Despite all the wet weather leading up to our walk on 9 November, we ended up being graced with a gorgeous autumn day to explore a corner of Ashdown Forest. Led by our inspiring bird expert, Tom Forward, it was a beautiful introduction to some of our local species at this time of year.
Barely had we left the car park and Tom was pointing out to us the call of the Dunnock (Prunella modularis), and we soon reached an area of heath with gorse that enabled us to become familiar with several heath birds. The call of the Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) caught our attention and we watched them together with some Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) around the gorse. While we were there a Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) flew past too, which enabled us to appreciate its larger size than the Song Thrush, and to see the white area under its wings.
Some Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) darted in among the gorse, and a large group of Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) flew overhead. Another heathland bird with its unmistakable call and prominent perching behaviour was the Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola).
However, the main attraction was something much bigger and rare. Tom took us to a corner of the heath and waited. Sure enough, almost on cue a Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) flew in, probably having been hunting down by the coast. We had a great view of it as it glided across the landscape before settling down among the heather.
Somewhat elated, we headed back to the car park, enjoying a flock of noisy Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris), a recently-arrived winter visitor, as we headed down the track.