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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Mistle Thrush; harbinger of bad weather. A rainy day at Cuckmere Haven & Friston Forest. 06.12.21

On Monday 06.12.21, I went bird watching with a friend; however the weather forecast was bad, heavy rain was forecast for 12.00, so we only had a few hours of good weather. We walked down to Cuckmere Haven beach along the east side of the river; following the same route that I took on 26.11.26; for a map of the route see: A chilly afternoon at Cuckmere Haven. 26.11.26

We saw Little Grebes, Teal, Cormorants, Little Egrets, Black Headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, a Mistle Thrush, Redshanks, Rock Pipits, Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings, Oyster Catchers, Shelducks, Great Black-Backed Gills, Canada Geese, Shelducks (We did not see some of the things I regularly see there e.g. Dunlin, Curlew).

Distant Little Grebes in the upper oxbow lake.


Distant Teal

A Mistle Thrush

I haven't seen a Mistle Thrush, Turdus viscivorus, for along time but we saw one on this very rainy day. Sadly they are on the red list for conservation in the UK and whist widely distributed, I rarely see them. "Storm-cock. Word origin: C18: so called because it was believed to give forewarning of bad weather" Storm-cock definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary (

"There is one [bird] that specialises in robust singing during cold and stormy weather. This is the mistle thrush, known in many parts of this country as the storm cock. As the name suggests, it is a cousin of our song thrush and very like it in appearance, albeit lacking the red touches that identify the redwing or the grey appearance of the fieldfare. The mistle thrush is the largest of that group but has the speckled breast and underparts of thrushes – but its speckles are larger than those of its relations.

Because we so often become aware of its presence when it sings from a tree or other perch during stormy weather, we tend to think of it as a migrant that is wintering here. In fact, mistle thrushes are widespread throughout this country for most of the year, although some youngsters might move to the continent in severe winters, and others may arrive from further north if their local weather is atrocious.

Instead of open and exposed moorland, they seem to prefer countryside heavily covered with mature trees, often selecting the highest point as a safe perch for their musical performance.

The mistle thrush’s propensity for singing in storms has sometimes led observers to believe that it can forecast oncoming rough weather of the milder sort, then select a perch that is most suitable for its singing.

Not surprisingly, the mistle thrush is not our only wild bird that is said to forecast the weather. The green woodpecker or yaffle is often known as the rainbird because is has the uncanny ability to forecast rain – and it announces the fact through it famous “laughing” call.

Frequent calling by woodpeckers is widely thought to herald a bout of stormy weather, not merely rain but probably thunder and lightning. If a woodpecker leaves its usual haunt, it is supposed to herald bad weather.

Magpies are thought to forecast windy weather if they fly around in threes or fours as they chatter together, while jackdaws perching on the weather vane of a church are widely regarded a sign of oncoming bad weather.

Our old friend from the summer, the cuckoo, is also thought to herald bad weather if it calls its familiar “cuckoo” throughout summer.

If our wild birds are capable of forecasting the weather, good or bad, that is not considered unusual. Nature has made them keenly aware of changes to the climate simply because they must prepare for all conditions if they are to survive." Birds on song for weather forecasting | Gazette & Herald (

Met Office yellow warning (23.00 06.01.21): "The second named storm of the season [Barra] will hit on Tuesday, following on from wet and windy weather on Sunday night and throughout Monday. There is a small chance that injuries and danger to life could occur from large waves and beach material being thrown onto sea fronts, coastal roads and properties".

Pay attention to a Storm Cock atop a tree!

This is a very out of focus photo of 100s of Great Black Back Gulls on the marsh to the west of the Cuckmere which frequently perch on the grass here in large numbers . Canada Geese in front.

One of the many Little Egrets that live in the Cuckmere Valley

Redshanks. Redshanks are seem very abundant at Cuckmere Haven

From the excellent blog Wadertales from Graham Appleton: 22% use open coasts. 42% NEWS [Non-estuarine Waterbird Survey] decline since 1997/98. (WeBS [Wetland Bird Survey} decline 21%).

Perhaps surprisingly, few Redshank cross the North Sea to spend the winter in the UK. Winter flocks are largely made up of home-grown birds and migrants from Iceland. The recent decline in Redshank numbers is thought to be a reflection of changing numbers of British and Irish breeders, although there are no monitoring schemes to provide information about Icelandic birds. Since 1997/98, the number of Redshank on open coasts has dropped by 42% but almost all of the losses have occurred in the period since 2007/08 (37% decline between 2007/08 and 2015/16). Redshank is currently amber-listed in the UK, reflecting falling breeding numbers, but ‘promotion’ to the red list cannot be far off. There is a WaderTales blog about the rapid decline in the number of Redshank breeding on salt-marshes: Redshank | wadertales (

For more information in Redshank decline, see the excewllent post: Redshank – the ‘warden of the marshes’ | wadertales (


More Redshanks (there were14 in the southernmost pool)

A pair of Reed Buntings

Easy to misidentify as House Sparrows at a distance. Males have black heads. Resident UK birds in wet areas, especially with reeds.


Another Redshank, reveal their white axillary feathers in their "armpit", which are seen when they are in flight


New leaves of Yellow Horned-Poppy, coming through decomposing leaves of 2021; common plant along coasts of south-east England. The roots of spring are observable in winter.

A Pipit

A Little Egret

After our walk down to the beach at Cuckmere Haven from Exceat and back we had lunch in the Saltmarsh Farmhouse café above the Seven Sisters Country Park visitors centre (currently being rebuilt and closed to the public), which does a very nice hot vegan sausage roll: Saltmarsh Farmhouse

After lunch we had a brief walk in Friston Forest

A Robin in the beech keaves .

"What's in my bill?". I have observed flocks of female chaffinches foraging in beech leaves on the ground in the car park at the Seven Sisters Country Park on several occasions over the last few moths, and I have wondered what they were eating; now I have worked it out as I got a couple of FIB ("Food in Bill") shots; and searched the internet for tree seeds: they are eating beach "nuts" (seeds), that have come out of their husks.

A terrible photo of a fast moving and shy forest bird ... the blue flash should give it a way . a Jay




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