Splash Point and Seaford Head (16 June 2022)

Photo by Rebecca Dunne

Seven people had a lovely day at the seaside and enjoyed a cooling sea breeze rather than the heat of SW London. The towering chalk cliffs of Splash Point are at the eastern end of Seaford esplanade just yards from where we parked. They attract some amazing seasonal visitors which spend half the year wandering the Atlantic, making them the most oceanic gulls in the world. This is one of the last remaining kittiwake colonies in the South East and every year it is a real thrill to see. They build their deep, cup shaped nests out of seaweed, mud, feathers and grass on the merest suggestion of a ledge. Careful scrutiny revealed a few beautiful, tiny, pale grey chicks although most birds were still sitting on eggs. Kittiwakes taking a break on nearby posts were close enough for everyone to become familiar with their yellow, banana shaped bills, black ink-dipped wing tips, black legs and black eyes which give them a friendly expression. A nearby herring gull provided a good comparison. However, what happened next was some people’s highlight of the day. A huge raven landed on the top of the cliffs and hopped aggressively up and down the ledges trying to find a vulnerable nest. It wasn’t successful but will no doubt be back as more of the fluffy chicks emerge. A couple of pairs of fulmars were found nesting on larger cracks and ledges. Like the kittiwakes they return to the same nest spots each year and one pair were definitely in the same place. More fulmars glided out of the hidden, next bay, easy to distinguish from gulls with their stiffly held wings. Above the onomatopoeic calls of the kittiwakes it was just possible to make out a much higher pitched series of notes accelerating towards the end, the song of rock pipits. A couple were seen parachuting in and perching on the enormous blocks which are stacked to help slow down the erosion of the cliffs. A grey heron was probing around on the seashore.

Photo by Rebecca Dunne


After an hour it was time to move on to South Barns on the top of Seaford Head. It would have been a steep walk up but luckily there’s car parking up there and a kiosk, which is just as well because a couple of people were in need of coffee by this point. There’s also a lovely view down over the Cuckmere valley and we found rooks amongst the corvids on the fields and a distant soaring buzzard. A swallow circled the barns and a pied wagtail hopped around on the roof. As last year, we headed down Hope Bottom, a scrub and small tree lined sheltered valley which leads to the cliff edge. It’s a great place to look for migrants in spring and autumn and might explain why we heard a reed warbler singing from inside a bush! Greenfinches, goldfinches, blackcaps, whitethroats and chiffchaffs were heard and seen here, amongst other things. Tortoiseshell and red admiral butterflies along with silverweed, long-leaved plantain and greater burdock added interest. As we approached the cliff the scrub gave way to shorter semi-natural grassland and the two species that dominated our walk appeared; a group of 8 linnets and another rock pipit along with a male stonechat. Roger eventually stopped speculating about what the small birds perching up on the bushes along the cliff tops were because they were almost all linnets! The males looked particularly handsome with their red breasts and foreheads. It was nearly high tide so we couldn’t have lunch on the beach at Hope Gap, as last year, but instead we sat on the steep steps leading down or the more comfortable bench at the top. It’s a fantastic view along the Seven Sisters from here and was glorious in the sunshine. More rock pipits flew around in the cove and fulmars glided overhead.

Photo by Rebecca Dunne


It was hard to drag ourselves away but we pressed on down towards the mouth of the Cuckmere River, passing many more linnets. The river’s famous meanders came into view, but unlike last year, when it was misty and the ground was wet, the valley floor was almost devoid of bird life. The fields were dry and the scrapes almost dried out. All we added were a couple of shelduck and oystercatchers but we had good views of another rock pipit on the opposite bank. It was also much hotter down here away from the sea breeze so we cut our losses and headed back up towards Seaford Head, this time on the landward side. Away from the cliff edge it was a group of half a dozen meadow pipits which posed nicely on dead branches, not rock pipits. A good opportunity for everyone to note their altogether more delicate/feeble appearance! By the time we reached the top of the slope everyone was ready for a cup of tea and we sat in the cool shade of the barn. Collared dove and chaffinch were added in the hedges on the side of the rough track which led back to the road. It wasn’t quite time to finish the day however because we decided to have one more visit to Splash Point. This was partly to have another look at the kittiwake colony, where this time more of them were on the sea having a wash and brush up… but also to visit the bright pink Holy Cow ice-cream kiosk!
35 species seen

by Rebecca Dunne