It had been sunny all week, but the one day John and I decided to go out birding the clouds gathered together and sprinkled sweet rain upon the Earth, thus wetting both bird and birder and making both wish they were indoors watching telly. We were playing this day a little bit by-ear, yet we still had an objective in mind; to find the elusive and increasingly scarce Turtle Dove, (you can read my post on the bird here) which were to be found somewhere in the county of Sussex, hopefully.
Just in case we failed in our mission we decided to stop off at the local reserve of Warnham on the way, it is a good place for seeing a wide range of more common species, so at least we would have seen some birds on this trip. This reserve is a hive of breeding activity at present; a large heronry is situated atop a collection of tall pines, most nests are not visible but the few that are were impressive in size and each with a sentinel Heron perched solemnly on top. A pair of red-brown, sleekly shaped Great-crested Grebes have a nest on the mill pond; composed of stitched together iris leaves the female is sitting tight on eggs, safe from attack on the floating nest. A vehemently piping Kingfisher jetted across the water and perched close to us in an overhanging willow tree, its ridiculously bright colours became subdued in the damp shade (all his colour comes from reflection not pigment). Warnham is also the breeding ground for several pairs of Common Tern, whose Latin name Sterna hirundo alludes to its other name of ‘Sea Swallow’ which is an apt title as this sharp-winged bird has a similar forked tail and slim build to the Swallow. There were six individuals (three pairs) that were nesting on purpose built rafts on the pond, it was a delight to see these bright-white, grey and red birds shrieking harshly and swooping to and fro over the water.
We then drove on deep into Sussex countryside to a corner of the large Knepp estate, near the village of Shipley; this is a renowned site for Turtle Doves and a particular walk had been recommended by other birders – only they would have suggested going on a sunny day. The weather was actually worse when we arrived so we forced ourselves to trudge down the footpath and hope that by some miracle a dove would be visible as it hunched up deep in a tree to escape the rain. It was a lovely place to walk, the whole place is part of a re-wilding project so the fields and hedges were thick and unruly with flowers and brambles taking over every corner – which made it great for all wildlife. Unsurprisingly we did not see a Turtle Dove, however we did hear the wonderful sound of a Cuckoo calling close-by, there were Mistle Thrushes bouncing around in the fields, Swifts glided silently overhead and we saw a magnificent Red Kite lazily soaring over the fields after the rain had let up (at last).
John and I are not ones to give up easily, the weather had tried in vain to foil our attempts to see birds and now it had given up and gone to bed – leaving the end of the day warm, light and dry. We set into motion plan B which involved going to another site that has a resident Turtle Dove who had been showing well all week; the Sussex Wildlife Trust HQ, Wood’s Mill. There was still plenty of light and even a few rays of sunshine so with renewed optimism we entered the reserve; within a short distance we had stopped to look at a singing Chiffchaff and I was pointing it out to John when I heard an interesting noise. After waiting in silence for a few moments we heard it again; the distinctive, far-carrying, soporific purring of a Turtle Dove which was coming from a thick hedgerow to our left. After searching the trees and waiting for it to sing again we eventually located the legend himself; perched in full view on a branch of a dead tree and in full purr was a Turtle Dove – my first in the UK. We had great views as it moved to another branch higher up and continued calling with its throat bulging out, its plumage was beautiful and bright and puts all the other doves and pigeons to shame, simply gorgeous!