*MEGA MEGA MEGA*
SHORT TOED EAGLE ASHDOWN FOREST 2014
My last night shift was upon me and I had a early finish at 4am the next morning, so I took advantage of being closer to East Sussex and set off. I arrived at 05:30 and decided upon starting at Gills Lap car park, the Short Toed had a routine of being at the Long car park first before moving onto Gills, but the day before it had not been seen there or in the area from 4:05pm. There was a lot of fog hanging around the valley and a couple who had gone straight to Long car park had said it was fog bound so this higher view point at Gills was not a disappointing start.
The scenery was beautiful with pockets of fog hanging between the woods and villages around.
A stunning start and I hoped the eagle was still around. As birders scanned the area, the sound of a Turtle Dove filled the background noise as plane after plane flew over. But after a couple of hours and still no sign of the Short Toed Eagle, people began to move around search. I too decided that I might as well grab a few images of the birds present around there.
As the temperature began to rise and the sun beat down, the insects began to show, there were a few Large Skippers along the grasses bordering the hedge lines, and a dragonfly caught my eye before disappearing, but I managed to locate it resting up and after a couple of shots I realised I hadn't seen this variety before. I later was informed by someone photographing insects that it was a Downy Emerald, so at least I had seen a new dragonfly if nothing else.
I venture around the tracks off of the car park, and found a family of Stonechats moving around the gorse bushes. The males were in stunning colour in this light, and a juvenile Woodlark was a bonus as it moved along the track ahead of me.
It was nice to watch the young Stonechat flitting around after the parents calling for food. But after 3 hours and nothing I was beginning to wonder how long before I moved on home, I would give it a while longer for the morning traffic to quiet down though. Then I heard some voices from the road area and scanned around but my position was away from other birders so checking my pager, read the message I was hoping for..Short Toed Eagle 2s still, from Gills lap car park... I scanned but could not see anything let alone a birder to ask.
So I headed towards the main track and was met by two birders, have you seen it? can you see it from here? well they had seen it but distantly and informed me from here I would not be able to see it, I would have to gain some height and look across, so I trailed behind them hoping to connect.
And as we gained some height up the track they pointed out a small clump of pine, but they could not point it out as it was still obscured by another tree, by now I was soaked in sweat and hot as hell, but a short walk on and they could now point out where it was. What a relief and what a sight wow, how long had it been there? the two birders informed me that a couple had their scope on it for some time, but thought maybe buzzard and hadn't told anyone, but regardless here we were with a real rarity, it was a thumbs up moment all round. The heat haze had built up a lot in the valley and it was still a way off but close enough to see and grab a shot. There was a couple sat up in the heath around the bend from us and we could see a couple walking beyond the eagle, it seemed to notice them and it took to the air and started to circle up, I grabbed some images of this stunner, at the same time listening to the birders talking through the finer points of the birds plumage, notably how white under the wings and the chequered tail. What was looking like a morning 'dip' had finished in a great addition and a great morning out. I headed back to the car to dry out and grab a drink before heading home knackered. Thanks to the 2 blokes who led me to view it, much appreciated ( I think I heard someone call one of them in a cap Smithy?, so if that was you and your mate cheers).