Excellent Bird!

This morning I had an amazing, but strangely extreme experience that makes quite a nice story, which I will share. On 9th June, I was being driven by my wife Amanda south of Wych Cross when I noticed a large raptor with a pale underside to the east of the road to Chelwood Gate. I wondered what it was, but not having further information and not being able to stop, dismissed it without much thought. At that stage, I had heard of a Short-toed Eagle in the New Forest, and vaguely thought I might go for it, if it hung about. On the tenth, I read amongst the reports from Rare Bird Alert, that a Short -toed Eagle had been seen near Wych Cross in Ashdown Forest. My immediate thought was I had seen it, until I realised it was the day before it arrived in Sussex, so once again, I dismissed it, but this time my dismissing was a bit less definite. Over the next day or two, there were reports of the eagle from amongst other places, Essex and Norfolk so I was puzzled, bemused and amused when a friend rang me up on Sunday night (15th June) to say it had roosted at the Long Car Park just south of Wych Cross. I had to go to London the next day, but contacted Rare Bird Alert that evening to hear once again that it had roosted near Wych Cross.


Due to a late night, I overslept on the morning of 17th (This morning), but over a coffee made contact with Rare Bird Alert to hear it had left Long Car Park flying towards Gills Lap, this was followed by "Viewable at TQ428310." There now follows a series of extraordinary events! I drove to the Long Car Park, which was virtually deserted. There was one chap there, who said it had been seen to fly towards Gills Lap, but he had no idea where that was. He had just spent several unsuccessful hours with a considerable group some 800 yards west of the car park. I had left the Gills Lap grid reference in my office, but knew approximately where it was, which was about 800 yards west of the car park I was standing in. The chap then said he had some idea where Gills Lap was, so I thought I would follow him. We arrived at an empty car park about a mile east of Wych Cross. He then said he must have been told a few porkies, and announced he was giving up. I thought I would return to Long Car Park, as I still thought Gills Lap was just west of it. I hadn't gone more than twenty yards, when still driving slowly, I noticed a large crowd of people with telescopes and binoculars in a car park. This was the Ashdown Centre car park.

"Any news on the bird?" I asked as I drove in.

"Which bird?" He asked.

"Oh, the Short-toed Eagle," I replied.

"Oh that," he replied dismissively. "We are actually a group of people on a general bird watching trip. We haven't seen the Short-toed Eagle, but have just come from a place called Gills Lap where it was seen half an hour ago. It's five minutes away, that's all," and proceded to tell me how to get there, which was a bit complicated. He then showed me the site on my OS map. It seemed a good bit further than five minutes away!

Feeling this was unlikely to be my lucky day, I drove off towards this other Gills Lap. I was still on a different road to the one he had indicated, and about four hundred yards short of it, when I spotted a sign announcing Gills Lap beyond which was an encouragingly large group of birders. I drove in.

Having asked of the first birder for any information, I was told that it was over there. He pointed towards the east.

"Sitting?" I asked.

"No flying about," he replied. Thinking it would be well gone by now, I drove to the only space looking towards the east. Telescopes were pointing intently, always a good sign. I quickly got onto the silhouette of a large raptor. "I can definitely tick that," was my immediate thought. I got out of the car, and scanned again, and this time picked up two birds.

"I've got two buzzards flying together," I announced. These birds were behaving like two buzzards frequently do in courtship.

"No. One's the eagle," someone announced, "And the other's.........the other's....surely it's a honey buzzard." Over the next ten minutes, everyone was onto the two birds that flew closer, and the long tail of the buzzard, amongst other things confirmed it as a honey buzzard. The eagle banked frequently displaying its very pale underparts contrasting with the black tips of the primaries. After a while the birds separated, and the eagle flew slowly and floppily, from time to time hovering with characteristic slow wing beats. I realised my bird of the 9th had performed in exactly the same way. This made me much more confident of my bird of 9th June, and I submitted the record to RBA. Quite an excellent day! To wrap it up, a very nice, well marked Common Buzzard drifted across the road in front of me as I drove home.