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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

The day I didn't see a Hoopoe, but saw a flock of flinches, a brood of Coot chicks & a Reed Warbler

On Friday evening (30/05/21) I received a message that a Hoopoe had been seen in a sheep field off Bazehill Road, in Rottingdean. I know the road well as, as it is minutes from my mothers house and we walk there often. I decided to go as soon as I could.

The hoopoe is an exotic looking bird that is the size of a mistle thrush. It has a pinkish-brown body, striking black and white wings, a long black downcurved bill, and a long pinkish-brown crest which it raises when excited. It does not breed in the UK, but as many as 100 birds can turn up in spring (mostly seen as single birds) as birds migrating north to Europe from Africa overshoot and land on the south coast of England. Hoopoes are listed as a Schedule 1 species on The Wildlife and Countryside Act Hoopoe Bird Facts | Upupa Epops - The RSPB

Here is the Sussex Ornithological Society Recent Sighting entry:

My knowdlge of what Hoopoes look like comes entirely; for Card 18 in the Brook Bond Picture Cards (from packets of tea) Wild Birds in Britain set.

Bazehill Road

I arrived at 6.30 am in Bazehill Road, parking my bike at the bottom of the road. By then there were already four other birders present. No-one had seen the Hoopoe. I walked up and down Bazehill Road looking for the Hoopoe, but not that intently, as there were other birders with much bigger binoculars than mine, and spotting scopes, who were looking intensely at the sheep field that promised the Hoopoe; if the Hoopoe was found it would be very obvious, very soon, where it was.

I walked just above the sheep filed, where there was a typical patch of shirt grass chalk downland flowers, previously grazed. It was a picture of wild flowers, mostly common ones, dandelions and daisies. It was absolutely beautiful. I could hear Skylarks everywhere, and I saw a flock of small birds; I wondered it they were meadow pipits, I know they weren't Skylarks, as at that distance I would have been able to identify them through the lens of my camera. I recognized some Starlings; when I enlarged the images in my camera's display screen I could see it was a mixed flock mostly of finches: Greenfinches; Goldfinches and Linnets.

Juvenile Greenfich and Starling




At the back of the field I saw this Stonechat on a fence, a typical perching place for a Stonechat

On the other side of the potential Hoopoe field was a Pied Wagtail, a common bird. But I really enjoyed watching it interact with a carthorse

At 08.15 I decided to give up on looking for Hoopoe and walked down Bazehill Road. There were now about 15 birders in the road. Near the bottom of the road was a beautiful House Sparrow, no-one was taking its photograph.

Rottingdean Pond

I have been monitoring the growth of the pond's Moorhen's two chicks. They have both survived, and are growing well

Brooklands Park, Worthing

I cycled from Rottingdean to Shoreham, as I was meeting a friend there. We decided after a coffee to have a walk round Brooklands Park, so we cycled there. I had mentioned to my friend about the beauty of Coot chicks. First we saw a solitary Coot

Then we walked to where I knew there was a Coot's nest; I have been monitoring over the last few weeks; and behold: Coot chicks.

Coots have lots of chicks as few survive, either through predation or starvation. There is a suggestion the Coots are moving into more urban territories as this boosts chick survival. The results suggest that the recent urban colonization by Eurasian coots was primary driven by considerable reproductive benefits which may be primarily attributed to: (1) reduced predation resulting from an exclusion of most native predators from highly urbanized zones; (2) increased condition of urban-dwelling birds resulting from enhanced food availability. see Minias P. (2016). Reproduction and survival in the city: which fitness components drive urban colonization in a reed-nesting waterbird? Current zoology, 62(2), 79–87. Reproduction and survival in the city: which fitness components drive urban colonization in a reed-nesting waterbird? (

There is a very interesting article in The Atlantic about American Coots Fulica americana, who are very similar to ours, Fulica atra, that suggests that the coloration of chikcs is related to survival advantage - the parents choose which coots to feed more (i.e. which will survive) partly according to colouration - you wouldn't want to be a dull-looking coot chick! "After the first week, when the weakest chicks are all dead, the parents change their behavior. Each now picks a favorite among the survivors, and provides that chick with 80 percent of the food it collects. These golden children grow rapidly, while their unchosen siblings are grabbed by the head, vigorously shaken, and chased away. In the 1990s, Lyon learned that parents pick their favorites in part because of their gaudy plumage. By trimming the orange feathers around the chicks’ necks, he showed that the more ornamented chicks got more food and grew faster than their sibling.

Reed Warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus. A new-to-me sighting.

