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Wildlife in Kingston

Thursday 27 September 2012

The wonderful September weather has given bird migrants plenty of opportunity to fatten themselves up before crossing the Channel and moving further south. Elderberries seem a particular favourite of warblers and while swallows and house martins buzz overhead, whitethroats, chiffchaffs and blackcaps have been foraging among the shrubs at the foot of Kingston Hill almost every day for the last few weeks –although you do need a little patience to find them as they flit rapidly about. Like the wheatears seen daily at the top of the Hill, all of these turn up regularly in Kingston at this time of year.

On 13 September, however, my sharp-eyed wife noticed something far more unusual as we walked along the “horseshoe” path at the foot of Kingston Hill – a robin-sized bird with an obviously red tail. It could only have been – and a second glimpse very soon confirmed that it was – a redstart, just the second local record of this species for me. The first was several years ago, also in the autumn, a couple of fields to the south of Castle Hill National Nature Reserve, and probably therefore outside the Parish boundary.

Most British redstarts are found in western and northern counties but some breed in East Sussex, mostly in Ashdown Forest. They usually nest in holes in old trees although they will use nest boxes, especially if natural sites are hard to find. Many pass through Sussex in the spring and even more do so in the autumn, en route to sub-Saharan Africa. Although no fewer than 85 redstarts were apparently recorded at Beachy Head on 12 September 1965, Pat and I were happy to see just one!

Birds of course are not the only creatures which migrate. It hasn’t been a vintage year for many species of butterfly by any means but it’s been good recently to see so many red admirals. Like birds, these too are feeding frantically before setting off for the continent. Every sunny day two or three at least have appeared in our small garden, often lingering around the ivy, just coming into flower now.

Most impressively, the buddleia bush outside Wyevale has been positively festooned with red admirals on some occasions. On 15 September, for example, I counted 20 individuals, together with one comma, two small tortoiseshells and several large whites. It was almost as if I’d been transported back to the1960s! I’m not advertising Wyevale (I have to say this in view of what appears elsewhere in this edition above my name!) but two days before the host of red admirals appeared on the buddleia I was startled to hear and then see a grey wagtail as it flew over the car park. Is the garden centre within the Parish of Kingston? If so, this was yet another new record for me for the Parish!

- Steve Berry