decision. What do you think? Andrew Diack BA (Hons)

The oxbow lakes are on the east side of the river (Map from the Seven Sisters County Park) For more information of the Seven Sisters Country Park, in which Cuckmere Haven is located, see: Home - Seven Sisters



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