I hear a very loud warble; which came from a Reed Warbler, although I did not know it was a Reed Warbler until I checked my tentative identification with a fellow birder. I should have been able to recognize it from it's call; as it was very loud. Learning the calls and songs would be useful, especially or warblers - and other Little Brown Jobs - as they are difficult to see; especially those that lurk in reeds.

The reed warbler is a plain unstreaked warbler. It is warm brown above and buff coloured underneath. It is a summer visitor to breed in the UK, with the largest concentrations in East Anglia and along the south coast - there are relatively few breeding in Scotland and Ireland. It winters in Africa. UK breeding population. :130,000 pairs UK conservation status: Green Reed Warbler Bird Facts | Acrocephalus Scirpaceus - The RSPB

This Robin and Blackbird at Brooklands were "asking" to have their pictures taken; even though they are so common. Common does not mean not beautiful.

And the fish in Brookland's brrok were very visible. I think these are common Rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus)

I think these are Common Carp, Cyprinus carpio, introduced to the UK in the Middle Ages

Worthing’s Brooklands Lake is brought back to life, Sussex Local Magazine, May 4, 2018

Brooklands is now teeming with wildlife; with sensitive human support for their habitats:

They battled driving rain, gale-force winds, the darkest, smelliest black silt and even a terrifying creature from the deep but at last they’ve put a much-loved landmark on the road to recovery.

Engineers at Five Rivers Environmental Contracting have now completed the first stage of the major works on Brooklands Lake which has been funded by Worthing Borough Council.

If you visit the lake today you will see fast flowing, clear water and an abundance of wildlife but that was not always the case.

When Five Rivers took on the contract in 2017, the lake was stagnant due to a build up of silt which was having an impact on the environment and wildlife. In October the company set out to remove 15,000 cubic metres of silt and create new margins on the edge without reducing the footprint of the lake.

Even though they faced cold, wet and windy working conditions they ended up redistributing

19,000 cubic metres of silt, 4000 more than expected, the equivalent of almost eight Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The Teville Stream which flows into the lake has also been completely transformed. The former sluggish four metre wide stream has been reduced to a one and a half metre stream of fast, flowing water which stops silt building up.

Apart from removing the silt, works have been carried out to create a new and thriving habitat for a diverse range of wildlife:

  • Thick mats of coconut fibres and UK plant species have been planted to provide a diverse habitat around the lake & up the river.

  • By the stream, the paths have been ripped out and recycled. Coir – coconut husk – carpets have been laid to bed in marginal plants and encourage a diversity of species.

  • 100 tons of gravel have been used in the lake to make Riffles (a rocky part of a stream of river) which create different widths & depths which encourage diverse wildlife.

  • Bog plants such as Irises and Marsh Marigolds have been planted on the western bank.

  • Berry trees are being planted on the new island to provide food for the birds during winter. Species will include Holly, Hazel, Guelder Rose and Blackthorn

The wildlife are certainly taking to the new lake and a Swan is already nesting on its margins. This year the Five Rivers team provided her with some straw to build her nest, but in future years she will be able to take full advantage of the reed (Phragmities) that have been planted across the site.

And that’s not all, Five Rivers will be providing the ducks and swans with their very own floating nests. Giving them extra safety during the nesting season.

It’s not just the birds that are coming back. A shoal of rudd and carp have also been spotted in the river, proving that the fish are able to swim over the Riffles.

Despite facing one of the most wet and windy winter and spring periods on record Jacob Dew, Operations Manager of Five Rivers Environmental Contracting said he was pleased with the way the project has turned out.

“We’re really pleased that we have completed the main works to such a good standard, but the project wasn’t without it challenges,” he said, “It was incredibly difficult during the coldest months when we were battling the wind and rain. The lowest point must have been when the silt became so waterlogged it was almost impossible to use our equipment.

“Despite the weather, the project has had some great moments. The best part about the project for me has been the local community and the incredible support that they have given my team and I.”

Earlier this year in the silt one of the engineers found a full-grown Common Snapping Turtle an extremely rare creature in the UK which is thought to have been dumped there by a pet owner. The creature is well named because it has been known to bite the finger off a human hand. Nicknamed Terry the turtle is now recovering in quarantine.

Five Rivers will be on site for the next few weeks tying up the loose ends and generally tidying up. They’ll be seeding, aking and planting the remaining 11,000 Phragmities.

The fencing will be kept around the lake until the plants and reeds bed in, making the margins more stable.

It will take up to two years for the lake to return to its former splendour and Five Rivers will be visiting the site regularly to make sure everything is going to plan.

The entire Brooklands Park, owned by Worthing Borough Council, is the subject of a major improvement plan to revive the area.



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